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SEX WORERS’ RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS – the headline I read on a blog post by hard working Dublin councillor Bronwen Maher (pictured) last night – seemed at first to have a lot going for it.
I looked forward to an incisive piece about sex workers’ lack of rights and how they should be enabled if society is to progress on this thorny issue.
So I was not only disappointed and depressed, but actually astonished to discover beneath it the suggestion that the best way forward would be to adopt the Swedish regime of criminalising sex purchasers.
What sense lies behind this? Anyone who would advocate bolstering butchers, bakers and candlestick makers’ rights by locking up anyone who traded with them would surely be regarded as suffering learning difficulties. But, as usual on these rocks, sex has entered the door of the debate, so sense flies out of the window.
What’s more, Bronwen illustrates this posting with a photo of a sex workers’ rights demonstration in Perth, Australia – a country which has largely abandoned its Victorian UK laws in favour of a far more transparent regime, prioritising safety, health and risk minimisation among sex workers over keeping yet more prison wardens in work.
Where to start with Bronwen? Well, we could start by pointing out that laws have very little effect on people’s sexual choices in any event. Sodomy was illegal in the UK from 1885 until a decade or so ago, but gay men did not magically turn heterosexual for over a century – they simply went underground. Eventually a significant number either chose to come out, or were ‘outed’ among the establishment. Then suddenly, of course, the mood began to change.
Then we could point out that, far from reducing the (in context) much overstated human sex trafficking phenomenon, adopting the Swedish law would make it far more difficult to detect sex trafficking victims. As it so happens, while I have been writing this posting, another case has turned up today in Plymouth in which a client in an (alleged) brothel has apparently contacted the police over cases of girls allegedly trafficked into it.
This case joins a bulky file of evidence of ‘punters’ who, when suspecting a woman has been trafficked, have embarked on their rescue, as I itemised in evidence to the Commons Committee on the UK’s Policing and Crime Bill. How likely would they be to do this if the result could be a hefty fine, possible imprisonment and their names splashed all over the local paper?
So claims that the Swedes have somehow reduced their sex trafficking and/or sex work should not go unquestioned. A search of academic literature would reveal that the Swedes had only about 2,500 sex workers before they famously criminalised clients – a tiny number per head of population compared to the UK. There were probably as many sex workers in Copenhagen alone as there were in the whole of Sweden, and Stockholm’s red light area consisted of a single street.
Today the position is unclear but as a rule of thumb, “Stockholm + escort” in a Google search produces 468,000 results in 1.28 seconds and they aren’t all cars. Nor are they all presenting as Swedish.
A reading of Don Kulick’s 400,000 Swedish perverts provides an interesting historical background on how the Swedes came to adopt their law. Too lengthy to even summarise here, one might state that it had far more to do not with sex workers’ rights, but with Swedish concepts of sexual equality together with media xenophobia over perceived waves of foreign prostitutes supposedly about to invade Sweden carrying new and more deadly forms of HIV/Aids following Sweden’s European Union entry.
Reports suggest that migrant sex workers found in Sweden are routinely deported, and there are suggestions that some Swedish sex workers take advantage of this to reduce competition (as, perversely, their selling of sex has been simultaneously legalised along with the criminalisation of purchasing their services).
The above would suggest that the Swedes adopt the radical feminist approach of regarding all migrant sex workers as trafficked, in which case their sex trafficking figures, like the UK’s, would not conform to the Palermo Protocol international standard and would be meaningless, as not all cases would have involved coercion, deceit etc that is the hallmark of an adult trafficking case in international law.
Anyone with further doubts could have a wander around this Swedish sex worker’s site and see what she thinks about their law.