UK Puntering, Pimping & Trafficking Laws

The UK Home Affairs Parliamentary Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into prostitution. Preparing a written submission to that inquiry led me to look at the existing legislation against punters, pimps, and trafficking. The more I looked into it, the more it seemed to me that the legislation is deeply flawed, ineffective, and does not meet our binding obligations under international treaties. In this article I reflect on the legislation and how it suggests that there never was an intention to make it an effective tool for tackling these appalling crimes. As women who see prostitution as both a cause and consequence of women’s subordination, we need to work much harder.

Note: The legislation varies between the different countries in the UK. This article focuses on the English legislation.

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Do You Want to Decriminalise Murder Too, Dear Jeremy?

corbynThis is a slightly edited version of the email I sent to Jeremy Corbyn on Friday, 4th March, in response to the report that he supports the full decriminalisation of the sex industry. If you also want to write to Jeremy about this issue, the email address is leader@labour.org.uk.

 

Dear Jeremy Corbyn

I support what you are doing in many ways, so I was devastated to learn in the Guardian today that you support the full decriminalisation of the sex industry. You are reported as saying, “I am in favour of decriminalising the sex industry. I don’t want people to be criminalised. I want to be [in] a society where we don’t automatically criminalise people. Let’s do things a bit differently and in a bit more civilised way.”

Does this mean that you think murderers should not be criminalised? What about rapists? What about people who smoke in pubs?

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The Child Abuse – Prostitution Continuum

This article is about connections between child abuse and prostitution – about how the sex industry eats (mostly) women and children who have been damaged by child abuse and how prostitution conditions men to abuse children. I draw on personal stories that you may find upsetting. You should find them upsetting. This stuff affects real people. It is happening all around us. Today. This minute. As Rebecca Mott said in her moving speech at Feminism in London 2015, shutting your eyes doesn’t make the bad stuff disappear.

Willow’s story

This is how Willow* told me her story.

“When I was nine, I was sexually abused by an adolescent neighbour. Let’s call him Jake. It wasn’t the first time I’d been abused. Three adults had been there before him. But what was different with Jake was that it went on for nearly two years and sometimes I initiated it. Looking back, I can see that I went to him because I was so deprived of love and healthy attention that that shameful contact seemed better than no contact, better than never being touched, never being treated with affection. From the outside, it would have looked like consent. But what does that mean? I wanted love and affection. I wanted to be held by safe arms. I had no wish for genital contact. It was several years before I even began puberty.

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1 in 10 UK Men are Punters? I Don’t Buy It

It is generally claimed that about 1 in 10 men in the UK have paid for sex. For example, according to research collated by The John’s Chart, between 7 and 9% of men in the UK report having paid for sex at least once in their lifetimes. But the maths simply does not add up to such a low percentage.

According to a 2009 US government report, the number of people in prostitution in the UK was estimated at 100,000. That’s a lot of people and the majority of those are female, so for simplicity I will refer to them as women. At least 99% of the punters are male.

Now let’s assume that each of those women in prostitution “sees” five punters a day, five days a week, 40 weeks a year. That’s 1,000 punters a year.

5 * 5 * 40 = 1,000

Of course, some women will have fewer punters, but we also read reports of pimped and trafficked women being forced to have 10 or even 20 punters a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. So 1,000 punters a year seems like a reasonable estimate of the average.

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120 Questions for Amnesty

Download PDF of this article.

On 24 August 2015, I published What Amnesty Did Wrong in which I laid out many errors that Amnesty made in developing its proposal for the full decriminalisation of all aspects of “consensual sex work”. This proposal had been passed as a resolution at a meeting of the International Council in Dublin two weeks earlier (referred to as “the resolution” in this article).

In September, members of an internal Amnesty USA discussion forum requested that Amnesty USA respond to all of the points that I raised in that article. On 22 September 2015, Terry Rockefeller replied to the forum on “behalf of the Board and the Priorities Subcommittee” declining to respond to the article because it was “filled with errors and rumors”. She failed to explain who made the errors or what she consider to be rumours. I believe Amnesty needs to clarify this. In order to make it easier for Amnesty to answer the points I raised, I have reframed them as simple questions and include additional questions that arise from Terry Rockefeller’s reply. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list.

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Amnesty’s Response

Download PDF of this article.

On 24 August 2015, I published What Amnesty Did Wrong, in which I laid out many errors that Amnesty made in developing its proposal for the full decriminalisation of all aspects of “consensual sex work”. This proposal had been passed as a resolution at a meeting of the International Council in Dublin two weeks earlier (referred to as “the resolution” in this article).

In September, members of an internal Amnesty USA discussion forum requested that Amnesty USA respond to all of the points that I raised in that article. Below is a response from Terry Rockefeller to the forum on “behalf of the Board and the Priorities Subcommittee”, followed by a few observations of my own.

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What Amnesty Did Wrong

At a meeting in Dublin on 11 August 2015, Amnesty International’s International Council adopted a resolution to authorise their International Board to develop and adopt a policy on “sex work”. Here is a quote from their press release:

“Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse.

The resolution recommends that Amnesty International develop a policy that supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work. The policy will also call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.

“We recognize that this critical human rights issue is hugely complex and that is why we have addressed this issue from the perspective of international human rights standards. We also consulted with our global movement to take on board different views from around the world,” said Salil Shetty.” [emphasis mine]

The resolution calls not only for the decriminalisation all those involved in prostitution (which all feminist groups call for) but also for the decriminalisation of pimps, punters and brothel owners who are the main perpetrators of the violence and abuse against those in prostitution. This proposal is essentially for the legalisation of prostitution and the entire sex trade. (You can quibble about semantics but when something is not criminal it becomes legal.)

How Amnesty International went about developing this proposal and consulting on it was problematical. In this article I summarise some of the issues. Many others have written eloquently on why the policy itself is misguided (for example, Chris Hedges, Michelle Kelly and Catriona Grant). In this article I focus on the duplicitous nature of Amnesty’s actions. Please use the comments to add additional relevant information.

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On Choice, Agency and the Nordic Model

Choice and Agency

One of the criticisms that regularly gets directed at feminists who critique prostitution is that we are denying the “choice” or “agency” of the women because they have “freely chosen” prostitution. This is disconcerting when it comes from our leftwing comrades, because (a) they don’t accuse us of denying the “choice” or “agency” of workers who are trapped on zero-hour contracts when we critique those, for example, and (b) it echoes the neoliberal argument that justifies zero-hour contracts and other exploitative practices by saying the workers choose them and so to criticise those practices is to deny the workers their “choice” and “agency”.

We don’t buy that neoliberal argument in any other arena. Because it is completely obvious to all of us, I am sure, that critiquing zero-hour contracts is not a criticism of the workers on them. We understand that many workers have few options and most people who accept zero hour contracts do so because they don’t actually have much choice or social or economic power.

So why is it that when we point out that most women in prostitution are there because of a lack of options rather than a real choice (between, say, prostitution and a nice job in banking, nursing or IT), are we accused of attacking those women’s “agency”?

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Euphemisms are dangerous

Ruthless people love euphemisms because they obscure the truth. So the inevitable and predictable deaths of civilians and the destruction of civil amenities in war are hidden behind the innocuous term “collateral damage” and genocide is hidden behind the bland “ethnic cleansing” and so on. Euphemisms are dangerous because they make it harder for us to see and understand the abuses of the powerful. And if we can’t see and understand something, we have no hope of resisting it.

But not only this. Euphemisms also make it easier for us to go along with something that we would know was wrong if it were named honestly. For example, it’s much easier to get a soldier to kill a member of a different community if they are told they are cleaning up society than if it were named correctly as murder.

“Sex work” and “sex worker”

“Sex work” and “sex worker” are euphemisms. These terms were first coined in the late 1970s and were taken up as part of a deliberate attempt to normalise and sanitise prostitution. By shifting the language from the word “prostitution” which is ugly and conjures up something of its reality, to “sex work” which sounds wholesome and healthy, it has become harder for us all to see and understand and resist the reality. The reality that prostitution is not simply another job like being a waitress.

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Prostitution – Time for a New Paradigm

Why do women fear rape?

Sex is great, right?

Rape is sex and sex is great. So why do women almost universally fear rape and go to lengths to avoid it?

Is it because they are prudes?

Is it because they just need a good fuck to loosen up?

Is it? Is it?

No.

Rape is sex against a woman’s will[1]. And there is no easier way of showing her that she is powerless. That she is dirt. That she is a member of female – the subordinate sex caste – and she should remember it. And the rapist is a man – a member of the dominant sex caste. And she shouldn’t ever forget that either.

To force sex on someone is an assault on that person’s very humanity. Because our sexuality is intrinsic to who we are as human beings. Our sexual integrity is fundamental to our sense of self.

So when our sexual integrity is violated, our whole sense of self is violated. And recovery from that is easier said than done.

That is why women fear rape. And also of course because rapists sometimes kill.

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