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.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

A letter to the Irish Times


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


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