First published in the Morning Star
Last week Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone announced the national rollout of Liverpool’s Ugly Mugs scheme, which gathers information about men attacking sex workers.
This is a good chance to bring about a reduction in violence against sex workers and prioritise sex workers’ safety.
However there are some concerns about this new measure.
On one hand it represents a big step forward, but on the other hand it doesn’t address the main cause of the violence against sex workers.
When Featherstone mentions sex workers’ customers as their main attackers, she ignores the fact that the main cause of violence against sex workers is institutional and actually comes from the state.
Unlike Featherstone, sex workers don’t consider the men who try to have free sex or attack them as their clients.
When someone robs a bank we don’t call him a customer but a thief.
This confusion is made to pretend that sex work is inherently violent and that the state is there to protect us.
In reality, the state is the biggest pimp and the most violent one.
The government criminalises sex workers. It sends us the cops who confiscate our money and our goods.
It tries to rehabilitate us by force using a system of blackmail – either we pay the fines or we have to take three official appointments with organisations supposed to “help” us to leave the criminal justice system.
So the new situation is completely hypocritical. The government is using the Ugly Mugs system to avoid decriminalising the sex industry.
Sex workers continue to be criminalised, but they will be allowed to report crimes they suffer to health projects which are already working with the police and the state for our health and safety and who will now act as third parties.
This represents progress when so far most police forces never take sex workers’ reports seriously and investigate them even less.
Nonetheless, the problem is that the relationships between sex workers and health projects are not always as good as in Liverpool.
Shelly Stoops from the Liverpool Armistead Street project, for example, puts in some excellent work, but not all organisations of the UK Network of Sex Work Projects are as trustworthy, especially when they collaborate with the state and the police to rehabilitate sex workers.
Sex workers should not need intermediaries to report crimes.
The health projects are going to receive money to implement the new Ugly Mugs system. Meanwhile, we will continue to face police raids in our workplaces, fines, the confiscation of our goods and deportations. This is violence too.
The trade unions need to carry the decriminalisation message into the Labour Party so that when it is returned to government the law is changed.
If the mistake of working with the prohibitionists continues then sex workers will continue to be at risk of violence.
Last Thursday saw the TUC Congress House host a reception to mark the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
The event, organised by Sertuc LGBT Network and supported by Sertuc and Unite London & Eastern Region LGBT committee along with the GMB I 50 (sex workers) branch, had a range of speakers from the labour movement and sex worker organisations.
Linda Keitz for the Sertuc women’s rights committee gave a rousing speech in support of the campaign and said that it was important trade unions supported and organise these workers.
The theme of the event was unionisation to end violence. The organisers succeeded in relaying that message and that the GMB is the legitimate voice of those working in the industry.
The event was compered by GMB activist Luca Stevenson Darkholme, who spoke about the Sex Workers Open University 2011 that was sponsored by Sertuc and GMB Shout!
The evening ended with a collection for the Morning Star.
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