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The two most frequent accusations (you can’t call them questions) thrown at sex workers are “I bet you don’t pay tax” and “But it’s the law and your breaking it”.
Firstly let me deal briefly with the legalities and the whole question of breaking laws from my perspective.
As a sex worker in the UK you are perfectly legal provided that you work alone from your own premises. You only become illegal if you share a property and then only the person who owns the property or who’s name is on the rent book can potentially be accused of brothel keeping and possibly controlling. So your average sex worker or escort, or what ever euphemism they use, is legal. Clients are also committing no crime (kerb crawling excluded of course) provided the sex worker is working under their own volition and are not coerced. This includes sex workers for agencies and brothels. So a sex worker is not breaking the law (Note in Scotland even a sex worker working alone can be prosecuted for running a bawdy house).
So you may then ask; why all the fuss, why do sex workers want decriminalisation?
The reason sex workers want decriminalisation is because they want to be treated fairly by society, the same as your average worker, your average member of society. Sex workers do not want special treatment. Sex workers simply want to work together for security and for safety. They want to use the services of third parties for example for many obvious reason, the same as anyone else. Sex workers want to have choices. Those choices may be to work alone or they may wish to use an agent to deal with their enquires, organise their diary, a maid to answer the door, a driver to drive them to appointments or just to share the costs of a flat. They want to be treated like any other business person or worker.
The law prevents them from doing all of these things legally and the result is that the law places sex workers in danger. The law makes sex workers vulnerable to exploitation by criminals. Note clients do not exploit or abuse sex workers but rather criminals who feel they are safe to target sex workers because sex workers are stigmatised and forced to work in potentially dangerous circumstances because to to other wise is to potentially suffer consequences.
When the police close a working flat or target an agency or brothel, even though the individual sex worker may be immune from persecution, they will still suffer the consequences of disruption. To be able to prosecute the sex worker will be coerced to give evidence against colleagues. All of this is distressing, disruptive and unjust. The sex worker fears the consequences of public exposure and the hostility they may receive from neighbours and family and if they work, the potential consequences, which could be dismissal.
The law as it exists in the UK is not only unjust but a violation of basic human rights legislation.
This is the law and the reason why the law must be changed. Some critics of sex workers will still argue that the law is the law and must be obeyed regardless and that sex workers therefore deserve to suffer the consequences of their choices. My answer to those people is this:
The law is there for a purpose. The law is there to protect individuals and to provide a framework of legislation that allows individuals to exist together within a civilised society. That as it stands is fine. The law however is also the expression of the morality of those in authority. The law in this instance has little to do with justice but rather to protect the morals and vested financial interests of those who govern. This is why in a capitalist society (and I am a capitalist) the legal penalty for theft or financial fraud or for attacks upon property are often more severe than penalties for attacks upon individuals. We have often heard public protest at the perceived unfairness of of such laws.
Historically we all understand how unjust law can be. A popular example from history would be the Nuremberg laws that were enacted by the then legally elected fascist government of Germany. They were race laws that targeted the Jewish community. Germans accepted those laws (even though many realised how unjust they were) because they were the law. This is an extreme example but it illustrates that because a law is made does not necessarily make it just.
In my opinion my example, although extreme, illustrates why laws should always be subject to scrutiny and why sometimes laws have to be challenged and perhaps even broken if the moral imperative to do right is more important than any law that deliberately targets and discriminates against individuals or minorities.
The laws that once existed here in the UK against homosexuals would certainly fit this moral criteria in my view and so does present legislation against sex workers. As a minority, sex workers often through necessity have to break the law in order to protect themselves. Laws that force individuals to break the law because of necessity have to be challenged and got rid of. This is why I am an activist for sex workers rights. To protect lives and to protect the individual liberty of conscience and action of consensual adults is vital for a free society. To do otherwise would be like sitting back and accepting all the unjust laws in history without question. Anyone with a conscience could not do that.
Tax is the next major concern for many members of the public who think that sex workers are raking money in and not paying any tax on their earnings. Some sex workers do avoid tax of course. They are only human. The reason they do this is because they think that they can do so relatively easily. Sex work tends to be cash in hand and is done discreetly. The law forces sex workers to be secretive and sex workers of course can take advantage of this. In some ways I admit I don’t blame them. When the law targets you and discriminates against you then you naturally feel, why should I contribute to a society that persecutes me?
Escort agencies and brothels mostly pay tax. It is harder for them to even think about avoiding tax. Here however the injustice is even more apparent than to individual sex workers. Businesses can pay tax for years. Some even have visits from the treasury who indicate that if they pay their tax and avoid any association with under age sex workers or traffickers they will be left alone. The police however often take a different view and raid the agency/brothel despite their compliance. The owners are then often gaoled, their property and savings seized and they have a criminal record that affects them for the rest of their lives. Is this I ask a good incentive to put two fingers up to the tax man and stay quiet.
The government treats these businesses as criminals so it is a bit rich for the government to then demand they pay tax. Is this not the government controlling sex workers for gain? The very crime that they accuse the escort/brothel managers/owners of?
The truth however is that most agencies/parlours/brothels do pay tax and contribute significantly to the treasury. Similarly most sex workers also pay tax. Increasingly the treasury is now targeting sex workers who are classed as being self employed. It is in the interests of sex workers to be honest and to pay tax which is why the majority do. The consequences of not paying can be devastating. I have personally known several sex workers who have been caught by the tax man and some who have claimed benefits while working and have been prosecuted.
I hope my answers, at least from a UK perspective, have answered the accusations often made against sex workers. I hope that people reading this blog who are not sex workers will understand better why sex workers are angry. Despite the fact that most sex workers do pay tax and want to contribute to and be a part of society the law offers them no protection.
This is why sex workers are demanding that the law be changed. Sex workers just want justice.