delve a little deeper....
I have already written about this in this blog, but I wanted to add some further food for thought.
It has been announced that The All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade (APPG) are launching an inquiry to assess the current UK legal settlement surrounding prostitution. They wish to identify how legislation to tackle demand could safeguard those in danger of sexual exploitation and abuse.
A survey has now been published to gather data for this inquiry. I am urging you, whether as a punter or sex worker to complete it. This is the link.
I will follow this blog with one on some thoughts on how to fill it in if you're stuck!
As with the Scottish bill and anything most anti prostitution feminists say the onus is on those who are victims and who are abused. Hooray! Of course, we all want those who are violating women and forcing them into prostitution dealing with. We want women to be able to work safely and have confidence that the law will look after them.
However, I already had a sneaky suspicion that the tone for this inquiry has been set. I shall quote Mr Shuker, the chair of the APPG again.
"While a minority of women who enter prostitution claim to do so willingly, for the overwhelming majority it is a result of contributing factors including previous sexual abuse, debt, drugs, coercion, homelessness, domestic violence and others."
Secondly, the project is funded by CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) and whilst one dislikes stereotyping I’m fairly sure that Christian groups tend not to look favourably on any type of prostitution.
The problem of course is that there is a whole raft of types of women in prostitution, but of course certain groups (the church, feminists, MPs, the unworldly) like to browbeat us with the notion that prostitution is violence against women, no woman wants to be a prostitute and that they are all drug addicts, victims, mentally unstable etc etc.
I decided to find a little more out about the members of the APPG. We already know the chair’s opinion so who else is in this gallery of rogues? The full list of the APPG members can be found here.
Let us look at Fiona MacTaggart-
Pretty well known in her views on prostitution. In 2008, on the BBC’s Today in Parliament programme Mactaggart said "Something like 80% of women in prostitution are controlled by their drug dealer, their pimp, or their trafficker."When questioned on her claim she stated that it "came from an official Government publication into prostitution and the sex trade". However, The Home Office have stated that they "do not endorse or use the figure that 80 per cent of prostitutes are controlled by others". In January 2009 MacTaggart told the House of Commons that she regarded all women prostitutes as the victims of trafficking, because their route into the sector "almost always involves coercion, enforced addiction to drugs and violence from their pimps or traffickers."
In May 2011, she went further and said "I don't think most men who use prostitutes think of themselves as child abusers, but they are"
Although to be fair to her, back in 2006 she did tell the BBC:
"What we have a responsibility to do as a government is to make sure that women who are involved in prostitution are safe and one of the ways of doing that is making sure that where two women are working together from a flat they don't face a 14 year sentence."
Hmmm, not sure what changed...
Baroness O’Cathain said in May 2009 (regarding Clause 14 of the Policing and Crime Bill) that she would have preferred an outright ban on prostitution.
So already we can see that possibly some of the members have quite strong opinions about what they think about prostitution. How can an inquiry be unbiased when such people are responsible for it. Whilst I haven’t found anything much relevant on other members I certainly haven’t found any of them to have a positive, more rounded view on the subject.
Note the official purpose of this inquiry is this-
To raise awareness of the impact of the sale of sexual services on those involved and to develop proposals for government action to tackle individuals who create demand for sexual services as well as those who control prostitutes; to protect prostituted women by helping them to exit prostitution and to prevent girls from entering prostitution.
I have highlighted the section that basically means that they have already decided that individuals who pay for sex require tackling. That means men (and women) who pay for sex could well be criminalised, as per the proposals in Scotland (and other countries). This is a big fucking deal. I've written about this before so won't repeat myself again.
The Good News
Yes, there is some! All Party Groups are informal, cross-party interest groups that have no official status within Parliament and are not accorded any powers or funding by it (Hence the funding by CARE) They should not be confused with select committees, which are formal institutions of the House. More here if you're interested.
Therefore they have no real power, but of course do need to be taken seriously on the basis responses received may be used to formulate a new proposed bill.
The other good news is that the Lib Dens are likely to be against criminalising those who pay for sex. In the run up to the last general election Lib Dems were in favour of the decriminalise brothels and prostitution in general. Official policy documents stated “We would establish a system to regulate the activities of privately-operated brothels.”
Therefore with the current coalition government there is a chance it won’t go anywhere, especially seeing as there are plenty of other issues that Cameron is busy with. Whilst this might sound like something the Tories would get on top of in reality it isn’t. Public opinion would probably go along the lines of ‘Haven’t they got anything better to do?!’ That and it’s common knowledge Tory men are kinky deviants! *insert winky smiley face*
However, if (and it’s currently looking likely) the Tories don’t get in again, Labour probably won’t let this one drop. Harriet Harman was pretty determined that it become illegal to pay for sex.
Finally, remember the poor coerced, trafficked abused women mentioned earlier? Well, yes they do exist. Statistics are hard to find, and remember Operation Pentameter? If not read this but where abuse does exist it does need dealing with and women should be able to get off the streets and work in safe environments. Noone on the pro prostitution side denies that trafficked women are out there and the last thing I want is for people to think I'm dismissing those who are exploited.
Michelle Sweeney is an Anti Human Trafficking Activist. There is an interview with her here.
The work and fundraising she does is amazing and her passion is inspiring, but she does say when asked about what legal improvements would help stop trafficking,
"All men who are thinking about buying sex should bear in mind that it’s usually trafficking victims who are affected. I often wonder if the people buying sex would think differently if they knew that the people they were buying it from were in fact victims of human trafficking, if they knew that they were in fact raping a woman or maybe even a child, would they stop buying sex? So again, educating the men in our communities that slavery still exists in the form of sex trafficking might help end the demand side of the issue."
That's pretty emotive and she believes that by stopping demand the need to supply would vanish. I don't think it's as straight cut as that. I think most men who pay for sex would hate the idea of seeing a trafficked woman and I know from personal conversations with my clients that they are repulsed at the idea of seeing a forced woman and actively choose independent women. I also think the criminal element wouldn't give a toss and the kind of men we escorts don't want to see would carry on and the ones we do are more likely to stop for fear of prosecution. Criminalising our clients would of course have detrimental effect on business and would probably force women to see dangerous clients or offer services they don't want to do to survive.
We also need to consider that there are laws currently in place to tackle this. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 made it illegal to buy sex from anyone aged under 18 and introduced tough penalties for trafficking adults and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Other crimes associated with prostitution such rape, assault and theft are all covered under the law, and although I appreciate many women are less likely to report a crime against them if they are a prostitute. If the laws on women working together was removed maybe there would be less fear of repercussion when the worst happens and the police should be called.
The issue of paid sex is emotive and far more complicated once you scratch the surface. What we can't allow is a broad sweep that decrees all men who pay for sex are bad and all women who offer the service need rescuing We can't let the 'antis' pull on the heartstrings to push through laws that will leave many women more vulnerable.
This is why we need to act now and make the voices of intelligent, decent, law abiding service providers and clients heard.
You have until February 4th to complete the survey.
I will try and write a guide to completing it over the next couple of days. Don't get me started on the bias of the questions though!