Yesterday Object! commented on my call for solidarity with other workers striking for their pension’s rights and against the cuts. Object! recognised sex workers’ right to go on strike. It also agreed “with the GMB and its networked groups”, saying that “those involved in prostitution should never be stigmatised, never be abused and should never have been criminalised”.
Of course, the differences remain strong about the question of the full decriminalisation of the sex industry, the non criminalisation of our clients in particular, and about the recognition of sex work as work. The debate will continue on these questions but maybe we could consider the other issues as more important priorities.
Last year, I wrote an article with Cath Elliott calling for the decriminalisation of soliciting. We found one thing to agree on. But I believe we have more than one thing in common with anti-sex work campaigners. Although we live and understand it differently, we share feminism and progressive politics in common. We all want sex workers to be decriminalised; to end violence against sex workers, the discriminations, and to fight against sex workers’ exploitation within the sex industry. The issue is more about how we’re doing that.
I can also imagine a world without prostitution. However, I don’t think prohibition will never make sex work disappear; it will only hide us from the rest of society. If our clients are criminalised we will have to be more discreet so they’re not arrested and we can maintain our incomes. If someone wants to be serious about ending prostitution, it should be done with sex workers to be sure that it won’t cause any harm to us, and it should be focused on providing us with better options, to fight poverty, to fight anti-migration laws so we can be documented and not trapped into traffickers’ hands, and to reduce levels of drug addiction by providing better health services.
I would be happy if we could lead common campaigns on these issues, so for once sex workers could be included within the broader feminist movement. And there are many things we could do. We could campaign together for the decriminalisation of sex workers, for the end of migrants’ deportation and in particular victims of trafficking, for the recognition of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation as categories persecuted who could apply for asylum. We could fight for better wages and benefits for women and for free education so we don’t need daddies to pay our tuition fees.
To fight violence and exploitation, we need to make sure that the police register reports from sex workers and investigate crimes. They could treat crimes against sex workers as hate crimes like the Merseyside police already do. Phone lines could be set up to report situations of trafficking or exploitation. We could think about how to organise against the employers and managers of the sex industry. We could work together to end the public shaming and outing of sex workers on the Metropolitan Police website and in newspapers, to guarantee that our human rights are respected and to end discrimination. We could stop our children being taken away from us. We could think about how to improve safety in indoors premises, stop the victim blaming when a sex worker is raped or attacked, and remove any police record that prevent us to find other jobs. I am pretty sure that we all agree on all these points.
I wish that that the abolitionist stopped focusing so much on the criminalisation of our clients. Firstly, because they actually already got it. Indeed, our clients are already criminalised for kerb-crawling and now potentially with the Policing and Crime Act if we happen to work for a third party who could be interpreted as controlling us for gain. Secondly, because as long as sex workers are criminalised the criminalisation of our clients makes our own criminalisation worse. In order for the police to arrest our clients, they need most of the time to raid a brothel or stop them in their cars in our presence. When they arrest them, they always arrest us at the same time. However, it’s easier for a client to avoid a sentence because most of the time we won’t testify against them and because the Justice needs to prove that exploitation occurred. For sex workers, it’s much more complicated to avoid police repression and while the intention of the recent Policing and Crime Act was to protect us, in fact it increased our criminalisation and the deportation of migrant sex workers. Especially, the clauses on premises and on ‘persistent’ soliciting have dramatically increased the raids and police arrests.
If the abolitionists are serious about not harming sex workers, they should better think about the impact of our clients’ criminalisation and how it is implemented and in what context. Maybe they could consider priorising sex workers’ decriminalisation before our clients’ criminalisation because with the current government we could easily actually end up with the criminalisation of both. Maybe, we could create spaces where we can meet together, stop fighting each other all the time, maybe accepting to ignore and not mentioning the difficult topics but to focus on what we agree on and how we could work together to improve the situation. So Object! and others, if you read me, feel free to contact me and see what we can do. I don’t guarantee success but at least we can try.