Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Sex work and solidarity (part 1)


It may surprise you to learn that the sex industry is a remarkably bitchy environment. Have women competing against each other on the basis of looks and personality, I mean, what could possibly go wrong ? Happily though, there are times when as a community we bond together in an unbreakable circle, regardless of dress size or number of reviews. The most obvious example is the recent murder of Petite Jasmine. As a community we mourned, and demonstrated around the world for the repeal of the Swedish model. I have never been so proud, or moved as I was that day.

To further illustrate my point, I'm going to take you back to 2008, right around the time I was outed in the highlands. There was a forum then which was women only and even at that, it was dedicated to the curvier of us, those who don't pass up a slice of cheesecake. It was a very small community with say, 20 posters or so, but only ten of us used it regularly, on a daily basis, and it became a haven from life. Indeed, it was that very forum which saw my shriek for help one Sunday morning because I had just been door stepped by a local provincial newspaper, I was terrified. How times change. These days they would be told to bog off, or wait for the press complaints commission or my lawyer, or both. But I digress.

One particular lovely lady logged in excitedly one evening with great news. A man had accidentally sent her a text, believing her to be someone else entirely. She replied saying - "wrong number, I'm an escort", and having expressed his shock at his faux pas, they began to chat. As it turned out, they had a lot in common and they chatted for many an evening. Then came the clincher from him - "Look this is mad, but what if we meet up ? I'd love to know who I'm talking to." So, she dolled herself up to the nines and went to meet him. What followed was an intense, and highly charged affair. It was at this point that she finished her story on the forum. My spidey sense was bubbling over, and sadly when I really didn't want to be right, I was.

Later that evening another lady logged in and having read her gushing tale said, "Um, does his number end in 067 ?" Yes, it turned out that our witless Lothario was actually rather clever, in that he had done the very same thing to several escorts. Not so clever though, as to use a different number. I felt SO sorry for his original victim, she was crushed.

As a community, there are several things which will always bind us together and one of them is abusive men. Oh, HELL no. So we sat, all of us, through the night, texting and calling this gentleman to see if he could remember "our" particular encounter. He was demented. By the end of the evening one or two of our members had resorted to more forthright approaches and quite frankly, he was terrified. Quite frankly, we didn't care.

It is alleged that in the aftermath of that episode, someone put his number up on Glasgow Gumtree as -

"SLIM SUBMISSIVE TWINK SEEKS HAIRY BEAR FOR NSA MEETS. NO LIMITS."

I can't imagine who would do such a dreadful thing. Escorts - 1 Idiot - 0.

LL xx

Sunday, 21 December 2014

War is over (Merry Christmas)


In the "debate" on sex work in Ireland, it's time for a ceasefire over Christmas. I need to tell you, Irish abolitionists fight dirty, dirtier than I've ever experienced before. Given their background in the Magdalene Laundries, I guess that shouldn't surprise me, but there is no low to which they won't stoop. When they weren't (allegedly) reporting me to the taxman for a full investigation they were putting my details up on Dublin Backpage, posing as clients to fill my diary with false appointments and that's before we talk about hauling me through the mud at Stormont and telling blatant lies to the media about me and my colleagues. Ho hum.

I'm not saying I didn't respond with ferocity, I did. That's because they made a common mistake and mistook a pleasant manner for weakness. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I go into every single debate I do to win. Whether that's an hour long event at a university or an eighteen month campaign in Northern Ireland, I don't do giving up. So if it means a trip to the Supreme Court, or the European Court of Human Rights, so be it.

About the only thing I can't blame abolitionists for this year is smashing up my leg in Belfast, although if I didn't know better, I'd swear they crept in to my room in the dead of night and added a generous coating of vegetable oil to the base of my shower. I hate to be the one to burst their bubble, but I'm back on my feet and still smiling. See to me, Christmas is lovely when you receive gifts and all, I mean who doesn't need lavender soap on a rope ? But more important than that, it's time to take stock and appreciate the real gifts you have. In my case that's a number of people around me who can best be summed up with the phrase - "I've got your back, sweetie."

If I need to rage that's okay, if I need to let off steam that's fine too. If I need to cry my lamps out, there is always a man sized tissue with extra soothing balm ready. There are people I can call and request sanctuary, a DVD and a curry at anywhere else than your hotel room can be medicine indeed. I also have some friends with the most amazing sense of humour, who send me emails which have me braying like a donkey. Most unladylike but therapeutic in the extreme. One such friend has written a letter to Santa, which I've decided to share with you, he's based in Ireland and disabled, so no prizes for guessing the forthcoming tone. It just remains for me to wish you all, a very Merry Christmas with your loved ones. Not you, abolitionists, I hope your turkey is trafficked and contaminated and necessitates a 48 hour stay in your government funded bathroom suite.

LL xx

P.S : If you're stuck for a last minute gift, check out this worthy site. To help those in need, it's far better than soap on a rope.



Dear Santa,

I'm probably wasting my time writing to you, but let me remind you of some of the requests that you didn't deliver last year.

-New Bentley
-Super Model Wife/Girlfriend
-Body Transplant
-Villa in the Bahamas
-Yacht in Monaco.

This year I have only one simple request, I want a visit to Belfast. As you know I'm a vulnerable simpleton cripple and it's my duty to be targeted. There is a dangerous one who goes by the name Laura Lee and she specialises in targeting the likes of me and she visits Belfast. She has what she calls toys, I wouldn't like to tell you what she does with them it would probably kill an old man like you if I told you. Be careful Santa, she is well connected, friends in high places, her BEST Friends are the DUP you know those Lovely Upright Law Abiding God Fearing Political Citizens that look out for everyone, especially women.

Those lovely nuns at Ruhama, they are the ones who told me that she is dangerous, in fact they say she is pure evil. She writes blogs about how she loves to target the likes of me, she bragged on Twatter recently how she had her wicked way with another vulnerable fella in Inverness then she stole all his belongings and ran over his cat. After she had her wicked way with another she made soup and sandwiches for him but the nuns tell me that if you sample her culinary skills that's probably the end of you. They say it's worse than having to eat Kangroo Balls on I'm a Muppet in the Jungle. The poor sod is probably cat and hamster food by now you can't get any more evil than that Santa.

She also makes television about targeting the likes of us vulnerable ones, I've been asked recently by a television station to star in her new show "I'm a cripple get me out of here". In fact the nuns are trying to capture her and put her in a safe house but between you and me I think there's a better chance of them finding a bisexual leprechaun with hen's teeth. They have told me it's just as well that I'm a vulnerable simpleton cripple, that way I don't understand just what she's up to when I'm targeted. She has told me that I'm lovely and then she said the other day that I'm a good one but Santa you know that's just not true. Apparently that's part of her plan to trap me. I think that's the drugs. Those nuns say she only does all this because she and all her mates are junkies.

She told me the first time that we met that just because I'm a vulnerable simpleton cripple, doesn't get me off my duties as a man, and she wouldn't let me leave until I did. She seem to love it and wriggled around smiling and moaning, but I know that's just the badness trying to escape her.

If you ignore this request like last year's, I will have to arrange to borrow a decommissioned surface to air missile and then you will be the one, Mr Clause who will be targeted when you fly over my house on Christmas Eve.

Yours,

Frustrated of Fermanagh

Monday, 15 December 2014

Women's Aid NI - The Truth


The following is a guest post from an anonymous author, given the sensitive nature of the information, you'll see why.

Women's Aid across the island of Ireland have made no bones about their support for the criminalisation of clients. In the Republic, they're vocal participants in the Turn off the Red Light campaign. In the North they lobbied the Stormont Assembly and as we're a bit short of nuns, have become the most powerful NGO to speak out on he subject. For years we all knew Women's Aid were the experts on domestic abuse and violence, but now it seems, they're experts at everything. So much so, that they were invited onto the committee that oversaw the research into prostitution in Northern Ireland commissioned by the Department of Justice.


For half a year, I would presume under the watchful eye of that committee, academics at Queen's University drew up their plans and then carried out their research - which included a number of interviews with sex workers in the country. Then, just before the paper was published, Women's Aid withdrew from the committee claiming that the research was..

"deeply flawed and lacks a basic understanding of the links between prostitution, human trafficking, and the spectrum of sexual exploitation that is taking place in Northern Ireland."

Their action was a gift to the DUP. Their MLA and peer Lord Morrow was the sponsor of the bill - our very own William Wilberforce. In the final remarks before voting clause 15 through last week, they echoed Women's Aid's views on the research - dismissing it out of hand.

Why? Well, the people who were interviewed didn't want clause 15. And that didn't suit the DUP and Sinn Fein's political agenda to be seen to work together.

Simples.

I thought Women's Aid had washed their hands of involvement after their hissy fit over the research but then I learned that they couldn't quite afford to let the issue go.

Last week I heard that the same organisation that dismissed the views of sex workers completely now feels it's a suitable body to offer an exiting service to sex workers.

I'm sorry?

You wouldn't listen to what we had to say in our interviews in the research and now you expect us to come to you if we want to move on?

How can I explain this, Women's Aid, in a way you'll understand.

I know.

Fuck off.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Mid Life Mission


See, here's the thing.

The male mid life crisis is pretty well mapped out. For the men folk, it tends to be motorbikes and escorts, I know that because it's my job. Hit 50, and suddenly a switch goes off in their brain and well, they go quite mad. These are the guys who want to roll about in custard, be *almost* seen in a local woodland, try nudism, threesomes, anal love beads, the list is never ending. Hey, I'm not complaining, it pays my mortgage.

As a woman though, I wonder what lies in store for me. I've witnessed some friends go through some pretty dramatic changes, from running away with the local petrol pump attendant to last minute babies (those two may or may not be related.) I thought about a tattoo, it's not really my thing but I like the idea of a very small blue butterfly on my hip. The butterfly (as we all know) symbolises change and is also the symbol of a sex worker - she has many visitors who softly light but never stay. Perfect ! Except the thoughts of some guy strapping me down to a workbench and sticking needles in my love handles ? No, just no. Well, maybe the first part. (I'll come back to that.)

From there I toyed with the idea of a piercing, you know, *there*. I'm told it's relatively painless as a procedure and can bring any amount of pleasure as and when required. Hurrah ! Just what a cougar cub needs, right ? Well, not really. One of the benefits of being in the sex industry as long as I have is I have some pretty amazing lady friends with whom I can discuss anything. ANYTHING. Imagine my disappointment then, when I was reliably informed that if you have a ring with a little stud fitted at the end, it does indeed have the desired effect but with very little input from the owner. So, not so handy for parent/teacher nights or indeed the cereal aisle at Asda then.

Getting more than a little dispirited, I ploughed on in my quest. Did you know there are sites on the internet where consenting adults can hook up for sexual liaisons ? Absolutely fucking disgusting. Now a member of three such sites, I'm feeling the strain of heavy protest. After all, it's only so I can infiltrate the infrastructure and bring them down with my feminist sisters. The first I happened upon is aimed at the more kinky of subscribers and as (contrary to my professional life) I enjoy relinquishing control from time to time, it didn't take me long to find Glasgow's answer to Mr. Grey. My interest in this exchange is purely as a budding psychologist, I'm studying the exchange in power. As you know, I hate bad data and dodgy statistics, so I think about an eighteen month study should do it, to give me time to plot my results and run my tests.

In conclusion then, if this is what men call a crisis, I'd hate to see what they deem a bad experience. I'm having a ball, just not at the end of a piercing.

LL xx

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

December 17th - International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers


Statement from SWAI -

December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Sex workers are a marginalised and highly stigmatised group. They are often the target of violence by police and members of the public because of their criminalised status. Ugly Mugs statistics show us that sex workers in Ireland only report 3% of crimes perpetrated against them. This statistic clearly illustrates the lack of trust workers have in An Garda Síochána and the Justice system to protect them. Many sex workers fear they will be criminalised themselves when attempting to report crime.

The Irish Government intends to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of sexual services - the “Swedish Model”. The motivation behind this move is to send an empty message that buying sex is not acceptable in this country. SWAI believes this legislation will do the exact opposite and result in an increase in violence and stigma towards sex workers, and even less reporting of crimes. The intention of the Swedish Model is to abolish prostitution. As part of this model the state treats all sex workers as victims who need to be saved. It believes those resisting rescue are suffering from false consciousness.

Petite Jasmine was one such victim of violence as a result of this “Swedish Model”. Jasmine lost custody of her children because the Swedish authorities believed, as a sex worker, she was an unfit parent. Her children were placed with their father despite his history of abuse and violence towards her. The authorities told Jasmine she didn’t know what was good for her. They told her she was “romanticising” prostitution and did not understand, as a sex worker, she was self-harming. The father of her children threatened and stalked Jasmine on numerous occasions yet she was never offered any protection. Jasmine fought the system through four trials and finally started seeing her children again. In July 2013 Jasmine was brutally stabbed by the father of her children. Stigma kills.

The Swedish government thinks that increasing the stigma of sex work is a positive thing, even if it means more violence against sex workers and a reduction in the reporting of crime. At a recent meeting, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald agreed that more stigma is good, as it will prevent people from joining the industry. This view worries SWAI, that a government would rather see violence inflicted on sex workers as a preventative measure, rather than keep sex workers safe. The government needs to base its laws on creating safety for sex workers, not on a moralistic ideology, which will make sex workers more vulnerable to violence.

Since 1979 at least eight sex workers have been murdered in Ireland. Sex workers remain at risk of violence and will continue to unless the Government recognizes the need for a rights based and harm reduction approach to sex work.

We will have a Vigil at the Dáil on Wednesday December 17th at 6pm, where we will remember those sex workers who have suffered violence or been killed, often as a result of criminalisation and stigma. We ask for the members of the public and other sex workers to join us. There will be masks available for those concerned about their identity.

And from SWAI's Northern members -

We will also be demonstrating in Belfast, outside City Hall at 5pm. Again there will be masks available for those who require them and if you have any red umbrellas, please bring them. With the recent legislation passed, sex workers in Northern Ireland are effectively being pushed out on to the streets where we know it is far more dangerous, and certainly far more problematic than being able to work together in a decriminalised environment. Now more than ever we need to raise our voices and refuse to be silenced on the ongoing systematic targeting of sex workers. We deserve to work in an environment with dignity and respect taken as a given, and our safety guaranteed.

The Ipswich and Bradford murders should never have happened, we call on the PSNI to ensure our safety via the Merseyside model rather than arrest our clients. Instead, arrest our attackers and send out a clear message that we are no longer to be considered as vulnerable and alone.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Guest post by English Kate - Ruhama, how they "assist" women.


Today I want to tell you about a friend of mine. This is someone I met just over a year and a half a go. She is younger than me and a larger than life character, with a great sense of humour and you can't help but feel relaxed in her company. When we met for the first time, I instantly took a liking to her and some how knew that we would be good friends. Having said that, due to the nature of the job, we have not met in the flesh again since, but now things have changed, I do hope that will change too and we will make time to do that, as good friends are hard to come by.

My friend I shall call Sophie for the sake of this blog, has not been in the best place for the last couple of years and this is her story...

Two years ago while working as an Escort she was attacked and robbed. She was struggling mentally and emotionally with sex work as a consequence and finding it very difficult to continue working after the attack, but had no choice. She was terrified! She was so terrified, she could barely bring herself to sleep while working away from home and was having to use all the will she had to get over her fear of working.

Having heard of Ruhama and the fact that they were there to help sex workers get out of sex work, Sophie decided that she would contact them to see what they could do to help her. She needed help, as she just couldn't see a way out by herself and she dreamed that they would whisk her away from this awful situation that she had found herself in.

Sophie was nervous, too nervous to ring them on the phone and terrified about speaking to someone outside the sex industry about her job. Thankfully Ruhama have a website with a contact form on it, so she decided to fill out the form on the website stating her problems she was having and her desperate need to leave the business, as it was affecting her mentally in a bad way.

A few days later she received a reply from Ruhama, but sadly it was a generic reply with information from their website, saying that it sounds like she could do with some counselling and giving her a telephone number to ring to make an appointment. This brought her straight back to square one, with facing the dilemma of using the telephone to contact a stranger outside of the sex industry who may judge her for what she does. Sophie could not bring herself to pick up the phone, she just couldn't do it. Instead she continued to force herself to work. In the mean time she kept checking her emails to see if there was light at the end of the tunnel, to see if Ruhama had contacted her again, but they never did.

After some time and coming to terms with the fact that she wasn't going to get any help from Ruhama Sophie started job hunting. Two years passed by and not one single interview had come her way. She had registered as self-employed and was paying taxes, but being self-employed didn't seem to help with regards to getting a job, as no one was biting.

Again Sophie looked to Ruhama for help and filled out another form on the website. This time she was delighted to have got a more human response and was given the opportunity to book an appointment via email. However although she was based in the North of Ireland, she was instructed to go to Dublin in D9 for the appointment and it was in a very busy, well used building.

Ironically Sophie had to organise a tour to Dublin and work to enable her to attend the meeting, as she couldn't afford to get there otherwise. The Week before the appointment was really bad workwise and she was not making any money. She had hoped with all her heart to make some money right up to the day before the appointment so she could attend, just one client would have paid for the taxi, but no work came her way. With a heavy heart she had to cancel the appointment, as she couldn't afford the taxi fare there and back again.

Feeling despondent Sophie decided again to try and get a job herself. She re-worked her CV several times and still was not even getting an interview for a job, so after 3 more miserable months she tried again to contact Ruhama and booked another appointment. She had tried to get an appointment with them a bit closer to home, but there was no budging, she would have to go back to Dublin again.

The timing couldn't have been worse. Again Sophie had to go and work in Dublin to get close by to Ruhama and had hoped to make some money, but this time it was deadly quiet due to an article in the papers exposing raids and sex workers. Thankfully despite this Sophie had €50 left after paying her expenses, so reluctantly she used the money to get to the appointment knowing that was all she had. She was so nervous and she found the place not at all discreet and felt like she might as well have a neon sign over her head saying 'hooker'.

Sophie met up with a lady named Sheila Crawley. She thought she was very nice and went through all the help they can offer her, which included advice with regards to benefits, careers, counselling and also offering massage and reflexology. Sophie told her about how difficult it was to get out to the appointment and that she didn't live in Dublin and that work had been bad, which meant that she had spent the only money that she had made to come and see her that day. Consequently Sheila told her she would assign her a Support Worker that would work with her and that they would focus on getting her signed on to benefits, get her some counselling and career advice.

Sophie had gone into the appointment nervous, but hopeful; she left believing that these people can't help, as it was clear that they didn't help people very often and the questions that they were asking her made it evident that they were not accustomed to talking to indoor sex workers and hadn't got a clue as to how they work.

A Week had passed by and Sophie had not heard back from Ruhama or her Support Worker, so she sent them an email asking about it. Shortly afterwards she received a phone call. Again the lady sounded lovely on the phone and Sophie explained that she had done some research and had been informed that she was not entitled to benefits, so benefits were not the way forward and again she expressed her determination and need to find a job outside of sex work. Her Support Worker arranged a meeting with her, but it wouldn't be for a Month to start things off and a few days later she sent her a number for the citizens advice bureau on benefits.

It seemed pointless after that and Sophie felt bewildered. Sophie didn't want to go onto benefits, but more importantly, she had already done the research and knew that she was not entitled to them and had explained this clearly to the support worker. Sophie felt exasperated and disappointed, as all they seemed to want to do was to get her on benefits, give her counselling and a massage. She also couldn't afford another €50 and seven hours on a bus there and back to go to an appointment for them to not offer her the help that she was actually asking for. She had more important things to spend the little money she was struggling on to pay bills and live. They didn't even contact her to see if she was okay, she could have been dead for all they cared.

In the mean time Sophie was in touch with another Escort and it was great, as she was able to speak with her and have conversations about work with someone who knew where she was coming from, who was non judgmental and understood what she was going through. They talked about Sophie wanting out and how long she had been looking for a job and even that she had gone to see Ruhama and that she was being asked to go back to Dublin again and wait another Month, but she wanted out now and she couldn't afford it. Her friend asked to see her C.V. and although it took her a while to email it over, eventually she did. Straight away her friend could see that the format for the CV was way out of date and focusing on the wrong things. It was an easy adjustment to make, but also vital, as the C.V is how you open doors to getting interviews. With a little help Sophie was guided as to how to make the changes and adapt each CV to the employer and straight away started applying for jobs.

Sophie was also glad of the emotional support as well as the guidance, just having someone she could off load to and be honest with about what had happened to her and how she feels.

Just a few Weeks later Sophie got news of two interviews, both in the same Week. Within a Week of the interviews Sophie was offered a job and is now happily working very hard in a normal job. She had gotten her life sorted out and is starting to feel the happiest she has been in years. The job she now has is not easy, in fact she's just worked 30+ hours over her first few days, but she wouldn't swap it for the world and as her friend, that makes me so very proud and happy and it also makes me so angry and frustrated that Ruhama were not there for her and couldn't do something as basic as a simple CV.

Sophie feels that Ruhama don't have any idea about indoor sex work, which is the now the majority of sex workers working in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, with only a tiny percentage still working outside. They need to realise it's very difficult for touring Escorts to be in Dublin to go to D9 for an appointment and the costs incurred, especially when work is difficult, as in her case where she was attacked and robbed and actually afraid to work. Ireland does not start and end with D9 and there are 32 other counties out there.

Sophie would hate to think if someone who was trafficked, how they would be able to get the help they needed, with the service being so inflexible. How exactly do they help them?

Now the official bit.

In the Official (Hansard) document dated 9th January 2014 - Committee for Justice - Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill: Ruhama

Ms Geraldine Rowley of Ruhama states that:

'When Ruhama was set up 25 years ago, prostitution was predominantly based in the major urban regions such as Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Cork and Limerick on the island of Ireland. However, over the years, particularly over the past decade, we have seen huge increase in prostitution. Because of the internet and because of less border control across Europe and on our own island, we have seen huge mobility in the sex trade. Due to that - our figures show this - the majority of women we have worked with in our services over the past number of years are foreign women who come from countries in eastern Europe, South America and Africa. It is very mobile, so we work with women who are located in and have been moved around Northern Ireland, and we have worked with victims of trafficking who were based in Northern Ireland.'

So... they are fully aware that sex workers today are mobile and they are not all in Dublin and that many are up in Northern Ireland and yet here Sophie is being given no help within her region, but is being told she has to go to Dublin to seek help and this is something she could not afford, which they were also aware of. How exactly are they helping these people if this is their normal response?

Ms Geraldine Rowley continues to say...

'Last year, we worked with 170 women in casework. Overall, we worked with 258 women.'

I am wondering if Sophie was classed as one of the 170, or one of the 258? Either way, they did nothing for her other than to cost her money, time and frustration. She was forced to work a whole Week in Dublin to secure that €50 in order to reach their office. When they were told of her plight they assigned her a support worker, who also ultimately wanted her to go to Dublin at her own expense. Not one euro of the funding that they get was offered her, so that she would not have to work in order to see them, despite them knowing that is what she was having to do to get there.

Further more Ms Rowley says...

'We provide a lot of face-to-face work. That is time-consuming. We also give support over the phone to women. If they are still involved in prostitution, they may not be able to travel to Dublin, so we try to help women to access their services locally in the community, wherever they are.'

I think the word 'try' is the most appropriate here. In Sophie's case they were suggesting she should go to the Citizen's Advice Bureau, which I'm sure she would have done herself if it had been the right place to go. They say they give job advice, but none was actually offered unless she went over to Dublin for a 3rd trip. They may 'try' to help, but they don't have the skill base and knowledge in which do so and that is the problem. They can't actually help most Sex Workers, as they are not geared up to work with today's sex worker.

In 2012, which is the year when Sophie first went for help and had that awful experience where she could not afford to make the appointment due to lack of work and funds, Ruhama had income of €602,284 of which €599,560 was used on administration fees. Can someone please explain to me how any business can spend that amount of money on administration fees in one year? Do they not have anyone to make sure they are paying the best possible prices and using the money given to them effectively so it reaches those that need it and not lines the pockets of others? I find this alone outrageous! No wonder they couldn't offer Sophie any help with transportation, or send someone over to her.

If Sophie is a typical case, then how many people approaching Ruhama actually get the help they need? How many fall along the way side and find themselves stuck in a situation that is eating them up inside? How many of them reach despair and end up taking their own lives or living a life not worth living? Yes there are people who need help out there. I am not disputing that, but I do dispute if they are getting the help they need and indeed if Ruhama are the people to give it to them. Would it not be better if there were Sex Workers actually involved or ex Sex Workers, who have a much better understanding of the conditions, the job and the problems involved? Women who are intelligent, skilled and more able to help? Women with a clear understanding, who are not looking to rid the streets of prostitution, but make it a better place to exist or exit from according to their needs.

Is this not money going down the drain where quite possibly the majority of those that reach out for help are not heard or seen, because of their inflexibility and inability to hear what people really need? So many assumptions being made, so much political involvement that leads to bias and distrust for all concerned. In my mind a body set up to help prostitutes should not show any bias, they should not show contempt for the people they are meant to be helping, they should purely show support and give it as best possible. They should grow with the trends and adapt. They should listen and learn and provide. I don't see Ruhama doing any of that, but they are certainly spending money and doing an awful lot of political campaigning, which in turn alienates them from the very people they claim to help.

Will this new law help those that need help the most? No! So why do Ruhama want it so bad? Who exactly will gain from this legislation? I'll leave it there for you to decide for yourself.

Thank you Sophie for sharing your story with me and I wish you all the best in your new life where you now feel safe and secure and for the first time in years... Happy!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Press release - Sex Workers Alliance Ireland. 25/11/2014

Proposed Law Criminalising Buyers of Sex Extremely Detrimental to Safety of Sex Workers, says Sex Workers Alliance Ireland

DUBLIN, Ireland; 25 November, 2014: Sex Workers Alliance Ireland is extremely concerned about legislation that would criminalise the purchase of sex, proposed today by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. This law is short-sighted and ignores the severe negative impacts it would have on the safety and health of sex workers, and the increased stigamtisation it would bring. Research from Queen's University Belfast has indicated that buyers will continue to purchase sex after the introduction of a similar law in Northern Ireland. There is also no evidence from Sweden, where this model originated, that its implementation has reduced demand.

The recent report from the government in Norway, where a similar law was introduced in 2009, shows that, since its implementation, sex workers are less likely to report crimes. The Norwegian inquiry highlights how sex workers have become more exposed to violence, because their main focus is to make clients feel safe, rather than focusing on their own safety. The Swedish Discrimination Ombudsman raised the fear that increased stigma is detrimental to health promotion and HIV-prevention, a claim backed by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, that discourages criminalisation for this reason. The prestigious medical journal The Lancet, in a series on HIV and sex work, also criticised the criminalisation of the client on health grounds.

The Minister needs to take a human rights approach and listen to current sex workers, who will have to live with this law. Sex Workers Alliance Ireland holds firm its belief that decriminalisation is the ideal model to keep sex workers safe.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Reclaim the Night - Sat 29th November


On Saturday 29th November, I will be attending and speaking at Reclaim the Night in Belfast city centre. This will be a sex worker friendly environment, and although the press will be in attendance, masks are available and there will be several of us available to speak to them.

Now more than ever, Reclaim the Night is an important statement for sex workers to make. The recent decision of the Northern Irish Assembly to put sex workers in further danger is insane. We are STILL not permitted to work together for safety. With talk of "decriminalising" street sex work and given that we are in a recession and approaching Christmas, I predict an increase in the number of street sex workers, in Belfast and other major cities.

Street sex work is dangerous in itself, we know that because the implementation of the Merseyside model in Liverpool has proven what positive policing can do. There they treat sex workers as victims of hate crime, as with any other minority group. The police work with the women, not against them and it has led to a much better relationship between the two groups. More importantly, it sends out a message that the women are not vulnerable victims and are not alone. The result ? The increase in convictions against the perpetrators of crime has shot up by over 80%.

Conversely in Edinburgh, we know that when they took away the tolerance zone, assaults on street sex workers rocketed by 95%. Now, since the closure of some of the saunas and the migration of some of those sex workers back out onto the streets, I've noticed a sharp spike in the number of reports coming from Ugly Mugs re the Edinburgh area. Is that a coincidence ? I don't think so.

For sex workers, Reclaim the Night is about being able to work without fear of threats, stalking, assault or rape. Nearly a decade ago, Gary Ridgway was unmasked as the Green River Killer, the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history. He preyed on runaways and sex workers particularly, and although initial figures suggested 49 victims, it's now thought to stand at 80. Asked why he chose sex workers in particular, he said it was because no-one would miss them. Tell that to their parents and siblings. Tell that to their children.

I call on the PSNI to implement a model similar to that in Liverpool. Sex workers in dire need of money for Christmas and to feed their children need to know that they can work in safety. That's a basic human right.

LL

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A letter to the Irish Times


Sir,

I refer to the article written by Kathy Sheridan and printed on Wed 19th Nov.

As a “much-loved daughter of middle Ireland” myself, I strongly oppose the views expressed and the overall tone of the piece. I am an Irish sex worker with twenty years experience, so I can shed some light on the realities of the industry Ms. Sheridan seeks to demonise.

Perish the thought, but were a camera ever to catch my expression in flagrante, far from pain or disgust, the captured look would be far more likely to be one of abject boredom. The article goes on to question the reviews posted for sex workers, even pouring scorn on the chosen internet handles of some of the posters. What would Ms. Sheridan rather they were called, Tristan St. John Smythe ? Of course there will be some sexual connotation, it hardly marks them as monsters. If anyone is being disrespectful to those “receptacles” as they were beautifully termed, it’s the writer. The fact that a sex worker responded to a review with “tanks” just illustrates that sex workers come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Poverty drives women into the industry, and it is this which we “lefty liberals” must seek to eradicate, not consenting adults having sex. It’s very clear that Ms. Sheridan finds sex work distasteful, to put it mildly. However, this debate is not about how ANYONE feels about the trade, it’s about our right to work in safety, a right we are currently denied and will continue to be denied with the new legislation. Sex work is the only job which compels a woman to work alone. No-one would expect an A & E nurse to do a Friday night shift alone, and yet we are compelled daily.

The further assertion made that “significant numbers are drawn in as children under 18”, is false, and used by abolitionists around the world – “will no-one think of the children ?” Last year Turn off the Red Light repeatedly claimed that there were 19 victims of child prostitution in the Republic of Ireland. The then Minster for Justice Alan Shatter told them to stop using that because it simply isn’t true.

Finally, Ms. Sheridan speaks of those who can’t be doing with “peer-reviewed studies”. I find that assertion ironic, because the evidence from around the world points to decriminalisation as a preferred model to protect the most vulnerable in the industry. That evidence comes from the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, The Lancet to name but a few.

It’s clear from recent communications from Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s office that it is her intention to press ahead with the criminalisation of clients. Were this to happen, those who are already vulnerable will suffer all the more as I explained to the Minister in person last week. In the end, good law must never be based on an ideological sending of a “message”, rather it should be based on evidence. Evidence which is in abundance.

Yours etc.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Press statement from SWAI


I'm very happy to say I have joined SWAI, and look forward to working with them closely to fight the Swedish model in ROI. Please find below a press statement on our recent meeting with Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald. The hard work starts here, and it starts now.

"Sex Workers Alliance Ireland met with Minister Frances Fitzgerald to discuss the dangers of the Swedish Model and to look at evidence-based policy, which she agreed to do. The Swedish Model has endangered sex workers where it has been implemented, a fact that both the French Senate and the UK parliament have recognised, the latter rejecting a clause, which would have criminalised the purchase of sex in a bill last week.

Frances Fitzgerald listened to voices of sex workers. Sex workers do not support the model in Sweden, nor the legalisation model in Holland or Germany, but look towards the New Zealand model of decriminalisation, which takes a human rights approach."


LL xx

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A statement on sex work - Dr. Graham Scambler


This is a blog post from Dr. Graham Scambler, Professor of Sociology at UCL. He has given me his kind permission to replicate it, and I'm sure you'll agree, it's well worth a read. You should also check out his lecture on YouTube, do look it up. It's very encouraging to see the number of academics coming out in favour of sex workers' rights and common sense legislation. Enjoy.

LL xx

Chronology is not everything, especially in the context of the kind of disjointed fragments that comprise this ‘sociological autobiography’. So I am jumping ahead a few years, the rational being that it makes sense to build on my comments on sex work now rather than later. I have published two main papers since the early 1990's. The first was on ‘sex work stigma’ in 2007 in Sociology. This drew on a small interview-based study I conducted with a snowball sample of a dozen escorts who had travelled to London for a defined period (usually 1-3 months) to bank some money. The second was on ‘health work, female sex workers and HIV/AIDS’ in 2008 in Social Science and Medicine. The intention here was to develop a conceptual frame within which barriers to the delivery of health care for sex workers might be better understood. The principal aim on both occasions was to stress the importance of social structures.

The focus in the 2007 paper was on the salience of social structures for processes of stigmatization, and that in the 2008 paper on the role of social structures in fashioning barriers to effective health interventions. In particular, I emphasized the significance of class-based ‘exploitation’ and state or command-based ‘oppression’ in ‘informing’ (without ‘determining’) cultural norms of shame and blame and their policing and access to health and social care.

A further output from these excursions was a typology of sex workers. I distinguished six career ideal types: (a) coerced (e.g. abducted, trafficked), (b) destined (e.g. family or peers in the trade), (c) survivors (e.g. drug users, debtors), (d) workers (e.g. permanent job), (e) opportunists (e.g. project financing), and (f) bohemians (e.g. casual, without need). If I had any aspirations to completeness, these were dashed when a researcher at the University of Hertfordshire, where I was giving a seminar at the invitation of Hilary Thomas, added that some sex workers offer their services exclusively to ‘disabled’ clients; and so they do.

By this time it was something of a mantra of mine that agency and culture are alike structured but not structurally determined.

I also delivered one of the UCL Lunchtime Lectures on the mythology surrounding sex work in the autumn of 2011. This was and is a great concept: the lectures are given by UCL academics but the brief is to make their research intelligible to the wider community, who on the whole comprise the audiences. People turn up with their sandwiches if the title appeals. When I was invited to talk about ‘sex work today’ to mark World AIDS Day however I hesitated. What concerned me was the implication that sex work and HIV/AIDS were intimately connected. In some parts of the world they are – with 80-90% of sex workers HIV-positive – but not in the UK. Anyway, I overcame my qualms and constructed a personal agenda to set records straight.

The lecture is available on YouTube, on the home page of my website and has been debated on Twitter, so I will here offer the most succinct of summaries of the messages I was hoping to convey. Then I move on to address the nature of the fallout from talks and stances like mine (I was going to write ‘ensuing debate’ but it is far more conflictual than that). My principal messages can be represented as follows:

There is a good deal of research on the sex industry in Britain and overseas. For obvious reasons there are no probability samples of sex workers, however, so we must be cautious. Studies allow us to ‘estimate’ that there are around 80,000 sex workers in the UK. In London, the focus of my talk: 30-40% of the sex workers are men (a phenomenon unique to London among UK cities); 80% work indoors; nearly two-thirds were born overseas; the media age of entry to the industry is 24; drug use is lower in indoor than outdoor workers; and there is currently a declining rate of STIs and HIV.

This research provides an evidence-base for policy formation and implementation at global, regional, national and local levels. The kind of data I cited for London are available for other parts of the UK and across the globe. They should inform policy-making much more than they do currently. The wealthy and powerful should not be permitted to swap policy-based evidence for evidence-based policy. But I also bemoaned the lack of comparative studies. If we could compare female sex workers with, say, secretaries, then we might find that just as many of the latter as the former come from broken families and save ourselves from incautious inferences!

The sex industry between and within nations is varied and its workers heterogeneous. The typology cited above is testimony to heterogeneity with the UK and elsewhere; and individual sex workers can and do switch types of work. Moreover, there are ‘visible’ drug-using women who work the streets and give hand jobs for £30, and ‘invisible’ women escorts who charge £1000 for a night’s companionship.

Stereotypes of sex workers are simplistic, replete with errors of commission and omission. As this heterogeneity suggests, media stereotypes of sex workers contain errors of commission and omission. The street worker is the exception rather than the rule; moreover the street worker is as likely to be a brave and subtle improviser as an out-of-control alcoholic.

Two major discourses have come to dominate discussions of the sex industry: (a) the public health discourse, and (b) the sexual trafficking discourse. A lot of the research into sex work that received funding in the mid-to-late 1980's arose out of a concern that sex workers might be vectors of disease, precipitating the spread of HIV into the ‘respectable population’ (presumably via their respectable clients). They found rates of condom use approaching 100%. Like gay men a little earlier, sex workers were quickly onto the risk of HIV. Why would they not be? The principal risk of HIV, studies showed, was to sex workers themselves. While the condom provided a symbolic barrier with clients, it was intolerable with boy- or girlfriends, who not infrequently had multiple sexual partners …

The public health discourse has contributed to our evidence base and has tended to be open and liberal. Lessons were learned and most public health researchers acquired a respect for sex workers and opposed any attempt to (further) criminalize them.

The sexual trafficking discourse has largely ignored our evidence base and has tended to be closed and oppressive.

The weird admix of radical feminists and Christian and allied right-wingers who emphasize ‘sexual trafficking’ come into another category. Of course there are sex workers – the coerced – who are trafficked (e.g. young girls out of Burma to the brothels of Bangkok). And it occurs in the UK too. But it is rare: the Pentameter operations mounted by the police were a dismal failure, and Nick Mays’ ESRC study found that 6% of women had been either ‘deceived’ or ‘forced’ into selling sex. But those who push the sexual trafficking discourse are resistant to data: they would wish the public to believe that any sex workers born overseas and working in the UK have been trafficked. Their prejudice or ‘moral crusade’ is to legislate for the abolition of the industry (a forlorn hope, as we have seen).

That is enough. I end this important, non-chronological digression with an assertion that seems to me self-evident. It is an obnoxious and unacceptable conceit, a form of abuse, to deny sex workers their agency. Agency, like culture, is structured for all of us, but it is never structurally determined.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

From the ECP - VICTORY – AMENDMENT TO CRIMINALISE SEX WORKERS’ CLIENTS DEFEATED !


It was a truly fantastic day for sex workers yesterday, as the Swedish model was thrown out in England. It was great to see everyone pulling together and lobbying so hard at such short notice, too. Below is a statement from the ECP with some quotes from John McDonnell MP, I watched his speech and was just amazed at his clarity, his understanding of the issues we face and to be honest, that a politician actually listened, to sex workers. He's my new hero.

LL xx

We won! Our collective mobilisation defeated the amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill put forward by Fiona Mactaggart MP which would have criminalised clients. It dropped without even going to a vote. Another amendment put forward by Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary, calling for a “review of the links between prostitution and human trafficking and sexual exploitation” was put forward as an alternative to Mactaggart’s but that was also defeated.

This is a massive victory for the campaign against the further criminalisation of sex work. Hundreds of people and organisations responded to the call to write to MPs. The briefing in Parliament on Monday night, that we organised at very short notice, drew a good crowd. The impressive line-up of speakers included sex workers speaking about the impact the clause would have on their work, Hampshire Women’s Institute, Women Against Rape, student representatives, academics and union reps, queers and anti-racists opposed to this further discrimination. Questions from the MPs (Tories, Labour and Lib-Dem) elicited a productive and informative discussion.

MP John McDonnell’s contribution to the debate in the Commons today was outstanding – we have been worked closely with him over many years, including on defeating this measure. He made reference to the wide range of opposition, quoting from some of the many briefings and letters people had sent him, and countered the false claims put forward by those promoting criminalisation.

As a result of so many people acting so quickly and so effectively we are now in a stronger position to demand full decriminalisation. We’ll be in touch soon about this. Here is John’s speech.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab):
We are really short of time in this debate, so I apologise for taking more, Madam Deputy Speaker. If there are any talent spotters on the Government Front Bench, I think the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) has an excellent role in the other place.

I chair the Public and Commercial Services Union parliamentary group—we are writing to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority about the new clauses in this group—but let me say that we have now gone beyond the stage at which we can continue to will the objectives without willing the means. Adequate staff and resources are needed to ensure that the GLA is effective.

To turn briefly to the new clauses and the amendment tabled in relation to prostitution, I apologise to all Members of the House for inundating them with briefings over the past 48 hours. I am very sorry, but this debate came up in a hurry, and it was important to give people the chance to express their views. I have always respected my Hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who is very well intentioned. I support new clause 7 because developing a strategy is critical, and amendment 1, which is the decriminalisation amendment, but I am fundamentally opposed to new clause 6, because it is worrying, counter-productive and dangerous. New clause 22 would give us the opportunity and enough time to undertake a proper review.

I know that sex work is abhorrent for some Members. I must say that in the years since I convened some of the first meetings of the Ipswich Safety First campaign in this House, after five women were killed there, I have met a number of men and women who were not coerced into sex work and do not want their livelihoods to be curtailed by the proposed criminalisation of their clients. It is true that I have met many others who entered prostitution to overcome economic disadvantage—they suffered in poverty to enable them to pay the rent and put food on the table for their children—but that has been made worse by welfare benefit cuts, escalating housing costs and energy bills. The answer is not to criminalise any of their activities, but to tackle the underlying cause by not cutting welfare benefits and ensuring people have an affordable roof over their heads and giving them access to decent, paid employment.

The whole issue has focused on the idea that by stopping the supply of clients, prostitution will somehow disappear, as will all the exploitation, trafficking and violent abuse. The Swedish model has been suggested as an example, but there was absolutely overwhelming opposition to it in the briefings that I have circulated. Those briefings have come from charities such as Scot-Pep—the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project—which is funded by the state; the Royal College of Nursing, the nurses themselves; and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, which is another Government-funded organisation to get women and others off the game, that nevertheless says that the Swedish model would be counter-productive.

The Home Office has commissioned academic research, and I have circulated a letter from 30 academics from universities around the country that basically says that the proposed legislation is dangerous. We must listen to sex workers: the English Collective of Prostitutes, the Sex Worker Open University, the Harlots collective, the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe—flamboyant names, but they represent sex workers, and all are opposed to the criminalisation of clients.
Michael Connarty:
Could my hon. Friend quote some sources from Sweden? I understand that in Sweden they do not take that view.
John McDonnell:
I will come straight to that point, but let me go through the other organisations we have listened to: lawyers, human rights bodies such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and UN Aid, and even the women’s institute down in Hampshire—I warn hon. Members never to cross the women’s institute anywhere—as well as members of the Ipswich Safety First coalition who dealt with the deaths those years ago.

What is the consensus? It is that there is no evidence that criminalising clients as in the Swedish legislation reduces the number of either clients or sex workers. I could quote at length—time we have not got—from the Swedish Government’s report that demonstrates that there is no correlation between the legislation they introduced and a reduction in numbers of clients or sex workers.
Fiona Mactaggart:
My hon. Friend said that the Swedish Government have no evidence for that, which is true, but they did have evidence that the number of men who pay for sex in Sweden has gone down significantly.
John McDonnell:
That was one survey where men who were asked, “Do you pay for sex, because you could be prosecuted for it?” naturally said no. The evidence has been challenged. The other part of the consensus concerns the argument that other Governments are now acting and following the Swedish model, but South Africa has rejected it, and Scotland rejected it because measures on kerb crawling were introduced. In France, the Senate has rejected that model on the basis that sex workers will be put at risk. There are even threats of legal action in Canada on the issue of the safety and security of sex workers.

The other consensus that has come from these organisations is that not only do such measures not work, they actually cause harm. We know that because we undertook research through the Home Office in 2005-06. What did it say? Sex workers themselves were saying, “It means that we never have time to check out the clients in advance. We are rushed and pushed to the margins of society as a result, which does us harm.”

There are alternatives. I do not recognise the view on the implementation of decriminalisation in New Zealand mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough, because all the research says that it is working. Who says that we should look at decriminalisation? The World Health Organisation, UN Women and UNAIDS. I circulated a letter from Nigel Richardson, who is not just a lawyer who represents sex workers but also acts as a judge. He says that we can tackle abuse and sexual exploitation with existing laws.

I appeal to the House not to rush to legislate on such a contested issue where there is such conflicting research, evidence and views. New clause 22 would provide a way through as it would enable us to undertake the necessary research, consult, bring forward proposals, and legislate if necessary. I want to include in that consultation the New Zealand model and full decriminalisation. I am not in favour of legalisation; I am in favour of full decriminalisation. On that basis we should listen to those with experience. I convened some meetings with the Safety First coalition to brief Members on what it had done. It invested money in the individuals—£7,000 a prostitute—and it got people out of prostitution by investing money, not by decriminalising them.

Reverend Andrew Dotchin was a founder member of the Safety First coalition. He states:

“I strongly oppose clauses on prostitution in the Modern Slavery Bill, which would make the purchase of sex illegal. Criminalising clients does not stop prostitution, nor does it stop the criminalisation of women. It drives prostitution further underground, making it more dangerous and stigmatising for women.”

I fully support the Reverend Andrew Dotchin in his views.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A letter to the Anti-Slavery Joint Committee


Dear Mr Coffey, Dear Mr McDonnell and Members of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill,

I am a sex worker with over 20 years experience. I have worked in Ireland and all over the UK too, in many different formats, both independently and in brothels. It is my understanding that Fiona MacTaggart is aiming to ‘make the purchase of sex illegal, remove the criminal sanctions against prostituted women and provide support to women who want to leave prostitution’.

Fiona MacTaggart states that criminalising clients “has been shown to reduce sex trafficking ever since it was first adopted in Sweden in 1999”. In reality, there is no evidence to back that up, and the conflation of sex work and trafficking is one which has dogged the debate on sex work for years. I believe that it is a very deliberate conflation, placed into the discussion to benefit those who would profit from further criminalisation, the "rescue" organisations and NGO sector. It's worth asking, exactly who will be rescued ? I'd like to quote Nick Davies, in his excellent piece "Anatomy of a moral panic" -

In November 2008, Mactaggart repeated a version of the same claim when she told BBC Radio 4's Today in Parliament that "something like 80% of women in prostitution are controlled by their drug dealer, their pimp, or their trafficker." Again, there is no known source for this.

Challenged to justify this figure by a different Radio 4 programme, More or Less, in January 2009, Mactaggart claimed that it comes from the Home Office's 2004 report on prostitution, Paying the Price. But there is no sign of the figure in the report.

In the summer of 2004, The Poppy Project, which is committed to ending all prostitution on the grounds that it "helps to construct and maintain gender inequality", surveyed London prostitutes working in flats and found that 80% of them were foreign, a finding which is well supported. They then added, without any clear evidence, that "a large proportion of them are likely to have been trafficked into the country", a conclusion which is challenged by specialist police, but which was then recycled through numerous media reports and political claims.

Last year (2008), Poppy published a report called The Big Brothel, which claimed to be the most comprehensive study ever conducted into brothels in the UK and which claimed to have found "indicators of trafficking in every borough of London".

That report was subsequently condemned in a joint statement from 27 specialist academics who complained that it was "framed by a pre-existing political view of prostitution". The academics said there were "serious flaws" in the way that data had been collected and analysed; that the reliability of the data was "extremely doubtful"; and that the claims about trafficking "cannot be substantiated."


The health sector en masse recognise the benefits of decriminalisation for sex work. To quote Wendy Lyon - "The World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the UN Secretary General, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health – all of these have called for the removal of laws criminalising commercial sex between consenting adults, primarily because criminalisation is a recognised risk factor for HIV/AIDS."

Further, it is not acceptable to refer to sex workers as "prostituted women". In doing so, our agency is denied as is our ability to form a decision to enter the sex industry. It suggests that we cannot think for ourselves and is offensive.

Whilst I fully support the decriminalisation of street sex workers, that decriminalisation must be industry wide, so allow us to work together in safety in flats and brothels also. Sex work is the only occupation I can think of in the UK which compels a woman to work alone with the general public. It would never be asked of an A & E nurse to work a Friday night shift on her own, so I don't see why sex workers should have to.


The "Swedish model" as being held out by Ms. Taggart as an all knowing solution is problematic in the extreme, and goes not one jot towards a real solution to those who do experience violence and abuses within the industry. It is not possible to criminalise one half of a transaction without affecting both parties. If the purchasers of sex are criminalised, then that has ramifications for the sellers, too. Street sex workers report that they have very little time to make an assessment of their clients and as such are in greater danger, because they are more concerned with evading police attention. This is evidenced by the abolition of a tolerance zone in Edinburgh, when attacks on street sex workers went up by a staggering 95%. In further criminalising the sex work transaction, it sends out a message to potential abusers that sex workers are vulnerable, and alone. It further sends out a message that the state simply doesn't care about us, they would rather spend tax payers money on catching our clients than providing us with safe spaces to work from.


In conclusion, I would like to ask why Fiona MacTaggart feels she knows better than all of the above experts, but more importantly, sex workers. Our voices must be heard as we are experts on our own lives and know what is best for us. My contact details are on my website which is listed in my signature below, and I am happy to talk through any of the points raised above.

Yours sincerely,

Laura Lee

Sex Worker & Sex Workers' Rights Advocate

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Northern Ireland - We've only just begun.


I'm not going to lie, the last week has been a challenge, and by "challenge" I mean I felt like I was locked into one of those real life horror houses with blood drenched actors. Monday 20th saw a vote in the Northern Irish Assembly in favour of Lord Morrow's human trafficking bill, clause 6 of which effectively imposes the Swedish model, making it illegal to pay for sex.

In real terms what it means is this - the Justice Committee ignored the evidence of the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, respected publication The Lancet to name but a few, all of whom are in favour of decriminalisation, because it has been shown that further criminalisation does nothing but further harm those most at risk in the industry. But worse than that, they ignored the voices of those of us at the centre of the debate, sex workers. The Department of Justice commissioned research found that a staggering 98% of sex workers did not want this law, and that's not just in reference to internet savvy "happy hookers". The researchers interviewed those who had really suffered as a result of the industry, and STILL, they said no to further criminalisation.

In itself, ignoring sex workers is bad enough, but Paul Givan and Jim Wells took that one step further. As head of the Justice Committee, (he has since lost that role), Givan felt it was appropriate to quiz me about my personal sex life, my relationship with my dad and he also alleged that I target vulnerable disabled men. In a final act of arrogance, he said that "some of us don't need any evidence". When the head of a Justice Committee says that, it's time to become terrified. His colleague Jim Wells was equally horrid, as far as he's concerned there can be only vulnerable victims or members of the pimp lobby. No such thing as a sex worker who works independently to support her family and happens to care for the welfare of other sex workers then ? Don't be silly. That Jim Wells has now been appointed as Minister for Health in NI is just depressing, he as shown complete contempt for women over and over again, together with just about every minority group you can think of.

So who in their right minds said yes to a model proven to harm ? Well, CARE had a lot of influence here, as a fundamentalist Christian group they pledged to set up sheltered housing to save "fallen women" in case we become, and I quote, "drug dealers". I'm not sure if the model of locking up "problematic" women whilst enjoying massive government funding is ringing any bells with you, but it sure is with me. I'm terrified that this will be the outcome. All through the process, I appealed to Lord Morrow's good sense. Sure, he can refer to himself as the "hand of Wilberforce", but for me, it takes a very brave man to stand up against the puritans and say - "Erm, trafficking is already an offence. Rape is already an offence. The PSNI don't want this law, the Minister for Justice doesn't want this law, and crucially; sex workers don't want this law, so why are we even looking at this ?" That is exactly the stance that Basil McCrea and several other MLA's took and they will forever have the admiration of all of us who worked so hard to have the law stopped. Quite why the UUP and Sinn Fein did a last minute about turn, I'll never know, but I was bitterly disappointed and angered by their stance.

So what now ? Now we're faced with a situation where sex workers are afraid to liaise with the police, afraid to take on new clients who may or may not be testing the waters, and this in spite of the fact that the bill won't actually become law until Spring. Amusingly, there was a last minute amendment tabled which decriminalised the women working on the street, I guess this is the carrot they feel they can dangle. The reality is this, we are still not decriminalised in that we cannot work together for safety, so any chest beating they are doing around that safety element is, I'm afraid, complete crap. No, their idea is to force women out of shared apartments where they work in safety and on to the streets. Why ? So they can be rescued, by the rescue industry with their funding applications at the ready. That's why. "Put them where we can see them, that boosts our figures and justifies more funding". The reality is that if two women work together for safety in an apartment in Northern Ireland, they are both deemed "victims", but can BOTH be convicted of "pimping" from each other. So we are compelled to work alone, and in danger since 81 MLA's made it abundantly plain that they couldn't care less what happens to us.

And that, I'm afraid, is what it really has come down to. Sex workers in Northern Ireland are seen as no more than a tool to elevate political status and line the pockets of those already profiting from doing very little for the very desperate.

Though these are sad and frightening times, we can't give up campaigning for real decriminalisation, and for good policing practices. Whilst Ruhama and Turn off the Red Light continue to pocket hundreds of thousands of tax payers money obtained through lies, and whilst sex workers struggle to feed their children in a recession, there's work to be done.

LL xx

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Press release 19/10/2014


PRESS RELEASE

Tomorrow (Monday 20th October) the Northern Ireland Assembly will vote on the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill. Clause 6 will criminalise the purchase of sex, between consenting adults.

This Bill has been put forward by the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) backed by the fundamentalist religious organisation CARE (Christian Action Research and Education). CARE's solution is to "rescue" sex workers (heavily funded by the government) and lock them away in secure housing in case we become "drug dealers". Is that 'solution' not ringing any bells ? Women’s Aid have also given their wholehearted support to this Bill. Women’s Aid claim to represent ‘women’ but like the nuns in the Magdalene laundries before them they are putting their brutal ideology and financial interest over those of us in the sex industry who choose what we do. Women’s Aid have never engaged with sex workers nor have they shown any inclination to do so. Our views and opinions are aren’t worth a grain of salt to them. Women’s Aid need to remember that it was the issue of ‘choice’ that defined the feminist movement and by aligning with the DUP on this issue they have set the feminist cause in NI back decades. Will Women’s Aid now be joining the DUP to have the Marie Stopes clinic shut down? And this is choice ?

Sinn Féin, the second largest political party recognises that this Bill is flawed insofar as it is based on ideology not evidence and will lead to an increase in risks and dangers to sex workers. But Sinn Féin MLAs haven’t held firm to what they know to be true and are unlikely to oppose it. Thus it will pass.

The Department of Justice published independent research into prostitution in Northern Ireland on Friday 17th October clearly showing that criminalising the purchase of sex will not achieve the stated aims but will harm sex workers. Crucially, this research took the views and opinions of sex workers into account, a first for NI. However, Northern Ireland’s politicians are ignoring the evidence and throwing sex workers under the bus. Will sex workers in NI have to wait decades for an apology just as the Magdalene women did ? Or will that apology for bad law making come after the first murder, or fourth serious assault perhaps ? It remains to be seen, but they cannot for a moment pretend they didn't have the evidence available to do right by an already marginalised and stigmatised group. Sex workers will suffer, and it could have been prevented by the courageous actions of a few. Instead we have been let down by the cowardice of many.

Laura Lee
Sex Workers' Rights Activist

Protest at Stormont - Monday 20th October


STOP CRIMINALISATION: SAFETY FIRST !!

Sex workers and allies -

PROTEST AGAINST THE CRIMINALISATION OF THE PURCHASE OF SEX.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Monday 20 October, 4pm-5pm.


On Monday 20th October the Northern Ireland Assembly will vote on the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill. This Bill includes a clause which will criminalise the purchase of sex.

This Bill has been put forward by the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) backed by CARE (Christian Action Research and Education). Sinn Féin, the second largest party, is believed to have now decided not to not oppose it. Thus it will pass.

The Department of Justice published independent research into prostitution in Northern Ireland on Friday 17th October clearly showing that criminalising the purchase of sex will not achieve the stated aims but will harm sex workers. However Northern Ireland’s politicians are ignoring the evidence and throwing sex workers under the bus.

I am calling for a protest.

Red umbrellas and sex worker rights banners are encouraged. Sex workers are highly stigmatised in Northern Ireland and thus masks are welcome. Masks will also be made available on the day.

Some of the findings of the recently published Northern Ireland research are:

Only 2% of sex workers support criminalising the purchase of sex.

Sex workers worry that criminalisation of clients will lead to a potential decrease in security, worsen working conditions and increase risks of violence and other abuse. Another common concern is that criminalisation of clients will lead to the increased involvement of organised crime groups and ‘pimps’ in the sex industry;

61% of NI-based sex workers feel criminalising the purchase of sex will make them less safe.

There is likely to be significant difficulties with enforcement of the law. PSNI officers who took part in the research noted that, in their opinion, a sex purchase ban would be difficult to enforce and would be largely ineffective in reducing the level of trafficking in sexual exploitation.

85% of sex workers believe the law will not reduce sex trafficking.

Only 8% of respondents to the client survey said it would make them stop paying for sex altogether.

Stigmatisation and the related fear of exposure constitutes a very significant issue for the sex workers who took part in the study, it ranked above all other concerns.

The full research report is available here:

http://www.dojni.gov.uk/index/media-centre/independent-research-into-prostitution-in-northern-ireland-published.htm

LL xx

Monday, 6 October 2014

Ego versus evidence


As my regular readers will know, there are several things I cannot abide. Top of the list must be -

- Nuns
- Abolitionists who lie (see "Nuns")
- Bullies
- Those who spout off with no knowledge and an abundance of spite.

Meet Jeremy Wilson, who neatly ticks off the last two on my list. Recently, he wrote this piece in an attempt to undermine the credibility of Brooke Magnanti, a lady I'm sure you need no introduction to, who also happens to be a friend. Now, I know Brooke is a big girl and can look after herself, so whenever someone has a go at her in the media or on Twitter, I stop and ask, is it patronising of me to jump in ? Then I remember the number of times she has had my back and answer my own question.

The first claim made by Wilson is that Brooke may not have worked as a call girl at all. As a fellow escort I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that she did. We have discussed the industry at length and there is a code, turns of phrases and common parlance employed with a wink and nod, which leave me in no doubt. In the same way you could very quickly establish that a lawyer is not all that he claims to be if he can't answer the very basic question, "What did Fisher v Bell [1961] establish in contract law ?", then Brooke was a call girl.

Next, our intrepid investigator goes on to question if Brooke could really have earned £300 an hour. In short, of course she could. There was then, and still is, an elite set of both escorts and clients, particularly in London. Aside from his bitchy jibes about looks, Wilson misses the point in spectacular fashion. At that end of the market, clients are not just paying for beauty or indeed youth. It's a package deal, and a highly intelligent woman who can hold her own in any company or setting will always do well. Further, at that end of the market, clients are paying for discretion too, which is huge, and also the reason no client has "come forward". Gosh, does the fact that none of my clients have ever publicly identified themselves mean I don't exist ? I'm pretty sure I do, although I can think of several lying abolitionists who would wish for the opposite.

Going from ill informed to just plain stupid, Wilson continues "there are established online spaces where men anonymously recall their time with prostitutes", referring to Punternet. Whilst it's true that Punternet has been online since 1999, allow me to introduce some facts, something my new favourite blogger seems to be adverse to. "There are no reports for Taro, therefore she didn't exist !" Erm, no. It is common practice for an agency when closing to request that all of their reviews be removed, and as webmaster, being the obliging sort he is, Galahad will do it. Alpha Babes closed in 2009 (approx) and Punternet has also had several over hauls since then. Archives have been lost, meaning some reviews went too. The main point to be made here though, is that (strap yourselves in for this one) - NOT EVERY CLIENT WRITES REVIEWS, PARTICULARLY THOSE WHO PAY TOP DOLLAR. Heard of discretion at all ?

Whilst it's true that I have a lot of reviews, remember that I've been working online and in the UK since 2006, Brooke worked for 18 months, in 2003/2004, when reviews and indeed independents were less usual. Remember also, that I have openly mentioned that I have some pretty high profile clients. 95% of those have never written a review in their lives, neither do they email, to avoid a trail. They call, they book, we meet, that's it. There is no obligation on a client to write a review, and I know for a fact that were I to suggest it to some of my guys, they would never call me again.

Saving the best 'til last, the font of all knowledge goes on to say - "Brooke Magnanti has been almost solely responsible for cultivating the myth of the "happy hooker." Utter codswallop. "The Happy Hooker" was the name of a book written by Xaviera Hollander in 1971, four years before Brooke was born, so unless you can add time travel to the list of her talents ....Brooke has been very forthright in saying that as a migrant, she had very little options available to her, and she's happy with the choices she made, though the sex trade is not for everyone. It really is as simple as that. Never once has she painted a rosy picture, in fact if memory serves me correctly, when Secret Diary of a Call Girl was televised, she tweeted - "Where's the gore ? The fisting ?" As someone who has scrubbed toilets for a living, I don't think Brooke glamourises anything. What she does do, is break down the myths and statistics around sex work, and around her perceived life. Which of the two do you suppose makes Wilson more uncomfortable ? Your guess is as good as mine.

LL xx

Addendum : I incorrectly attributed the article originally. Mea culpa. Another writer at Breitbart is equally culpable in the continued sustained attacks on Brooke - Milo Yiannopoulos. Check out his article here, and his constant badgering on Twitter as @Nero.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Hoarding versus hookers


See, here's the thing, I'm often accused of glamourising the industry. I honestly don't think I do, in fact I've written in the past about how I spend a lot of my time talking newbies OUT of joining the sex industry, but for those who still think I do, here's a tale of woe. Incidentally, I wouldn't recommend reading this whilst tucking into your dinner.

A long time ago and in a town far away, I had a call. The voice was articulate, pronounced and filled me with visions of deep filled hot tubs and chilled glasses of champagne. I'll admit, I was naughty and looked up the address on Google maps. Well, this would be a treat. Discretion he said, was paramount. Status, you know.

After a two hour drive, I found the house. It was well off the beaten track and very beautiful. Pulling into the carpark, I sent my guy a text message to say I had arrived and my heart did a little dance when the reply came - "On my way". I suppose I had a vision of Downton Abbey - "Let's get rid of the pesky house staff so we can be absolutely filthy." Reality, I'm afraid, hit me hard across the face and dunked my head down the toilet whilst continuously flushing for good measure.

From within the bowels of that beautiful building came an apparition. Oh, the accent was still in evidence but picture if you will, the father from Steptoe and Son and you're half way there. Before me stood a man in tracksuit bottoms which can best be described as crusty, insofar as they could have stood up and walked to the washing machine on their own. One hand was gamely picking his ear wax as the other was rooting in the under carriage of his tracksuit bottoms on his approach. It was the latter hand which was drawn out to meet me and ever the professional (shut it), I shook his hand. "Delighted to meet you, I'm Laura." He didn't speak, but rather continued to massage his lower lip in a quasi menacing fashion whilst looking me up and down. "BAGS ?"

I offered him my overnight bag from the boot of my car and made to follow him into the house. Oh, this was bad. His sweater was obviously bearing the remnants of several evening meals without any apologies to anyone. I needed time to think. "Could we have tea, do you think, before, you know ....?" He smiled and led the way to the lounge and here, I began to appreciate the issue. He had, he explained, had a very acrimonious break up with his wife and as they both loved the house and couldn't bear to sell it, they reached an agreement to split it down the middle. Literally. So, as he didn't cook, the kitchen was hers and his kettle etc, was in the lounge.

That wouldn't have been a problem, had we been able to see the kettle, or even the floor. Very often I've watched hoarding programs on television and wondered how on earth people can live like that and if it's made up. I'm here to tell you, it isn't. Hoarding would have been one thing but it was the abject filth that went with it which got me. Piles and piles of pizza boxes, empty beer cans, bottles of spirits, chippy wrappers, dirty clothes, over flowing ashtrays and what I'll always remember, hundreds and hundreds of VHS porn videos. The bathroom was indescribable, with cigarette butts crushed into the sink, a toilet that should have been referred to the World Health Organisation and in the last word in irony, an air freshener hanging from the door to the shower with a display of mould and spider webs.

Leading me through to the bedroom, which he proudly displayed with a sweep of his arm, I surveyed the scene in utter dismay. Here was a single bed I suspect rats would avoid. As sexily as I could, I slowly began to strip, taking an extraordinary amount of time in removing each item of carefully chosen clothing. As he neared closer, it was now I began to notice that his teeth didn't quite meet in the way they ought to and in fact clacked when he was talking. He peeled off his sweater to reveal a chest which was dark with dirt, that's the only way I can describe it. From there, he ran his yellow, calloused, fingers up the inside of my thighs, whilst leaning into my neck. "I want you", he breathed, and drew me closer. Nothing, but NOTHING prepared me for the bonus, that thick layer of green scum over his tongue. As his head dipped towards me, I won't say I shouted, it was more of a guttural scream.

"I CAN'T DO THIS. I'M SO SORRY I HAVE A MIGRAINE. YOU CAN HAVE YOUR MONEY BACK."

"Oh for fuck sake, you're the third escort I just couldn't click with."

There are times, when to bite your tongue rather than point out the screamingly obvious green furry one, is the far better option.

Now, ask yourself, still think I glamourise the industry ? Still think I paint a picture of some euphoric utopia ? And while I'm on it, still think that because a man pays a sex worker, we have to do exactly what he says ? The answer to all the above is no, a refund was issued, resulting in a drive home and a very grateful dive in to my pyjamas. Never has one woman been more glad to see her cowprint onesie.

LL xx

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

They shoot hookers, don't they ?


Guest post on the recent shootings of sex workers in Baghdad.

They certainly do in Baghdad.

But where is the outrage from the Fem Nazis? Where is the team of ‘British specialists’ sent out to Baghdad to investigate by our Prime Minister David Cameron? Where is Michelle Obama gormlessly holding up a #BringBackOurGirls sign? Where is the hysterical Twitter campaign?

Perhaps if we were to relabel those women as ‘vulnerable victims of evil sex traffickers’ their death might attract more sympathy? As independent women, standing tall amidst the chaos of Baghdad, supporting themselves, not relying on some well funded NGO organisation to ‘rescue’ them, or a politically correct British barrister to demand the removal of their ‘demeaning’ burka, they were, as with the proverbial British Rail ‘wrong kind of snow on the line’ – simply the ‘wrong kind of women’ to be deserving of the ritual hand wringing on the six o’clock news.

A year and a day after the infamous ‘Swedish model‘ killed Petite Jasmine, on 12 July 2014 Iraqi abolitionists gunned down 29 sex workers in an apartment building in Baghdad.

That is exactly what happened, in simple words.

An abolitionist is an abolitionist, and an extremist is an extremist whether Radfem or Muslim. It is a little bit moot whether you kill someone with a bullet or by making their lives impossible while cranking up the stigmas with hate speech (the preferred method in Europe and America).

You are still just as dead, and in my honest opinion the bullet is quicker and cleaner.

This is not hyperbole either, on 8 July the French Senate voted to remove the clauses penalising sex buyers from proposed legislation, leaving behind only decriminalisation and provision of exit resources. Their argument was that, properly examined, it is clear that ‘Swedish model’ legislation does not work in terms of reducing the sex industry, but has a significant negative impact on sex workers and places their safety at considerable risk – just common sense really.

The remaining argument to be made against that by abolitionists involves attacking sex workers head on, much as beauty queens were once attacked, as complicit enemies of gender equality. A few days ago that seemed a good thing that would show the true viciousness and callous indifference of the abolitionist movement for what it is. Today I am not so sure.

“The apartment complex is known for prostitution and in the past prostitutes have been the targets of extrajudicial killings there by Muslim extremists. It was not clear if that was what happened this time. However, if the targets were prostitutes, it is unlikely that would cause the kind of backlash that a large-scale sectarian killing would.“

People know very little about Iraq. It has often been presented in the media as a primitive country not unlike the Yemen. In the real world, Iraq, land of the Tigris and Euphrates, was the cradle of civilisation, and its indigenous people and culture are more closely related to the Jews than the Bedouins, while being unique and very different to both.

Iraq was a sophisticated country before the Ottoman Empire, let alone before the first Gulf war. In truth Iraq was a pretty sophisticated country before Abraham. Sadly, like any old and sophisticated culture Iraq tends to fast breed political intrigue, much of it toxic, hence the apparently endless trouble.

Regardless, you can forget any image of Iraqi sex workers as illiterate peasant girls. It doesn’t work that way in Iraq.

Salon.com Joshua E. S. Phillips 25 June 2005 – Unveiling Iraq’s teenage prostitutes

Cnn.com Arwa Damon August 16 2007 – Iraqi women: Prostituting ourselves to feed our children

Al Monitor July 9 2009 – Iraq’s Prostitutes Inhabit a Dark, Dangerous World

Wikipedia: Prostitution in Iraq

Blip.TV (video) – Alive in Baghdad Iraqi Refugees Forced Into Prostitution

CNN (video) November 2009 – Prostitution in Iraq

Some of it is exaggerated, most of it is spun to agenda, except for the noticeable absence of anyone with the raw cheek to suggest that ‘ending the demand’ would be in any way helpful.

(Listen to their stories, where on earth would any ‘Swedish model’ fit in constructively?)

What I want you to take in is the element of ‘same old…same old’ particularly in the videos.

The women who were gunned down by people who wanted to abolish them are just like any other sex workers in the media, they are just like you, and they are just like me.

They were my sisters and they were yours, just as much as Jasmine, and they are just as violently dead. I cannot help wondering about the coincidence. The first anniversary of Jasmine’s death fell on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, and I am not sure how that works. It may have the same weight as the Jewish Sabbath with some Muslims.

If ever there were a clearer message that *STIGMA KILLS* I have not seen it.

…and the Western Press brushes it under the carpet. So far the UK and Irish press are mostly ignoring it apart from a brief piece in the Telegraph. The Irish Times makes reference to the death of ’29 women in an apartment block’ but no mention that they were sex workers, despite the fact that ‘punished for prostitution’ was written on the door of the building like an edict.

The BBC went with ‘At least 20 of those killed were said to be women’ - ‘said to be women‘? Obviously not the ‘right kind of women’ for anyone to be sure! ‘The motive for the killings is not clear‘ continues the BBC copy – despite then quoting:

Writing left on the door of one of the buildings read: “This is the fate of any prostitution,” AFP news agency reports.

Locals in Zayouna have accused Shia militias of killing women thought to be prostitutes, Reuters news agency reported. The neighbourhood is a mixed district of Sunni and Shia Muslims.

A brothel in Zayouna was attacked in May 2013, with seven women and five men shot dead.

Only for the BBC is the motive ‘unclear’…

Of course there is a punchline that changes everything. I have done a lot of research no journalist seems to have bothered with today.

Several European services regularly book tours for ‘Escorts’ – another euphemism – in Iraq, there is also some evidence of British sex workers operating in Iraq.

Stand by for the hysteria when it is discovered that one of those murdered women was a British passport holder, a ‘child’ no less, enslaved by evil jihadists…until then…