Thursday, 17 March 2011
Belle and Belligerence
Belle de Jour ( or Dr. Magnanti to give her her "proper" title ) was recently invited to submit a blog to the we are equals blog. The link is here for you ;
....and the main crux of her text -
When we think of the battles for women’s equality, we tend these days to dwell on issues like childcare or maternity leave. If the focus shifts outside of the bubble of middle class privilege, it is to consider the plight of women in developing countries, many of whom are denied basic rights such as education. Surely, we think, all the fundamental battles have been won; surely in the Western world the problem now is tweaking the makeup of boardrooms or discussing the right height of kitten heel for a female MP. We’ve done it, we think. We’re nearly there. We’re winning.
And yet there is still a large, and largely silent, population of women in this country whose rights are compromised on daily basis.
That group is sex workers.
While not all people who engage in sex work are women, the vast majority are, and when laws and policies are written, they are usually written to address female, heterosexual sex work. Anti-trafficking efforts focus on women; so, too, does outreach for streetwalkers.
And yet we fall down on some of the most basic equalities when it comes to this group of women. Consider, for instance, the case of Newcastle policeman Stephen Mitchell, convicted of raping women he met in the line of duty. Women with pasts, sometimes addicts and streetwalkers. But women nonetheless. He terrorized women for seven years before being brought to justice.
When sex workers are attacked by serial murderers, the discussion of ‘prostitutes’ rather than ‘women’ absorbs the press. As if, somehow, by having exchanged money for sex – an act which is legal in this country – one forever relinquishes the right to expect not to be murdered. Yes, sex work is sometimes dangerous. But perhaps we, as a society, should be asking ourselves whether our endless judgment of sex workers, rather than doing anything to stop violent murderers, is exacerbating the problem.
Earlier this year, in Florida, policeman Jimmy Dac Ho confessed to handcuffing and killing an escort after he refused to pay her. Former colleagues recalled Ho as sexually inappropriate with his female co-workers, and a string of domestic abuse allegations caused him to lose a previous job. It’s small wonder, then, that sex workers can feel mistrustful and suspicious of the police.
In Surrey, brothel madam Hanna Morris rang police after two armed and masked men robbed her establishment. She was the one who was arrested. The criminals who broke in were never pursued. It seems a perverse action to say the least, and does nothing to reassure women who may already be vulnerable to crime. If the police won’t help them, if the media and public label them, how can we call this society equal? I’m afraid to say that even people whose morality you may disapprove of deserve the full protection of law. That’s kind of how it’s meant to work in our society.
Unfortunately for those who think sex work should be criminalised, there is ample evidence to show that this ends up putting women in an even worse position. Afraid or unable to call on the police. Less likely to assert themselves with potentially dangerous clients. And as seen in places like Cambodia, at higher risk for infections like HIV. It’s an uncomfortable truth we must face up to – making sex work illegal puts women at risk.
For me, women will be equal when any crime against a woman is investigated and prosecuted the same regardless of her occupation and regardless of her sexual history. Human rights are human rights, full-stop, for women – all women – including women in sex work.
Bravo, very well said. I thought it was a very articulate and reasoned piece highlighting the continuing imbalance in the perceptions of sex workers as workers and women deserving of the same rights as all other workers.
As I have become accustomed to, some of the comments afterwards in the ensuing debate left me sliding from my chair in shock. Take this for an example ;
Here’s a thought, prostitutes: stop selling what does not belong to you exclusively. You don’t have MY permission to make my sexuality– or my sister’s, or my daughter’s, or my friends’, etc– your product for personal profit. When you make all women less safe in the world because of what you do, I don’t really care about your special need for “protection.”
WOW !! I don't need to ask for anyone's permission to do what I do, I think you'll find. As for making all women in the world feel unsafe, oh please. If I want to sit in my greenhouse as part of my huge house in Shropshire and cross-stitch all day, that is my perogative. Equally if I want to work in the sex industry quite legally and enjoy the freedom of being self employed not to mention the financial security, that too is my perogative. To me, that commentator is showing sheer hatred towards sex workers in that they are saying that they don't care what happens to us. For someone who purports to be concerned with the safety of "all women", I find that statement to be indicative of the marginalisation and stigma we encounter as sex workers all the time. "LET'S PROTECT ALL WOMEN, BUT NOT PROSTITUTES BECAUSE THEY DESERVE WHAT THEY GET".
Luckily and before I lost the will to live ( I do that a lot, you may have noticed ) another commentator brought up the valuable studies of Dr. Suzanne Jenkins, a lady I had the pleasure of meeting in Manchester.
You may want to look at a more recent research paper published by Dr. Suzanne Jenkins, from Keele University, Staffs on prostitution. BEYOND GENDER: AN EXAMINATION OF EXPLOITATION IN SEX WORK. Available at http://www.sexworker.at/phpBB2/download.php?id=479
Facts like 72% female escorts like the work for the independence, 67% for meeting people and of course 93% for the money.
When asked about client relationships 54% put the transaction as an equality, 26% that the client was vulnerable. Only 6% saw that the client had power over them.
77% of escorts felt their clients respected them, and a similar number also respected their client.
72% of escorts felt their self confidence had been increased.
56.6% of escort felt they had never been exploited by their clients, while only 3% were exploited often.
The abolitionists are very fond of throwing around statistics that are suited to their own agenda, almost always derived from aged studies on street workers. The findings above go a long way towards dispelling those myths.
Finally, this comment caught my eye -
Yes us former prostituted people all know the views of the uknswp who do not represent the majority of prostituted people in this country or on a global scale. Just as the prostituted people know what their views are – or should I say the minorty views they are interested in hearing. They, like other people who propose to represent prostituted people are more interested in putting the concerns of a tiny few forward. It allows them to live in la la land. They are linked with the IUSW for example who recruit abusers from Punternet and encourage them to lobby their MP’s to legalise! Most of these rights groups are made up of a tiny minority of people who do not have regular intense bodily contact with tricks, lots of them work in the fetish industry or like Magnanti, work in the big money mainly white middle class trade.
I am truly sorry that the commentator's experience of the sex industry has been such a negative one, like any other industry it has several complex tiers. Having suffered the abuse she did, I can only conclude that she was working largely against her will, which is not the experience of the vast majority of sex workers.
I may work in the mainly middle class trade now but I have worked in parlours many years ago and have experienced many different aspects of the industry. Her criticism of Magnanti appears to be largely that she purports to speak for all sex workers, but she doesn't. She speaks and has spoken about her own experiences in the sex industry and has said that she considers herself very lucky in her time there. I can say the same thing too, I speak for myself - having said that I have over the years met many, many sex workers at all levels.
I DO have regular intense bodily contact with my clients and as a frequent contributor to Punternet I take great exception to her assertion that we seek to "recruit abusers" to help lobby MP's. I have met a great many of those so called "abusers" and not always as clients, sometimes at socials, etc. Abusers they are not, regular professional men who enjoy the company of women for pay would be a better description. The fact that some of them use their professional expertise to advise on matters of law, etc. on the forum shows that they care for the welfare of WGs and how to protect them when the law fails.
I do not live in "la la land" thank you very much, I live in the real world. I know that if decriminalisation were to be permitted then the abuses like those suffered by the above commentator would be dramatically reduced if not erradicated completely through regulation. I do not seek to throw around grandiose generalisations about the sex industry, neither should the last commentator. I am a realist and I know that abuses happen but I also know that right across the board, at every level of the industry there are women who are truly happy in their work.
It is not for anyone else to tell me how I feel or what I ought to do, I am an independent woman and am well capable of articulating my own feelings or needs.