Monday, 30 September 2013

Those pesky clients

Tomorrow I head into the abyss which is - no home broadband for ten days. Counselors are on standby, I simply don't know what I will do when the ability to go onto Mumsnet and start a fight is taken away. This horrific state of affairs is because I am moving house, something I'm looking forward to in terms of the new property, but in the interim, I really wish Boy Cat would grow tired of the 'pouncing on the black sacks' game.

The run up to the move has been stressful beyond belief, I just hate mayhem, and right now my house looks like the aftermath of a particularly vicious tornado. I'm going to let you into a little secret, guess who has been keeping me afloat for the last little while, listening to me whinge and bemoan life ? Those pesky clients, that's who. Those men who routinely 'abuse and disrespect' us have come up trumps. Some of my guys have been with me for years, and it is, I suppose, quite unavoidable that a friendship develops on the back of that, particularly when you spend long periods of time together.

What I wasn't prepared for though, are the lengths these friends are prepared to go to, it astounds me that they care so much, and I feel very honoured. Right now I am the proud owner of not one but two pairs of glasses, all because one of my guys got sick to death of seeing me squint at the television and books. He frog marched me down to the opticians and made sure I had an eye test and picked up the prescription too. We're still negotiating on a hearing test, those who know me well will tell you that if there is any background noise I am stuffed, and have been known to watch people's mouths to catch what they're saying.

One of my guys has been my backbone, in terms of many forms of support, but most importantly, he has given me the self belief to go out there and speak in public, albeit rather nervously. Thank you, J.

M is a plastic surgeon, and has offered me botox injections to lift my eyebrow where it has been damaged by my abusive ex.

D is a gym bunny, he knows I really want to shed quite a lot of weight and he has offered to train me on a one to one basis, to optimize fat burning and provide motivational support too. I think that means he's going to shout at me, which will be fun, because it's usually the other way around. He's also big into nutrition and healthy eating, so he's going to show me how to 'juice' and make simple meals from fresh food. Apparently, you can cook without checking the back of a packet for the number of minutes in a microwave, who knew ?

I'm so very grateful to have a job which has introduced me to such wonderful human beings.

See you all on the other side of no broadband hell, I'll still have my iPhone so all is not lost but still, I'm using these last precious hours to google internet withdrawal syndrome.

LL xx

Monday, 16 September 2013

Outing a sex worker - the real impact

It was with a sharp intake a breath that I read The Sun this morning. They had outed a sex worker and printed her pictures together with detailing some of the photographs from her Facebook album entitled 'My Family'.

In my experience, they don't tend to out sex workers as a matter of practice any more, there has to be an additional journalistic 'hook', such as that they work part time in a school, (because we couldn't have sex workers in contact with children, now could we ?) or in this case that the lady concerned is related to some Scottish aristocracy. In any case, it doesn't matter, it's still wrong. If you believe that by putting your pictures in the public domain, you are no longer entitled to any privacy then what is to stop me going on to say, 'Adult friend finder' and publishing the pictures of every couple in Glasgow looking to meet a third party for fun ? Here's what would stop me, common decency. I believe that every adult has the right to privacy, and when two consenting adults meet for sex behind closed doors, whether or not money changes hands, it is none of anyone else's business.

Last year, I made the decision to out myself, to further the advocacy I do and because I became sick to death of reading and hearing the lies the anti's were spinning. It's not a decision I regret, but therein lies the crux of it, it was my decision, just as it needs to be the individual decision of every sex worker, because the ramifications can be immense. Having been involuntarily outed twice in the past, I thought it might be worth considering just some of the possible outcomes, from my personal experience.

1. I worked in a bank, and they collected 'evidence' against me to contribute to the reasons as to why I ought to be sacked, including one customer who, in referring to a recent spate of fraudulent phone calls said - "If she is involved in that sort of thing, what's to say she's not in with those robbers ?" Yes, because sex workers are thieves too, it goes hand in hand. The fact that I had worked in financial services for nine years with an impeccable record was by the by.

2. Immediate concerns were raised about my parenting skills and 'someone' called social services. They were a part of my life for six months, but in the end backed off because I could show that I never worked from home, didn't have a dungeon in my cellar and my daughter is one of the most well adjusted loved little people you'll ever meet.

3. I walked into restaurants with my daughter where there were maybe two tables out of twenty sitting, only to be told they were 'fully booked'. Clearly, having me as a patron would be bad for business.

4. The locals in my town took to social media platforms to openly discuss the 'confidential' investigation which was going on with my employers. The fact that doing so breeches just about every clause in their employment contract was immaterial.

5. Grown adults began to bully my daughter, who was just seven at the time. Yes, apparently when her mother had been outed as a sex worker, it was okay to exclude her from birthday parties, social outings, leave her alone in the playground and let's not forget the lovely man who told her - 'Your mother is going to die of AIDS'.

There were times, through that dreadfully dark period, when I really thought I was going to have a breakdown. As a single parent, and when your on and off partner of many years has left as soon as the going got tough, that wasn't an option. I just had to keep going.

I sincerely hope that the lady exposed by today's tabloids doesn't experience half of the stigma and hatred that I did, and I hope she finds that strength, holds her head up high and gets on with it, nothing annoys The Haters more.

LL xx

Saturday, 14 September 2013

A letter from a an old school friend - part two

As my regular readers might remember, last year J and I went to Ireland for a week and a hoot was had by all. It was left up to me to fix the intinerary, something I was very happy to do. We visited Dublin and pulled our own pints of Guinness, from there we went to Waterford where J experienced Irish bar life at it's finest. As we headed back up the West coast, I planned two nights in Dingle, Co. Kerry. There were two reasons for that really, firstly I wanted to show J the 'old' Ireland, the shops which sold just about everything to the front and had a tiny little bar at the back, where back then, women weren't allowed. I also wanted him to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the softly spoken Gaeilge of the locals. But there was another motive.

Every summer as a child, my parents would send myself and my two siblings to 'The Gaeltacht' for three weeks. This was a kind of summer camp where fun activities were on offer, the only proviso being you had to speak Irish for the entirety of your stay. That didn't present a problem to me, I loved my native tongue and still do. No, the problem for me was the bullying that went on, and it was severe. I still remember the day we were all brought to Ventry bay for a swim, and several of the older children thought it might be fun to strip me down to my underwear, roll me down the sand dunes and then drag me to the sea, where they held my head under the water for as long as they thought I could take it. This, might I add, was in full view of the course 'facilitators'. Back to the dormitories, where the 'Bean an tí' (woman of the house) would be waiting with a beautiful home cooked meal and a hot shower, she was a lovely lady. I knew though, that my new found happiness wouldn't last, because as sure as God made little green apples I would ascend the stairs to find my bed soaked in water, milk or anything else they could get their hands on.

That pattern of bullying continued through secondary school. Social isolation, constant comments about appearance and weight, escalated to spitting in my hair and throwing my lunch down the toilet. Every human being has a breaking point, and mine came one Friday afternoon after a heavy week of it. I was in the queue at the school cafeteria having just paid for a strawberry milk and a fruit scone, I remember it like it was yesterday. I moved my tray along to the cutlery station to get napkins and one of the biggest offenders, T, walked up and upturned my tray, sending the contents of my tray flying, all over my bag, coat and face. The red mist descended. I'm not proud of my actions that day but I took her down by her hair and leathered her, until two teachers broke it up. After that, although I had a couple of snarky comments, on the whole I was left alone. Is it any wonder that I now enjoy fighting for the minority group of sex workers who are bullied by legislators, the police, so called 'feminists' ?

When J and I were in Dingle I decided to exorcise some demons, so with his full permission, I drove up to the house which I stayed in for many a summer and although it's now a B & B, it's pretty much as I remember it. I spoke to the owners for a bit and then returned to the car. I made it about a mile down the road before pulling into the side and crying my eyes out. I don't mean delicate dabbing of eyes, I mean sobbing. J was wonderful, "You really needed to do that, didn't you ?" He let me have that moment of crying for what might have been and then we continued with our holiday and had a marvellous time.

All of that was pushed very firmly to the back of my mind until I had a message from N, a very quiet and lovely girl I went to secondary school with, who by the laws of 'you couldn't make it up', now lives in Kerry.

"You know I've thought of you often over the years and if I ever hurt you ,I'm genuinely sorry. I know some of the girls were very mean to you sometimes and I should have stepped in and said something but never did ..I'm so sorry."

It's okay N, the fightback began many years ago and is going rather well.

LL xx

A letter from a school friend - part one

In the past week I've had two emails from school chums, both on completely different topics, but both worthy of discussion, the first is below.

As you may have noticed, I enjoy the odd robust debate, especially when the subject is the sex industry. Where it becomes difficult though, is when the debate is taking place on Facebook and involves one, if not more of my old school chums. I came 'out' quite a while ago in the UK but for some reason, I have found it harder to let my old friends in Ireland know, and I'm not sure why that is. In the vast majority of cases, they don't need to know, in that I'll probably never see them again. Facebook just isn't the place for discussing your deepest and darkest, it's for pretending to like some members of your family and cooing at cat pictures. I think it's a fear of their reaction, like a very good pal in Dublin when I told her. "You know there are people who can help you exit, like Ruhama." What followed was a ninety minute lecture on the realities of Ruhama and one very repentant and newly supportive friend.

The more media I do, one by one my friends are finding out regardless. Take 'L', who went to primary school with me and is now a doctor in Scotland. I opened my messages late one night having come home from an interview and there it was, "Oh my God, you're on the news, and YOU'RE TALKING SENSE !!" Yes, thank you for that L.

The most challenging of all came the night I logged on and to my great surprise my childhood pal 'M' had posted a picture - 'REAL MEN DON'T BUY GIRLS'. I was quite surprised at that because she is very socially aware and super intelligent, so surely she would have seen through the propaganda and reached the conclusion, 'REAL MEN INFORM THEMSELVES OF THE FACTS'. The debate (which I don't think she planned, to be fair) went on into the night with various people contributing to the thread and yours truly sitting on her hands. Eventually I could stand it no longer and offered several pieces of evidence to show that the statistics as presented were at best, problematic, but I was met with a very fiesty and vocal mansplainer, who told me why I was wrong on several levels. I offered some further evidence and left it at that because it was getting late, he was getting offensive and there just wasn't any point. The following morning I had a pm from M, saying "I'm so sorry about him last night, no need for it". I replied saying it wasn't a problem and I wouldn't enter into any debate with an expectation of not being challenged on several levels. That, I thought, was that. Nothing could have prepared me for the message I got from M yesterday, it blew my mind and cost the taxpayer quite a lot of Kleenex.

Hi, I had to message you because I'm mortified about the debate we had on FB a while ago about prostitution, remember when we talked about whether the men should be prosecuted for solicitation? I'm mortified because I 'thought' I knew what I was talking about but I have since seen the documentary on Channel 4 that you featured in (and while I was shocked and believe me I was shocked that you featured in the documentary), I can't believe I argued with you on the subject when I clearly wasn't as clued in as you! I have since done a lot of research on the subject and now agree that I may have been a little narrow minded. I want you to know that I now know what you do for a living (and I don't make any judgements on what you do) but I also think you are still a fabulous, wonderful woman that not only provides a service for some men that 'really, really' need it but also stand up for women everywhere and are an advocate for women's choice. I think you're very brave (I've Googled you, and seen all you've done), so I think you're incredible the way you stand up for what you believe in, and if you follow my FB page you know I am all about workers rights, human rights, animal rights etc...(but workers rights being the operative word here), I stand by you and believe in you...that's all, M. xxx

LL xx

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A letter to the Irish Examiner

Dear Sirs,

On August 22nd you published an article in your paper entitled - "People who trivialise prostitution ‘ignorant of reality’." The piece included several quotes from Niall Collins TD, around his encounter with street sex workers in Limerick.

Firstly, Mr Collins states that "In Sweden, prostitution has reportedly been reduced by 70% through legislation." That is both erroneous in fact and hugely misleading. There is no evidence from Sweden whatsoever to suggest that overall prostitution has been reduced, other than a small reduction in street prostitution. In itself street sex work is but a tiny part of a huge industry. In many cases the sex workers simply moved from the street to an indoor place of work where, arguably, they are in more danger as they cannot rely on each other for support. To make such a bald statement as a '70% reduction' is, simply, wrong - especially since the Swedish Police's final report on Prostitution and Trafficking published in February 2011 showed a 569% increase in reported cases of the purchase of sexual services between 2008 and 2010.

Secondly, Mr. Collins goes on to say, "People should realise 99% of these women have been abused and trafficked into this country." It would be interesting to see if he has any evidence to support this figure as, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, during my twenty years of experience in the industry I have never met a trafficked or abused sex worker in Ireland. On any given day there will be between 800 - 1,000 sex workers advertising online, many of them from countries other than Ireland. However, that's not to say that they are abused or trafficked; a distinction needs to be drawn between a 'migrant' and a 'trafficked' sex worker.

There is no doubt that there are issues surrounding some street sex workers such as drug addiction and poverty, but these are exacerbated when further criminalisation is introduced, because outreach services struggle to reach those workers who do so badly need help. With regard to the assertion that the sex worker Mr. Collins spoke to was 14, it should be noted that there is no such thing as an underage sex worker, only a child victim of rape, and I do hope Mr. Collins has taken the necessary steps and called the Gardai.

The solution for Limerick is a tolerance zone, away from the city centre, where the Gardai can work with the sex workers rather than against them. This model has shown to be very successful in Merseyside, where the crime rate has plummeted along with other associated anti-social behaviours.

It is impossible for any society to completely eradicate prostitution, what is required is a sensible approach to protect the most vulnerable and ensure that the safety of all is paramount.

Yours faithfully,

Laura Lee
International Union of Sex Workers

Suzy Lamplugh Trust Awards for Personal Safety 2013

Group Nomination, National Ugly Mugs for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust Awards
We are nominating Alex Bryce, Manager of National Ugly Mugs (NUM), for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust Awards for Personal Safety 2013, category Inspiring Individual Award.

This is a group nomination and we are asking people to give it their support. If you or your organisation will support this group nomination please send an email to You can just send you name, or you can also write a personal recommendation that we can attach to the main group nomination.

The closing date is 6pm on 4th October 2013. Please email us by 3rd October 2013.

You give the Suzy Lamplugh Trust permission to use any material sent to them in the course of nominating a person for an award on their website and/or at the awards ceremony, so please don’t submit any private information. (If you are a sex worker, please feel free to use your working name.)

The group nomination is appended below:

We would like to nominate Alex Bryce, Manager of National Ugly Mugs (NUM), for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust Awards for Personal Safety 2013, category Inspiring Individual Award.

NUM is a UK nationwide third party crime reporting scheme for sex workers launched in July 2012.

NUM provides all sex workers in the UK with a means to report crime and receive alerts about potential dangers. Alex’s day to day work involves introducing new sex workers to NUM, taking reports of crimes committed against sex workers, supporting sex worker victims of crime, and issuing alerts to all sex workers, to help them stay safe and avoid dangerous people and situations.

Having a nationwide ugly mugs scheme is really important, because not all sex workers have a local scheme and many sex workers travel frequently. NUM brings intelligence about offenders who target sex workers together into a national database for the first time. If reporting sex workers agree, details of offenders can be shared with police intelligence, and this information can then be used by police and crime analysts to help deal with and prevent sex crime.

Alex also travels nationwide to train and educate police and others about violence against sex workers. There is strong evidence that sex workers are far more likely to be victims of violence and other crimes than non sex workers and are far less likely to report incidents to the police. Policing can have negative consequences for sex worker safety. Alex works to help police understand the issues facing sex workers, improve attitudes, approaches and practices in regard to sex work, and recognition that sex workers can be made vulnerable by their circumstances and the stigma associated with their work and the police need to work to protect them.

NUM supports and complements existing ugly mug schemes run by local sex work projects or others, and Alex promotes best practice, knowledge sharing and cooperation between ugly mug schemes.

The NUM service is online, which is ideal for reaching the growing numbers of sex workers that use the Internet, but also means Alex has to manage a complex and ground-breaking Internet service with numerous security requirements.

Alex listens and responds to criticism. He further developed the NUM website to include a new number checking service this year in response to feedback from sex workers.

Alex always finds the time to talk sex workers, sex work projects, escort websites, the police, health services, academics, students, politicians and the media, and is a tireless champion of sex worker safety and promoting the well-being and rights of sex workers.

Alex frequently writes articles and engages with the media to raise awareness. He does not shy away from political debate and has spoken out against the Swedish Model and other sex work laws and policies that are problematic and impact detrimentally on the safety, health and rights of sex workers. He calls for legislation that has a solid evidence-based foundation, and works to promote the Merseyside Model of crimes against sex workers being treated as hate crimes, which has been highly successful in improving sex worker safety. He recognises the harm of continued stigmatisation of sex workers and works to educate people about sex work, dispel myths and end discrimination.

NUM was launched in July 2012, with one year’s pilot funding from the Home Office, with the aim of making the lives of sex workers safer and bringing to justice those who commit crimes against them.

Initial research has established that already many sex workers are benefiting from NUM and working more safely as a direct result of NUM alerts. NUM now has over 1,200 individual sex workers directly signed up and over 250 organisations offering frontline support to sex workers potentially reaching tens of thousands of sex workers. The NUM Pilot Evaluation found that as a direct result of NUM alerts and warnings 16% of sex workers had avoided a specific individual or refused a booking. NUM has also led to the arrest and imprisonment of numerous offenders, including violent robbers, rapists, fraudsters and serial offenders. This has all been achieved on a limited budget with a very small team of two.

Alex is absolutely dedicated to helping and supporting sex workers and frequently goes above and beyond to help sex workers, including personally acting as an intermediary between sex workers and the police where he can help.

Alex has dedicated himself to NUM wholly including sharing his own personal good and bad experiences of police, and his own personal experiences of being a victim of sexual assault. He has reached out to all sex workers, not forgetting that sex workers are a diverse group and that, as well as female, there are also male and trans* sex workers.

Alex has also had to take on the challenge of fundraising to keep NUM up and running since its initial pilot funding ran out after the first year in May 2013. Alex has managed the NUM scheme since the outset, with only one other staff member, Kerri Swindells, to assist him.

NUM is a pioneering project that provides vital practical help and support to sex workers. Alex has worked tirelessly since the beginning to run and promote NUM, raise awareness of crime against sex workers, and promote sex worker rights and well-being. The work of NUM is also bringing justice to offenders that pose a risk to sex workers and all members of the public.

We believe Alex deserves this award for his unwavering commitment to NUM, and his fantastic achievements to date. It is also of vital importance that the work of Alex and NUM is now recognised. Sex workers are a minority group who are disproportionately targeted by criminals. For too long the safety of sex workers has not been addressed and this has had terrible consequences for sex workers and wider society. Alex and NUM can save lives.

Please help us achieve support for this group nomination by re-blogging this on your own blog if you have one, posting about this on twitter or other social media you use, and emailing people you know who might be supporters to ask them to add their support.

LL xx