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Category Archives: Sex work

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?

On Amnesty and that open letter

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As most readers of this blog will probably be aware, Amnesty International recently proposed adopting a policy in favour of sex work decriminalisation. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – a radical feminist organisation for whom “trafficking” means, simply, prostitution – had kittens, and got a whole bunch of celebrity women (and others) to sign an open letter calling on Amnesty to reject this proposal. You can read the proposal here and the CATW letter here. (There’s also a counter-letter from the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, an actual sex worker-led organisation, which you can read and sign here. And please do.)

Much has already been written about the CATW letter, so I’ll limit my own critique to two points:

1. Any anti-sex work argument that cites Germany and/or the Netherlands without even mentioning New Zealand is either ill-informed or simply dishonest. The celebrities may fall into the former category, but CATW and many of the ordinary signatories know full well that New Zealand, and not those other countries, is the preferred model of “the HIV/AIDS sector, including UNAIDS” – which CATW’s own letter describes as the main inspiration for Amnesty’s proposal. Their failure to mention it can only be deliberate, presumably in an effort to prevent the ill-informed – the people who do think Germany and the Netherlands are what decriminalisation means in practice – from learning of the existence of the New Zealand model, and deciding to find out more about it.

2. It is equally dishonest to portray the policy proposal as one that “sides with buyers of sex, pimps and other exploiters rather than with the exploited”. This is what the draft policy actually says:

Amnesty

It is patently clear from this paragraph – the only one in the draft policy addressing client and third party criminalisation – that it is precisely “the exploited” (by which CATW mean all sex workers) whose rights Amnesty is aiming to protect. CATW are free to disagree that decriminalisation would protect them, of course, but an honest response to this paragraph would require at least acknowledging that as Amnesty’s aim.

On top of that, the policy has an appendix – the summary of research findings Amnesty undertook with sex workers in four different countries (Argentina, China, Norway and Papua New Guinea). This runs to four pages, and includes a number of direct quotations from the sex workers Amnesty spoke to. I’ve read and reread and reread the four pages, and I can’t find any direct quotes by clients or third parties.

Here’s a sample of the quotes from Norway:

Amnesty 2Amnesty 3Amnesty 4

One would almost have to wonder what CATW think it means to “side with” a person, if not to support abolishing a law that that person says puts them in danger.

Now it could be argued that we don’t know how many sex workers told Amnesty that actually they think criminalising their clients is in their interests. This is true; we don’t. But the fact is that every research study I have ever seen from anywhere on the impacts of client criminalisation has found that sex workers consider it to put them more at risk. Every last one. Even the official reports used by the Swedish and Norwegian governments to justify their laws. Even the City of Oslo report used by statistically illiterate radfems to justify the laws. So to make that argument would be disingenuous. But to not even acknowledge the existence of the research findings, while simultaneously claiming that Amnesty is siding against sex workers? That’s worse than disingenuous. It’s bad faith.

And if you are a journalist who reported on the CATW letter without reading and referring to what the Amnesty document actually says? Shame on you.

 

What TORL aren’t telling you about those “trafficking” stats

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Earlier this week, the Central Statistics Office published its latest reported crime data, which included a figure of 33 “human trafficking offences” – up from 22 in the last report.

Predictably, this was seized on by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign to bolster its call for the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients:

Now as I’ve noted a number of times, Irish “trafficking offences” can encompass quite a number of things that have nothing to do with sex work – including unlawful sexual activity with a minor and helping a person enter the State to seek asylum. So, quite apart from the obvious point that we don’t know whether the increase relates to sex trafficking or labour trafficking, we don’t even know if it relates to trafficking in the Palermo Protocol sense at all.

So, I decided to do something I’m pretty sure never occurred to TORL to do: I emailed the CSO’s crime data section to ask for further detail on these offences. Within a few hours, I had a reply inviting me to telephone them to discuss my query (see how easy that was, TORL?).

Unfortunately, the very helpful person who answered the phone was unable to provide any detail, because the CSO don’t have it: the figures were reported exactly as they came to them from the Gardaí. I asked if they could even be broken down into which statutory offence was reportedly committed, but the answer was no: literally all the CSO were told was “33 human trafficking offences”.

Furthermore, the CSO told me, this doesn’t necessarily even represent things that are legally defined as human trafficking: “It’s a Garda definition, not a legal definition.” So anything the reporting Garda considers trafficking would go into that figure. The lack of any kind of standard renders the statistic wholly unreliable evidence of anything at all.

And, finally, I was told that the figure may include inchoate offences, such as conspiracy. So there is no need that any actual trafficking had taken place – it is enough that there was an agreement in place to do so. Presumably, the figure may also include complicity offences, such as aiding and abetting.

What is apparent then is that the “33 human trafficking offences” need not relate to 33 separate incidents of (whatever kind of) human trafficking, i.e., 33 victims. And since the same was true of the previous report’s 22, we can’t judge the significance of the 50% increase in any meaningful sense. It’s a number on a page that tells us nothing about anything – except, of course, the willingness of crusaders to manipulate data for their own ends.

Lies, damn lies, and TORL statistics

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Guest post by Laura Lee

Following Stormont’s passing into law of Lord Morrow’s prohibitionist measure not so cunningly disguised as saving the victims of trafficking, it’s not surprising that the various anti sex work groups in the Republic have jumped on the back of that. Why, less than twenty four hours after the law came in, the ICI are claiming that this has already resulted in a mass exodus of sex workers across the border. You’ll forgive my instant suspicion of any statistics coming from the ICI, but as they are members of Turn off the Red Light with such illustrious partners as Ruhama, they have a vested interest in creating unfounded moral panic.

On the 5th of December last year, an article appeared in the Connaught Tribune which stunned me into silence, a real feat indeed. That article claimed that in Galway, 87 women were advertised “for sale” [sic], 97% of whom were immigrants and therefore trafficked. Wow. A quick check on Escort Ireland of today’s figures shows 42 sex workers in total, and that includes men and people advertising as “transsexual/transvestite”. All trafficked ? I think not.

Yesterday saw the publication in the Belfast Telegraph of yet another festival of made up statistics from the ICI. To break them down, they claimed that –

  • Donegal has increased from 14 advertisements to 24 – there are 18 today.
  • Louth has increased from 18 advertisements to 25 – there are 21 today.
  • Leitrim has screeched from 2 ads to 9 – there are 2 today.

If we take a snapshot of the number of sex workers advertising in the border counties, the numbers change dramatically all the time. That’s because by its very nature, the sex industry is fluid, with sex workers moving from location to location. In the short period from 19/11/2014 to 3/12/2014,* the number of female sex workers advertising in the southern border counties varied each day between 45 and 67, with the numbers tending to increase in the run up to Christmas. And the same is true for the rest of Ireland, from Wexford to Belfast to Kerry and all points in between.

Looking at Galway during the period 19/11/2014 to 3/12/2014, the numbers fluctuated there too but not once did the total exceed 57. So where were those 87 sex workers, 97% of whom were trafficked, and why weren’t the Gardai helping them? ICI wouldn’t just be making statistics up, would they? Make your own mind up.

 

*stats available on request

An open letter to Tom Meagher, from St Kilda street-based sex workers

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In September 2012, Jill Meagher was abducted and murdered as she walked home on the streets of Melbourne, Australia. It later emerged that her killer had been released on parole after attacking a number of other women, some of them street-based sex workers in the St Kilda area of Melbourne. Jill’s husband Tom has now joined a campaign in Ireland to criminalise sex workers’ clients. Here, St Kilda street workers share their views on his participation in that campaign.

Dear Tom Meagher,

As street based sex workers from St Kilda we have come together to urge you to reconsider your position endorsing the campaign “We Don’t Buy It” and to share with you some of the implications it has for us as sex workers.

All of us have different experiences in our lives including our experiences of work.

One commonality we share as street based sex workers in St Kilda is being subject to laws and policing operations that target us and our clients. And this really makes it harder for us to best look after our safety. One thing we thought we shared with you is an understanding of our justice system, and the way it discriminates against sex workers. For us it is more of an injustice system, and as you pointed out so well, this tragically not only affects us, but our whole society. To report crimes committed against us we risk being charged ourselves and being known to police for further profiling and harassment. Even if we take on this risk and report crimes we know it’s unlikely our cases will be treated fairly and with the same seriousness they would be if we were not a sex worker.

It was such a powerful and meaningful moment when you also recognised the injustice sex workers receive in our legal system, and what this means for our society. So in seeing your passion for justice and respect be given to all, including sex workers, co-opted into a campaign which does just the opposite of this is hugely disappointing and upsetting. We decided to write this letter to you because we want you to be able to support us and our safety. We aim to have you see things through our eyes. It’s imperative that everyone understands what we need and what we don’t need, because too often others talk for us and they get it wrong. We want to be safe in our work place and we want to stop violence against sex workers and to stop men’s violence against women. We have attended rallies representing women who we knew personally that have been verbally, physically or financially abused, hurt very badly or even killed while offering paid services in St Kilda Victoria.

Any campaign which calls to end sex work or stigmatises our clients ends up further stigmatising and dehumanising us as well, and ultimately serves to take away our agency and increases violence towards us. Sex work itself is not inherently violent or exploitative or dangerous. But the laws and social attitudes and stigma around sex work as a whole has an impact on our ability to look after our safety. Maybe it can seem confusing, feminists are often saying all kinds of things and it is important men listen to women when it comes to ending violence against women. But unfortunately not all women listen to sex workers, or some only listen to some of us, and only when we say what they want us to.

“We Don’t Buy It” has argued that paying a sex worker means paying for “temporary suspension of [her] desire not to consent and that’s coercion.” For this to be selectively applied to sex work and not other industries is problematic for us especially when sex workers already experience high levels of patronisation, including assumptions that we are not capable of making our own decisions. Arguing that paying someone equals coercion could be said about any worker under capitalism if you wish to term it that way. Would office workers really turn up 9 to 5, 5 days a week and do overtime if there was no incentive for it and no consequence if they instead spent their days with their family, their lover, or doing whatever they felt like? Probably not, yet the question is selectively and repeatedly asked of sex workers. The implication is that we are being specially exploited if we wouldn’t do our job for free.

Exploitation (for example being forced to do something we do not consent to) is very different, and it is not something that should be conflated with any work.

The problem with targeting clients in all of this is that clients are not the problem. By virtue of being a client, they must agree to paying the price mutually agreed upon for the services we wish to offer. No matter if its sex work or any other job, paying a person should never mean you have “bought” them or can do whatever you want with them, that would be violence and/exploitation, not work.

One big problem we face working in St Kilda is that our clients are targeted by police, and the conversations between sex workers and our clients are criminalised. This means it’s harder to negotiate, it’s harder for us to be upfront and check with each other if we are happy to do a business deal, or if it’s not actually a client, but rather someone who may be disrespectful or violent. This is not helped by campaigns which tell us that sex workers are “prostituted women” who don’t have any ability to properly consent anyway.

It also doesn’t help us to campaign for men to stop buying our services. Sex Work is our livelihood, it’s how we make our money and support ourselves. Some feminists claim that shifting the focus on to stopping men buying sex is the way forward, but people need to consider how that pans out in reality. Our colleagues in Sweden have clearly explained to us what happens when the police focus “only” on stopping the client. As one sex worker explained to us “how do you think they find the client? the

police don’t follow a man around, waiting for that moment he might buy sex, no they follow the sex worker, camp outside the sex worker’s house, knock down the sex worker’s door.” Sex workers working in St Kilda already work under laws similar to the Swedish laws, our clients are already criminalised and harassed and we have been vocal about their negative effects for years. Bringing the “Swedish Model” to Victoria would only potentially serve to increase our chances of losing our homes and further isolate us from our peers and other support systems. In contrast, full decriminalisation would enable us to use the safety mechanisms which are criminalised and attract police harassment under our current laws and the Swedish model.

Decriminalisation is the only legal model that would also meaningfully reduce some of the barriers in reporting to police when we are victims of crime.

Whilst it is important for men to ally with feminists to achieve gender equality, it is important that the groups of women who are supposedly being campaigned for are consulted with about what we need to stay safe. In this case, as street based sex workers, we want to make it clear to you: this is not what anti-sex work groups such as the Reach Project in Ireland or Project Respect in Victoria are campaigning for. For street workers in St Kilda to be safe, we need to live free from stigma and criminalisation based on what we do for a living. This means recognising sex work as work, and it means full decriminalisation of sex work, our clients, our workplaces. We want to be seen as equal and not seen as an easy, stigmatised target that will not be taken seriously. For this to happen we need to be treated fairly and with respect, not only in the courts, but also when it comes to campaigns and policies that are about us.

Please stand with us for our right to health and safety.

Halo, current St Kilda street based sex worker

Rory, current St Kilda street based sex worker

Skout, current St Kilda street based sex worker

Holly, current St Kilda street based sex worker

Signed in support:

Ruby Soho, current sex worker/former St Kilda street based sex worker

Dee, former St Kilda street based sex worker

Veronica Hum, current sex worker/former St Kilda street based sex worker

Christian, current sex worker/former St Kilda street based sex worker

Pj, former St Kilda street based sex worker

Rahni Belle, current sex worker/former St Kilda street based sex worker

A favourite piece of research for Swedish model advocates throws up a few surprises

Guest post by @pastachips

Does legalized prostitution increase human trafficking?“, a 2012 study by Cho, Dreher and Neumayer, is cited everywhere as evidence that ‘legalised prostitution’ increases trafficking into the sex industry. This article from last month is a recent example. The study’s conclusions have already been called into question, basically because the paper doesn’t distinguish between different meanings of the word trafficking, either in terms of taking account different countries’ laws – are we comparing like with like? – nor in terms of making a distinction between something-that-might-be-legally-trafficking-but is-essentially-undocumented-migration, and something more like cross-border kidnapping. Making that kind of distinction is pretty important if you’re trying to say something coherent! As is comparing like with like! The papers’ authors caution against treating its conclusions with too much weight, noting that “the quality of data is relatively low”, and that more research “will require the collection of more reliable data to establish firmer conclusions” (p26), but I think their data is actually way worse that they’re letting on.

They focus in on comparing Denmark, Germany and Sweden, and tell us: “in terms of human trafficking victims, the ILO estimated the stock of victims in Germany in 2004 to be approximately 32,800 – about 62 times more than in Sweden” (p25). I looked up their reference for that 32,800 figure, and found that the ILO paper cited as the source – Danailova-Trainor & Belser, 2006doesn’t even mention Germany. I discovered that by reading it, but you can also test it by clicking through and doing a command-f search for the words “German” or “Germany”, which you might reasonably expect to occur in a document that mentioned Germany.

The same 2006 paper is also cited as the source for the numbers on Denmark, where the claim is made that “… the ILO estimates the stock of human trafficking victims in Denmark in 2004 at approximately 2,250, while the estimated number in Sweden is about 500”, and the bracketed reference reads: “Global report data used in Danailova-Trainor and Belser, 2006” (p24). Again, I looked for those numbers (or any mention of Denmark) in vain in the Danailova-Trainor & Belser 2006 paper. I also checked out the “Global Report” mentioned as the source for Danailova-Trainor and Belser’s data, which I figured was probably a reference to the ILO’s 2005 report titled ‘A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour’ – there’s nothing else published that it plausibly could be; I checked. The 2005 Global Report doesn’t contain any country estimates, let alone numbers like those cited by Cho, Dreher and Neumayer.

I assumed that the 32,800 figure regarding Germany must have come from somewhere, so I dug around for ages on the ILO site, and found that the ILO seems to mostly resist giving country-specific numerical estimates (cf this 2005 report on trafficking in Germany, which really won’t be drawn on numbers). The only figures I could find for trafficking in Germany in 2004 were these official lists of identified victims that put the 2004 number at 972 (for all officially identified trafficking victims, not just sex trafficking victims). Obviously a list of ‘officially identified’ victims is unreliable – for instance, surely everyone knows these lists massively under-represent the number of men trafficked into agricultural work. But I feel like at least that list has an available methodology, which you could for instance replicate to see if you would get a similar number, or critique or challenge (as I would). How do you assess the validity of the process which produced an unreferenced 32,800, that appears to have come from nowhere?

It’s probably worth noting that I’m not invested in “defending” Germany’s record on ‘sex trafficking’ (scare-quoted because I think a lot of what is referred to in that phrase is more complicated that is generally allowed). I’ve focused in a bit on Germany because the study does. I don’t support Germany’s legal model in terms of sex work, and nor do any sex worker-led organisations in Ireland or the UK that I’m aware of; sex workers are perfectly capable of articulating why and how laws like those in Germany harm us, and disproportionately harm the more marginalised of us. I just feel like having references that go somewhere is quite a low bar in terms of the social sciences – especially when you’re citing very large numbers that apparently don’t appear anywhere else! – and I’m pretty surprised that the Cho/Dreher/Neumayer study seems not to clear that bar.

I also noticed that the study’s info on sex work laws around the world (167 countries! such big study wow!) is from, uh, 1995. (See p46.) The authors of the study are aware of some potential problems with this, noting: “for some countries, prostitution law changed during the 1996-2003 period: … Germany (2002), Denmark (1999) … Netherlands (2000), New Zealand (2003), and Sweden (1999). Our results are robust to the exclusion of these countries” [emphasis mine; some countries removed because if you want to see the full list you can follow up my reference] (p37). Norway implemented the sex purchase law in 2009; Iceland in 2007. In short, the effects of the ‘Nordic model’ are not actually included in the data of this study, and nor is the effect of the New Zealand model. “Our results are robust to the exclusion of these countries”. This might arguably make the study a not-totally-solid citation for you, if you’re looking to argue that the Swedish model is great and the New Zealand model is 💩. Here’s maybe the most interesting surprise. Cho, Dreher and Neumayer include a handy list of all the countries they’ve “looked at” (scare-quotes because hmmm), sorted into categories according to whether those countries have “very high”, “high”, “medium”, “low” or “very low” trafficking ‘inflows’. (See p44.) Sweden is listed in the “medium” category, along with … New Zealand.

Now, I don’t think that’s actually meaningful! Because I think that the data used to produce the conclusions of this study was 🌸 garbage 🌸. In general I think you get information that’s meaningful about sex work, trafficking, migration and exploitation by asking migrants who sell sex about their experiences and their policy suggestions. This study is a good example of that. But if you do think the conclusions of the study are meaningful – for example, if you’ve cited this paper as part of your argument in favour of laws like Sweden’s – then it should probably concern you that a study-you-apparently-consider-reliable ‘reveals’ Sweden is actually no ‘better’ at tackling trafficking than New Zealand. Whoops!

I know “the point” of this study is that it’s not “just about” individual countries; it’s trying to see patterns on a macro scale. But – that’s kind of a design problem with the study? In order to have relevance to policy debates, you have to organise your data in a way that is coherent with the terms of the debate – or at least, not egregiously incoherent. The global sex worker rights movement isn’t arguing for the (massively varied!) laws that this paper puts in the pile it calls “legalisation”; we’re not campaigning for “oh, laws that look something like the ones they have in Nevada, or Amsterdam, or Germany, or New Zealand; the details don’t matter, we don’t really mind”. We do mind! We’re trying to work towards (and improve on) the sex work laws they have in New Zealand. Sorry if this idea is complicated, but: aggregate data from Germany, Denmark, New Zealand and the Netherlands doesn’t make sense if no one is arguing in favour of the legal system in Germany, Denmark or the Netherlands, and when people who are pro-criminalisation refuse to understand this, they don’t derail us so much as make it obvious that they don’t care about the detail of the laws because they won’t be affected by them. Which isn’t that great an advocacy look, tbh. My focus on comparing New Zealand to Sweden in this study’s (broken and out-of-date) data isn’t because I’m scared of what will be ‘revealed’ by the aggregated global data (except in the sense that I’m finding this study scarily incompetent); but because I think it makes sense to talk about legal systems in a way that’s precise enough to be coherent.

Plenty of people have cited the Cho/Dreher/Neumayer paper as if it closes the argument, or as if it has some kind of weight or meaning. People who have been using it (presumably without reading it) probably need to decide whether the study – once read beyond the abstract – shows that New Zealand and Sweden have pretty much the same outcomes in terms of ‘sex trafficking’, or whether it’s actually so unreliable and badly put together as to be functionally useless (ding ding ding). While they decide which angle to take, I’m gonna write to the journal that published this paper and raise a few concerns.

On trafficking stats and Irish media fail

It’s a source of constant frustration for me that Irish journalists take such a wholly uncritical approach to the spin coming out of the TORL camp. Statistics are blandly repeated as if there was no reason not to believe them, their logical connection to the TORL argument taken for granted; there is never any questioning as to whether they would really support that argument even if they were true. I’m not suggesting this type of “churnalism” is unique to Ireland, of course, but it’s too widespread here to attribute only to individual reporters or specific news organisations. Whether due to editorial direction or sheer laziness, the Irish media have essentially acted as the PR wing of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, doing their work for them by treating their every press statement, every stunt as it was the result of some real journalist’s investigative work.

The latest example of this was the media coverage of this Ruhama statement. The headline, of course, is no different to what Ruhama have been saying for a few years now, and I’m not quite sure why RTÉ thought it merited a whole video report. (Contrast with their total failure to cover a genuinely newsworthy event – the launch of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland’s policy paper a few days earlier.) I suppose the “hook”, if they needed one, was the claim that if the Oireachtas doesn’t hurry up and introduce a ban on paying for sex, there will be an influx of clients from up north in June when the Six County ban comes in. Ruhama spokesperson Sarah Benson says she knows this by reading online forums, where the clients are supposedly discussing their plans to become cross-border sex tourists once that law comes into effect. And this right here is a perfect example of how an unquestioning media becomes a propaganda delivery machine – because if they’d gone on those forums themselves they’d have seen plenty of clients discussing their intention to continue visiting escorts after the law is brought in, and even sharing tips on how to get around the law. Some do say they won’t risk it, of course, but the full picture is considerably more complex than the “pimps and punters will come south” rhetoric we’ve been hearing since Stormont passed the bill – and our journalists would find this out pretty quickly if they would just do the barest bit of research now and again instead of letting themselves be spoon-fed all the time.

But what really needed interrogating in that article is the assertion that the 82 victims of trafficking assisted by Ruhama last year were “mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa”. In itself, there’s nothing remarkable about that statement – there are certainly plenty of African women in Ireland, and most of them would have required visas to come here (a trafficking risk factor) and most of them would have no entitlement to work here on arrival (also a trafficking risk factor). So in that sense, it’s perfectly believable that they would be overrepresented in trafficking statistics.

But to state the obvious, a large number of African trafficking victims in the Irish sex industry would mean a large number of African women in the Irish sex industry – and this is where questions start to arise. Using the advanced search function on Escort Ireland, I come up with a grand total of three Sub-Saharan African women advertising tonight. Even accounting for the fact that some might have given a false nationality, there’s still a loooong way to go to reach “mostly” out of 82. Africans are not known to be over-represented in street prostitution here, and while we know some direct provision residents are forced to sell sex, the indications are this is mostly because of our appalling government policy of not letting them do any other work and forcing them to live on €19 per week – not because they have been trafficked here for prostitution.

So if we assume that 82 figure is accurate (or if it’s only the “tip of the iceberg”), then this conclusion logically follows: there is a lot of sex trafficking going on that has nothing to do with the online escort sector, nothing to do with street prostitution. It could be, as a 2012 report on sex work and trafficking in London suggested, that the market for African women operates through word-of-mouth community networks – making such cases particularly difficult to detect.

But that leaves us with another question, which is: why is it that these women are so much more likely than women of other nationalities to seek the assistance of Ruhama? Are trafficked African women somehow more likely than other trafficked women to escape their predicament and make their way to All Hallows? Are trafficked women of other nationalities drawn to different services, or to none at all? Or could it be that there just really isn’t much trafficking in the more visible sectors, so there aren’t as many non-African victims who need these services?

These are questions that need to be asked, particularly in light of the looming law change. If most sex trafficking really is taking place in a closed migrant community setting – or by other means that don’t require an Escort Ireland profile – then criminalising Escort Ireland customers won’t do much of anything to stop it. It would be the legislative equivalent of looking for a lost item in a room you didn’t lose it in just because the light is better there.

And even if that’s not the case, the fact remains that there’s a striking discrepancy between the nationalities of most of Ruhama’s clientele and the nationalities of most visible women in the Irish sex industry – a discrepancy that surely has practical significance in terms of what kind of services and prevention measures are needed. It’s worth interrogating regardless of what it means for the usefulness of the proposed law. Irish journalism really needs to start unpacking these TORL soundbites, instead of just swallowing them whole.

Happy tenth birthday to the Telegraph’s brothel job hoax

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“If you don’t take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits.” As of today, this line has been doing the rounds for a full decade. The Telegraph certainly came up with a catchy headline, and never mind that it was fiction: ten years on, this article continues to be shared regularly by wave upon wave of scandalised readers. “You couldn’t make it up,” some of them splutter. Actually: yes, mate, you could.

The story, written by one Clare Chapman (best known, apparently, for this alone), claims that a 25-year-old unemployed waitress was told by a jobcentre that she had to take a job “providing ‘sexual services’ at a brothel in Berlin”. This actually harks back to an incident reported on a German website a year and a half previously, except the waitress was in fact encouraged to contact the brothel because they needed a bartender. And even the supremely clunky autotranslation manages to let us know that “the job offer was not mandatory”. So, the staff could have handled it better – letting the woman know in advance what kind of business it was, for example – but at the end of the day there really wasn’t much of a story here, until Chapman came along and tweaked it.

A great deal of those jumping on the scandalised bandwagon seem to be oblivious to the article’s timestamp, reacting as if all of this happened just last week. Its swift debunking by Snopes, as well as by numerous other commentators, hasn’t enjoyed anything near the same amount of exposure. So far, the article has seen a combined 25,000 shares on Facebook and Twitter, though neither service was in public use when the story first came out, so let’s not forget the additional mileage it got from forum discussions and blog posts. For prohibitionists, this urban myth is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Undine de Rivière is the press spokeswoman for BesD, Germany’s Professional Organisation for Erotic and Sexual Services, and notes the broader ramifications of this story. “Although in fact the jobcentre never forced a single person into sex work,” she says, “it’s still used by abolitionists to paint a picture of what’s allegedly going to happen once we fully decriminalise (and try to destigmatise) sex work.” And of course, this strategy is employed internationally to hold up the mythical German case as a cautionary tale. Somehow, nobody seems to have paused to consider that maybe, just maybe, if legislation is introduced to legalise or decriminalise sex work (the two approaches often being conflated, of course), it might also be possible to add a clause that safeguards jobseekers from being forced into it. In fact, as de Rivière notes, “We have sexual self-determination as a fundamental right in Germany, too. That, by itself, excludes sex work from the list of ‘reasonable’ jobs (i.e. jobs you have to take on or lose part of your benefits). That’d also remain the case if we’d ever gain equal social recognition.” Veronica Munk, representative of the TAMPEP International Foundation in Germany, adds that “a job centre cannot force or threaten anyone into sex work, because sex work, although recognised as an activity, is a special one because it requires or demands physical intimacy.”

While everybody got distracted by wringing their hands over a work of fiction – or proclaiming that if it hadn’t happened yet, it was just around the corner anyway – one issue that’s generally been neglected is the reverse scenario: how does a former sex worker navigate the benefits system? First, de Rivière explains what individuals can do while still working in the sex industry: “We don’t need to register as sex workers, [but] the government is planning to change that, which would be awful. So far, all we need to work legally is a tax number, which isn’t connected to any specific profession. Sex work is taxed as ‘other income’ at our annual tax declaration, which is a good thing for those wanting to keep their job secret. We’re able to access benefits like everybody else […] dependent on residence permit status, citizenship, duration of living in Germany, having paid into the system or not, etc.”

However, although at this stage the state is friendly towards sex workers, it’s a different story for those who leave the industry and need benefits. “Accessing welfare involves an outing because you have to give details about your situation,” says de Rivière. “I’m not sure if there is a way to prevent that and [I’d imagine] there are people avoiding the welfare system because of the outing involved. I know cases of ex-sex workers having been faced with doubt by the social welfare office – they were blatantly accused of secretly continuing to work, [although] I also know quite a few cases of just that actually happening.

“I’ve heard so many shitty stories of humiliating treatment at German social welfare offices, no matter the applicants’ job histories or backgrounds, and I know several colleagues who took up sex work to avoid just that and regain their dignity. I’m actually not sure if it can get any worse for a former sex worker. [It] probably depends on the personal issues the individual official has with sex work.”

Problems faced by actual sex workers, though, are possibly too mundane compared to the imagined horrors that can take centre stage in stories by and about non-sex workers. And plenty of people are willing to accept outrageous claims at face value, often content to have them confirm pre-existing prejudices. (Besides prohibitionists, the Telegraph myth has been promoted by an impressive collection of people busily factoring it in to their arguments against liberalism, welfare, godlessness, Europe, and Israel. David Icke jumped in, too. I am just saying.)

Clare Chapman’s brothel job hoax is ten years old today. After ten years of this nonsense, it’s time for hypothetical bullshit scenarios to take a backseat, while we focus on highlighting and dismantling laws that put sex workers at risk, as well as ending demand for sensationalist, inaccurate reporting.

More on sex trafficking in Sweden, from the Swedish police

Just over a year ago I wrote this post, analysing the Swedish police’s annual human trafficking report for 2011. A few months later, the 2012 report was published in Swedish; I didn’t have the time to Google Translate it so I figured I’d wait until the English version came out. Unusually, though, it never did. And now, I see the 2013 report is available – but again, only in Swedish. Perhaps the powers-that-be in Sweden have realised these reports aren’t exactly helpful to their international propaganda campaign.

So, Google Translate it is.  As it turns out, much of the 2013 report just repeats more-or-less-verbatim what I already quoted in my summary of the 2011 report (and I really do encourage you to read that, particularly if you still buy the TORL disinformation). But a few things jumped out at me from Section 3.1 of the current report, the section on “Human trafficking for sexual purposes”:

sex trafficking is not just an urban phenomenon but … these crimes also occur in small towns throughout Sweden (p.15)

They probably said that in the last report too, but it strikes me now how similar it is to Diarmuid Martin’s widely-reported New Year’s Mass, in which the Archbishop of Dublin solemnly informed us that trafficking is happening in every nook and cranny in Ireland. Hype about the spatial distribution of sex trafficking is an interesting subject in and of itself, though not one I’m going to spend any time on here.

In 2013 the police established a total of 41 complaints concerning trafficking for sexual purposes. … The above statistics can be compared with the situation in 2012, when 21 reports of human trafficking for sexual purposes were established. (p.15)

I’ve said repeatedly that I think trafficking statistics are pretty much meaningless, because they only measure what officials detect and identify as trafficking, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with the actual amount of activity taking place that fits the legal definition of “trafficking”. But let’s be honest – if this was a Dutch or German study showing a 95% increase in sex trafficking in a single year, don’t you think we’d be hearing all about it from the Mary Honeyballs and Rhoda Grants and Equality Nows of this world?

As in 2012, there was also in 2013 a return to more brutal methods in trafficking cases. (p.16)

Hmmm. Is this the “normative effect” Minister Fitzgerald tells us she expects from the law?

According to Europol … the victims of sex trafficking brought into the EU from third countries particularly come from Nigeria. This is the case even in Sweden. (p.16)

TORL supporters in Ireland have repeatedly claimed that this is the case in Ireland, too, which again undermines the argument that a country’s prostitution laws make the difference.

In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden and able to be contacted by the police or NGOs they are offered the opportunities for support and assistance. If they are not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in an investigation of human trafficking/pimping, they may in some cases be inadmissible under the Aliens Act. [Footnote: According to Chapter 8, Section 2, first paragraph of the Aliens Act, “an alien is inadmissible if it can be assumed that during their stay in Sweden they will not earn a living in an honest way.”] (p.17)

Let’s condense that a bit: “In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden but not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement, they may be deported, because we don’t want their kind here.” Such a caring compassionate approach to “women exploited in prostitution”, isn’t it?

Some victims told police that were they exploited in prostitution by sex-buying men, pimps and traffickers in several other EU countries before they were transferred to Sweden. According to Europol, it is common for criminal networks engaged in human trafficking to move victims from country to country and often within countries. This is how traffickers regularly offer men the sex-purchase of new women and maximize their profits. (p.19)

I think this is quite noteworthy, in light of previous claims that traffickers avoid Sweden because they can’t make any money there. 15 years of the sex purchase ban, and police say that traffickers are still moving victims to Sweden in order to “maximize their profits”. What does that tell you about how effective they think their law really is?

Another subsection looks at the online sector, and the last paragraph merits quoting in full:

National Police can confirm that subjects relating to the purchase of various sexual acts, escort services and prostitution activities still, despite a ban on the purchase of sexual services, engage men in Sweden. On the site Sexwork.net and on the discussion board Flashback are hundreds of pages with thousands of discussion threads about these topics. Some of the threads contain reviews, written by sex-buying men, of women who are exploited for prostitution purposes. The reviews related inter alia whether the woman corresponds to the man’s expectations of the sex purchase, her appearance, physical attributes and her willingness to perform the “services” as promised on the website. That the woman ordered is actually offered is also important information for the sex-buying man. Moreover they exchange male sex-buying experiences such as how they can avoid detection by the police or family members, or avoid being exposed to robbery or extortion. The language used by these men in reviews is often highly sexualised, derogatory and abusive towards women. The threads on the web forum Sexwork.net are divided into different regions; Sweden, other Nordic countries, the Baltic States, Europe and Thailand. (p.21)

I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

Now, a couple points on what’s not here. One of the most striking revelations of the report I reviewed last year was the near-trebling of Thai “massage parlour” brothels in Stockholm between 2009 and 2011-2012. There are no up-to-date figures in this report, but it does confirm those findings. So, for any pro-criminalisation people who were hoping the 2013 report would say “er that was wrong and actually there really are no brothels posing as massage parlours in Stockholm”: sorry to disappoint.

And finally, there’s a whole subsection – 3.1.3 – devoted to “Support for voluntary return and reintegration of persons trafficked for sexual exploitation or prostitution”. It takes up approximately one page of the overall five-and-a-half page section on sex trafficking. Curiously, there is no section on integrating trafficking victims into Swedish society. But then, we’ve already seen why that is: because their only value to Sweden is as a law-enforcement tool. It seems the Swedish state uses them for its own purposes, and then discards them like unwanted goods.

I’d call that exploitation.  Wouldn’t you?

ETA: The Swedish police have now released a press statement on this report, which can be read (in Swedish) here. This part of the statement is notable:

Human trafficking for sexual purposes makes most people think of foreign girls and women who are lured into sex slavery, something that the progress report also describes. But there is also a domestic problem in which minors, mostly girls, living in Sweden sell their bodies on the net. …

There are many who do not understand this explosion of girls who sell their bodies on line, says [Detective Inspector] Kajsa Wahlberg. These young girls have a need to be seen and get confirmation, while there is a great demand for young bodies.

This law is an abject failure. How can anyone claim otherwise?

On Frances Fitzgerald’s bill to criminalise clients

If you read this blog, you’re probably aware that Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald recently published the General Scheme of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2014. And you’re probably also aware that the bill creates a new offence of purchasing sexual services.

But what does the bill not contain? Here are a few notable omissions:

  • No decriminalisation of sex workers. The Minister’s press statement says that “the persons selling the sexual service will not be subject to an offence”, but this is extremely disingenuous. It’s true that the bill does not create an offence of selling sexual services, but neither does it repeal the existing laws that criminalise sex workers. For the street-based minority, these are the laws against soliciting for the purposes of prostitution and loitering for the purposes of prostitution; for the indoor majority it’s the law against brothel keeping, which is often used against sex workers who share premises for their own safety. There is no reason to believe these laws will be used less frequently after the bill is passed; the experience in Sweden and Norway has been that the police target sex workers with whatever means they have at their disposal. If the TORL groups really had sex workers’ interests at heart, they would be shouting as loudly about this as they are about the plan to criminalise clients. They’re not.
  • No alternative income supports for sex workers. The bill aims to take away their sex work income but offers them nothing to replace it. There is no reversal of the cuts to social welfare and child benefit which have undoubtedly pushed more women into prostitution; no increase in the €19 per week given to women in the asylum system; no additional funds for education, training or drug treatment programmes that might open up other options. One might argue that most of these things aren’t within the remit of the Minister for Justice; but equally, one might argue that she should have insisted her Cabinet colleagues address those things before she introduced this bill – which, if it works as intended, will simply take away the option that they had decided was preferable to any others open to them. (Quick quiz: if I have one apple and no oranges, and you take away my apple without giving me any oranges, how many oranges do I have?)
  • No changes to laws that bar employment of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants and that limit the work options open to many of the documented. This one is within Frances Fitzgerald’s remit, and after all the hoopla recently about prostitution in direct provision centres she can hardly plead ignorance on it. Her plan to “address” this issue is to streamline the asylum system so that people spend less time in direct provision; again, if she really believed this was the best solution to asylum seekers having to engage in survival sex, wouldn’t you think she’d do that first?
  • No changes to Garda surveillance powers. In their testimony before a Stormont committee dealing with the same proposal, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said they would be unable to use the wiretap methods that the Swedish police rely on to enforce the sex purchase ban. Well, guess what: the Gardaí can’t use them either. Under the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009, they have to apply to a District Court Judge for authorisation to use a wiretap, and this authorisation can only be given in connection with an “arrestable offence” i.e. one carrying a possible five-year-or-more sentence. Which leads me to the next omission…
  • No custodial sentence for paying for sex. The maximum fine is €1,000, and that’s only for repeat offenders – which hardly seems appropriate for an act that groups like Ruhama consider to be a form of violence against women. It’s also worth noting that Sweden recently increased its penalties, while in Norway, some have proposed making selling sex illegal too (in fact, according to a Norwegian human rights activist I met recently, that’s actually the main debate over the law at present) – because merely fining men who are caught paying for sex hasn’t been enough of a deterrent.
  • No change to the hearsay rule. In Sweden, hearsay evidence can be introduced in court, where it is given by a “trustworthy” source such as a police officer. In Ireland, it generally can’t be (there are exceptions, but none relevant here). So if a Swedish sex worker refuses to give evidence that she was paid to have sex with an accused, a Swedish policeman can quote things she said to him at the time of the arrest that would tend to support a conviction. In Ireland, anything she said would be inadmissible unless she went to court and said it herself. I’d imagine the chances of any sex worker agreeing to do this are virtually nil – unless of course the State subpoenas her and forces her to testify in what would be, let’s remember, a public hearing. Tell me again how the groups supporting this law have sex workers’ interests at heart?
  • No provision for review. New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act 2003, which largely decriminalised sex work, included provision for a Prostitution Law Review Committee which must report on the effects of the law between three and five years after its commencement (the findings are here if you’re interested, which if you’ve read this far you should be). No such requirement in the Irish bill – underscoring the lack of concern for any evidential basis of this law change.
  • On the plus side, there is also no sign of the particularly draconian measures advocated by the Oireachtas Justice Committee. The Sinn Féin and Labour committee members ought to think seriously about what it says that they advocated laws too repressive even for a Fine Gael Justice Minister.

The General Scheme of a bill is just that – a general scheme – so it is always possible that some of these changes will be made before the text itself is finalised. It could be amended on its passage through the Oireachtas, too. But the odds are against it being amended in any substantial way. As the Minister herself more or less admitted during a recent meeting with sex workers and sex work researchers (I was one of them), the law’s real purpose is symbolic, and its actual effects are of secondary importance. It doesn’t really matter what the bill includes because, to Frances Fitzgerald, it doesn’t really matter what the law does – whether or not it “works”, whether or not it harms sex workers. Sex workers themselves do not matter. This is why their views have been so readily ignored throughout this process: because as far as Irish policy-makers are concerned, the law is not really about them anyway.