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The following article is partly a reply to comments made by Julie Bindel during my interview with her concerning sex work and unionisation.
It is time that the law recognised that sex workers deserve the same rights as the rest of society. That means that sex workers should be allowed to work together for safety, hire ancillary staff or employ an agent to represent them. It is only sensible and right in a free, democratic and liberal society that sex workers should have these choices and that they should not be penalised by the law for wanting what every other British worker expects as a right.
British juries are beginning to recognise this right as witnessed in the case of
Claire Finch who as a Madam openly used her home as a brothel but was acquitted by a British jury of charges of brothel keeping. Similar cases are now going through British courts where women have been arrested by the police on brothel keeping charges often after reporting crimes committed, by violent criminals, against them and the people they represent.
The image of the pimp promoted by anti sex work campaigners as a misogynous villain is increasingly recognised for what it is, propaganda, rather than a reflection of reality.
There is also a worrying xenophobia being exploited by anti sex work campaigners. This was particularly obvious in the recent hysteria surrounding trafficking. Large numbers of foreign sex workers working legally and illegally in many of the larger UK cities has been used by some to exploit popular anxieties over foreigners and human trafficking. This fear was hyped by the then Labour government in the 2009 policing and crime bill to justify raising the penalties already in existence against sex worker managements as well as increasing police powers to target and close brothels.
The British public however understand that facts have been manipulated to justify bad law. The public know that it is mostly women who manage the thousands of small brothels that operate in Britain, not men. Men involved in management are usually partners of women who work consensually in the industry. The law increasingly is seen to be being used as a crude form of social engineering that does not liberate women from exploitation as it claims but does the opposite. The real result of targeting sex worker managements is an increase in criminal convictions against women, the forcing of women into dangerous working environments and the inevitable negative impact upon families that will result.
Culturally we have a confused understanding about what sex worker management is. Influenced by American pop culture the gangsta pimp has become mythologised especially by black youth who eulogise the social out cast. Rappers like Snoop Dogg who claims to have once been a pimp glamorises in his vocals what many would agree are misogynous stereotypes, associating pimping and prostitution with violence and drugs.
In popular British culture the pimp as a
Bill Sikes figure who preys upon the vulnerable, procuring women into a life of vice, seduced by a combination of drugs and violence into selling sex remains one of the most prevailing motifs for male violence within our society. Some so called feminists increasingly now adopt that motif to also include all male clients of sex workers.
Primitive attempts however to demonise all men as perpetrators of violence toward women sit uneasily with a public wary of such simplistic gender stereotyping. Such stereotyping ignores the consensual participation of women in the sex industry as both purchasers and sellers of sexual services as well as in the management of sex work.
What is increasingly recognised by the public is that present legislation on sex work does not reflect the reality of the relationship that exists between most sex workers and their managements. The law does not differentiate between good managements and bad managements. The law simply perpetuates myths.
As a society however we should deal with reality and not with myth. Sex worker managements have a role within sex work that is not dissimilar to the role of managers and agents in other industries. No one denies that exploitation does exists in sex work but we have to acknowledge that the majority of sex work managements do their very best in very difficult circumstances to organise sex work so that it is safe, to provide anonymity for those they represent, provide comfortable and secure working conditions and deal with the complexities of an increasingly complex, sophisticated and global market. It is not the fault of the sex industry that there is no legislation to enforce good management. It is the law, not the pimp that is the real danger to sex workers’ safety and freedom to work.
British governments have repeatedly failed sex workers. Criminals know that the law leaves sex workers vulnerable. Brothels for example are now considered easy, even safe targets by criminals because there is little likelihood of sex workers contacting the police because to do so would be to place them in danger of prosecution, displacement, exposure and in the case of transient migrants, deportation. The law by refusing to differentiate between good managements and bad causes suffering when it should be offering protection. This is not justice.
The new coalition government has promised that the much heralded freedom bill will recognise individual liberty and freedom and remove bad laws from statute. There are few laws more desperately in need of repeal than the laws pertaining to prostitution and especially those relating to brothel keeping and pimping. Let us hope the government will keep its promise and truly represent the liberal and progressive nation that is modern Britain.