This was my speech in the closing session at Feminism in London on 23 October 2010.
I am here as the chair of the committee who organised this day to thank all those who have helped to make it happen.
A year ago when we started to plan this event, we faced the choice of booking Conway Hall again in the knowledge that it was too small even last year or of taking a leap and booking this bigger and significantly more expensive venue.
We decided to take that leap and soon realised we needed to build a bigger and stronger committee, which has now grown to about 15 women. And I don’t think you could find 15 more resourceful and generous and passionate women if you tried. We range in age from early 20s to late 50s, we are lesbian and we are straight, we are black and we are white. Some of us are mothers and some of us are not or not yet; one of us gave birth this summer. All of us have fitted this work around day jobs, families and personal crises. Rather than list all their names, I thought I would randomly tell you about a few of us. Continue reading “My Speech at Feminism in London 2010”
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.
Continue reading “1 in 10 UK Men are Punters? I Don’t Buy It”
Tomorrow, 23 October 2015, women from all around the world will be protesting Amnesty’s proposal for full decriminalization of the sex trade, including pimps and punters. I have written elsewhere about the shambles of how Amnesty went about developing this proposal, consulting on it and its so-called research.
I have written 120 Questions that Amnesty needs to answer before going any further with this proposal. I am still waiting for Amnesty to answer.
Women will be protesting outside Amnesty offices in the countries in purple on this map (and maybe others that we haven’t managed to get in touch with yet).
For details of the protest in London, UK, see the Amnesty Action website.
For details of the protest in Washington DC, see the End Sexual Exploitation website.
Regardless whether you can join a physical protest, please share your outrage on social media. We are using the image of the snuffed out candle shown above for the protest, to represent how the proposal is a betrayal of Amnesty’s mission to protect the human rights of the most exploited and vulnerable. Continue reading “Join the Global Amnesty Protest!”
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.
Continue reading “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. 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.
Continue reading “Amnesty’s Response”
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.
Continue reading “What Amnesty Did Wrong”
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”?
Continue reading “On Choice, Agency and the Nordic Model”
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.
Continue reading “Euphemisms are dangerous”
I wrote these notes about The Creation of Feminist Consciousness from the Middle Ages to Eighteen Seventy by Gerda Lerner some years ago and thought I’d publish them here because her message is still relevant. This book is a follow up to her earlier book, The Creation of Patriarchy.
Through a meticulous and inspiring look at the writings of women from the middle ages, Gerda Lerner traces the emergence of feminist consciousness. She apologises for looking mainly at Western Europe but explains that is a reflection of her expertise and wish to make the project manageable more than anything else.
These are the main general themes that I noticed:
1. From the beginning of patriarchy, every philosophical system has defined women as inferior and marginal. For thousands of years women’s subhuman-ness was taken as a given without question or any need for explanation.
She illustrates this powerfully with her account of the development of the American Constitution, which included much debate about the issue of Indian men, male indentured servants, etc. but maintained utter and total silence on the issue of women (p8-9). Aristotle used the marriage relationship to justify slavery and she says “more remarkable than Aristotle’s misogynistic construction is the fact that his assumptions remained virtually unchallenged and endlessly repeated for nearly two thousand years.”
Continue reading “The Creation of Feminist Consciousness by Gerda Lerner”
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?
Rape is sex against a woman’s will. 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.
Continue reading “Prostitution – Time for a New Paradigm”