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The following are notes I used to prepare for what I thought I would say at the Cambridge Union debate, “This house would liberalise prostitution.” I ended up referencing them rather than using them, because the nature of debate is that you react to opponents rather than lecture, plus because there were four speakers, we each decided what we were going to focus on rather than each of us repeat information, which would have been dull and repetitive.
I hope i raised some interesting points regardless and naturally anyone wanting to use my notes as ideas, references, etc, please feel free.
Also included are videos of Douglas Fox, IUSW and Harlots Collective and Charlotte Rose english-courtesan.co.uk.
This House Would Liberalise Prostitution’. In light of recent comments made by Jeremy Corbyn suggesting that the sex industry should be decriminalised and discussions held this summer by the Home Affairs Selective Committee, it seems fitting that the Union should tackle this issue. Whilst soliciting being treated as an offense raises concerns about exposing sex workers to potential abuse and harm, advocates for criminalisation of the sex industry argue that prostitution is inherently exploitative and dangerous to all involved. Thus, we hope that a discussion on this important topic will prove to be thought-provoking and stimulate strong speeches on both sides of the
Why do sex workers want liberalisation or more correctly decriminalisation?
Because we are simply a service industry, we are not criminals and in a progressive democracy consensual sex between adults should not be criminalised and indeed adults, even if they may make choices different from yours, deserve to be protected by the law, not persecuted or made to suffer the wrath of moralist or those who politicise our consent to serve their ideology.
Being a sex worker sometimes feels a little like being a lab rat. Everyone wants to observe you, understand you, save you, express an opinion on you, yet few truly listen or care, so wrapped up are they in making sex work serve their opinion, agenda, politics.
Our very understanding of sex work you however has been framed within the context of culture and public knowledge of sex work is learned through the objectifying intrusiveness of our media and through the lens of legal and social stigma.
Sex work challenges how we perceive ourselves, as moral people and the fantasy that sex is the physical fulfilment of mutual attraction and of love.
As sex workers we challenge the prescribed moral behaviours once taught by the church and now re sanctioned within the context of a new secular relativism framed within a the context of feminism as interpreted by the state.
Put simply, we view sex work through the prism of taught prejudice.
We are taught to hate sex workers, once as moral degenerates and carriers of disease, victims of our own lack of morality.
Today as hapless victims of mens objectification, of their presumed right to buy our bodies.
A Multi million dollar rescue industry prospers on salacious tales of our victimhood, promising that cutting off demand for women bodies by criminalising men who buy sex will miraculously end the sex trade.
They like the word trafficking and use it a lot as a trigger word to emotionalise you the public to be sympathetic to them the rescuers.
Trafficking of course is a reality of the modern word as peoples are illegally transported globally. But the relationship between trafficked and trafficker is often nuanced and complicated, both are illegal and both are often interdependent.
Nevertheless tales of trafficking, of sexual slavery, of victims beaten and abused, drugged, forced to see 70/120 clients per night are presented as titillating reading, as proof of the evil of sex work.
These are stories that reduce sex workers to caricatured victims to earn the political fortunes of rescuers rather than represent sex workers as people with choices.
The media too often dismisses us as worthless. Most savagely when it writes of murdered sex workers, describing them as prostitutes, naming and shaming them and their families, using blundered photographs, describing their work as dirty, illicit, criminal.
We want decriminalisation to end the rescue industries right to create myths about our realties which only we truly can talk about, because only we have lived them.
When YOU ( the audience) are in trouble you call the police; but speak to any sex worker and they will tell you how much they fear the police. The police are not our friends.
I could tell so many stories of sex workers who try to work legally, alone, but who are visited by police officers and told to move on, they are not wanted in that area, that their landlord will be informed, if working from a hotel the management will be informed.
The law in England and Wales prevents two sex workers sharing a flat for safety. If they do so they are running a brothel.
The penalties for brothel keeping are heavy fines, jail, prosecution under the proceeds of crime act, which means seizure of financial asserts, cars, houses etc
Any third party taking appointments for a sex worker is guilty of controlling, punishable by fines, jail and should a third party organise travel for a sex worker, to an appointment, workplace, then they are guilty of trafficking.
The consent of the sex worker is not recognised.
The police enjoy to humiliate sex workers. When premises are raided they regularly march women onto the street in their underwear.
We saw this recently in Soho and in Edinburgh when saunas and flats were raided.
Aside from the cruelty and injustice imposed on sex workers, the law also presents opportunities for corruption. It is common for police officers to expect favours for turning a blind eye.
Abolitionists will tell you that our clients are monsters who rape us, beat us and murder us.
In 16 years non of this has happened to me but yes it has happened to others, except they were not clients but rapists, criminals who target sex workers because the law essentially gives them a free hand.
No sex worker however happily informs the police of crimes against them because they know they themselves are easier targets for the police to prosecute.
Should, on a rare occasion a rape case involving a sex worker get to court, well she is a prostitute and the only reason she is complaining is that she wasn’t paid.
Street sex workers represent the most vulnerable men and women yet because the police arrest them for soliciting, fine them, jail them, force them to attend rehabilitation courses, similarly their clients, they are forced to retreat into the shadows, to work alone in isolated, dangerous places, making them easy targets for criminals.
if you are a foreign sex worker you are presumed to be trafficked, but help is only offered if you cooperate and agree that you are a victim. If you don’t then you face deportation.
The law encourages you to comply with its presumptions about your life.
I am not saying that bad trafficking does not exist but I suggest that sex trafficking accounts for a tiny minority of sex work.
The Guardian newspaper admitted that the police had exaggerated in claiming there were thousands of trafficked victims sold into sex slavery here in the UK.
The police however, encouraged by the rescue industry continues to claim that thousands of sex slaves need rescued.
Why? Because stories about sex slavery raises billions from governments for rescue organisations and for specialised police departments.
The reason we want sex work liberalised is to end these profitable myths about our work and to begin to explain that sex work is not a stain on our culture but simply another reflection of our rich sexual diversity.
Sex workers are a mixed bunch of people from many different backgrounds and we each have our own story for doing sex work.
We want to not to be longer afraid to speak about our work, we want organise, unionise if we want to, employ a third party if we want to, call the police if we need to; without fear of repercussion against us or our friends and colleagues.
Sex Workers recognise that in our criminalised industry bad things do happen and we want liberalisation to ensure that monies and resources are directed toward those who are genuine victims of exploitation, not wasted rescuing those who do not need or indeed want to be rescued.
We understand better than most that criminalisation actually hurts the most vulnerable because it pushes them into the shadows and empowers their exploiters.
History tells us that prohibition always fails.
ONLY empowerment of workers, recognising human rights ends exploitation.
If this house is truly interested in ending exploitation in the sex industry then it must support liberalisation, decriminalisation, empowering sex workers as workers and as people worthy of respect and rights.
Today we are debating the liberalisation of sex work.
The truth however is that we are discussing three separate issues which together justify the intrusion of legislators, moralists, feminists, academics. projects and the rescue industry into the lives of sex workers.
Those three issues are, Survival sex work, migration and female consent.
The rescue industry may disprove of sex workers like myself, but they find it harder to patronise “most” indoor sex workers as victims.
Our victimhood is a hard sell to governments.
We are really talking about a small group of sex workers collectively involved in survival sex work.
This category includes some street workers, some migrant workers and individuals whom our society has failed.
Many survivors are victims of domestic abuse, homelessness, addiction. They include people with mental health issues, young people whom social services have failed or whom have been ostracised by their families, often because of their sexual orientation or indeed have escaped abusive environments whither at home or indeed within the social care system.
Sex work is blamed for survival sex workers problems and their involvement in sex work is then used by the rescue industry and legislators to justify the criminalisation of sex work.
But blaming sex work is simply a clever distraction from the truth, which is that we, all of us, have failed these people as a society, we have failed to offer the protection needed by these vulnerable people.
Sex work is not to blame and neither are the clients of sex workers within this category, many of whom themselves are in not dissimilar circumstances to those from whom they buy, or exchange sex, for a few pounds, a bed for the night, a meal.
The rescue industry demonises clients as abusers, misogynists, when the real monster in the room is societies lack of care for the most vulnerable and the desire of moralists and some feminists to want easy scapegoats.
Secondly, this debate is about migration, too often deliberately confused with trafficking.
We have witnessed in western Europe a dramatic increase in the numbers of sex workers from poorer countries, including from our poorer neighbours in southern and eastern Europe.
Abolitionists explode in righteous indignation that this is trafficking of women and girls (and presumably men) to feed an insatiable demand for their flesh from wealthy western European men.
It makes for lurid and dramatic tales which tear at the heartstrings.
I would ask however, is your Polish plumber, your Latvian waitress, your Rumanian nanny or your Thai manicurist victims of trafficking or are they economic migrants who have made a choice to leave poverty and lack of opportunity in their homeland to better themselves in more prosperous parts of the world?
I have personally known several sex workers who I presumed where in the UK illegally and working. I had little doubt they had probably used and were still in debt to people traffickers.
They argued however that despite being in circumstances most of us would consider unacceptable, they could still earn sufficient from selling sex to keep themselves, pay their debts to the traffickers and send monies home to keep their families.
Were they sex slaves?
If I, or anyone else had reported them, their rescue would have resulted in their being returned home, their dream of a new life ended and they would without a doubt have once again used the services of traffickers to return.
Because, for all the rhetoric the rescue industry offers no alternatives. They want to remove demand and, well thats it.
If you are lucky you may be found a place working in a sweat shop. One such lauded sanctuary offers rescued sex workers the opportunity to sew knickers for rich western women who buy them feeling proud they have done their bit for saved whores. The whores, kept in factories ran as virtual prisons in the meantime plot their escape.
Trafficking exists but it is an often complex reality for illegal foreign workers and therefore each circumstance has to be judged individually.
I am not denying that trafficking is a dubious business and I acknowledge that undoubtedly genuine force is sometimes used and genuine victims are forced into selling sex.
But if you are forced by another to sell sex you are not a sex worker and it is wrong for abolitionists to use victims of abuse, rape and force as justification to punish and further criminalise all sex work.
Trafficking for some migrants is a necessary reality, especially when working illegally and especially within an industry as stigmatised and criminalised as sex work.
Thirdly, this debate is about the politicising of a sex workers right to consent, especially for women and it is about the gendering of violence.
In a desire to apologise for centuries of patriarchal privilege, government has adopted elements of radical feminist ideology. In doing so, rather than facilitating gender equality they perversely have enshrined within law an idea that men are intrinsically misogynistic and violent and that some women are incapable of consent or choice without the permission of or the protection of the state.
We now have a situation where state feminism has backtracked on its ideal of female emancipation and have reinvented an old patriarchal moral adoration of the good woman as diametrically the opposite of the fallen woman, the sex worker, who is considered incapable of consent, or of choice.
These three strands within this debate now present a perverse unholy trinity of political vindictiveness to stop sex workers from achieving decriminalisation.
Decriminalisation for sex workers is not just a legal recognition of rights, it is a vindication of our human rights as workers. It is the state welcoming a group of people who have endured centuries of state sanctioned persecution because we shamed them, questioned their myth about love and sex and are living proof that human sexuality is complex and not just a love story with a happy ending.
We are perhaps the last group of workers to be ignored, excluded and genuinely objectified by those who refuse to acknowledge that sex workers are no different from them, we have simply made different choices and in doing so have sought to hurt no one.
Some years ago I, supported by my local branch of Amnesty branch, proposed a motion for Amnesty international to support decriminalisation of sex work. I had little hope they would do so, but to my delight my proposal began a chain of events which eventually led to the worlds premier human rights organisation supporting sex workers.
In doing so Amnesty International opened themselves to the vitriolic abuse of the rescue organisations for whom the idea of sex workers having human rights was and is an anathema.
It is almost as if they are frightened of allowing sex workers to be heard, to tell the truth about our work.
Tonight if this house Supports the liberalisation of sex work it would stand side by side with the the The World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, International Labour Organization, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations, Anti-Slavery International and of course Amnesty International in calling for the decriminalisation of sex work and for the human rights of sex workers to be respected.
So in conclusion, if I have one reason to ask that this house supports the liberalisation of sex work, it is that by doing so you recognise sex workers as people worthy of respect, worthy of rights. That means everything to us.
No one knows how many sex workers there are in the uk, No one knows the demographics of those involved in sex work, how many work indoors, in brothels, through agencies, are independent or who work on the streets, or combination of all those working practices. No one knows how many are women, men, trans or their sexual orientations. Figures ranging from 25,000, 35,000, 65,000, 80,000 or indeed 125,000 are used routinely, but they are all quess work. We can presume probably that the majority are women, but a recent report on adult work, one of the major sites for UK sex workers, suggested that 40% of those advertising sex for sale were men.