In the wake of a massive brothel raid police operation, the Vincent Browne show last night debated the issue of prostitution in Ireland. If you missed it a playback should be available soon here.
I don’t have too much to say about it but there are a couple points made by the anti-sex work speakers that I want to address. First, in response to a viewer’s claim that the rape rate in Sweden has skyrocketed since the sex purchase ban was introduced, Susan McKay of the National Women’s Council flatly denied that this was true and said that crime has generally gone down in Sweden.
The official statistics on reported offences in Sweden are here. I’ve taken a screenshot of the relevant time period (click on it to enlarge):
As you can see, the viewer was correct: the reported rape rate has gone up significantly since the sex purchase ban was introduced. Sarah Benson of Ruhama, another panelist, was correct to point out that Sweden broadened its definition during the period – in 2005, I believe, interestingly the same year that the Netherlands broadened their definition of trafficking– and in any event, these are only reported rapes so it’s impossible to know for sure whether the number of actual rapes has increased. And I’m sceptical of the claim of any link between legality of prostitution and rape in the first place, not least because there is no evidence that making it illegal to buy sex actually stops men from doing so. So I am not posting these statistics to make a claim that the rape rate has increased because of the law. My point is that Susan McKay responded to the allegation by not only flatly denying it but making a further claim about the general crime rate which, as you can see from those stats, is also wildly off the mark. With the exception of theft offences, it is absolutely, 100% untrue that crime rates have decreased since the law was introduced, and its advocates really need to be hauled over the coals for their willingness to make such breathtakingly false claims. (I’ll give McKay the benefit of the doubt that she may have been merely repeating something she was told since, as I’ve noted here and elsewhere, the Swedish authorities routinely fudge the truth around the law’s effects.)
The other thing I wanted to highlight was Sarah Benson’s assertion, in response to the point that Teresa Whitaker of the Sex Workers Alliance made about the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work report, that HIV is not an issue for Irish sex workers. Yes, you read that correctly, HIV is not an issue – because the HIV rate is so low, except among injecting drug users, who apparently don’t count.
I frankly find it astonishing that anyone who works with sex workers should dismiss the relevance of HIV – and it’s worth pointing to this document on the Ruhama website in which Benson says the opposite:
Women and children will contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. This does not magically happen. Buyers are the source of infection and transmit it to women…
But the other point to be made here, and my tweet to this effect was read by Vincent Browne but ignored by the panel, is that the law they are advocating has the potential to make HIV much more of an issue. As I wrote about here and here, Norwegian health services are already seeing a rise in other STIs since the sex purchase ban was introduced, which they attribute to a greater reluctance to use condoms: where sex sellers are struggling to make a living because their clients have gone elsewhere, they are more vulnerable to demands for unprotected sex. It’s not rocket science. So even if Benson was correct that HIV isn’t an issue for Irish sex workers now, there’s a very good chance it will be if she gets her way on the law. Indeed, that’s pretty much the point the UNAIDS Advisory Group Report makes.
Finally, I look forward to a future Vincent Browne episode featuring the voices of actual sex workers. We need to remember that they are not, as Benson also (remarkably) put it, “burgers” but people with their own views on what they do and what the law should do about it. We need to create an environment where they can speak out and not only contribute to but actually shape the debate, which is, after all, about their lives and not ours. I’ll close here by linking to the Stories From Behind The Red Light blog, which is run by actual Irish-based sex workers. They are the people who should have been up on that panel last night.