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

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