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So, the news hits the stands, the sharks start circling, the debate reaches boiling point and everyone gets out their weapons and takes aim! Dramatic? hell yeah….but that’s nothing new.
Trafficking sells newspapers, sells art, sells righteousness and sells a number of sex workers down the river to desperate measures by ignoring the voices of those who demand equal rights to harm reduction, legislation that protects them and the right to choose how to work as safely as anyone else.
Yesterday’s Guardian newspaper ran a front page headline asserting that a six month police operation in the UK had failed to find one single trafficked woman involved in UK sex work throughout this period. Not one. Now forgive me but even I find this hard to believe, because I’m a sex work activist who also acknowledges the darker side of sex work, but that said I was dancing when I read this article, whooping for joy that finally, someone somewhere in British journalism, ESPECIALLY in the Guardian, that pretty little nesting place of our beloved Julie Bindel (gasp! you mean she may be….shock horror….mistaken about all of these ‘victims’ out there ?!!) would print this news. Read the article here.
I then discovered a page of responses, hardly surprising, in the next days ‘debate and comments’ section of the same newspaper arguing that to ‘discredit’ this operation was damaging and short sighted. Read some of those responses here and here
Today’s Guardian sees the debate continue with this letter, and from some who were perhaps ahead of the game you can find an article by Belinda Brooks-Gordon which was published earlier this year posing the same questions.
As far as I can tell, the debate rages on, always has done and always will do, for it is as long as the history of prostitution and as long as the history of the birth of a morally defined democracy in our country. I’m not suggesting prostitution doesn’t exist in non-democratic countries of course, though the risks to those who buy and sell sex in such countries may be even further compounded by gender restrictions imposed according to religion and culture, more that I sometimes wonder why those who campaign so vociferously against prostitution and sex work want so badly to enforce their views upon those of us who don’t agree with them. Frustratingly, and all too often, uncorroborated and unreferenced ‘research’ figures and statistics are pulled out of nowhere to back up the claims that all sex work is bad because of the ‘thousands’ of women who are trafficked and the teeny tiny 2% of us who choose this work.
The way I see it is this (and I’ll duck here to avoid the ensuing shitstorm), it’s a bit like the BBC giving the BNP’s Nick Griffin a platform. If, and I reiterate the word if, you are going to frame your arguments with outrageous claims not based in real evidence and far removed from many people’s experiences of the world, then you can expect to leave the building with egg on your face. If you are going to make grand sweeping generalisations that don’t ring true, and that can be proven to be based in falsehood, then you can expect to be discredited. Reactionary politics, however they are dressed are exactly that…reactionary and you do yourself a disservice in limiting the amount of real support you can offer to those who do need it.
As a long time sex work activist and advocate, I’m tired of polarised debate around this. I know and accept that there are problems in sex work. I know and accept there are women who are forced into this work, trafficked into this work, who would choose to do something else if they could BUT there are women and men who choose it too, besides that is this just another red herring? CONSENT is the key and is more significant in framing this debate than the problematic concept of ‘choice’. Global politics, gender politics, socialism, sexual politics, they all play a part but f**k me guys, some of us like sex, some of us would rather sell sex than hamburgers or arms, or oil or fast cars. Some of us would rather a blow job than no job, some of us would rather suck cock than kiss ass, but when we’re doing it, we’d like to be safe, to be entitled to the same rights to protection from rape, violence and exploitation as anyone else in any other job and the right to healthy working practices. Polarising the debate just keeps this from happening over and over and actually does more damage than anything to both the protection of those for whom it advocates and most definitely to the rest of us who are left dangling in the pond of ‘evil nasty harlots’ who haven’t yet seen the error of our ways.
Jeez….wake up would you! I would want a genuinely trafficked, coerced woman or man to get as much support as she or he asked for or needed but I don’t want that support to come with blood on it’s hands as it does when the debate ignores the safety of many in favour of the moral values of a few. Let’s get this nailed people and start listening to the voices of those who do the work in making policies that impact directly upon them. Consultation is the new black!