Thursday, 30 May 2013
30th May 2013
Today, Scottish charity SCOT-PEP criticised Ms Grant’s summary of responses for her dismissal of the voices of sex workers and other experts on the regulation of sex work in Scotland. Over 900 responses were submitted to the public consultation which closed in December 2012 and Ms Grant claims most were in support of her proposals. SCOT-PEP however maintain that she has ignored the overwhelming evidence from renowned academics, un-biased experts and international bodies warning of the dangers of her proposed legislative approach, as well as the lived experiences of sex workers themselves. Instead, she favours the unsubstantiated views of those who support her position, relying on a combination of selective quotes from research findings, ‘studies’ that have been widely criticised for breaching ethical codes and in many cases a complete misrepresentation of the available evidence.
SCOT-PEP noted with interest Rhoda Grant’s reliance on the supposed success of the ‘Swedish model’. This is despite the fact that the Swedish government itself acknowledges the failure of the law - albeit in the small print. In 2007, the Swedish national health board wrote, “we cannot give any unambiguous answer to [the question of whether prostitution has increased or decreased] … no causal connections can be proven between legislation and changes in prostitution”. Expert on trafficking and labour exploitation Ann Jordan has repeatedly noted that there is “no evidence” that the Swedish law has decreased trafficking, and furthermore, in 2005 Swedish police complained of a decrease in information about trafficking, leading to zero convictions. Self-evidently, the police having no information and thus being unable to secure convictions against traffickers is hardly a victory against exploitation.
Even on its own terms, then, the Swedish model has failed: it has not reduced the amount of sex work, nor has it tackled trafficking. It has ushered in numerous harms for those working in the Swedish sex industry, with the most vulnerable workers the most badly affected. Sex workers report increased fear of violence, and increased stigma against them - which the Swedish government characterised as “positive”.
A SCOT-PEP Board member went into more detail on the damage of the Swedish model: “Legislation that criminalises the purchase of sex results in harmful outcomes for sex workers, including increasing their HIV risk, vulnerability to abuse and exploitation and limiting their access to effective healthcare and support services. This has been well documented around the world”, adding, “... with the alternative approach of decriminalisation being recommended by UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNDP, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law and most recently the World Health Organization. We fail to see why Rhoda Grant thinks she is better placed to decide the best model of legislation than global experts”.
Sex workers who are part of the SCOT-PEP network have come out in force against the lack of inclusion of their voices and recommendations in Rhoda’s summary.
An anonymous female sex worker said, “Ms Grant may be good at saving puddings but she sure doesn't show the same level of understanding and support when it comes to saving women. Where was she with her help 10 years ago when I had nowhere to spend the night and no money to buy food? Now, when through sex work I have a home, a comfortable life and, above all, a job that gives me purpose in life and pride in my own achievements, she suddenly wants to take it all away from me. How is this helping me? If she really wanted to protect women, she'd be dealing with what makes women enter prostitution in the first place: poverty, cuts and poor child support. With the law she's proposing she simply creates more poverty, misery and inequality."
Another anonymous female sex worker also noted that Rhoda Grant, despite her ‘feminist’ credentials, apparently has no care for women who are currently working. “I feel extremely let down. Has she forgotten that she entered politics to represent the people and not just to pursue her own agenda? I wonder if Ms Grant has any suggestions as to how I should support my family if she succeeds in effectively taking away my livelihood.”
Lily, a sex worker, said: "If Rhoda would open her closed mind and listen to the voices of sex workers she would hear stories of resilience, strength and pride, all of which she sidelines in her portrayal of us as victims in need of rescue and rehabilitation. We deserve the right to work and live free from violence, discrimination and labour exploitation, all of which will flourish under the legal system Rhoda is proposing.”
Laura Lee, a sex worker, expressed dismay at Rhoda Grant’s cavalier disregard of solid evidence. “I am appalled that Rhoda Grant has chosen to ignore the evidence as presented to her on numerous occasions as to the harm that this proposal will do to the very women she is purporting to protect.”
Sia, a sex worker, highlighted that Rhoda Grant’s understanding of the sex industry shows women less respect than the clients she imagines as universally abusive. “The definition of commercial sex work as a form of violence against women is extremely offensive to both us women who have made autonomous decisions to engage in commercial sex work as well as to the clients who treat us with respect and dignity. Something Rhoda Grant seems incapable of affording to adult women.”
Luca, a male sex worker, noted how dangerous Rhoda’s proposals are. "Many reports from Sweden and internationally show that the criminalisation of clients is not only ineffective but dangerous. To ensure sex worker's access to rights, health and justice, the right legal framework is decriminalisation".
Veronica, a sauna-based sex worker, said, “Rhoda Grant seems to think that any sex worker who disagrees with her is by definition ‘not representative’. This is a handy device for pre-emptively ignoring the many voices of those working who think her understanding of the sex industry is both flawed and dangerous. The women I work with in the saunas aren’t fancy, we don’t have lovely Holyrood careers. We just want the legal protections that come from recognising our work as work. If she had listened to any of us she would know that.”
SCOT-PEP particularly deplores that the serious and nuanced debate around tackling exploitation has been reduced in Rhoda Grant’s proposal to such a simplistic and poorly evidenced series of catch-phrases. The voices of sex workers - who are the people who know best how to tackle exploitation within the sex industry - are backed up by a huge body of international evidence which has shown repeatedly that, in the words of the most recent World Health Organization guidelines (December 2012), “countries should work toward decriminalisation of sex work”.
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Saturday, 25 May 2013
As achievements go, masturbating myself into my local A & E has never really been up there on my 'top ten to do before I die', but achieve it I did. Y'see, recently it was my birthday and ever the kind soul that he is, one of my long standing clients in Belfast asked me what I would like. No contest, I asked for a Hitachi magic wand. For those of you not familiar with said device, in terms of stimulating a woman, it gets you from nought to sixty before you can say 'HEADS' - on the break during Coronation Street.
Eager as I was to try my new toy, I rushed back to my hotel room and sure enough, found that euphoria in record time. There was just one small problem, I developed a very bad headache, to the point where I thought it might be a migraine, although I've never had one of those in my life. So I darkened the room and lay down and in time it passed. Fast forward some two weeks and I'm demonstrating the benefits of a wand to a bemused client in his hotel room, rather like a late night shopping channel, naked.
With the rush of fluids and moans and all things gorgeous which go to prove that the good lord did indeed intend us to have sex ad infinitum - came the worst headache I have ever had in my life. It was at the back of my head and was pulsating, literally taking my breath away. What to do ?
As it happened I had a routine appointment with my GP several days later and gingerly raised the issue. She said she was going to consult with her colleagues and call me back, and in the meantime I was to find something to keep me amused 'above the waist', as she delicately put it. So, I threw my case into the boot of my car and hit the road for Inverness, as had been the plan. Having just reached the bottom of the A9, the phone went and it was my GP.
"Can you get to A & E as soon as possible please ?"
"Sure, I'll be back from Inverness on Thursd ...."
And so it was that I found myself flat on my back for five days, whilst they ran test after test to ensure I hadn't ruptured something or was in danger of doing so. The first day or two were great, and the novelty of having a television and a bed all to myself without -
3. 'FIFTEEN MINUTE QUICKIES LOVE?'
...was delicious. In time though, I got so bored, I thought they were going to have to transfer me to the psych ward. Finally, on day number five, the most goddamn beautiful doctor I have ever seen in my life came to see me. I was good to go, he explained, but my stress levels were through the roof and that's what was most likely contributing to the headaches, chest pains, racing heartbeat and insomnia. (I know, I know.) Rather predictably, I phoned my Dad.
"Hola Padre, I have seen the error of my ways and am coming home. I plan on checking myself into a convent where I shall self flagellate for the rest of my pitiful existence."
"Hilarious. See you on Saturday".
So we sat, my father and I for some considerable length of time and deep into the night in his garden, chewing the fat and contemplating what needs to change. I know that ideally he'd like me to go and work in an animal sanctuary for the rest of my life, but for the moment, that's not going to happen. Nope, I'm going to have some fun.
I'm taking June until October off study completely, although I had originally planned on doubling up on modules. I'm going to let my hair down and I'm going to chill-the-feck-out. So, for those of you wondering why I have suddenly organised a group session in Glasgow, it's because I want to, it's something I thoroughly enjoy and if it goes well I will do it again.
Before I sign off, let me just say a HUGE thank you to everyone who phoned, texted and emailed after Sex on Wheels. I have no regrets about doing it at all, I think it's an important issue which needs to be addressed and I will continue to campaign as hard as I can. The only regret I have is when they filmed me speaking to a potential client on the phone and saying - 'I'm closely trimmed'. I'm sorry, but that information is not required to be known by the disco mummies, my neighbours and very definitely not my Dad. Memo to self - in future when the camera is rolling - astound everyone by simply SHUTTING UP.
P.S : My availability diary is now done until the end of July, although subject to change. I will be in both Leeds and Bristol so do drop me an email. 'Tis about time I ventured South to see what all the fuss is about.
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Today saw the announcement that the Highland Council has granted a licence for a strip club to open in the capital of the highlands, Inverness. As the local MSP, Rhoda Grant was not best impressed by the news and was quoted as saying - “Introducing a lap dancing venue to the city is a step in the wrong direction and a blow to equality and woman’s rights." The Women's Support project weren't exactly hanging out the bunting either, saying - "Lap Dancing is recognised as a form of violence against women, as highlighted in the Scottish Government national approach to– “Safer Lives Changed Lives.”
As a former pole/lap dancer and a survivor of real violence, I strongly oppose the views expressed above.
When I lived in London (and that was a long time ago) I worked for a spell as a lap dancer. I wouldn't say I was particularly good, my talents came into play after the voyeuristic gentleman who had just paid for a private dance would ask me to join him in his booth for a glass of champagne. This was a sure sign that at some point we would negotiate a deal and I would go back to his hotel for a couple of hours. In reality, the club didn't care provided we ensured the men kept buying over priced and horrendous bubbly. Some of the girls who worked at the club however, operated a different strategy entirely.
Touching any of the dancers was strictly prohibited, and any 'gent' who attempted it was ejected, rules were rules. Some dancers used that rule to it's maximum effect and simply danced all night, doing very well on tips and private dances and at the end of the night, they simply packed up and went home. Whether you simply danced the night away or went back to the gent's hotel room, both activities fell under the umbrella of the sex industry. So, is dancing around a pole or going back to a hotel to indulge in paid consensual sex 'violence against women' ?
A long time ago whilst still in Dublin I had a partner, let's call him P. He told me that he imported and exported furniture, which would of course explain his beautiful car and wads of cash. I was later to find out that what he imported could best be described as 'recreational substances', but by then it was too late and I couldn't leave him, quite simply because I was too afraid.
It started with a push, late one night after I had been out with friends for a few drinks and hadn't called him to say I was on my way home. When I eventually did get home, he pushed me with both hands such that I flew backwards and hit the hob of the cooker, bruising and injuring my back. All the colour drained from his face and he burst into tears - 'I'm so sorry, I don't know what came over me and I'll never do it again'. We went to bed in silence, and I vowed then to begin the process of breaking up with him, but it would need to be slowly, and it would need to look like it was the best thing for him in the long run, because as a controller, he never liked to lose.
Fast forward some six weeks and P and I were out for a meal, it was getting late. The waiter was overly friendly as they tend to be when they're looking for a huge tip and made a fawning ceremony over giving me an Irish coffee, saying that phone numbers were part of the required price. I could see the fury building up in P's face and I knew there was going to be trouble. I tried to appease him before we left the restaurant and whilst we were still in public but to no avail, he was cutting me off with one word answers and flatly refused to look me in the eye. We settled the bill and headed out to the car, in public P liked to be seen as a gentleman and so when he leaned in behind me towards the passenger door, I thought he was going to open it in an exaggerated gesture of chivalry. Not quite.
He grabbed my hair at the back of my head and smashed my face down on to the roof of the car with such force that I really thought I was going to lose consciousness. My nose exploded and the blood just seemed surreal to me, like I was looking at the aftermath of someone else's injury. Bundling me into the car, he drove like a lunatic through the streets of Dublin until we reached his flat and he took me out of the car in what looked like a protective gesture, with my head bowed so that none of the neighbours could see what was really happening.
After that began the beatings, and they came regularly - often with no reason that I could determine at all. Full force punches to the face, and as he was right handed, it was my left eye which took the worst of it, yep - the one which hangs a little lower and twitches. Leaving me in such a state was a double plus for a brutal psychopath like P, because not only could he take out all of his angers and frustrations on someone who was terrified of him, he also knew that when I was badly marked I wouldn't leave the apartment, and so he had control, because with abusers, it is ALWAYS about control.
One Friday afternoon, having spent three days in hiding, I ventured out of the apartment to go the bank and pay some bills, head bowed and in large sunglasses. I (quite literally) ran into a local Rathmines Garda, who was only too familiar with P and his notoriety and I suppose, our relationship. "If you don't leave him, he is going to kill you, it's just a matter of time. You do know that, right ?" I knew he was right and so I planned my escape with all the precision of a bank raid. I waited until I knew he was going to be out for at least six hours and caught a cab to Dublin airport, all I knew was I was going to London and after that, I would work it out. It was the longest hour of my life waiting for that flight to be called and I waited for the call, or the hand on my shoulder.
I landed in London Heathrow with 160 Irish punts in my purse and found a cheap hotel near Soho. As green as I was, I thought if you wanted a job in the sex industry in London, then Soho is where you went to, and I found a job that first night in a clip joint, which I didn't know was all about ripping the client off. I didn't want to stay there and hated it, and it can't have gone unnoticed because an older lady, Rosa, came to my rescue. She was Spanish and very kind, in a matronly manner.
"Why you here ? Why you no dance, huh ?"
I tried to explain that I didn't have a clue what I was doing, much less where I was going but she reassured me that she had a room to rent in Willesden Green because her son was in Spain for the summer with his father.
"You come with me".
Well, my options were rather limited and I was about to run out of money, so I did as instructed and the next night, Rosa took me to the first of many 'gentleman's clubs' I was to work in. To this day I remain firmly of the belief that sometimes, people are put in your path for a reason, either to get you out of a tight spot or to teach you something about yourself. Rosa and I are still in touch to this day and I can never thank her enough for what she did.
In that club, I found solidarity and I found camaraderie with the other women. I also found independence and a freedom from fear. I was safe, at last.
In summary, do you still think lap dancing is 'violence against women' ? In my case, it probably saved my life.