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The Importance of connection…
I discussed in my article “The uncomfortable truth” the problems within sex worker representation. I referred to the difficulties in organising an industry as stigmatised as sex work and which has to operate within a criminal justice system that denies basic human rights to sex workers. In my article however I raised awareness of the politicisation of the sex worker movement and the divisions that politicisation has caused as well as the gulf between the sex industry and those who claim to speak for it.
In this article I explore the silent censorship which preserves a movement increasingly isolated from those whom it claims to represent yet never the less presents itself to the media and to government as our voice. Sex worker organisations have become the preserve of politicised elites who perpetuate their influence through the silent censorship of access and privilege.
The unspoken truth is that when groups look to the sponsorship of NGO’s or governments they also invite censorship. Even if that censorship is not explicit it is there. To receive the majority of or worse all of your funding from other than those whom you wish to campaign for requires a degree of compliance to the ethos of those giving the money. This silent patronage preserves focused elites who quietly manipulate the sex worker movement to fit their political agenda. That political agenda is one that is acceptable to a distinctly orthodox and reactionary monotheist morality which they have accepted in order to promote their own fundability and place with the focussed elites. They may publicly wring their hands proclaiming their wish for a populist movement but privately they fear the intrusion of a politically divers industry. Instead they maintain a safe, cohesive movement that filters descent and dissipates attempts to become more inclusive in order to preserve their influence and their authority.
I have long argued that without the support of the industry for which we speak we are an easy target for our enemies and worse mistrusted by those for whom we speak. Like the rescue industry most of the sex worker rights movement is more comfortable assuming the voices of the minority of sex workers. They claim particular care for migrant sex workers and street workers. This is hardly surprising. These groups are easy money spinners for both sides. They easily fit the stereotype that ministers, media, outreach groups, anti sex work groups and leftist sex worker rights groups feel comfortable with. They are the least likely to offer dissent and the hardest groups to organise which provides the excuse exploited by the left for why rights groups cannot accept paid membership or become in their words more “populist”. They claim paid membership would exclude the most vulnerable sex workers but empower the privileged. This sounds a plausible argument except using marginalised sex workers to deny the majority a voice and inclusion, to exclude funding from the industry they speak for in reality is a clever ruse that preserves their privilege, their authority. It is a ruse that denies all sex workers from inclusion within a movement that campaigns on their behalf yet preserves their cosy political consensus.
It is also argued that no sex worker rights movement could be self funding. There is truth in this argument. The costs involved maintaining office space and paid staff can be phenomenal. I certainly am not suggesting that any sex worker group should not apply for grants and bursaries and whatever public or private monies they can source. The argument is that sex worker groups need to be accountable to those for whom they speak in order to be credible. With a sound support base of sex workers and allies donating the basic monies from their own pockets and in return being consulted and involved within the decision making processes; then that group can truly claim to be a sex worker representative group. Presently many independent sex worker activists on the fringes of the sex worker rights movement, those liberals, free thinkers and libertarian types who could offer alternative conversations are restricted by monies to the extent to which they can be involved in the movement nationally and internationally. This financial restraint conveniently reserves sex worker involvement to elites who preserve the political consensus and patronage through the quiet censorship I have discussed and who then become the unelected and unrepresentative international voice of sex workers. The sex worker rights industry has become as cosy and as self perpetuating and as hierarchical as the rescue industry, if on a smaller scale. Is this really what sex workers want?
I am not implying that what has been done in our name is bad or that the sex worker rights groups are necessarily dangerous to the industry. What I am arguing is that they must become more inclusive and less elitists. They must create an open movement where diverse industry voices are welcome and where diverse opinion is not dismissed, trashed and ignored. The chorus within the movement for decriminalisation for example may be what the industry wants but has anyone consulted sex workers on their opinion? Have the quiet majority of sex workers actually had decriminalisation explained to them and what the consequences would be. What would a decriminalised industry look like? Are there alternatives?
A true sex worker movement would not be afraid to consult the industry they campaign for or afraid to welcome the involvement of that industry both financially and politically. Such an organisation would be in a position to finance genuinely elected representatives to speak for them and to organise their own international events free of the influence of politicised elites who censor those who question their orthodoxy. Can you imagine an industry organisation of thousands paying from £3.50 per monthly membership, contributing in discussions and voting for elected members who are then able to negotiate on behalf of an industry involved in its own future? Can you imagine the influence such an organisation would be able to demand? This is a possibility but it takes imagination and courage to break the monopoly of the present structures. I don’t think that anyone in the established sex worker rights movement within the UK is yet prepared to break structures that preserve their comfortable orthodoxy. I don’t think anyone yet has that vision. What incentive is there for them to do this? They naturally fear the dissipation of their influence.
The incentive for change must come from the industry itself, but breaking the stranglehold of those in authority is not going to be easy unless one of the established organisations is brave enough to take that step into the unknown. It would be a brave decision to appeal to the industry for which you speak. It would take courage and determination but the rewards could be enormous.