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As expected, given that it was backed by Unison leadership, the motion to campaign for legislation that overrules sex workers’ consent to sex was passed. There was some independent thinking amongst Unison delegates: UnisonYSJ tweeted “I suspect the motion will be carried on emotive response” and HEworker commented, “dodgy motion 117 on sex workers was passed. Bad for women &bad for trade union unity”.
The motion (full text below) describes as “essential” the complete decriminalisation of sex workers … and contradicts itself just 141 words later by welcoming Scottish proposals for increased criminalisation.
The Demand Change briefing which accompanied the motion encourages Unison members to engage in telephone vigilantism and harassment of sex workers who advertise in local newspapers, trying to prevent such advertisements being published and drawing them to police attention.
This is social exclusion in action – a dynamic campaign by a major trades union targeting vulnerable and marginalised women, sending the message that sex workers are not wanted in the community and that the community should work to erode sex workers’ rights and choices: goddess forbid we should be treated with respect and humanity.
Advertising in local papers is a low cost, low tech, flexible way to advertise. Some publications accepted payments in cash, allowing sex workers to protect their anonymity and allowing those too poor to have access to credit or debit cards a way to advertise. It is legal to sell sex in the UK; it is illegal if you are not in isolation; so often adverts are for an entirely legal working situation.
One response to the pressure to refuse such adverts by imposing higher charges on sex workers compared to other businesses – many UK publications have taken this route, and it has been widespread in France and in Ireland, where the law interferes with freedom to advertise. Others simply refuse advertising of legal services, whether or not delivered in an illegal environment.
One effect of this is to push people into the hands of third parties – either agencies or brothels who find clients and charge for doing so or paying someone else to design, and often maintain, a website. Many people use third parties to find clients – the IUSW would prefer that all who do so choose freely rather than being induced by circumstances into such arrangements. Many people advertise on the web and wish to do so; again, we would prefer they do so by preference rather than because other ways of advertising are made more difficult. Either way, the result erodes the options of those selling sex, with a decrease in autonomy and the proportion of monies earned going directly to those who provide sexual services.
There is no evidence that trafficking for sexual exploitation is demand-led: trafficking occurs in the sex industry for the same reasons it occurs in other industries.
There is no evidence that if demand for sexual services diminished, there would be a corresponding fall in trafficking for sexual exploitation.
There is no evidence that most purchasers of sexual services wish to buy services from the unwilling.
In one study, less than 5% of clients said they would be deterred by legal sanctions, though 20% said they’d stop buying sex if they had a girlfriend. 
Not only is targeting clients useless in reducing trafficking, dissuading clients from using the services of migrant workers is directly against migrants’ interests, whether entrapped or independent. If they are independent, this will directly affect their income and therefore the resources available to them. If they are entrapped, clients are one of the few groups of people likely to see victims of trafficking who could report anxieties: as already described, all brothel and agencies owners and support staff run the risk of prosecution if they contact the police. “For women to have confidence in the CJS [criminal justice system], reporting violence must increase their access to safety, support and justice and not expose them to further victimisation.”  We need to stop prioritising irregular, or potentially irregular, visa status over crimes of violence against women.
There are numerous cases of clients assisting victims of trafficking – for example, in the Oriental Gems case, one of the largest trafficking investigations in London in recent years, part of the reason the prosecution was viable was due to evidence from a victim of trafficking freed from slavery as a result of a client paying £20,000 of her debt. Harriet Harman quoted this very case to the Home Affairs Committee in her evidence regarding criminalising clients – possibly a nadir of misinformation.
But I’ll leave the final word to one of the few authors to examine the connections between trafficking in the sex industry and the demand for sexual services, and perhaps the only one whose work meets basic academic standards in methodology and ethics (there are a number of propagandising studies, aimed at shoring up the ideology of anti sex workers’ rights campaigners; some of these are quoted in the Demand Change briefing).
Julia O’Connell Davidson has published extensively on the issue of trafficking and demand, and concludes
“…we could almost say that supply generates demand rather than the other way about… attempts to suppress the prostitution market, whether focused on sex workers or their clients, necessarily implies subjecting those who sell sex to what Radin describes as “the degradation and danger of the black market … it is … hard to see why anyone genuinely concerned with protecting and promoting human rights would place measures to tackle consumer demand for commercial sex at the top of their policy agenda“. 
 It’s just like going to the supermarket (Coy, Horvath, Kelly 2007).
 The way forward: A call for action to end violence against women (GLA, April 2009)
 Men, middlemen and migrants: the demand side of sex trafficking’, (O’Connell Davidson, 2006) http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2006-07-27-davidson-en.html
The following text is taken from the “Demand Change” briefing so factual accuracy cannot be guaranteed.
Conference is concerned by the fact that enshrined within the UK’s current legislation is men’s right to buy women. This is directly contradictory to a society based on gender equality.
Prostitution is not a job like any other. It is characterised by violence and abuse that has profound physical and psychological consequences for those selling sex acts – the vast majority of whom are women and girls. Studies indicate that the majority of women become involved in prostitution under the age of 18 and that childhood abuse, poverty, drug dependency and homelessness are key triggers for entry into prostitution. Once in prostitution, further studies reveal that sexual and physical assault is common, and 9 out of 10 women involved in prostitution say they would exit the sex industry if they could.
Conference believes that it is essential that those selling sex acts are completely decriminalised, and provided with support services to help exit prostitution safely and effectively. Furthermore, in order to see an end to the exploitative industry of prostitution, conference recognises that legislation is needed to tackle the demand for prostitution which expands the industry and fuels trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Conference welcomes proposals to criminalise the buying of sex-acts from a person subjected to force as an important step towards tackling demand for prostitution by shifting criminal liability away from those who are exploited through prostitution and towards those who purchase girls, boys, women and men for sexual use. Conference therefore supports current proposed legislation in the Policing and Crime Bill. However, it is recognised that these proposals do not go far enough in terms of putting a halt to the exploitative industry of prostitution and preventing future generations from being coerced into prostitution.
Conference welcomes the work being done by politicians in Scotland to amend the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill which is currently being debated within the Scottish parliament to outlaw “indoor prostitution”. Women who sell sex in saunas and flats are abused just as much as street prostitutes yet the purchase of sex in a public place is illegal in Scotland but “indoor prostitution” is not.
To work towards an end to exploitation through prostitution, Conference supports the Demand Change! Campaign in calling for the government to apply the ‘Nordic model’ to tackling prostitution by decriminalising those who sell sex acts and supporting them to exit prostitution, whilst at the same time criminalising those who purchase sex acts. Conference believes that it is only through tackling the demand for prostitution and challenging attitudes which say that it is acceptable to buy and sell women for sexual use that it will be possible to end the sexual exploitation, violence and abuse inherent to prostitution. This approach has been successfully adopted by Sweden, Norway and Iceland – countries that top the global charts in terms of gender equality – as part of their end violence against women policies.
Conference therefore instructs the NEC to proactively support the Demand Change! Campaign by:
1) Liaising with the national women’s committee and other UNISON bodies and using Demand Change! materials to raise awareness about the reality of prostitution as violence against women, and to highlight the need for an approach that tackles the demand for prostitution.
2) Liaising with UNISON Labour Link and lobbying the UNISON Parliamentary group of MPs to actively support all proposals which decriminalise the selling of sex acts whilst criminalising the purchase of sex acts; and to proactively urge the UK government to adopt the ‘Nordic’ model to tackling prostitution
3) Liaise with UNISON Labour Link and the GPF to lobby the various trade union groups in the Scottish Parliament to actively support all proposals which will criminalise the purchase of sex acts in private saunas and flats in Scotland;
4) Encouraging all UNISON members to lobby their MPs to support the Demand Change! Campaign
5) Encouraging all members to sign the petition to Number 10 which urges the government to adopt the ‘Nordic’ model to tackling prostitution
6) Encouraging branches and regions to donate to help support the campaign (this can include donating ‘in kind’).