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.
Continue reading “UK Puntering, Pimping & Trafficking Laws”
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.
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.
Continue reading “The Child Abuse – Prostitution Continuum”
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”
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”
In 1977 a Swedish project was launched to discover the everyday reality of prostituted women’s lives. Researchers interviewed hundreds of women, johns and pimps. What they found exploded the old Victorian myths that prostitution resulted from a biological urge in men and a mental defect in the women. Instead they found it was something that men do to women with tragic consequences. Around the same time feminists, such as Kathleen Barry and Andrea Dworkin, in the United States and elsewhere were making a powerful analysis of pornography and prostitution as key elements in the systematic subordination of women. As a result the sex industry had a serious image problem on its hands.
This article aims to provide an insight into the ways in which the sex industry fought back. One of these being the use of the idea of prostitutes unions to give itself legitimacy. I draw on research and arguments by Kajsa Ekman in her excellent book, Being and Being Bought. Ekman shows that in almost every case these so-called unions are facades put up by those with vested interests – some of them pimps and others who exploit the prostitution of others, some of them johns and some of them people who, for various reasons, have carved out a niche for themselves promoting the industry. Continue reading “Trade Unions and Prostitution”
“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”
“A pimp is someone who freeloads off the misfortune of women and children.” (Indoctrinated: The Grooming of our Children into Prostitution)
There have recently been a number of high profile cases of girls being groomed by gangs into what experts are calling child sexual exploitation but which is essentially another name for the sexual abuse and prostitution of children. The extreme Right have latched on to the fact that many of those convicted have been Muslim Asians. However, that is a red herring and doesn’t alter the fact that there is a huge problem of girls and young women being groomed into prostitution not only by groups and gangs but also by individuals. Continue reading “Grooming Children into Prostitution”
“People who have had luckier lives, as well as those who profit from the sex industry in some way, frequently refer to prostitution and pornography as ‘victimless crimes’. They point to a tiny fraction of sex workers who actually might be involved by choice. They selectively read history to find some tiny minority, somewhere, at some time, who gained something in the sex business. The very selectiveness of their attention indicates that, on some level, they know that for almost everyone, involvement in the sex industry is a terrible misfortune. As many an old cop will say, ‘Anyone who thinks prostitution is a victimless crime hasn’t seen it up close’.” (Parker, 2004)
It is sometimes claimed that prostitution is simply a service that is not that different from, for example, care work or waitressing, and as such it should be considered work like any other work. In this article I show that this is not true and that in fact prostitution is fundamentally different from all other work. Continue reading “Prostitution is Unlike Other Work”