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I came across this link via a face book friend ( Julie Grant). It is a good article discussing the muddle that currently exists in the UK with regard to sex work legislation.
What I thought was particularly interesting was that the article picked up on the debate/struggle going on within the coalition government on many things, but not least; on how to create good policy with regard to sex work.
The eternal struggle for example between those in the UK conservative party who fall on the side of the moralists and those who side with libertarian values (as I do) is an important argument because who wins will effect future sex work legislation for good or bad. Interestingly it is also an argument/debate which throws a spotlight upon issues within the present sex workers rights movement.
Those sex worker advocates who work close to government and who are best placed through geographical proximity and through holding positions of authority within current advocacy groups such as the ECP and IUSW, must learn to understand the mentality of those within the present coalition and to exploit the sympathies of those who are our natural allies within the coalition. This may be an issue however for some who once assumed that the left and the Labour party were our natural allies. A loyalty that has been betrayed.
Those who choose to represent sex workers now have to grasp the opportunities that the new coalition has presented them. If sex workers are to have any hope of reversing the recent European slide toward Swedish style legislation and toward policies based on prejudice and paternalistic moralism masquerading as feminism rather than evidence, then this is their chance.
It is a chilling fact that if the UK had elected another Labour administration that we would probably have had Swedish style legislation criminalising, unjustly our clients, forced upon the UK people within two years. A truly terrifying prospect and a warning of what to expect should Labour ever come to power again.
As sex workers we have a right to expect good representation from those who advocate on our behalf, regardless of the governing administration and in return those who advocate on our behalf should expect our support.
There is much in our favour. Increasingly the judicial system is proving to be sympathetic, the majority of the British people in opinion polls have made their support for justice for sex workers very clear and now there is a new government that is at least partially sympathetic. We must not loose this opportunity.
It is also important that this government is made to understand that the sex industry is a complicated and fragmented industry and one policy will not suit all. Concentrating on street prostitution for example, although it may be the most visible; is of no use to the vast majority of sex workers who work in doors.
Those who speak for sex workers have much to do and they do so with few resources.
If you can, please get involved and support sex worker advocates.
When the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead officer on prostitution called for a debate on Britain’s “frankly complicated” sex trade laws, he reignited a simmering dispute on how to deal with the world’s oldest profession.
Responding in part to the gruesome headlines after “crossbow killer” Stephen Griffiths was jailed for life last month for murdering three women prostitutes in Bradford, deputy chief constable Simon Byrne sensibly told the BBC there should be an “ugly mugs” register – a national database of people with a track record of violence against sex workers.
But a documentary on the issue exposed a postcode lottery of justice faced by the 80,000 prostitutes in Britain. In Liverpool since 2007, attacks against sex workers have been prioritised as hate crimes with astonishing results. Last year there were 10 convictions brought by Merseyside police for raping prostitutes compared to only one in the five years before 2007.
Up the road in Blackpool, the council was shutting down brothels – because the law allows for only one person to sell sex in a property. Paradoxically, selling sex in Britain is not illegal, but brothels are outlawed. The result is women left to fend for themselves on the streets.
To experts this seems absurd. “The most enlightened sex laws are in New Zealand, where it is legal for up to four prostitutes to work together. You can work safely with friends from a home without visits from cops and keep the profits,” said Laura Agustín, an anthropologist who studies the sex trade.
Britain’s muddle over prostitution has evolved over the last two decades. Vice squads have been disappearing and the number of people found guilty of loitering for prostitution, or soliciting, has dropped from 5,223 in 1998 to only a tenth of that level a decade later. The effect has been a patchy de facto decriminalisation of prostitution. At the same time, there has also been a movement towards criminalising those who buy sex.
These two trends culminated in New Labour’s last crime act, which came into force early last year. It made it easier to prosecute men who buy sex from trafficked foreign women and also asked magistrates not to fine prostitutes who repeatedly appear before them for soliciting sex. Instead, women could be “helped and hassled” by counsellors out of their sex work, a shift in legal perception which now sees people who sell their bodies as victims of drug dependence or extreme poverty.
This represents a new balance in the desire to control the crime associated with the sex trade while acknowledging the limits on the role of the state. But for many the act did not go far enough. In Scotland, politicians want to emulate Sweden where, a decade ago, the law was changed so that people who patronise prostitutes face jail terms of up to six months.
For some this would cut off the supply of punters and force prostitutes out of a job. “We need to get women out of a sex trade where violence is a daily part of their life,” said Roger Matthews, a criminologist at South Bank University, London. “Many Labour politicians understood this and we would’ve seen Swedish law coming to Britain in two years had they won the election.”
The coalition, says Matthews, is different. For libertarians the buying and selling of sex is viewed as a freely undertaken transaction in which the state’s role is as a light-touch regulator, enforcing standards and collecting taxes. At the other end are the abolitionists who view the issue as moral, requiring a ban on the sex trade to halt women being exploited for men’s gratification.
Those who work with prostitutes say both extremes are wrong. Shelly Stoops, from Liverpool’s Armistead Street project that runs centres for sex workers, says she “takes the view that if a woman has the right to say no, then she has the right to say yes. You cannot stop prostitution, it will only go somewhere else”.