Renegade Evolution – Why I’m not a Feminist, why I will never claim that word again…

January 17, 2009 at 6:15 pm (Feminism, Free Speech, Renegade Evolution, sex workers, women)


…and why yes indeed, I hate some feminists. Sure, I realize hate is a strong word, but you know what? Sometimes life calls for strong words.

Now, in truth, my post on the Sex Workers Conference in Chicago should be here. Right here, in this spot, should be the Ren run down of an amazing occurrence. But instead, no, I’m reacting to this.

And gee, true believers, I’m fucking pissed. Imagine that?

You want to talk about empowering?

Okay then, let’s talk about empowering.
You know what empowering is? Spending a couple of days in the closest thing to a real safe space a sex worker of any sort can expect these days…a space safe from asshole men and asshole fucking feminists alike, amid other sex workers of all kinds: female, male, trans, PoC, white, straight, gay, bi, old, young, from all over the world. Sex workers who run the gamut from the Pro-Domme working on her PhD to the street worker trying to figure out where the Chicago strolls are so they might have a roof over their head that night- from the 40ish woman who got into the biz later in life because she feels it to be a spiritual calling to the wizened hustler who fled home at 13 and went into it to survive- from the sex worker who has never had a bad experience of any kind to the sex worker who has been raped, beaten, stabbed, and robbed so many times the mind boggles and the heart breaks upon hearing it. Yeah, all those people, all of them, sitting around and sharing their stories, their lives, their souls, comparing notes, talking about what it is they really want, what it is they really need, and what it is they don’t want or need… and yeah, you can sure as hell bet that patronizing snide dismissive shit like that post and most of the comments on it fall into the do not want or need category. Empowering is those people speaking for themselves and being heard, coming together to do shit for themselves because guess what? No one else is going to do it, none of those really real empowered non-fun feminists who are soooo busy not painting their nails or bleaching their hair or waxing their cunts or pumping up their tits to actually give a fuck because it’s so much easier to get all empowered by ragging on those pornarific sluts who are just so stupid and deluded and flawed (teehee) and make all the really real empowered non-fun feminists look bad, who make their lives just so hard (teehee), who, well, they won’t actually come out and say “the bitch deserved it”…not very often anyway, but they get real close pretty damn often (teehee), who don’t even apparently fucking know what the actual definition of the word empowerment is, but they can sure as hell say who is and who isn’t, what is and what isn’t (teehee). These people can sit around and make all these fucking judgments and moralistic proclamations on people like me and those I met in Chicago all they want, but it’s not, in the really real world, actually all that empowering or shit like that, unless you count catty bitching ala the junior high locker room as empowering (and so feminist too! Teehee!), but still, no answer to the lingering “What’s the Plan?” question, and I still really do wonder how often any one of these women actually help whores or do anything in the really real world to actually make their lives, in the here and now, any better. Nah, easier to talk about how those brainless deluded sluts make men do bad things or make them feel ugly and life changing empowering shit like that.

See, this weekend, amid all the wonderful people I met, one sort of stands out for me, and you’ll hear more about her later: a strong, proud woman who goes by the (last) name of Outlaw (hey, a Renegade and an Outlaw, you know it’s gonna be a party), who probably has more world wisdom, heart, and savvy in her porny, manicured pinky finger than any of these grave, serious, non-fun (teehee!) feminists have in their entire bodies…and you know, I’d pay cold hard cash to see any of them spout this shit to Miz Outlaw’s face. Frankly, I don’t think they’d have the spine to look her in the face and say any of it, oddly enough, but yeah, I’d sure as hell pay my “sex biz blood money” to see it. I also wonder what they’d say to the feminist women’s studies professor, who is no dumb young hip thing, who was there because she wanted to know more about being a real ally, and what she’d think of this dehumanization, slut shaming, appearance bashing and other shit masquerading as feminism. Or how about the woman minister who works for outreach for sex workers, on her own time and dime? It’s crap like this that makes me say, on days like today, after events like that, thank fucking god I’m not a “real feminist”, and makes me want no real association with any of these snide, snotty, holier than thou fucks.

To the gates of hell and all that other shit, even with the threats and lies, I will fight this crap and keep calling these assholes out…and that is something you can bet your own blood money on.

And guess what super-serious for really real feminists? Even with my sparkles and heels and all that? As a sex worker and activist for sex workers? I assure you, a whole ton of shit really isn’t all that fun. Hearing about a young transwoman sex worker found murdered with her genitals mutilated isn’t fun. Reading a feminist blog where there is talk of “a significant part of the female population really does seem like an air head or a blond idiot” (it’s blonde, by the way), or statements like “I am sad for the pain that the fun feminists will know, because they will not understand how it could happen to them”, as if it’s not fucking happening to us every day too is not fun. In fact, it sucks and it makes me real angry…

…but that’s okay. For me, anger is real damn empowering and serves as an excellent motivator.

Oh yeah, and kiss my pornified ass.

(This post was originally written by Renegade Evolution in July 2008. I’ve reposted it here because I think it is one of the most astounding and moving pieces of writing from a “sex positive feminist” – a term she’s not too keen on – that I have ever read. Keep it up Ren, you’ve got a new fan here, VP. By the way, if you want to see the original post and set of comments, it’s here)

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The Fourteenth Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy

January 14, 2009 at 12:41 am (Feminism, LGBT, liberation, sex workers, voltairespriest)

Is here. I don’t know what my fellow bloggers think (well, I could take a wild guess as to Caroline’s opinion) but I think we should join its list of backers!

It seems to me that this is a vibrant yet often beseiged movement of people seeking a genuinely liberatory feminist politics. In doing so they seek to ensure that the most vulnerable victims of the oppression of women cease to be “victims” at all, via the means of their own self-emancipation. For what it’s worth, I can’t see what more reason the left would (or should) need to give them its full and utterly heartfelt support.

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Of prostitutes, puritans and prohibitionism

January 11, 2009 at 6:59 pm (Feminism, sex workers, unions, voltairespriest)

Only Rights Will Stop The Wrongs!I felt prompted to write this by Cath Elliott’s latest piece at Liberal Conspiracy, “Betraying Sex Workers”. In it she raises questions about the International Union of Sex Workers, suggesting that there are other interest groups behind the IUSW’s libertarian stance on legalisation and unionisation of prostitution, namely pimps and punters. Further, she says:

Whenever those of us who are opposed to legalisation or across the board decriminalisation air our views, we’re invariably shouted down and accused of not listening to what prostitutes themselves want: “Go and talk to the IUSW” we’re told: “they represent prostitutes: they know what they’re talking about.”

Now, maybe Cath and I read different newspapers but I certainly haven’t noticed supporters of Jacqui Smith’s recent proposals, or conservative feminists in general (by which I mean moralists who see puritan legislation as the solution to this issue) being howled down by IUSW or ECP supporters. It just is not true. In fact the vast majority of coverage of Smith’s proposals which I have seen, has reported them as though they were the only reasonable way forward with the issue.

As I mentioned above, she intimates that the IUSW could have members who are pimps and punters, and cites as an example one Douglas Fox. He himself replies on the same thread, and I have no idea who is right and who is wrong. In a way however that isn’t really the point. The real question is not whether the IUSW is at this stage a representative body for sex workers, but actually what it is that gives the right to speak on behalf of sex workers to middle-class Labour politicians and liberal-feminist journos who in most cases will never have had so much as a lengthy conversation with a sex worker, let alone actual experience of the way that sex work manifests and affects people’s lives.

I also find it credulous in the extreme of Cath and other writers to put so much apparent trust in a government whose record in terms of protecting vulnerable women is at best gun-shy (when it wilted over abortion rights in Northern Ireland), and at worst downright disgusting (attacks on lone parent benefits spring to mind). I simply don’t believe these people when they suddenly strike “feminist” poses, conveniently on issues with cross-party appeal to Daily Mail readers and nimbies who most certainly do not have the best interests of sex workers at heart.

Fellow Liberal Conspirator Kate Belgrave has written a reply to Cath which I entirely agree with. She says:

It does not follow that feminists who support the notion of a legal sex trade are indifferent to the crimes that can take place around it – or think, somehow, that protection for victims of those crimes runs second to the rights of sex workers who choose their trade. It is simply that feminists who support a legal sex trade believe that there is nothing to be gained from pushing the trade underground, and know that sex workers say the same thing.

The bottom line is that it’s all very well for writers favouring prohibition to cry “feminism” in defence of what in the analysis are very socially conservative politics, but it still will not alter the fact that the real crisis of representation does not lie with sex workers themselves so much as with those who claim to be representing their interests by defending proposals which stink to me of political expediency throwing sops to middle-England conservatism.

Our Caroline has written extensively both here and at her own blog giving the case against legislative prohibitionism for sex workers. I have little to add to her writings, but to say that I think the case against prohibitionism is overwhelming and further that I believe most of those who understand the difficulties faced in trying to help street sex workers would agree with me.

As Kate says, “Labour isn’t for girls”.

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More on how to protest against Jacqui Smith’s proposals

January 5, 2009 at 10:14 pm (Caroline S, sex workers, women)

From the IUSW

The second reading of the new bill is now on MONDAY THE 12TH.

We must get as many MPs as is possible to speak out against the governments proposals.

This is a draft letter from the IUSW.

Please will everyone concerned with this industry send this to your MP. If you need help finding out who your local MP is IM me and I will give you details. [or check out this site]

Clients can of course change the begining to something appropriate such as concerned member of the public.

This is urgent please do this asap.

I am writing to you as a resident of your constituency who is (a concerned member of the public)involved in the sex industry. The Policing and Crime Bill, that has its second reading on 12 January, contains proposals which will make people in the sex industry less safe and increase our social exclusion. The proposals make it more likely that street sex workers will be forced to work in greater isolation and as a consequence be hurt and killed, and less likely that victims of trafficking will come to the attention of the police. The proposals directly play into the hands of exploitative and violent criminals and traffickers by decreasing the ways to work safely and making sex workers less likely to call the police if they are the victims of crime and abuse.

The Home Office has failed to consult with sex workers’ organisations during the preparation of legislation (neither the International Union of Sex Workers or the English Collective of Prostitutes are considered to be stakeholders on this issue according to the Home Office report on Tackling the Demand for Prostitution of November 2008; neither is the uk Network of Sex Work Projects which provides frontline health and support services to people in the sex industry through 63 projects across the uk).

In addition, the proposals completely ignore an enormous range of academic research which shows that increased criminalisation has a negative effect: we need evidence based policy to create effective change and protect the vulnerable. The magnitude of the Home Office’s misinterpretation of evidence is shown in the Regulatory Impact Assessments associated with the Bill, which state that Pentameter 2 (a nationwide police operation) identified 800 brothels containing trafficked women. In fact, the police’s own figures for Pentameter 2 show raids on 822 premises located 250 victims of trafficking: the Home Office has confused the number of premises raided with the number of actual victims found.

I ask you to condemn these proposals during the second reading debate, and call for policy on the sex industry to treat our safety and human rights as the highest priority. This can only be achieved by meaningful consultation with those most effected: we are the experts in our own lives.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Like I said with the petition – if you’re in the UK and have an MP, please do get involved with this. If you’re not in the UK, please post this on your blog or website for your UK readers, or forward it in email – anything to spread the word.

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Petition to defer any bill on prostitution until after the next general election

January 1, 2009 at 2:45 pm (Caroline S, sex workers)

There’s a petition up to defer any bill on prostitution until after the next general election on Number10.gov.uk

The right of people in this country to decide by mutual agreement whether and under what conditions they consent to sexual intercourse is fundamental. In particular, it has never been illegal to pay for consensual sex since at least as far back as Magna Carta. The government are now proposing to criminalise men who pay for sex for the first time in this country’s history. That would constitute a radical change in the legal position for which the government has no electoral mandate, since the policy at the time of the 2005 general election was to legalise brothels operated by a small number of sex workers. We therefore call upon the government to obtain a mandate from the electorate before introducing any bill on prostitution.

If you’re wanting to fight this Jacqui Smith nonsense, there’s a good place to start.

If you’re a British citizen, do please sign this. I’ve written on this 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 do have a read through if you’re not sure what’s happening and then do sign the petition.

I would also like to ask people to spread the link to this petition as widely as possible. If you’re a blogger and not a British citizen, I’m sure you’ll have British citizens reading, so do please reblog this.

Cheers.

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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.

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A feminist perspective on Jacqui Smith’s proposals to change the prostitution laws

December 23, 2008 at 10:05 am (Caroline S, Feminism, Free Speech, sex workers, women)

viceFirstly, 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.

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BindelBollocks

November 25, 2008 at 10:04 pm (Feminism, sex workers, voltairespriest)

Only Rights Will Stop The Wrongs!This is just a short post by way of a debate with my little left-footer chum Red Maria, who has a post here imploring people advocating views which approximate those of many sex workers’ self-advocacy groups and professional workers in the helping services to stop “bullying” commentator and nationally profiled journalist Julie Bindel by disagreeing with her support for Jacqui Smith’s retrograde and counter-productive new rulings on sex work. I’ve made comments on Maria’s blog already about what a betrayal of the liberationist ideals of self-definition and self-representation I believe Bindel’s stances represent. What’s more, I think this reveals a genuine issue with the sort of politics that Bindel and some other feminists (they do not represent, incidentally, all feminist commentary on this question) have revealed by their stances on the question of sex workers.

Since when precisely do “radical” or “progressive” political activists of any kind seek not only to make truth claims about what oppressed groups should do, but also about who they are? I’ve seldom seen such essentialising comments about any oppressed group as there have been from people supporting the Government’s position in the debate about how best to help sex workers. Sex workers are cast into the role of 19th-Century figures – assuming of course that we ignore the Lady Chainmakers’ Strike and countless other incidences of self-emancipation which do not fulfil the victim narrative – oppressed by a brutal male world around them which is the sole root of their problems. If that world could be pushed back or made to realise that it is “bad” and therefore control its animal instincts, then the sex industry would disappear and these women would go on to live happy and full lives, presumably thanking their wise Rad-Fem sisters for having told them what was right along the way. I simplify and exaggerate, but not much.

The reality of the situation is of course much more complex. There are multiple reasons why women and men get involved in the sex industry and no amount of high-handed blame games (which are in any case proxies for other over-arching ideological battles) will resolve it. Indeed in the case of sex workers, the bizarre quasi-Victorian moralising spouted forth by the likes of Bindel will surely only serve to make the situation worse, as I have argued in a previous post.

But what, exactly is with the essentialising statements from Bindel. When she isn’t effectively accusing the GMB’s ground-breaking unionising programmes for sex workers (and de facto genuinely admirable figures such as Ana Lopez the International Union of Sex Workers) of legitimising pimping, Bindel also argues that women who were born as men (ie transgendered people) are not real women. This position is simply shameful, marginalising and belittling as it does one of the most vulnerable groups of people on the planet. Once again as well, she finds herself with some interesting right wing bedfellows; doubtless when he was taking time out from making bigoted statements about feminists and gay people being responsible for 9/11, the Reverend Jerry Falwell would have been more than happy to sign off on that particular stance of this “champion of the oppressed”.

You see, I think it comes down to that world-view again. It’s all about a Manichaean battle between men and women, which overrides questions of class, of race, even of gender and sexuality unless they fall within that convenient dichotomy. It’s an understandable view from some perspectives but it is crude and it is fundamentally false. In short it’s BindelBollocks. Sadly, she’s not the only person making pronunciations about complex issues on the basis of a crudified worldview, but I suspect she is one such.

She’d just be so much more convincing as a voice of the victims if she could manage to sound less like a Rad-Fem Savonarola on questions like these.

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ECP Meeting on New Sex Work Laws

November 20, 2008 at 8:05 am (Feminism, media, sex workers, voltairespriest)

(I don’t fully agree with the ECP’s overall view of the way that the sex work industry functions in the UK. Nevertheless their prioritisation of the rights and safety of women working in the industry makes a change from the moralistic and often cynical discourse that has dominated mainstream debate on the issue. Also their attempt to provide a voice for sex workers themselves is to be welcomed, and marks a welcome break from much of the patronising and seemingly elitist discourse which has seemed to mark some of the feminist writing that can be found on this question in the mainstream media. VP)

 

Stop new laws vs consenting sex!

As the governments announces new prostitution offences, we ask: who benefits from criminalising sex workers & clients?

 

The English Collective of Prostitutes co-ordinates the Safety First Coalition

 

1. COMMENTS

 

On Wednesday 19 November, under the guise of protecting women from trafficking, the government will announce new laws against prostitution.  While they claim to target men who have sex with a woman controlled for gain, what will be their effect on women?  Bitter experience tells us that any law against consenting sex forces prostitution further underground and makes women more vulnerable to violence.  Women Against Rape agrees: “We know from women we have helped over the years that criminalisation is the main obstacle to sex workers reporting rape and getting justice.”

 

In our submission to the government, we said:

 

“Prostitution is not an offence at present and we see no reason why sex between consenting adults should be criminalised just because one party pays the other for her or his services.  While the new proposed offence speaks of sex with a person controlled for gain, how will it be established that the person is controlled for gain?  Controlled by whom?  For whose gain?  Will a co-worker, a maid, a partner or any one else who relates to a sex worker be considered guilty?  Are clients expected to know what sex workers’ working arrangements are?  Which arrangements will be deemed legal and which not?”   For full submission see: http://www.prostitutescollective.net

 

Just like in any other job, many women prefer to work together: it is safer and less boring.  Often younger women work for older ones.  Under the proposed offence, any client of a woman working for another could be convicted.  But what is his crime?  The woman is working voluntarily and is likely to be making a better income than most women in commonly available low waged jobs. 

 

2. WIDESPREAD OPPOSITION: PUBLIC MEETING

Tuesday 25 November 2008  6-8pm, Committee Room 16, House of Commons

 

Come and hear how wide ranging opposition to the government proposals is. 

The meeting is hosted by John McDonnell MP.

 

Speakers so far:

Niki Adams, English Collective of Prostitutes

Victoria Andrews, lap-dance club manager & ex lap-dancer

Sian Berry , Green Party candidate for Mayor of London

Toni Cole , ex-sex worker, first successful private prosecution for rape in England & Wales

Sue Conlan, Solicitor

Niamh Eastwood, Head of Legal Services, RELEASE

Richard Faulkner , House of Lords

Jean Jo hnson, Hampshire Women’s Institute

Catherine Stephens, International Union of Sex Workers

Dr Helen Ward, Dept of Epidemiology & Public Health, Imperial College , London  

 

3. SOME FACTS

 

Public opinion is increasingly hostile to repressive policies that force prostitution underground, and make it less safe for sex workers. 

 

o        In February, the Safety First Coalition with MPs and Peers defeated government attempts to “rehabilitate” sex workers and increase arrests. 

o        On 14 November, the IQ2 debate at the Royal Geographical Society defeated “It is Wrong to Pay for Sex “by 449 to 203.

o        The Communications Workers Union has voted for decriminalisation.

o        Long established women’s organisations are canvassing their members.

o        Lapdancers handed into Downing Street a 3,000-strong petition against tightening licensing laws.

o        Internationally, New Zealand ’s five-year review showed decriminalisation is a success. In US, the historical election that voted Barrack Obama as president by a landslide, was also memorable in San Francisco for Proposition K to decriminalise prostitution in the city. Prop K got 43% of the votes – astonishing given that its sex-worker-led campaign had no funding, and that the police, District Attorney and Mayor used their position to misinform and scare voters. 

 

Workers don’t benefit from criminalisation. The ECP has been inundated by women who have been raided, arrested and charged, and face imprisonment for running safe, discrete premises where no coercion is taking place. Anti-trafficking legislation is being used to justify these raids. Who will support families hit by recession when mothers and daughters who sell sex are imprisoned? How can women who want to get out of prostitution find another job if they have a criminal record?

 

Pimps, violent men and “rehabilitation” projects benefit. Pimps are attracted by any illegal economy. Violent men know that illegal workers can’t report violence or exploitation. And more anti-prostitution projects will be funded to “save” the rest of us.

 

Why are resources wasted on policing consenting sex when most rapists are getting away with it? Why are anti-trafficking laws used to deport women? 

 

Sex workers want rights, not charity. We want safety, not prison.

Listen to the workers, not the preachers.

 

 

ecp@allwomencount.net

www.prostitutescollective.net

 

 

 

 

 

English Collective of Prostitutes

PO Box 287

London NW6 5QU

Tel:  020 7482 2496

Fax: 020 7209 4761

Email: ecp@allwomencount.net

Web: www.prostitutescollective.net

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Sex Workers: Practical Help, not Puritanism

November 16, 2008 at 5:20 pm (drugs, Feminism, labour party, media, mental health, politics, poverty, puritan, sex workers, Uncategorized, voltairespriest)

Sex Work is Work!I was going to write about the proposed ban on happy hour, another part of the current government’s reactionary and moralistic social agenda, but then this issue came up instead. So the defence of the £3 six pack of Carling will have to wait for another day, though suffice it to say that I think Roosevelt hit the nail on the head when it comes to drinking in times of economic downturn. Anyway, let us turn to a more important subject than drinking, and a more vulnerable group than alleyway pissers and alcopop-swilling morons.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, seems to have come over all full of moral fire and purity with her latest set of proposals to criminalise the buying of sex from a woman (or man, presumably) “controlled for another person’s gain”. That definition would apply to 95%+ of street sex workers, whether the person doing the controlling is a dealer, a pimp or even a partner with a drug habit that the woman concerned is working to fund. All very noble, one might think: after all it is the punters being criminalised and who could possibly want to come to the defence of greasy kerb crawlers? There have been various voices supporting the measure, of varying quality – witness Mary Warnock’s ghastly, moralistic article in today’s Observer, which could have come from Richard Littlejohn if it one were merely to substitute the word “immigration” in place of “sex trade”. On another level, Cat at Stroppyblog puts a more radical case for supporting the measure which, whilst still not correct in my view, is at least worthy of debate.

To me, most obvious issue with this measure is that it will have precisely the opposite effect to the one which is supposedly intended. The very nature of the current sex trade is that it exists in the shadows, away from the public sphere and the checks and balances of everyday life. That’s fine if you’re the punter, who in most cases has a warm home, partner/wife and family to return to after taking your walk on the wild side and parting with fifty quid. It’s not so good if you’re the sex worker, trying to remain alive whilst dodging law enforcement, criminal predators and often carrying psychiatric issues, a drug habit or both. It also makes life more difficult if you’re a worker from one of the various organisations which try to put support services in place for sex workers and their attendant issues. To put it bluntly, you cannot help people that you cannot see, and the criminality of sex work leaves it in a netherworld which is very hard to reach into in order to provide support for those vulnerable individuals who work within the industry. No amount of bleating from the government about this law “targeting punters” will change the fact that its effect will be to drive vulnerable sex workers further into the impenetrable darkness that already surrounds their work. Drug habits and pimps don’t go away just because “men paying for sex” has been made into an illegal activity, but working environments for sex workers certainly do become even more dangerous as a consequence of the measure.

The reaction to Smith’s proposals also offers up a rather more general and damning indictment on various strands within liberal and radical feminism. Whether one agrees with Smith’s stance or not, I think it’s fairly obvious that it isn’t in and of itself “progressive” or “feminist”. It’s the sort of proposal which could just as easily have been put forward by a Conservative administration, and indeed would fit in rather well with the sort of government-as-moral-actor model favoured by religious conservatives within the US Republican Party. Seen in the wider context of this government’s clampdowns on internet freedom, banning of “anti-social” activities in public and assaults on civil liberties, it can be seen as part of a much wider and more authoritarian social agenda. It isn’t really about any kind of emancipatory politics at all, a fact that seems to be lost on certain feminist (and other centre-left) commentators.

Why is it that some feminists seem determined to back this, in spite of the voices of advocacy groups for sex workers clamouring against it and the vast amount of qualitative evidence which suggests it would not work? I think it actually comes down to strands within feminism (and I am not speaking about all feminists here by any stretch) which seem to think that members of oppressed groups who also happen to be women are essentially passive “victim figures” incapable of any emancipatory activity which is not prescribed by their more enlightened (usually white, often middle class) sisters in the media or academia. There is an inherent conservatism there which patronises and marginalises voices which do not fit the expected norm, and I think there is a little of that at work here.

What, then, actually would work? I think the problem is that the system’s failings in dealing with the issues presented by sex workers are multi-faceted and not easily reduced to either media-friendly soundbites or simplistic moral platitudes about “nasty men paying for sex”. It isn’t simply a matter of cutting off demand by criminalising punters (even if that weret the effect of the measure, which it won’t be). I think what is needed is to address the issues which drive women and men into street level sex work in the first place. One such measure should be a massive programme of public investment in effective drug therapies. One of the most poisonous shifts of Whitehall goalposts within the past decade was the abandonment of “drug free” as the objective by which standards of drug services were judged. This was replaced by “in active treatment”, meaning that someone parked on Methadone treatment for fifteen years is seen as a “positive outcome” when reports are given to the press. The knock-on effect of this has been a rise in the street-level availability of methadone for illegal purchase. The fact is that class A drug addiction is a major root of street sex work, and that effective therapy and novel treatments (ranging  from residential rehab to “chemical washes” with modern opioid receptor antagonists such as Naltrexone) <i>can</i> produce drug free outcomes. Freedom from a drug habit makes gaining freedom from sex work much easier.

Another area where sex workers are made vulnerable is by their immigration status if they are trafficked into the UK. It is nothing short of criminal that women should be scared to access services for fear of deportation. Give them all unlimited leave to remain, full recourse to public funds and a work permit. Once more the gaps through which helping hands can reach, will open up.

And of course, there’s the biggie. Legalise sex work and grant sex workers the full right to unionise in the workplace. Making the sex trade publicly visible means that the oppression which it brings into the lives of sex workers can be tackled head on. Unionisation gives those workers the right to forge their own emancipation within the protections offered by the law and the labour movement. I fail to see why we would deny rights to sex workers which we ourselves would demand as of right. The right to work safely and without fear of attack or criminalisation is one which I am prepared to fight for in my own workplace, and I think therefore that sex workers should be able to do the same.

Will any of those things happen? They’re certainly recognisably more radical than Smith’s proposals, and in my view (and others’) would be more effective. However none of them chime in with the current government’s authoritarian agenda. Furthermore, all of them would be politically unpopular with a populace under the thrall of memes about “dirty junkies” and “whores” taking money from the state. Therefore the government will probably stick with what it is currently doing. I for one though see nothing within that agenda that I could possibly support, and it amazes me to see some of my fellow “progressives” doing so.

For more information on the struggle to unionise sex workers, look at the International Union of Sex Workers website.

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