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An Appeal to the Left from Sex Workers

On Friday 15th February, a sex worker was found murdered by a client at her place of work in Aberdeen, Scotland. The media reported on this with the sole purpose to sensationalise, dehumanise and victim blame.  They set about doing this by using her full name; giving details of her hourly rate; giving detailed information from her bio on her escort site; reporting information from her personal social media site to support their depiction of an irresponsible mother living a double life rather than a working mother.  

In all of this reporting, the focus is completely on minimising the murder of a woman of colour rather than on the murder itself.  We know all of these largely irrelevant personal details about her, yet all we know about the alleged murderer is that he is 25.

If any other worker had been murdered on the job, we would be hearing about this from the left. Especially when laws exist that prevent those workers from taking measures to protect themselves from harm. Instead there has been a deafening silence, so challenging the sensational articles has been left to fellow sex workers who are grieving and scared.

Not only are we not hearing about this from people on the left, but we are currently being told to vote left. This will mean in some cases, voting not only for those who are silent on this, but also for those who are actively campaigning for the very laws that created the conditions for this murder in the first place.

Those who do not support sex workers struggle for bodily autonomy and worker rights on the left are the AAA/SP (Anti-Austerity Alliance/Socialist Party) and the Workers Party.

AAA/SP 

The AAA/ SP actively campaign on issues that affect sex workers negatively. When these activists say ‘my body, my choice’ they don’t mean that sex workers are capable of making an active choice over what they do with their bodies – they just mean reproductive choices.

They consistently patronise sex workers and question the choice they have made and the conditions under which they have made it under. Not only this, but they talk about the work sex workers do as something that is happening to them, rather than something they are actively participating in. When they say they will fight for workers rights, they don’t mean sex workers rights as can be seen here:

Ruth 3

Or here, where Ruth relies on an article from Anti-Choice site LifeSite News:

Ruth 1Ruth 2

When the AAA/SP hold a ROSA meeting on violence against women, you won’t hear them mention the abuse that the sex worker women face as part of that narrative. This all serves to further perpetuate the violence sex workers experience.

They continue to ignore the fact that many sex workers are mothers, many sex workers are students, many sex workers are working class, that sex workers are in fact workers. Their insistence on excluding sex workers struggle from their worldview is continuing to have a dangerous impact on women involved in the sex industry. As I said, they don’t just exclude sex workers, they actively campaign to ensure they are put in more danger and harm than they are already, and this is a problem.

Ruth Coppinger’s record of treating sex workers in a repulsive manner goes relatively unchallenged on the left. If it was any other type of worker, this kind of thinking would just be unheard of and completely condemned by everyone on the left.

During the time that the Sexual Offenses Bill was making its way through the Dail, it was difficult to tell the difference between Ruth Coppinger and any other Labour TD attempting to gain opportunistic support from the anti sex work lobby, or otherwise known as the conservative or religious right. When a socialist TD is as enthusiastic about a bill as Labour or the anti-choicers are, then it might be time to question what exactly they mean by socialist.

In fact, given Ruth’s record on the issue, it is quite incredible that she is running in the general election under ‘Women for Ruth’ banner – quoting that ‘Ruth will fight for your rights’ – but only if you aren’t repulsively selling sex or going off making immoral choices about your bodily autonomy that Ruth says you’re incapable of making.

 

ROSA (Reproductive rights against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity) is the feminist side-project of the AAA/SP. They held a talk on the sex industry at their last Bread and Roses Festival where Ruhama attended, spoke, and posed for a PR photoshoot with them. The second wave was spoken highly of by Laura Fitzgerald of the SP, and a conflation of sex work and trafficking occurred throughout.

 

The Workers Party

The Workers Party yesterday released the following statement in a message when requested to clarify their position on sex work:

“The Workers Party is firmly opposed to sex-slavery, sex trafficking and the commoditization of women’s bodies. We believe that the conceptualisation of sex work / prostitution as a “choice” undermines the very real material and cultural deprivation and exclusion which overwhelmingly drive women into prostitution under capitalism. People diving in sewerage or collecting cans for remuneration similarly engage in labour which is exploitative, and which as socialists we believe should be eliminated. Prostitution should be seen in this light. The Workers’ Party advocates eliminating the material conditions that drive workers into exploitative situations. Primarily this should involve providing comprehensive access to social housing, decent employment and social welfare, and the creation of respectful and dignified state bodies to support women in transitioning into less exploitative employment.

This strategy must necessarily be accompanied by harm reduction measures in the immediate term. In relation to how harm reduction for those involved in the sex trade can be ensured, the Workers’ Party does not support the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, recognises the evidence that it has not been successful in other countries. Neither have we taken a position to support full decriminalization. We continue to debate the issue within our party, within a frame which respects women, recognises the flawed model of “choice” often used to justify legalization of prostitution, but also recognising the difficulties which criminalisation of sex work poses to ensuring harm reduction.”

The minute you conflate sex trafficking with sex work, your position is completely flawed. The argument that sex work should ideally be abolished because of its ‘exploitative nature’ only stems from the influence of the religious right, whorephobia and moralism and neglects the fact that all work is exploitative.

The jobs that the Workers Party refer to above are valuable jobs, and include work that is and will be necessary even under parliamentary socialist reforms. However, to compare sex work and by extension, predominantly women sex workers, to diving in sewage really takes the anti sex worker rhetoric to a new vile low.

Let’s go with it though for a moment: Sewage diving is carried out by professional divers who are usually trades people first and it involves high-tech diving in places such as sewage farms, basements and drains of hospitals.  It takes careful planning and is a very serious job with stand-by divers ready in case something goes wrong. It is essential work especially in instances where bacteria is used to break down solids instead of chemicals or where repairs are required to the machines used to breakdown sewage.  It is difficult to imagine a situation where the Workers Party would not support requests by sewage workers to support measures that they deem would keep them safe while working, such as being able to work in teams for example.  However, where sex work is concerned, the Workers Party state that they have not taken the position requested by sex workers which will keep them safe, namely decriminalisation.  Their insistence on using the term ‘prostitution’ is indicative of the disregard they have for sex workers self-determination. But we shouldn’t have to be talking about sewage work when trying to win rights for sex workers that will keep them alive.

It is the experience of sex workers that no other work gets imagined as being redundant in the future as much as sex work.  The fixation on this can only be due to moralism.The questioning of choice is a familiar obsession of many on the left and it contains sexist undertones where predominantly women sex workers are deemed unable to make an active choice to engage in sex work. Regardless of the factors that drive women to engage in sex work, questioning the very notion of that choice clearly says that the Workers Party don’t trust women to make their own choices and think that they know better than the women themselves, thereby stripping women of autonomy.

There have been conflicting answers from various members of the Workers Party when questioned on their position, so sex workers say that they need to immediately retract this position, publicly apologise to sex workers and make a clear statement on the position they do have, if it differs from the one they released yesterday.

Appeal from sex workers 

Sex workers lives are at risk if the left continues to ignore their voices alongside conservatives, so sex workers are finding themselves in the unusual position of having to protest the left to change their position. Protest and pressure work.  We’ve seen many pledges in advance of this election yet none for sex workers who are some of the most margianalised in society.

The time to pressure those looking to be elected is now and it’s not fair to expect sex workers to remain silent on a matter that literally involves endangering their lives or to call those supporting them sectarian for doing so. In this respect, following the murder of Bianca in Scotland, a sex worker based in Ireland put out a call for people voting in the elections to not vote for AAA/SP candidates.  She asked that we extend our pro choice priority to sex workers. She said:

I would like to ask people not to vote Paul Murphy or any other AAA/SP candidate and stop singing praises for him/them. Him and his party supports the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients. It frustrates me to no end, that people turn around and say, well his policies on other issues important to lefties are good, but a shame about the sex work issue and but I will vote for him anyway. We wouldn’t accept this with abortion, so why do we allow it with sex work?

I got some sad news that a sex worker sister was murdered recently. Criminalisation of sex work and stigma was why she was targeted – and this will only get worse with client criminalisation. Please stop tooting the AAA’s horn, cause if it was up to them – they’d ignore evidence-based policy and sex workers’ voices, and would rather endanger their lives even more in the name of ideology.

 

…I want people to understand, that the next “dead hooker” story could possibly be a comrade.”

Not even 12 hours after this call was made however, leftists continued to promote AAA/SP election material and promote their politics as a chance for a ‘united left’. This completely ignored sex workers demands in favour of their own ideas of good politics.

This continued denial of the reality of sex workers lives and struggle is only further damaging sex workers lives. The longer we ignore this, the more likely that one of our own comrades is going to suffer the fate that Bianca did, along with so many others. We cannot, as feminists, leftists and activists, continue to throw our sex worker comrades under a bus. Voting for those who continue to abhorrently disregard sex worker rights will only serve to increase the violence that sex workers experience and worsen the stigma that sex workers face every day.

A vote for those who deny sex worker rights is not a pro choice vote and it is not a women’s rights vote, nor is it a workers vote. Women can’t wait, say the AAA/SP and they are right!

After the Russian Revolution, Innessa Armand didn’t seek to abolish, or ‘end demand’ of sex work, but she actually decriminalised it, therefore providing sex workers more safety and autonomy over where and with whom they work. In the words of Inessa Armand: “If women’s liberation is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without women’s liberation.”

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17 responses

  1. Isn’t this just the personal views of a few politicians? There would be nothing stopping socially liberal left wing candidates from doing well. Look at Corbyn. Or is Ireland very different?

  2. On the subject of The Left, what’s the Sinn Fein position on sex work?

    • Sinn Fein are pro-TORL – Spokeman for Justice Padraig MacLochlainn a particular cheerleader for same willing to mislead his own delegates at SF Ard Fheis 2015 when Motion 258(?) proposing the decriminalisation of sex work was rejected courtesy of MacLochlainn’s cherrypicking of ‘suitable’ evidence.

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  4. Hey bitterglitteringfeminist,

    I really enjoyed your article.

    I find it abhorrent that that the SP/AAA would take such blatant stance against the safety and wellbeing of sex workers.

    Considering that Ruth Coppenger has fairly good politics on a woman’s right to choice/ body autonomy.

    I found the comments (by Ruth) in the screen grab truly upsetting.
    She would literally prefer sexworkers be exposed to danger than have a safe and healthy working environment.

    One criticism I have is in relation to the parties you left out. Sinn Fein being at the top of the list.
    Considering that they are the largest opposition left party in the state and the lack of action across the border, I would see SF as a major contender for ridicule.

    The Social Democrats have yet to formulate a position. (as I was writing this a canvasser called to the door. The position he would be advocating was that sex work should be decriminalised and treated like all other forms of work, which is hopeful.).

    The communist party are against sex work. Although they aren’t running candidates they are still a left party. http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/mna-en.html

    Éirigi- I can’t find their position on sex work.

    *After Labour’s displays of utter contempt for those they profess to represent, I wouldn’t consider them on the left. Labour women did release a document in 2012 which is fairly sound, though id imagine it was suppressed by the overlords http://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/labour_women_submission_on_the_review_of_legislation_on_prostitution_august_2012.pdf

    Regards,

    Criostoir.

    • Hi Criostoir,
      the three leaders of Soc Dems are all pro-Torl though Stephen Donnelly does appear to be less committed in his view than either Catherine Murphy or Roisin Shortall . Certainly a number of Soc Dem candidates are in favour of full decrim and SW rights – e.g.AnneMarie McNally,Glenna Lynch and James Heffernan – there may be others .

      May i ask which SocDem candidate you met advocated such rights?

      • Hey John,
        To clarify, the person I spoke to was a canvasser and not a candidate. Liam Coyne is running in my constituency but I don’t know his position on SW( nor did the canvasser).
        The canvasser on the other hand did have a Pro-SW position and pointed out that a sizable number of those joining the SocDem are pro-SWer.

    • Criostoir, “fairly sound”?! That Labour Women document is appalling!

  5. Has the guy that murdered Jessica said that he did it because of stigma? Was he under the impression that she was engaging in criminal activity (she wasn’t) and that was his motivation? Did he miss the part where the detection and conviction rate for muder is extremely high?

    Why call her Bianca the sex worker, her name was Jessica, a woman not a job title? You seem to be trying to dehumanise her as well.

    • She used the name Bianca in her working life. That is how she wanted to be referred to in connection with her work. Bitterglitterfeminista is showing respect for her wishes, not dehumanising her.

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  7. Greetings,

    Although I take the points raised in this article, bitterglitterfeminist, I would somewhat disagree with you that the Workers’ Party are outright against sex workers – their clarification above indicates that they are as yet undecided as to what to do on this issue. They neither support TORL/prohibition/abolition or legalisation or “full decriminalisation”.

    As such, they may still be open to persuasion on the issue, once their confusion on terms, etc, is clarified.

    Given that the ILO – of which Ireland is a signatory – recognises sex work as work, this would be a starting point.

    Anyone working in the sex industry – be it chat lines, kiss-o-grams, etc – is, by definition, a “sex worker”. The claim that sex work, which actually involves sex, is not sex work is not only a contradiction in terms but is quixotic.

    I would divide the circumstances under which sex work occurs into three categories: coercive, circumstantial, and consensual.

    Clearly, coercion fits the trafficking scenario.

    Socio-economic circumstances are the predominant reason for people to turn to selling sex, and generally fits the people smuggling aspect of migrant labour.

    I would define “consensual” as when someone has other options: for example, those with degrees or other third-level qualifications, which give them other options in the mainstream job market but nevertheless choose to earn a living selling sex (or otherwise working in the sex industry).

    From their above clarification, they are clearly concerned about the first two categories – as indeed anyone would/should be. They simply don’t recognise that the third category exists due their confusion over terms.

    Once this is addressed, they may yet support sex workers’ rights.

    Kindest regards,

    James

  8. Greetings,

    I apologise for getting your name wrong, bitterglitterfeminista.

    @John Mac – I note Padraig MacLochlainn has lost his seat.

    Kindest regards,

    James

  9. bitterglitterfeminista

    Well then,

    I could reply to you all one by one, but really, my comment to you all is the same.

    On an article about leftists not taking sex worker struggle seriously, you are all much more concerned about other political parties and my reasons for not including them, than the actual murder of a sex worker and the consequences that has for sex workers in Ireland.

    Indeed, a point of reference as to what stance each political party has on sex work would be useful, but this isn’t that point of reference. This is a plea, on behalf of sex workers to leftists, to hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to bodily autonomy, workers, and women. Because as long as we don’t, the more likely it becomes that a sex worker is going to be murdered here.

    Read the article again. And again. And again after that, until the point of the article sinks in.

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