What do you make of this?

December 30, 2008 at 5:05 pm (Caroline S, sex workers)

Everyone has an opinion about sex work. Straight off – is it work? Why not say “prostitution”? A few days ago I wrote about how preserving an ideology should be secondary to the safety of sex workers; comments were overtaken swiftly by a discussion on whether or not sex work could be properly defined as work. Yet again, sex workers rights were towards the back of the agenda. But consider what has happened this year –

February 2008

Steve Wright was found guilty of murdering Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls, sex workers working in Ipswich, England in 2006. Mr. Justice Gross ordered him to serve a maximum sentence, commenting –

Drugs and prostitution meant they were at risk. But neither drugs nor prostitution killed them. You did. You killed them, stripped them and left them… why you did it may never be known. This was a targeted campaign of murder. It is right you should spend your whole life in prison.

Two men raped a sex worker in Swindon, England.

After dragging her upstairs Arvinder pulled out a clump of her hair while Karnail slammed a sash window shut on her fingers as she tried to get away. Both men then raped the woman, first forcing her to perform oral sex on them and then having intercourse.

April 2008

A man is alleged to have raped a sex worker working in Nottingham, England. thisisnottingham.co.uk reported –

Nottingham Crown Court heard he had given her a ticket stub instead of cash, forced her against the fence and placed his arm across her throat.

Dowding was aggressive and threatening, prosecutor Stuart Rafferty said as he opened the case to a jury yesterday.

Dowding removed the woman’s jacket and pulled off her trousers, he added.

“She was completely naked on her bottom half and wearing a thin top. She realised what was going to happen.”

She asked Dowding to wear a condom before he put her against the fence and allegedly raped her before throwing her clothes over the fence, Mr Rafferty told the court.

Shortly afterwards, the woman saw a police officer she knew and told him she had been raped.

The Bradford News reports a sex worker was alegedy raped in Leeds, England.

A man was jailed for raping a sex worker in Manchester, England, in January 2007. Detective Constable Ginette Smith from the Force Sexual Crime Unit commented –

This man preyed on a vulnerable woman and subjected her to a terrifying assault.

I understand that many street sex workers may find it difficult to contact police when they are the victims of crime because they think that, due to the nature of their work, they will not be believed.

I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to those people working in Greater Manchester to say that we take all reports of these types of offences extremely seriously and will investigate all reports thoroughly. We will do everything in our power to catch offenders and bring them before the courts.

June 2008

A court heard that a sex worker working in Liverpool, England, was raped at knife point in 2007.

July 2008

In Bolton, England, a court heard how a sex worker was raped after refusing to pay

“I turned round and said £20 for sex but you have to use a condom. I always use a condom,” she said.

She added that McManus took her to a nearby car park off Carlton Street but he refused to give her the money in advance.

When she tried to walk away he grabbed her and raped her without using a condom.

Afterwards the distressed woman found her boyfriend nearby and the police were called.

August 2008

A court heard that a sex worker was alegedly raped in Bristol, England in November 2007.

Lubomir Kora went on trial accused of being part of a rape gang which was responsible for five attacks on Bradford (England) sex workers.

September 2008

A sex worker was raped at knife point in Preston, England.

October 2008

A man was sentenced to life for the rape and assault of a sex worker working in Northamptonshire, England. He is still being investigated by Northamptonshire Police for similar attacks on prostitutes in that area.

November 2008

West Yorkshire Police plead for information after two sex workers in Leeds, England were raped. It is not known if these incidents are linked.


Radical Feminists use this kind of evidence to support the Swedish Model, making the buying of sex completely illegal. This year, Scotland adopted this model.

The Edinburgh Evening News reported in December that ten sex workers were raped between January and September 2008, double the numbers reported in 2006. Ruth Morgan Thomas (SCOT-PEP) was quoted in saying not a night went by where support workers in Leith did not hear of an attack taking place. Earlier in the year they reported prostitute attacks had soared. This is after the news laws in Scotland were implemented.

Margo MacDonald, MP, argued that the Swedish approach had failed because it had driven prostitution underground so no-one knew what was going on and now the women had returned to the street, something Sex Workers Unions such as the IUSW fear will happen under Jacqui Smith’s new laws. If you want to read about the negative consequences of this approach in Sweden, check out Sexsäljares och allierades nätverk i Sverig (it’s in English).

So what do we do with this? The danger that prostitution may be pushed underground is real and it’s effects are seen in Scotland. The advantages of decriminalisation are shown in New Zealand (h/t to HangBitch). It would seem logical to talk about what is most adventageous to sex workers. All barring one of these examples above are sex workers working on the street. These examples of what’s been happening in the UK this year is on the tip of the iceberg. God only knows how many sex workers have been sexually assaulted these past few years in England and Wales.

So do we, British society, talk about decriminalisation? No. We talk about definitions, semantics. “Sex worker” or “prostitute”. Is it work? We talk about the ickiness of prostitution as though that justifies all these crimes against women. We debate the morality of it, is it right to sell sex? We place ideology above the safety of these women. We don’t question ourselves. UK feminists do not read that which disagrees with them (from blogland to parliament, who has been listening to the sex workers themselves?). Why not do all that after we’ve supported women’s rights not to be raped and assaulted?

And I can’t believe that anyone would look at the above list, read some of the links, and then support any law that would push this industry further underground and increase the vulnerability of these women.


  1. maxdunbar said,

    ‘Radical Feminists use this kind of evidence to support the Swedish Model, making the buying of sex completely illegal. This year, Scotland adopted this model.’

    You’re right, it seems to me that this kind of evidence supports a full legalisation like the Holland model, rather than criminalisation.

    Get it regulated, get it unionised, get it taxed with heavy sentences for abusive clients and any kind of pimp.

    Further criminalisation will, as you say, drive it underground and increase this kind of incident. It’s common sense, but as with drugs, policy makers are just blind to it.

  2. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Bang on the nail again, Caroline. You’ll get no disagreement from me on this one – and excellent post BTW!

  3. T.alderton said,

    Found your blog via a Google alert for Anneli Alderton (my Little sister)
    Just wanted to applaud you on a lucid, sage and well made arguement.
    Unfortunatly incidents like you outlined above are all to common because the relation between street prostitution and drug use means it’s already too far underground to adequetly protect the girls involved.

    the positive thing about the Ipswich Murders (and I belive in accepting the positives even in tragedy) is that very breifly it bought the underground to light and allowed the victims of co-ersion and exploited addiction to engage with the police for perhaps the first time ever. and this has saved lives.

    of course morrally i belive sex with someone who was co-erced into doing so through violence or exploitation of an addiction should be considered as rape. a hasty and ill thought out law that does so will never protect the girls involved in the way intended.

    Congratulations and thankyou for this blog.


  4. voltairespriest said,

    Thank you very much for that contribution. It’s rightly sobering to read comments from people whose views are informed by real-life experience, especially when that experience is as tragic as Anneli’s. I particularly agree with your point about street sex workers engaging with the police – Smith’s laws would make the likelihood of those desperately marginalised people being able to engage safely with any agency so much more distant.

  5. links for 2008-12-31 « The Mustard Seed said,

    […] What do you make of this? « Shiraz Socialist "Everyone has an opinion about sex work. Straight off – is it work? Why not say “prostitution”? A few days ago I wrote about how preserving an ideology should be secondary to the safety of sex workers; comments were overtaken swiftly by a discussion on whether or not sex work could be properly defined as work. Yet again, sex workers rights were towards the back of the agenda." (tags: blog europe workers malesupremacy) […]

  6. Caroline said,

    T Alderton – thank you very much for commenting. The dangers of Jacqui Smith’s ridiculous proposals should be clear as day to everyone following what happened in Ipswich to your sister and the other women, I’ll certainly be fighting this as much as I can and supporting everyone else fighting.

  7. Petition to defer any bill on prostitution until after the next general election « Shiraz Socialist said,

    […] blog (A feminist perspective on Jacqui Smith’s proposals to change the prostitution laws and What do you make of this?) and my own about how much these new laws would endanger sex workers if they came into effect, so […]

  8. skidmarx said,

    A prostitute I knew once used to call it “hustling”.

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