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Sex work in France, one year on

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The French law criminalising payment for sex was enacted a year ago Thursday, on 13th April 2016. Supporters marked its anniversary by (predictably) declaring it a success already, on pretty much the sole basis of purported arrest statistics. A typical example was this tweet from Feminist Current, which my friend Laura Lee alerted me to:

and it reminded me that I haven’t done a dodgy stats analysis in a while. So here we are.

The first step in any such analysis is to go to the source of the stat. So I read the Feminist Current blog post, which links to this news article and this press release from CAP International. (“CAP” stands for “Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution”, in case you were wondering. Its current president is Sarah Benson of Ruhama.) Unfortunately, the news article’s source was the press release, and the press release’s source seems to be press releases from two other anti-sex work organisations:

At this point I replied to Feminist Current’s tweet to ask if they knew the actual source of those stats, but perhaps also predictably, they didn’t answer. So I did a search for “937” on the Mouvement du Nid site and found this article by the Abolition 2012 coalition, the title of which translates as “What harms prostitutes is not law, it is prostitution”. And a few paragraphs down we see the statement that

The clients are now accountable, 937 of them have been verbalized (figures from the Ministry of the Interior)

The word “verbalized” (verbalisés) is intriguing there, not being cognate with any legal term in English. I wasn’t sure if it could actually be translated to “arrested”, especially given France’s very different criminal procedures, and indeed it appears to be more analogous to “ticketed” according to the Council of Europe French-English Legal Dictionary. I’m not sure if this results in a criminal record, and would welcome any input from someone in the know. [Edit: see comments from Rikki de la Vega and Richard below.]  As to the 937 figure, I can’t find it on the Ministry of the Interior website, though it could have been revealed in a Parliamentary Question or something. But it doesn’t ring untrue, and I have no reason to suspect it isn’t true; all I can say about this figure specifically is that in a country of 66 million people, the fact that 937 were ticketed for something last year doesn’t strike me as evidence of a real commitment to its eradication – far less as something actually likely to lead to its eradication.

What I was more interested in was the other statistic, that no sex workers had been arrested since the introduction of the law.  This is what set off my bullshit detector, and sure enough, that same Abolition 2012 statement qualifies it rather significantly:

Since April 13, 2016, no more prostitutes have been arrested for soliciting and previous convictions on this count have been removed from criminal records. However, prostitutes are still arrested in certain cities that have issued anti-prostitution decrees…

Those “anti-prostitution decrees” are discussed further in this open letter to French presidential candidates, also issued by Abolition 2012. It states:

In particular, we would like to know what you will be setting up, once elected, on the following priority issues:

  • Ending anti-prostitution laws targeting victims While France regards prostitution as violence and the law of 13 April 2016, in accordance with its abolitionist ambition, decriminalized prostitutes, certain municipalities in the national territory have rid themselves of these principles and of the law by adopting anti-prostitution decrees punishing the prostitutes themselves.

One might question whether a country can really be said to regard a thing as “violence” if the maximum penalty imposed for it is no more than what a large grocery store would get for destroying edible food, but rhetoric aside, it seems clear that the law has not actually had the impact on sex workers suggested by the Feminist Current tweet and its sources. It would be interesting to see the statistics from those municipalities, and to know what sort of penalties are being imposed – particularly for the undocumented migrants who sell sex in France.

And on that note, I’ll return to what I said earlier about arrest (or verbaliser) records forming the sole basis for such triumphalism in these statements. The CAP International statement acknowledges that the other elements of the French law have yet to be introduced:

French members of CAP international, Mouvement du Nid and Fondation Scelles, together with the 60 member organisation of the collective Abolition 2012, are now prioritising the effective implementation of newly recognised rights for victims of prostitution and trafficking:

  • Legal, psychological and medical support,
  • Access to exit programmes,
  • Emergency and social housing,
  • Financial assistance,
  • Temporary residency permits,
  • Access to training and to decent work

Similarly, the Abolition 2012 letter to presidential candidates goes on to call for:

  • The opening of shelters for victims of prostitution, procuring and trafficking in human beings in shelters and social reintegration. 

  • Access to the free tax debts. 

  • Access to a residence permit for foreign victims. 

  • The provision of financial assistance for social and vocational integration for prostituted persons who do not benefit from social minima or assistance granted to persons seeking asylum.These basic provisions must be put in place as soon as possible throughout the country.

It never ceases to amazes me that anti-sex work feminists don’t insist on these basic provisions being put in place before measures that deprive sex workers of their income. What do they really expect to happen to these people in the meantime?

Finally, one more thing in that open letter jumped out at me: the admission by Abolition 2012 that the law is doing absolutely fuck all against the online sex industry:

The law clearly and strictly defines what is involved in procuring, including “taking advantage of the prostitution of others, sharing products or receiving subsidies from a person habitually engaging in prostitution; Act as an intermediary between two persons, one of whom engages in prostitution and the other exploits or pays for the prostitution of others”. Yet, major actors in bringing prostituted persons and prostitution clients into contact continue to profit financially from prostitution, handsomely, without ever being disturbed. On the Internet, where ad serving is growing exponentially, which would fall under pandering in any other context, it seems commonly accepted. But this tolerance deprives of useful effect any new measure designed to discourage demand and create alternatives for prostitutes. Every week in the national and local press we learn that websites, whether general or specialized, have not only facilitated the prostitution of others but have also benefited greatly from it.

So let’s review. According to the law’s biggest cheerleaders in France, sex workers continue to be targeted and punished by municipal authorities; internet prostitution continues unabated, thereby depriving “end demand” measures of any useful effect; and nothing has yet been done for any sex workers who are struggling to make a living under this law, which I presume are likely to be those who are street-based and therefore particularly vulnerable. In that context, are those 937 fines really cause for celebration?

Let me be clear that I absolutely welcome the removal of solicitation from the criminal code. And I am glad to see Abolition 2012 and CAP International keeping positive assistance to sex workers on the agenda, even if it really should have been their priority to start with. But press statements suggesting that the law is already a success are not only highly disingenuous, but potentially damaging to that agenda. By continuing to centre a criminal justice approach to the sex industry, and in a way that invites the French government to declare itself as “doing something” for abolition, they mute their own calls for the social and immigration reforms that are absolutely vital to actually reduce the size of the industry in France. They make it oh so easy for the government to continue to drag its heels on creating those alternatives for sex workers, because hey look what a good job we’re doing arresting clients! Which is what you were campaigning hardest for anyway, right?

Of course, these statements lauding the success of the new law aren’t really aimed at the French government anyway. They’re aimed at people who opposed the law to begin with, and people in other countries where it’s currently under consideration. They’re a way of putting a shiny spin on the law, to defend it from its detractors at home and abroad. But the problem with shiny things is they can blind you. I think we’ve already seen that happen in Sweden and Norway, where the level of denial among those who want to maintain client criminalisation can sometimes reach ludicrous heights. Earlier this month, I attended a conference addressed by Per-Anders Sunesson, Sweden’s “Ambassador at Large for Combating Trafficking in Persons”, during which he made the remarkable claim that since the sex purchase ban was introduced there had not only been no murders of sex workers, but not even one single complaint of violence against a sex worker. When I pointed out that Sweden’s own police reports stated otherwise, his reply was “Maybe you’re reading them wrong.”

So what I’d say to supporters of the French law, if you really do want to see it implemented in full and not just the headline provisions of it, is this: forget about us. Stop trying to persuade us (or those who might hear us) that we were wrong about client criminalisation, and start really holding the French government to account for continuing to allow persecution of sex workers by local and immigration police, for failing to ensure that sex workers who want to exit have the resources to do so. Stop centring sex workers’ clients and putting so much of your energy into campaigning against them. From here on, the welfare of those you call “prostituted persons” should be the focus of at least as much energy – or the government will do no more than bare minimum to implement social and immigration reforms, which will end up reforming nothing and leaving vulnerable and exploited sex workers just as vulnerable and just as exploited. And still selling sex.

Don’t let France get away with this while you’re busy crowing about numbers of “arrested johns”.

Brothel laws criminalising sex workers: a feature, not a bug

It happens with depressing regularity, but reports of sex workers being prosecuted for “brothel-keeping” have actually got a fair bit of attention recently, both in mainstream and social media. None of it, of course, from the Turn Off the Red Light campaign or its leading member organisations, who are campaigning hard for new legislation which will double the penalties for this offence.

Supporters of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 have done their best to keep this aspect of the bill quiet, regularly insisting that the bill “decriminalises” women in prostitution even after The Journal’s Fact Check established that it does no such thing. On the rare occasions they’re pressed on it, they usually witter on about how this law is “intended to punish pimps”, sometimes even suggesting that it’s the only mechanism the law has to do so.

They’re wrong on both counts.

To take the second point first: the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, which currently governs sex work law, contains an offence of “organising prostitution” as well as one of “living on the earnings of prostitution”. Both of these offences will remain under the new law, so there’s no reason that any “pimps” found keeping brothels could not continue to be prosecuted if the brothel-keeping law was removed.

The first point – that the law is not aimed at pimps, but at sex workers themselves – can be proven clearly enough just by looking at how the law is actually used in real life. As Lucy Smyth’s media analysis shows, nearly all the reported prosecutions have in fact been of sex workers, not of anyone managing or controlling them. So maybe it’s a case of the Gardaí misusing the law and just in need of better guidance?

No, it’s not. Go back to the original debates over the 1993 Act and you see very clearly that sex worker prosecutions are a feature, not a bug, of the brothel-keeping law – which was intended to address the public nuisance factor of brothels. Introducing the bill to the Seanad, then-Minister Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said:

I would now like to briefly explain the thinking behind the provisions in the Bill on prostitution. Prostitution is not, and never has been, an offence. The criminal law has no role in trying to regulate sexual arrangements made in private between adults, whether or not money is a factor in those arrangements. What the law has in the past sought to regulate are certain public manifestations of prostitution which can cause upset and distress to members of the public, such as soliciting in public or the operation of a brothel. I think it must be acknowledged that these activities can cause genuine problems for the public, and that is a reality of life that we as legislators must deal with.

Over in the Dáil, meanwhile, Michael McDowell (of all people) attempted to introduce an amendment which would exclude from the definition of brothel “the bona fide home of a prostitute unless the premises are used by any other prostitute for the purpose of prostitution”. Implicit in this amendment is the understanding that the offence would be used against sex workers. The Minister rejected the amendment, saying:

As the Deputy rightly states “brothel” is a common law term and means a place resorted to by persons of both sexes for the purpose of prostitution. There must be at least two women or men plying their trade as prostitutes in the place. If two persons are using the premises for prostitution, the place is a brothel and it is immaterial that one of them is the occupier. Therefore, the home of a prostitute is not a brothel unless another person is also using the premises for prostitution.

So again, it was clearly envisaged by the law, at the time it was introduced, that a sex worker would be prosecuted under it – even in her own home, if she allowed someone else to sell sex there. This is not a law about pimps.

Which is not to say that the brothel-keeping law could never be used against pimps. It’s a hybrid offence, meaning it can be prosecuted either summarily (before a District Court judge) or on indictment (in the Circuit Court, before a jury, and at the risk of a much higher penalty). In real life, sex workers who are prosecuted under this law are inevitably prosecuted summarily; it’s only in the rare “pimp” prosecutions that indictment occurs. And – I think this is pretty significant – the new bill only increases penalties for the summary offence of brothel-keeping, while leaving the penalties for the indictable offence unchanged. In this respect, the new law is clearly going directly after sex workers. Not pimps.

And if you need any further evidence, just look at Frances Fitzgerald’s recent contribution to the Committee Stage debate on the present bill. Rejecting amendments that would reframe the brothel-keeping law to only target third parties, the Minister stated:

Women would come under pressure to claim that they were working independently when that was not the case and the Garda would be limited in the actions it could take to close brothels and disrupt the activities of pimps and criminal gangs.

So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth: sex workers – not pimps – are intended to be prosecuted under this law, in order that Gardaí can shut down their workplaces. The fluff about women being pressured to lie about their working arrangements is a complete non-sequitur; if anything, such pressure is probably more likely in the present set-up. When managed sex workers take the fall for the “real” brothel keepers, after all, there’s less incentive for the guards to go after their bosses.

So make no mistake about the brothel-keeping law. It is not an anti-pimp measure with an incidental, unfortunate side effect of occasionally catching the wrong target. It is not being misapplied by overzealous Gardaí who just need a bit of training or direction. Gardaí who go after sex workers with this law are doing exactly what it’s designed to do, and they will keep doing it as long as the law allows them to, and regardless of the dangers it creates for sex workers. And the Gardaí are doing it with the explicit approval of the Minister for Justice, and with the effective acquiescence (if not silent approval) of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, and its constituent NGOs who continue to pretend they have these women’s interests at heart.

Sex workers are literally dying because of this law. We owe them at least our honesty about why we allow that to happen.

So you don’t want to take Amnesty’s word for it? Okay.

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CN: stuff you might find by googling for low-quality cishet male porn 

Last week, Amnesty International finally published its full policy position on sex work. The reaction from anti-sex work feminists has been predictable: lots of vitriol, penis-shaped candles, and pimp smears, but little to no engagement with Amnesty’s actual arguments. The 101-page report into Amnesty’s research in Norway (Melissa Gira Grant has summarised it well here) has been, unsurprisingly, almost totally ignored, apart from a couple suggestions that Amnesty is too compromised for its research to be trusted anyway.

Well, great news, “Nordic model” advocates: you don’t have to take Amnesty’s word. Because Swedish super cop Simon Haggstrom – you’ll know him from his frequent visits to other countries to proselytise for the sex purchase ban – has now published his memoirs. Only in Swedish, alas, but that’s why God made Google Translate. Here are some of his views on how the law actually functions in practice. Let’s take them thematically, shall we?

On whether the law is “working” to end demand



On the law’s “normative effect” on young Swedish men


On whether sex workers are still hassled by police


Note the subtle threat in the above, made explicit in the next one:

On whether sex workers are de facto criminalised


Pro tip: ask anyone with a precarious immigration status in your country whether that sounds like a request to voluntarily assist with a police investigation. Or not.

On whether sex workers are treated respectfully and with dignity during raids

Confiscating their used tampons and displaying them as “evidence”? You decide.


Yes, this is an actual picture in the book

On whether the law is more concerned with preventing or punishing “exploitation”


In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking the “main reason” is something totally different. If the cops intervened before any sex took place, Simon would miss all the good parts:








And if all that wasn’t enough to answer one final question…

On who exactly benefits from this law


Well, there you go: it provides the cops with “excitement” and plenty of wank material, in which they themselves play a starring role in the action. Ironic, when you consider that Amnesty are the ones being accused of privileging men’s sexual desires.

So let’s recap. According to one of the law’s chief enforcers, it hasn’t changed men’s attitudes. It isn’t deterring them from paying for sex. It isn’t stopping women from selling sex (indeed, they have to engage in a sexual act before enforcement will take place at all). It is subjecting them to unwanted interactions with the police, up to and including detention, and deportation for those who refuse to accept the cops’ “help”. That … sounds an awful lot like what Amnesty found next door in Norway, doesn’t it?

But even Amnesty might be surprised at the clumsy, cringeworthy porn that Haggstrom illustrates his accounts with – more surprised than Swedish sex workers seem to be, which is possibly telling in itself. Is it any wonder he’s such an advocate for the law?  Without it, he’d have to get off with only his imagination again.

Credit to Lucy Smyth for translations and screenshots. 

Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police: part 3

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This is the third in a series (previous parts here and here) of my analyses of Swedish police reports which, as you’ll see, depict the law against paying for sex in a less flattering light than you’d expect from all the propaganda about it. I’m not going to go into much depth with this one, first because it largely repeats the findings of the previous two and second because I felt sick to my stomach before I reached the end of it, for reasons that will become clear. What follows, then, is only a few particularly notable excerpts from the latest report (published in November 2015). The link is here and, like last year, I’ve had to run this through Google translate; it seems the practice of publishing these reports in both Swedish and English ceased after my first post in this series. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

So here goes:

In cases where the women used in prostitution in Sweden had been found the police or NGOs offered opportunities for support and assistance. If they are not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in an investigation into human trafficking or pimping, they could in some cases be rejected under the Aliens Act to the EU country where they have a residence permit. That women do not want or dare to cooperate in an investigation may be due to lack of confidence in the police, but also to the fear that they or their family will be punished. (p.16)

Supporters of the law often deny that this happens, but there it is in black and white from the Swedish police themselves. Non-EEA sex workers or women trafficked into prostitution (the report assumes they’re the latter) risk expulsion if they don’t help the police with their investigations – even though the police know that sometimes they refuse out of fear. What kind of “support and assistance” is that?

By the way, here’s the footnote to that paragraph:

According to Chapter 8, Section 2, first paragraph “an alien may be rejected if it can be assumed that during his or her stay in Sweden he or she will not earn a living in an honest way”.

Remember, these are women the law purportedly regards as “victims”.

Note also the procedural defect, which allows a person to be deported based on an assumption. In a country where discrimination against “Asian-looking” women is permitted as an anti-prostitution measure, without any actual evidence against the specific woman, you’d be forgiven for not putting much confidence in those “assumptions”.

Moving on to page 22:

In 2014, the police noted a change regarding the number of Internet sites with ads for the sale of sexual services where there was reason to suspect that the victims were under 18 years old. The ads were fewer and the police saw a change in the way to make contact from ads to the open pages of chat and social media applications such as Facebook.

It’s been pointed out time and time again that even where the sex industry is criminalised, it constantly adapts to new technologies and new methods of avoiding detection. Here’s a good example. Advertising on social media undoubtedly predates 2014, even if the cops weren’t aware of it. If police scrutiny begins to make that too inconvenient, something else will replace it – that’s an absolute certainty.

Oh and incidentally, if you’re imagining that it will only be people actually advertising sex whose social media accounts will be scrutinised, remember that the Swedish police have fairly strong surveillance powers. Anyone who spends time in, or talks to people in, Sweden can be pretty sure they’ll use this to justify even more snooping into your private communications.

Sex is still being sold by online advertisement, though, and on page 29 they give an example of it:

In the spring of 2014 the Stockholm police prostitution team came in contact with a 14-year-old girl sexually exploited by adult men for payment when she advertised sexual services via the Internet. The girl said that she was bought and sexually exploited by several men and the police managed to identify two of them.

The 14-year-old girl is, of course, an iconic figure in anti-prostitution campaigning. This image was all over the place in Ireland a few years ago:

Anna

The organisations behind this ad want us to believe that Anna’s sad story wouldn’t have happened if only there was a law here criminalising men who pay for sex. Yet here are the Swedish police confirming that 15 years after this law was introduced – a law older than she is – they have their own Anna, who’s been paid for sex by “several” adult men. And I’m guessing “she’s not the only one”, either.

On page 43, we find what may be the single most heinous thing I’ve ever read about this law. Discussing penalties (and why the doubling of them doesn’t seem to have worked as well as expected, although of course that’s not stated in so many words) the report says:

several proposals have been made that the crime of purchase of sexual services should be divided into severity and a felony introduced. The [2010 official] evaluation of the effects of the ban on the purchase of sex noted in its analysis of this question that a classification of the offence by several severity levels could bring more disadvantages for the fight against this and related offences. Police Regions agree with the commission’s fear that graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised.

Read that again, and let it sink in. Actually, let me repeat this bit:

graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised

Once more. Just in case.

graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised

I am nearly at a loss for words about this. One of the arguments that has been made against the introduction of this law in Ireland is that it would divert resources away from serious offences (like actual trafficking and exploitation) because the police would need to use those resources going after just any man who pays for sex. So, here the Swedish police are confirming that that’s exactly what they want it to do. As with the increase in stigma against sex workers, the reduced ability of the police to focus on “more reprehensible” crimes against them is a feature, not a bug of the law.

There are case study summaries at the end of the report, but I think I’ll leave it here. If there is anything more outrageous or despicable than the deliberate refusal to prioritise serious crimes against sex workers, I’m not sure I have the stomach to read them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to donate to National Ugly Mugs. Please consider doing the same if you can.

 

 

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.”

Sex worker healthcare access in Ireland

Guest post by Georgina Burke, a recently retired sex worker

A couple of months ago, I found myself in probably the worst depressive episode I’ve had to date. One of those ones you can see coming for months, but you’re there trying to battle away at general life things and you don’t have the time to deal. It creeps up on you.

So, I needed to find a doctor and a counsellor. I needed antidepressants, therapy, and time off! I called someone who we shall call Sarah. I knew she worked with outdoor sex workers and understood the issues we face. She began to look for a doctor that could treat me. The healthcare system is even trickier to navigate for sex workers, than it is normally for others. I and close friends of mine made call outs for a doctor that would be able to treat me, in case Sarah came back with nothing. In the past, I had the experience of doctors tell me to ‘get a job’ when I explained my work, I didn’t want this to be the case again, especially in my vulnerable state.

I spent my days calling up different organisations and individuals trying to find a counsellor that wouldn’t have views on my work that would impact on my trust of them and the quality of therapy. Most replied to my questions with ‘this is a non-judgmental service’. I don’t know what it is about that phrase, but it turned me off them immediately. I was so worried that my occupation would be blamed for my depression due to negative opinions on the sex industry. I knew that my depression was creeping up on me a long time and I had a fair idea why, and it wasn’t to do with sex work.

“You could just not tell them what you do” This thought ran through my mind a lot. How can you properly receive counselling without mentioning your work? If you have any doubts or slightest mistrust in your therapist, it’s just not going to work, is it? Therapy is supposed to be a supportive environment. Lying to a therapist just seems ridiculous. I had also just moved to Dublin, and so I needed to find a doctor that I could use long term, not just for this particular episode. Again, It just seems largely unhelpful to have to lie to your doctor about your occupation.

After a couple of weeks of no luck, my friends were getting increasingly worried about my health. They called an ambulance for me one night. I couldn’t get in the ambulance. I couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t be stigmatized by hospital staff. I felt like the HSE was the last place on earth that would be the caring and supportive environment that I so badly needed. The day after, I agreed to attend a counselling session in a mental health charity, and when I disclosed my work, I was asked what my parents would think of me. I was asked about the danger in my work. Even when I stressed that I have several methods of keeping safe and nothing of note has ever happened to me, this woman could not accept my answer. I left with the feeling of stigma reinforced more than ever.

It was some time after this I heard from Sarah, who managed to find a really amazing doctor who wasn’t fazed by my work at all. She gave me a full screening, and prescribed me medication and was extremely helpful in finding a counsellor. The counsellor I had was amazing, I felt supported by her and I trusted her with my issues.

I think the issue that really arose from this, was the distrust of healthcare professionals not being able to dissect their personal opinions and their professional responsibility. But, of course this is all due to receiving mostly negative messages about sex work in the media and general society. I don’t believe that any healthcare professional purposely sets to stigmatize or further isolate any client of theirs. When they are hearing constantly of how awful the sex trade is and that the government are all set to criminalise the clients of sex workers, of course they are going to hold the view that it is inherently bad. The problem with this is that it affects sex workers incredibly.

It’s ironic that just before I fell ill, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation held a conference on the effects of prostitution on health, and I bet none of these issues were raised once.

 

 

Criminalising purchase of sexual services is a daft idea, part infinity: enforcement issues

I wrote a bit about this here, but I’ve been having more thoughts about this lately and I think it’s worth a separate post about how problematic it’s going to be.

Not long ago, Swedish cop Kajsa Wahlberg visited Ireland on yet another PR junket to promote the law. In amongst the usual codswallop about trafficking reduction and sex workers not hating the law really, she made one interesting comment which was reported by Kitty Holland in the Irish Times but not, as far as I can tell, really noticed anywhere else:

She said it was resource intensive legislation, requiring many man-hours to track, locate and prosecute illegal trafficking and management of prostitution.

“It involves a lot of ‘listening in’ to conversations, translating. It is very resource intensive and very costly.”

Now the first problem with this ought to be obvious to anyone who’s followed the news in Ireland lately. Where exactly are we going to get all these “man-hours”? What crimes are we going to deprioritise so that the Gardaí have more time and money to peer into people’s bedrooms? True, there is provision in Budget 2016 for additional Garda resources, but the public seem pretty convinced there are nowhere near enough cops to deal with the things that are already illegal. It’s hard to imagine there’d be much support for giving them new – and “resource intensive” – offences to focus on, at the expense of their attention to burglaries and the like.

The reality, of course, is that our police won’t be spending a Swedish level of resources to enforce this law. They don’t have the power to do all the “listening in” the Swedes do (one of the reasons the PSNI told the Stormont Justice Committee the law would be pretty much unenforceable in the North, which, so far, it has been). And since the Minister sensibly didn’t accept the Oireachtas Justice Committee’s truly asinine proposal to treat people who visit escort sites the same as people who download child abuse images, they’re probably not going to be doing a lot more internet monitoring, either.

It strikes me that the most likely ways the law will be enforced are these:

Staking out known sex workers/“brothels”. This already happens to some extent; the Gardaí know – and keep an eye on – many of the premises regularly used for commercial sex, but don’t tend to disturb the occupants unless there are at least two sex workers there (bringing it within the common law definition of an illegal “brothel”). It’ll be a different story when the presence of even one person selling sex automatically means a crime is being committed.

Now since – and I know the law’s supporters have a tough time grasping this, but it’s really fairly obvious – sex workers like everyone else don’t want to lose income, which tends to happen when all their customers get arrested, a consequence of this is that many will feel they have to work in premises not known to the vice squad. As a practical matter, this usually means outcalls (in which they go to the client, rather than vice versa). It means they go to an unfamiliar location, where they don’t know who or what or how many people are waiting for them; where they can’t have an escape route mapped out in the event things go wrong. The Swedes admit that this has been an effect of the law, which is one of the reasons you know they’re lying when they claim it hasn’t made sex work more dangerous.

The other likely enforcement method is the sting operation: cops place fake ads, arrest people who answer them. The first consequence of this is that it will enormously strengthen the hand of sites like Escort Ireland, which clients will rely on to ensure the booking they make is legit. It will also make it harder for escorts to opt out of reviews – something I find particularly ironic in light of that odious Invisible Choice campaign (no, I’m not linking to it) which has nonsensically utilised the review as an argument for the Swedish model. And if they do this on a regular/sustained basis, it means that the women of An Garda Síochána (and there aren’t that many of them) will be disproportionately delegated to this particular line of duty. Not that I’d rather they were out bashing the heads of water protesters, you understand, but are these stings really the most appropriate use of their abilities? I mean, no little girl thinks “When I grow up I want to be a cop pretending to be a prostitute.”

Of course, the sting is already in use at street level – where buying sex has been effectively criminalised for 22 years under the soliciting law – and it hasn’t had any lasting deterrent effect there, so you’d wonder why people expect so much from the new law. A curious thing about which is that it will actually provide for a lower penalty than the existing soliciting law: the latter can you get you a Class D fine (€1,000) or four weeks in prison for a third offence, but under the new bill a Class D fine is as bad as it gets. So what the government’s doing is trying to “end demand” by introducing a less punitive variation of a law that’s already proven ineffective in ending demand. This is a notable and probably significant difference in context between Ireland and Sweden, where there was no criminalisation of clients until paying for sex was outlawed.

A few days ago, but after I wrote the above paragraphs, this article appeared in the Indo. It’s about the next report due out from the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which is expected to recommend limited decriminalisation of drugs. The different approach shown in these comments by Committee Chair David Stanton is striking:

Mr Stanton said he believed the model would free up garda and court resources to tackle drug dealers and traffickers rather than those using drugs recreationally.

“What we are talking about is radical and I don’t think we could have had this discussion 10 years ago, but I think it is definitely a system we should seriously consider,” he said.

“We should be targeting the serious dealers and traffickers and not spending our time and resources with some kid in the court system because they were caught with a joint,” he added.

Of course some of us were having this discussion 10 years ago, but he’s right that Irish parliamentarians couldn’t have been among them. Not because decriminalising drugs was any less worth considering then; not because there was any less evidence then of the harms of criminalisation nor, of course, because it wasn’t any less harmful. No, the discussion couldn’t be had 10 years ago because Irish society was still too mired in a drugs panic to think about the subject rationally. Sound familiar?

There’s one important difference, though. The crackdown on drug use, for all its serious flaws, did spring from a legitimately grassroots, community-based campaign. It happened because the Gardaí were (eventually) prodded into action by people who’d been seeing their families and neighbourhoods torn apart by drug addiction. The inevitable consequence of that action, that “fighting drugs” would become just another way to criminalise the working class, was assuredly not what they wanted; but they did, understandably, want some action to be taken against what was a genuine blight on their lives. There is no such grassroots call to criminalise sex workers’ clients: it’s a top-down, libfem NGO and convent-driven campaign against something that offends the campaigners’ moral and/or ideological sensibilities. When the ordinary people of County Louth have Adrian Crevan Mackins and things like this to worry about, do you think they want their local Gardaí spending time snooping around hotel rooms to arrest people having the wrong kind of sex? Has anyone bothered to ask them?