Press Release: Sex workers win support in their opposition to MP’s proposal to criminalise their clients
Sex workers, trade unionists, women’s and human rights organisations are briefing MPs against a Ten-Minute Rule Motion to criminalise sex workers’ clients, being read in Parliament today, Wednesday, 9 December.
The motion, tabled by Diana Johnson MP, proposes a Bill to “criminalise paying for sex” and target sex workers who advertise online.
The briefing documents some of the wide body of evidence which shows that criminalising sex workers’ clients (known as the Nordic model) undermines sex workers’ safety.
In countries where this legislation has been introduced sex workers face increased stigma, are more at risk of violence and are less able to call on the protection of the police and the authorities. Despite claims that the law has led to a decline in prostitution, there is no actual evidence of this.
It also documents evidence published by The Lancet and other credible sources that shows there is no causal relationship between criminalisation of sex work and reduction in trafficking – one of the justifications for this proposal.
Sex worker groups, like the English Collective of Prostitutes expressed disgust that Labour women MPs would propose increased criminalization of prostitution at the time of a pandemic which has exacerbated poverty, homelessness and debt. They point to the 1000s of sex workers who are dependent on food banks to survive, having been denied support from the government.
Laura Watson, ECP commented:
“This week, like every week since the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the ECP and other organisations have been giving out emergency payments and food vouchers to sex workers worried how they are going to make ends meet and get through Christmas. If women MPs want to help women exit prostitution they should be supporting this lifesaving work, targeting benefit sanctions and demanding money for mothers, not proposing legislation that further criminalises sex work which will inevitably drive it further underground, making it harder and more dangerous for women.”
Other opposition to the Ten-Minute Rule Motion came from Women against Rape which urged MPs to focus on effective action against rape and domestic violence. Hampshire Women’s Institute, Amnesty International, Release, National Ugly Mugs, the train drivers’ union ASLEF and Ipswich and District Trades Union Council, all pointed to the harms caused by criminalisation of sex work. Some specifically urged MPs to focus on eradicating poverty and “structural inequalities”. ASLEF pointed to the need for sex workers to have labour rights like other workers.
A group of women from Hull (Ms Johnson’s constituency) with experience of street sex work, who took a legal case against a council no prostitution zone, expressed their disappointment that they hadn’t been consulted on her proposal.
A woman from a collective of sex workers in East London commented:
“I wish that people who know zero of our industry would stop making damaging decisions. I am wholeheartedly against the criminalisation of our customers . . . We will be forced back onto the backstreet alleys and made as vulnerable overnight as women were in Victorian days. We won’t be able to feed our kids, we will lose our places of safety, our incomes and any peace of mind. At best we will be forced into poverty then debt then maybe living on the streets. What fool came up with this idea.”
In addition, over 1000 individual letters have been sent to MPs by people registering their opposition to the motion.
The Ten-Minute Rule Motion acknowledges the need for resources to help women leave prostitution. But sex workers comment that they need money in their hands, not services that are judgemental, discriminatory and institutionalise them as victims.
No account appears to have been taken by Ms Johnson of the way that trans, migrant and women of colour are targeted for arrest and raids under the existing prostitution laws.
For more info, please contact Laura Watson, English Collective of Prostitutes, 07837 076 540