Firstly, let me introduce myself – I’m Caroline Shepherd, and I’m a sex positive feminist who supports sex workers rights. I blog primarily at Better Burn That Dress, Sister, and have a few other blog projects on the go as well (Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy and in the moderation queue).
Right now, I’m concerned with Jacqui Smith’s proposals. I see Voltaire’s Priest has blogged about this in Sex Workers: Practical Help, not Puritanism and BindelBollocks already, but I’d like to hit you with the feminist perspective, or, because radical feminists traditionally wet themselves when I say I’m a feminist, the sex positive feminist perspective.
Firstly, here, very basically, is what Jacqui Smith proposes -
1) Giving councils more power to close down brothels and lap dancing clubs.
2) Make kerb-crawling punishable as a first offense.
3) Outlaw sex with someone “controlled” for another’s gain.
4) Class sex with a trafficked woman as rape. Claiming ignorance will not be considered a defense.
Sex workers and sex workers unions have objected vehemently. I have a small selection of examples in one of my blog posts, but to be honest, you’re better off going straight to the source – for example, the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), particularly this press release from Catherine Stephens. In it, she explains that these laws will quite simply endanger sex workers; the industry will be pushed even further underground. Sex workers are already incredibly vulnerable as it is, this is frankly unthinkable. In fact, considering this logically – women will be literally thrown into the street, unable to work in a controlled environment and forced to make snap decisions when getting into the car with a client. Furthermore, it is assumed that a woman working for another person is “controlled” and exploited. This is not necessarily so.
People who read my blog regularly know that I am not against prostitution. I see it as ‘selling sex’, not ‘selling women’, and I believe in supporting a woman’s choice to sell sex. I trust her judgement and respect her autonomy to make this decision. It is true that some women do not choose to be in this industry and they must be helped. Pushing the sex industry further underground won’t help anyone, least of all those most vulnerable. I do not believe, however, prostitution is necessarily unsafe, I believe it is made unsafe by bad laws and that decriminalisation and regulation will give women their right to a safe working environment. Being as I support human rights and workers rights, so too do I support sex workers rights.
However, to be perfectly frank – my opinion on sex work is, essentially, inconsequential. One may think sex work is immoral, anti-feminist, “icky”, whatever. The simple fact is there are women out there who are vulnerable and made more vulnerable by bullshit laws. Let’s say we do nothing, keep the laws as they are now. What next? To quote the indomitable Renegade Evolution (a sex worker, sex workers rights activist and blogger), what’s the plan? Harm reduction (discussed here by Ren for Feministe) is the priority here, religion, morality, feminism, that’s not the major concern right now. The need to protect vulnerable women, respect women’s right to choose to sell sex and ensure a safe working environment for women are the priorities. There are times I’m at a complete loss as to why feminists cannot agree to this.