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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120 Questions for Amnesty

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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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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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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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Sex Trafficking

“In my thirty years as a journalist I’ve come face to face with scandals, corruption, greed and crime of all kinds. I’ve seen tragedy of monumental proportions – the desperation of famine, the ravages of war. I’ve witnessed the loss of life and hope in the Middle East and Africa – in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Iran. Yet never before have I been as struck by the senseless disregard for human dignity as I have been these last two years while researching this book [on the new global sex trade].” (Malarek 2004)

This article looks at sex trafficking. For simplicity and clarity, it mostly refers to women, although children, men and transgendered people are also trafficked. The consequences for children are invariably even more devastating. Continue reading “Sex Trafficking”