Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A letter to The Irish Times

A Chara,

I am an Irish sex worker of 17 years experience and although I now live in Scotland, I lived and worked in Ireland until 2003.

The current consultation around paid sex is in danger of being derailed. Much of the "evidence" is badly presented and seriously skewed. One of the chief advocates for criminalising the consensual and essentially private acts we engage in is Ruhama, who have based their campaign on the following statement - "75% of all sex workers enter the industry as children". That statement is based on a study (Melrose, 2002) which had as its subjects a mere forty six women, three quarters of whom were engaged in street work. As only 10% of all sex work is conducted on the street, the 75% figure is not statistically allowable. It is being manipulated purely to create a moral panic. It is not based on fact.

Some facts - 81.7% of Irish clients said they had never met an escort they suspected was being physically abused. (Irish Escort Clients Survey, 2006).

Following decriminalisation in New Zealand, 93.8% of sex workers reported feeling that they had health and safety rights under the law ( Abel, Fitzgerald and Brunton 2007).

In the UK, 440 sex workers were interviewed and only 7% reported that being paid meant that they handed control over to the client. 85% of the women were aged 26 and over. 32.9% of the women had degrees whilst 18% held post-graduate qualifications (Jenkins, 2009).

Ireland has for many years laboured under the shame of its treatment of unmarried mothers in Magdalene laundries. It is time to stop marginalising and stigmatising sex workers who, ultimately, are inheriting identical practices.

The International Union of Sex Workers campaigns for the human, civil and labour rights of those who work in the sex industry, and for policy which is based on evidence. Evidence, please.

Is mise le meas,

Laura Lee
International Union of Sex Workers


  1. Both concise and extremely convincing. Excellent letter, Laura!

    - Matt

  2. Hi;

    You state, as only 10% of all sex work is conducted on the street, the 75% figure is not statistically allowable. Yet you provide no justifiable reason for this reason.

    There will only be a change to 75% figure due to sample biasing if there is a correlation between 'sex workers entering the industry as children' and 'street workers!

    What evidence do you have for this?

  3. "The number of prostitutes in Vancouver is estimated to be in the thousands, but only 10 to 20 per cent are actually working on the street". (O'Doherty, 2007) and;

    "While it's hard to come by exact numbers, evidence shows streetwalkers only account for 5-20 per cent of all prostitutes - the remaining 80-95 per cent work elsewhere, such as in brothels, in massage parlours, or as call girls," (Magnanti, 2012, citing The Challenge of Change, A Study of Canada's Criminal Prostitution Laws, 2006)

  4. I think what "Anonymous" misses is that of those polled, the demographic is not representative of the industry and the low-volume provides statistically insignificant results.

    It would be like going into a church and asking people if they believed in God, before producing a report that said "100% of people believe in God."

  5. Exactly. Also, I think "Anonymous" ought to be aware that her writing style gives her away instantly. *guffaw*

  6. *Anonymous* has no idea how much worse this can get, because when you really dig that 75% figure may not be from Melrose 2002 at all (see page 5 then spin down to footnote 33 ).

    Benson, C. and Matthews, R. (1995), Street prostitution: Ten facts in search of a policy in International Journal of Sociology of the Law, Vol. 23, pp395-415 (is it just me, or was 1995 an awfully long time ago?)
    Now bear with the long URL because I promise you, this is going to be the very BEST kind of fun:
    Now, scoll to the bottom of page 399 (don't worry, it starts at page 395). Apparently, in a survey of London (always SO relevant in an Irish context I find *rolling eyes*) sex workers, who, in 1995, had an average age of 21, 75% started working before the were 17 (under 18s had no access to subsistance level unemployment benefits in the UK in 1995), and 40% of them started working before they were 15. Sadly there are no figures for the age at which young women started in sex work in London in, say, 1983 when young people under 18 could still get realistic unemployment benefits because, if memory serves me there were very few sex workers under 18 at all then.

    This does tend to suggest a strong co-relation between very young people not having any money and very young people selling sex that I hope the Irish government will heed and look into.

    It also tends to suggest that in 2007 the Women's Resource Centre misread their source (because I am SURE they would not DREAM of misrepresenting it, would they?) when they put together "Uncovering Women’s Inequality in the UK: Statistics".

    When you go back to the source material it also becomes obvious that there is an huge co-relation between the state failing to meet even the most basic needs of it's precious young people under 18 and those same young people selling sex...who'd 'ave thunk it?

    Doesn't seem to have much to do with criminalisation, or not, one way or the other...funny how the religious orders and the neo feminists aren't shouting, screaming and demanding that aspect be addressed, innit? I would have thought it was MUCH more important. But that's just me...

    1. Just thought I would check out 1995 properly...and it turns out I was right, it *WAS* a very long time ago. So long ago that Ruhama have statistics of their own for that year (compiled with the Women's Health Project):

      OOOPS!!! "The age at which women started in prostitution ranged between 15 and 41 years" that is all it says but it looks like 100% of Irish sex workers did not start at age 14 in the same year...BUT...let's be fair, that survey was a really small sample...only about 18 women...then *NEXT* year (1996 - also a long time ago) Ruhama assisted in another survey with the WHP:

      84 women this time (81 were 20 or over at the time of interview). Om page 8 it becomes apparent that only *5%* (4 women) started work "between 13 and 15"...and furthermore just under 17% (14 people#) started under 18...

      Perhaps it slipped their minds that they had Irish research from the same year?

      But it does seem to prove my point about the link between young people trapped into sex work and governments that decide not to give young people enough money to eat and have a home...doesn't it?

  7. Thank you for putting so much hard work into that research, and I know how much work went into your own submission too. Unfortunately I didn't have the time to do a full submission for the Irish consultation and just managed to replicate my letter at the eleventh hour. I hope to do a much more thorough job when it comes to the Scottish consultation, I just need someone to devise a 27 hour day.

    I agree with you with regard to the lack of money for young people, but as I said recently, I don't believe that prostitution is the problem, the problem is poverty. Before the government further criminalise consenting adults involved in the exchange of sex for cash, they need to take a long hard look at the underlying issues being experienced by those who are not doing my job by choice, i.e. poverty and drug addiction.

    1. Totally Laura, prostitution is *NEVER* a problem, it is always a solution...however anybody else may feel about it should not count.

      That letter is easily good enough as a submission and makes all the important points with tremendous impact.

      I think people forget that, leaving stigma, and the fear of exposure aside, most sex workers are, in fact, working mums with busy, demanding lives that tend to go on whether they want to put them on "pause" or not. They just do not have the kind of time to put in to defending themselves that some of these bored ladies who lunch can afford to put in to misrepresenting them!


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