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On Tuesday the 19th, every sex worker’s rights activist in Scotland was either at Holyrood or on the phone monitoring the progress of the Justice Committee’s decision re Rhoda Grant’s proposed changes to the legislation around paid sex, which would criminalise our clients. With baited breath we waited until the news came in that she had failed in her attempt and there was much jubilation, short lived though that was. We cheered and allowed ourselves our first deep breath in several days, but we know it’s only a matter of time before she is back with a new consultation.
Having prepared ourselves for the worst, we all had a full diary of appointments lined up, meetings with MSP’s, interviews and meetings with sex workers too, most importantly. I very much enjoyed Holyrood, what I found most interesting was the “contemplation seat” that MSP’s have at the back of their office, it’s a space by a window to allow them to mull things over. Those visitors who have to be accompanied by an assistant at all times are given a badge with an enormous “V”, you seriously don’t want to know my thought processes around that.
Mulling things over was not a luxury available to myself and my colleague N, we hit the campaign trail with gusto on Thursday and Friday and visited many saunas in Edinburgh, to talk to the ladies therein and inform them of what is going on. I loved every minute of it, it was like a trip down memory lane for me because I began my career in the biggest sauna in Dublin, run by a huge Irish country man (to be polite) who wasn’t the brightest star in the sky. I still remember with great fondness the day he announced loudly to the masses that in order to cut back on his costs he had decided to wash and dry the towels on site and that very day we could expect delivery of his proudest investment, a “tubular dryer”. (I damn near wet my thong at that, in fact if memory serves me correctly that was the day I got the sack for the third time.)
Although I had my own experience of working in saunas many years ago, I was very nervous about visiting the contemporary equivalents, I really didn’t know what to expect. Well, all I can say is that I left every single one of them beaming and more determined than ever before to work with our team and protect those wonderful women I met. To be perfectly honest, there was a moment when I walked through the door of each one when the women threw me a distrustful eye, and who can blame them ? Right now they feel as if everyone is against them, politicians who are determined to take away their livelihood, feminists and abolitionist campaigners who are determined to “rescue” them, not to mention various members of the public in their commentaries who have suddenly become experts on what it is to work in the sex industry and the psychology behind it all too, it’s almost impressive.
As soon as I let it be known that I am on their side, the change in their body language was quite remarkable. Arms were unfolded and they leaned forward and listened. In fact, in most of the places we went to, N and I had a really good laugh. As I deal in truth and not fiction, I can tell you that there was not one lady who appeared to be trafficked, every lady I met was perfectly happy to be working there and in fact they were enraged when I explained to them the full ramifications of the proposed changes to the legislation. Having explained why they enjoyed working as they do, their next question was simply – “What can I do to stop this?”
Continuing in the vein of honesty, I can tell you that out of all of the women I met, there was ONE woman who was very clearly on drugs, the rest were perfectly ordinary women, busying themselves with hair straighteners and make-up. That was my experience of the “horrors” of the Edinburgh sauna scene and I’ve no doubt that when we begin visiting flats we will find pretty much the same scenario.
The trouble with the debate that’s raging at the moment around the scene in Scotland is that the anti’s are relying heavily on the street scene to back up their arguments, when they speak of drug use, beatings, arrests, pimps etc. Now, I’m not going to pretend for one moment that any drug addicted woman happily applies her make-up and goes out on the street night after night to earn enough money to feed her own addiction and quite possibly that of her boyfriend too, of course not. I will say, that there are some women who choose to work “the beat” because it’s just what they’ve always done, like the woman two doors down does in the run up to Christmas too. The problem with some of those women is not prostitution, it’s POVERTY, and it’s drug addiction. If that’s the case, why don’t we ban drugs ? Oh wait, we have, that didn’t work either. If those women cannot get their drugs from the proceeds of paid sex, no matter how dangerous that is, then they will source the money any other way they can, spot of shop lifting anyone ? Of course, that alternative course of earning might get them arrested, they might even end up in “The Vale”, where they really will meet the creme de la creme of Scottish society, but that’s OK, because they are morally superior to prostitutes.
Is not the answer to support these women rather than criminalise them ? If they want to get clean and get off the streets, HELP THEM, if they want to continue to work on the streets but do so in safety, HELP THEM. Looking at the Merseyside model gives us all some scope for hope, in that case the police have been treating sex workers as the victim of hate crimes where they have been assaulted or harmed in any way and the result of that is, the human rights and the safety of the women have become paramount, not futile arrests and harassment.
I don’t claim to be an academic, (far from it, although I am working on it) but I do know the sex industry, because I have been working in it for quite a while and therein lies the reason why I do what I do under my “real” working name, I cannot be debunked. Oh sure, I can be discredited, jeered, all the usual fun stuff, (you know, if the best a purportedly educated forty-something woman can come up with is ‘fat bitch’ then I fear for the educational future of us all) but no-one can claim I am a pimp, a client, or just some (ahem) alternative person who gets their kicks out of writing as an escort, (they exist, believe me).
Nope I’m just me, a common garden variety escort, and a rather content one at that.