Sunday, 23 June 2013

Sex work and stigma

The Oxford English dictionary defines stigma as - 'a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person'. Invariably, when it comes to sex work, stigma applies right across the board, regardless of what form of sex work you undertake. Similarly, stigma bears no relation to your background, ethnicity or chosen faith. It's a badge which is acquired the first time you accept payment for sex, whether you like it or not - and it's what stops so many sex workers 'coming out'.

Time and time again I get emails from sex workers thanking my colleagues and I for the campaigning work we do but saying - 'I'd love to help you but you know what it's like'. I certainly do, and I'm not suggesting for one moment that every sex worker should come 'out', not at all. It's a huge decision to make and can have ramifications you hadn't even thought of, for instance read this piece here by Maggie McNeill and also the comment from Dr. Brooke Magnanti.

This is a society, where, should I wish to, I can go out on a Friday night, get hopelessly drunk and jump into bed with Mr. A. Random. Because I'm non compos mentis then the chances are any form of protection will go out the window, as will any form of valid consent. As a society, we deem that okay, because everyone does it, right ? If I go to a hotel, meet Mr. A. Random in the middle of an afternoon, spend a couple of pleasant protected hours and get paid for it - pearls everywhere are clutched and horror levels soar. But in my second example, I'm safer. I know his name, his phone number, where he is staying and I am in a hotel surrounded by people. I'm in charge of what I'm doing and am completely free to say 'no'. Once money changes hands, what started as a mutually beneficial and pleasurable experience becomes demonized, because stigma enters the equation.

I have a theory and it is simply this - I don't believe that sex work itself is inherently harmful. What is more harmful is the scorn, social isolation and constant questioning of integrity poured upon those of us who choose to sell sex, by a society filled with hypocrisies. Keeping what you do for a living a secret, is very hard work and involves layers of deception and secrecy. For those who have been 'outed' against their will, it's even harder as large groups of people make huge assumptions about your identity and your standards and to have to defend yourself against those who rail against you on a continual basis is nothing short of exhausting.

If you're wondering what I mean by a 'society filled with hypocrisies' let's consider the 'Cougar'. Here is a woman who will proactively seek younger men to partner on an almost predatory basis and certainly because she can give him a better lifestyle in exchange for great sex. There's nothing wrong with that as far as I'm concerned but I do wonder why that exchange is free from stigma whilst the exchange of cash is not. A long time ago and in a brothel far away, one of my colleagues remarked - 'this is the most honest money you'll ever earn in your life', and I believe she's right. No strings, no bows, no promises of being elevated to a higher social echelon - I simply date for cash.

Although I am blessed to be surrounded by an amazing support system of friends and allies, I still experience stigma, albeit to a lesser degree. It's the beatific smile filled with pity, it's the group of women who fall silent as soon as I enter the room and it's the man who shook my hand in a green room and when he thought I wasn't looking, wiped his hand 'clean'. And that, my friends - is what needs to change.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The final countdown

Rhoda Grant wrote a final hour article for the NewStatesman in which she seeks to undermine our position as sex workers entitled to defend our industry with facts and common sense. The link to the article is here.

It's nine days until we discover whether Ms. Grant has secured the required cross party support to bring her bill forward, criminalizing the purchase of sex in Scotland. At the time of writing, that support isn't in evidence.

The article claims that none of our current laws 'protect those who are prostituted' - but rape is an offence, as is assault and many forms of harassment. Human trafficking is also already covered by statute, although I support the proposal to implement a new law re 'aggravated trafficking'. So the laws to protect us are already in place.

As sex workers on the front line, Ms. Grant has steadfastly ignored us from the outset. We have presented statistics, personal testimony and evidence from around the world as to the damage the Swedish model would do and we have simply been told either that we are not representative or that she is in possession of (seriously flawed) evidence to suggest otherwise.

There is a further suggestion that all reports indicate that abuse is rampant within the industry. I would like to see some evidence to support such a sweeping statement. How odd, that when I have twenty years experience right through the industry that I have never encountered 'rampant abuse'. Neither have my very many colleagues. Later on, Grant herself calls for evidence to 'demonstrate that they (clients) are reporting instances of trafficking in great numbers'.

In order for there to be evidence of trafficking in great numbers, there needs to be trafficking in great numbers. There isn't, it's really that simple. Not quite what Abolition Scotland would have you believe when they rolled out the 'Nefarious' roadshow, each screening of which I believe told attendees of greatly exaggerated trafficking figures and urged them to write in support of this bill.

New Zealand (we are told) exists in a very different context to us and their immigration polices help to ensure that people who enter the country are protected through a buddy scheme. I'm not quite sure what different 'context' New Zealand enjoys, but we have a buddy scheme in the UK too, designed specifically for sex workers to look out for each other. Here's a link to the site for reference.

Having regard to the suggestion that Grant's proposed legislation is not flying in the face of worldwide recommendations, I quote Wendy Lyon - "Rhoda Grant is quite wrong to suggest that UN groups have only come out against criminalisation of sex workers, not of their clients. A 2012 joint report by UNAIDS, UNDP and UNFPA very explicitly opposed the criminalisation of clients and endorsed the New Zealand/New South Wales decriminalisation approach. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover, has also stated that removing criminal penalties against clients makes it easier to promote responsible client sexual behaviour."

Finally, to allege that those of us who speak up for our industry do so just because we are 'pimps' is as nonsensical as it is uncalled for. Grant is only too aware that several of us openly advertise as independent escorts.

One commentator sums up the discourse around this proposed legislation beautifully -
"Sex workers know more about the industry than anyone else....Why can't you grasp that simple fact?"