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Below is the speech I made at the Edinburgh debate on the 3rd June at the McDonald Holyrood Hotel organised by the Edinburgh group of the SOLAS Centre for Public Christianity. to debate the proposed Scottish bill to criminalise the purchase of sex being championed by Rhoda Grant MSP.
Speaking for the bill was Rhoda Grant MSP the proposer of the bill, Richard Lucas from SOLAS who presented his faith based support for the criminalising of the purchase of sex. Against the bill was Laura Lee an independent sex worker who now campaigns for sex worker rights and who is also a well know blogger and myself (MEDIA EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org ) for the IUSW (International Union of Sex Workers).
The debate was at times heated. Rhoda Grant referenced human trafficking several times despite her claims that the bill is not specifically an anti trafficking bill. I asked her several times if she had considered the consequences of this bill and how it would actually be implemented by the police. I also asked her how this bill would stop exploitation of the vulnerable (referencing homeless in particular who sell sex to eat/provide a roof over their heads). Her response was that I should ask the police how they already implement laws. I was left with the impression that she has no real interest in helping those (in her terms) “vulnerable victims” of prostitution. As far as I am aware there are no specific or realistic plans/calls for extra funding or for the provision for extra social services to specifically help people to stop selling sex.
Rhoda seemed to be quite clear that she believed that the true aim of her proposal was social engineering, that is to train society that buying sexual services is criminal. It is legislation based on a perverse confusion of moral patriarchal notions of good behaviour, especially for women, and an interpretation of radical feminist theory. It is state imposed morality using the terror of the law. If passed it will be MSPs mobilising the police to impose their interpretation of morality on the people of Scotland and will be a huge backward step in the long struggle for human rights for minorities and for all women.
Here is my speech and I have also included at the end my conclusions at the end the debate.
A modern progressive nation is judged on how it protects it’s most marginalised, its minorities, those who suffer the most from stigma and discrimination, people who in the long struggle for human rights often seem to be left behind, forgotten.
Such a group today in our society are sex workers. One of the oldest professions but often an invisible group, a group denied basic human rights and discriminated against in law. Laws that perpetuate and justify moral prejudice and ignorance and which dehumanise the sex worker as at best a victim at worst a scapegoat.
If Scottish MSPs accept Rhoda Grants proposed bill based on what is called the Swedish model then the Scottish government will further alienate people who offer a consensual sexual service to other consenting adults, further marginalising them and excluding them from society and from the full protection of the law.
The Scottish government will by its actions force people who sell sex into an even more shadowy world and force them further into the hands of predators and criminals who thrive whenever the law enshrines discrimination.
History tells us that when secrecy prevails then exploitation prospers. This is an uncomfortable truism of human nature and of human society that government refuses to learn, especially in reference to sex work.
By Ignoring our consent to sex Rhoda Grants bill will not prevent the exploitation of the vulnerable.
The recent Rochdale and Oxford cases for example where vulnerable young people were internally trafficked represent a failure of local authorities, and of government, and yet supporters of the Swedish model appropriate and exploit such tragedies to blame sex work.
The exploitation and manipulation of terms such as trafficked, prostituted and exploited has made sex work too easy a scapegoat for the failure of government to protect our borders from criminals or the most vulnerable in our society from exploitation, often at the hands of those that society has charged with their protection.
Referencing to trafficking for example without explaining that UK and Scottish law does not recognise consent or autonomy simply sensationalises an already prejudiced and simplistic public perception of sex work as criminal, exploitative, and degrading for those involved.
By this manipulation of public prejudice the consenting sex worker, the willing legal and illegal migrant and the genuinely coerced are equally condemned as passive victims
Any proposed legislation that truly cares about justice for people who work in the sex industry, whether there by choice, circumstance or coercion, must recognise that sex work is a complex and diverse industry that incorporates many different experiences.
When the human rights of sex workers, that is their right to consent to sex, to associate, to employ and to be employed, to receive the full protection of the law rather than be victimised by law enforcement, are denied, the government enables abusive and exploitative practices to prosper.
Evidence clearly shows that in countries where sex work is criminalised people still sell sex. In countries where clients are criminalised people still sell sex, where governments have created legislative structures that legalise only parts of the sex industry, such as in Holland, those excluded from the legal sector still sell sex.
When Rhoda Grant therefore makes comparisons between Sweden and Amsterdam she is comparing legislations which evidence and history tell us are not working.
Similarly stereotyping sex workers to satisfy an ideologically motivated misunderstanding of the sex worker as the perpetual victim in order to justify their exclusion, and which deliberately dehumanises them, is both disingenuous and manipulative.
Such manipulation perpetuates stigma and justifies the humiliation of the sex worker as undesirable which is a form of social cleansing and also promotes an ideal of good women versus bad women which reinvents an age old narrative which ultimately oppresses all women.
We sex workers call it whore stigma.
When advocates of the Swedish model deny the voices of sex workers, refuse to recognise our consent and stereotype all men as abusers and rapists and misogynists, they are not creating an environment for gender equality but instead reinventing patriarchal notions of proscribed behaviour.
By manipulating language and statistics this proposed bill tries to justify the brutality that is inherent within the Swedish model.
The Swedish model is now recognised by many leading academics, specialists in the study of sex work, within Sweden and internationally, as a failed model.
Those who read this bill with an open mind and who support human rights, justice, and who believe that legislation should be based upon evidence should question very carefully the claims made by Sweden.
Even the claim that respondents to this consultation paper were 80% in favour of the criminalisation of clients is a distortion when it is understood that those in favour were disproportionately from evangelical faith based groups.
I would ask Scottish MSPs to question with an open mind the claim that the Swedish model has reduced sex work, a claim criticised both by Swedish sex work groups and independent academic observers.
Street based sex work for example which may have decreased initially is now agreed by independent academic observers to be back to pre Swedish legislation levels and it is now recognised that a significant number are migrant sex workers, which confirms reports that trafficking, or rather instances of foreign sex workers choosing to work in Sweden have increased.
Many sex workers of course are now working indoors and using the internet and various forms of social media to advertise. Sex workers advertising on the internet has remained level since the legislation was introduced in Sweden except now many previously independent sex workers are choosing to work through third parties for anonymity and safety.
It is very important to understand when we talk about figures and statistics in sex work that any claims by the Swedish Government to have reduced sex work and trafficking are virtually unverifiable. They are conjecture often based on at best anecdotal evidence often gathered from the police or government agencies that have a partisan interest in maintaining the legislation.
The Swedish government, like all governments, work largely on guesstimates when they talk about numbers involved in sex work.
Before legislation the Swedish government guessed that there were between 1500 to 3000 sex workers working in Sweden but in truth did not know and after 13 years they remain unable and unwilling to provide any independently verified evidence to back their claims that these numbers have fallen.
But of course the Swedish model was legislation designed as a piece of social engineering and based on an ideological interpretation of a piece of “so called” feminist theory. It had nothing to do with helping sex workers.
It was an experiment designed to make sex work unprofitable or at least invisible. It was legislation intended to terrify men, whom the Swedish government identified as a species dangerous to women, into not buying sex.
And it has failed.
And I ask you to consider that if this bill is truly to stop sex trafficking, to stop exploitation then it is unbelievable that the very people best placed to inform the authorities on suspicions of trafficking, of coercion, of abuse, are the very people who Rhoda Grant wants to criminalise, the clients.
Why is Scotland even considering this failed experiment when it has success stories to copy?
There are countries where governments and authorities have academically accredited data to prove that building a good relationship with sex workers provides positive benefits not only for sex workers but for society?
In New Zealand over ten years ago the government chose to engage with sex workers to create positive legislation that decriminalised the laws pertaining to sex work.
This decision recognised that sex workers were as deserving of the protection of the law, deserving of human rights as everyone in this room.
The New Zealand government chose to stop discriminating against people who sell sexual services and recognised them as entitled to the same human rights and protection of the law as other citizens. The New Zealand government chose evidence based and human rights based legislation that recognised an individual’s right to consent to sex.
In New Zealand sex workers now know that the police are there to protect them from abuse, rape and discrimination and they know that their lives are not disposable in the eyes of the law.
In New Zealand sex workers are not just learning to trust the police. They are learning to organise and to adopt positive working conditions in partnership with the authorities that prioritise their own safety.
As a result in New Zealand and in NSW Australia which also decriminalised sex work, there has been no increase in trafficking and the numbers of those working in sex work has remained level.
When sex workers have a good working relationship with the police the benefits are wonderfully dramatic.
Even in England this is starting to be understood.
Under the Merseyside model acts of aggression and violence against sex workers are now treated as hate crimes. That simple change in attitude by the Liverpool police has meant that acts of violence committed against sex workers have fallen dramatically and convictions have risen along with successful prosecutions.
Lives have been saved.
What a contrast to the perpetuation of judgmental moralism offered by Rhoda Grant and her Swedish model, a model that dismisses women as victims while promoting an ideologically prejudiced mythology of men as sexual predators, women haters and rapists.
Clients of sex workers are no different from the men and women in this room.
They are young and they are old, they sometimes are the lonely, they are sometimes the disabled; they are just people who buy a service from another consenting person.
Finally I want to talk just a little about sex workers, of whom I am one.
Sex workers are a diverse group of individuals from all socioeconomic backgrounds and all ages and sizes and colours and ethnicities and faiths.
We are like you in this room, no different, no better and no worse but unlike others we cannot work together for safety, for companionship, we cannot employ another person to work on our behalf and we cannot be employed.
The bill presented by Rhoda Grant denies the shared humanity of sex workers with you the people of Scotland. That is unjust and Scottish MSPs have to understand very clearly the real consequences of this bill becoming law for the people of Scotland.
To catch the clients of sex workers the police first have to catch the sex worker.
To enable a prosecution to proceed there is a very real danger that the police may have to use coercion and there are health implications if condoms are used as evidence. The police cannot prosecute without evidence and gathering that evidence will have very human costs.
The encroachment on civil and human rights, the costs to you the tax payer to implement a bill that will not stop exploitation but which will be abusive and dehumanising will be financially prohibitive.
You cannot stop human sexual interactions but you can save lives and you can recognise rights.
Only decriminalisation can do this.
Below is the list of quotes I wrote to use in my conclusion. I probably used half in my concluding statement. Please feel free to use any of these quotes but please reference myself if you do. Thank you.
History has taught us that any attempt to impose legislation upon the sex industry that does not reflect the voices and experiences of sex workers not only fails but increases opportunities for exploitative practices.
The Swedish model is nothing new. Criminalising clients, excluding sex workers from the discussion and creating legislation that imposes state ideals of morality is nothing new.
Legislation that uses the cruelty and brutality of law to exclude, stigmatise and criminalise sex work and which ignores evidence based approaches to legislation is nothing new and it has failed.
Public polls repeatedly indicate that the public recognise sex workers as real people deserving of the full protection of the law.
The public understand that forcing sex workers to work alone makes them vulnerable to exploitation and to violence. Sex work is not the problem but criminalisation is.
I therefore urge the Scottish government to prioritise safety above any ideologically or morally based proposals such as this bill based on the failed model promoted by Sweden.
I instead urge Scottish MSPs to look at New Zealand, where legislation is supported by accredited data, legislation that was formed with the support of sex workers and which recognised our right to consent to sex.
I ask Scottish MSPs to support sex workers in our long struggle for our human rights. I ask MSPs to recognise our right to the full protection of the law, to be supported rather than discriminated against.
No truly progressive nation should exclude people or ignore the human rights of individuals because of prejudice and ignorance.