Sunday 25 January 2009

Sold out: an end to whataboutery.

The Policing and Crime Bill 2008 is, as Fiona McTaggart MP admitted to me on Wednesday, 'a rag-tag bill.' Everyone has come to the table determined to force their own agenda through, and spurious amendments have been twatted onto every clause of the final document. There are some extremely dodgy new rules on kerbcrawling in there (similar, in fact, to those introduced in Ipswich in 2006, just before the tragic murders of six women who sold sex on the street) and some even dodgier ones giving the police powers to close brothels, and to take a cut of any takings found on the premises. Taken together, these two new rules make even less sense. You're still allowed to sell sex - just not indoors. And by the way, it's now more dangerous for you to do it outdoors. Speaking on behalf of the IUSW, Stephen Paterson pointed out that 'Lewis Carrol could have written these laws. They come from political cowardice and a herd instinct to assume the safety of the moral high ground.'

Somehow, though, the main bit of the new prostitution legislation has been pushed and pulled and wrangled into a shape that makes no one entirely happy but that somehow - maybe - just might bring us closer to social justice than any of the hard-liners would advocate.

The new law will make it a criminal offence - punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record - to pay to have sex with someone who is "controlled for another person's gain". This would target the market for abuse within prostutution - making it an offence to buy sex with a trafficked person or with a person who is forced into prostutition by pimps, drug-dealers or violent gang leaders.

Paying to sleep with a single mum who happens to have moved into prostitution because there's no other way for her to see her kids and pay for her prescriptions at the same time would not be illegal under the terms of this law, if it works the way I've been told. Paying to sleep with a young girl coerced into drug-taking by her pusher pimp who forces her to sell herself for her next fix would be illegal - and I've been twisting this round in my head, talking to the MPs making the laws and the sex workers affected by it, and whichever angle I look at it from, I can't see anything too terribly wrong there.

Do I think that all prostitution is rape? No. Do I think any prostitution might be rape? Well, let's think about that one. Let's think about the hundreds of young women being prostituted right now on the streets of our cities who don't want to have sex tonight but are being forced to service strangers by their pimps, drug-dealers, traffickers or violent partners, who have sex not for personal pleasure, gain or fulfilment but out of fear - fear of violence, of withdrawal, of exposure or even murder. Is paying for sex with these women rape? Yes, I think so. Yes, I'd say it's rape.

The abolitionist MPs backing these clauses prefer the Swedish Model, which draws no distinctions between paying for sex with a sex slave and paying for sex full stop. The compromise that has been reached, provided it stays in the bill in its current form, is a far more sensible solution. Not only does the 'controlled for gain' compromise set out to target abuse within the industry, rather than the industry itself - not only does it make it no less legal to have sex with a woman who is selling her body of her own free will - but this is the first piece of legislation ever, in over two hundred years of criminal legislation against hookers, which puts the blame for the 'social ill' of prostitution anywhere other than squarely between the legs of those who sell themselves.

McTaggart told me that part of the point of this law was to 'make a statement'. Is that important? Yes it is, vitally so, although I'd argue whether a new criminal law is the best, first place to be making that statement. But someone, somewhere, finally, needs to stand up and put the blame for abuse within prostitution where it's due: on the men who buy sex without a thought for the consequences. On the men who consume others' bodies for their own pleasure, who don't care where it comes from as long as they come. By making sex with women forced into prostitution a strict liability offence - one where it doesn't matter if you thought or hoped she wasn't a sex slave - this law might make prostitution what it so desperately needs to be: a seller's market.

Because currently, all the power within the sex industry lies with those who spend the money - overwhelmingly men. One in ten men in this country, in fact - mostly single men under forty. The balance of power and money is still in the hands of a patriarchy that treats abused women in the way that people who wear Nike trainers treat foreign sweatshop workers - as an unfortunate side-effect that we can make go away if we're very careful not ever to think about it, unless of course we happen to like the idea. And I think that's so wrong.

The English Collective of Prostitutes says it sees no reason why consenting sex between adults should be criminalised just because one party pays. They are entirely right - but 'consenting' is the most important word there.

Now, I'm not, as a rule, in favour of any new law that doesn't do away with the laws it's trying to update - and miraculously, at least in part, this looks like it's going to happen, too. To whit, they're going to take away the right of magistrates to impose fines for sex work. Let me repeat that. No more slapping a fifty quid fine on any poor streetwalker the fuzz happen to pick up. All they can now make orders for are 'meetings' - and according to McTaggart, this will include sessions with drugs counsellors.

This is fantastic. In anyone's book, this is fantastic. Questioning McTaggart over why the government isn't being braver and taking the logical, sane next step - making the selling of sex entirely legal - she replied that she and many of her colleagues in government would support such a move, but that it was being blocked from within. Blocked by whom, she wouldn't say, but I'm guessing that at least one of the blockifiers is very unhappy with women being allowed to sell sex and get away with it - unhappy with any suggestion that it might be the tricks and the pimps who bear responsibility for any abuse that happens, rather than the women's fault for opening their legs in the first place.

Is this bill, with all of its amendments, entirely sound? Absolutely not. Does this new piece of legislation go far enough in making life easier for prostitutes who choose their profession and harder for pimps and tricks who rape and abuse? No, it doesn't. But it's a step, a tiny step, in the right direction. If it were me, I'd make the selling of sex entirely legal to boot, and insitute a programme of advertising and a sex education curriculum where boys can learn from an early age what life is like for women in the sex industry. But hey, it's a start. To help you sort out your thoughts on this one, I've compiled a handy checklisty type of wotsit, inspired by Liberal Conspiracy's recent Gaza mythbusting efforts. Enjoy.

Prostitution - an end to whataboutery.

  • If you think that all women who work in the sex industry do so of their own free will, in full knowledge of the consequences and not coerced by anyone, you are wrong.
  • If you think that no women who work in the sex industry do so of their own free will, you are also wrong.
  • If you think that sexual slavery doesn't exist - or if you think that it doesn't matter - you're an idiot.
  • If you think that no woman involved in the sex industry has any agency or autonomy - you're fooling yourself.
  • If you think that your human right to a cheap, consequence-free fuck trumps a coerced woman's right to decide what happens to her own body, you're an arsehole.
  • If you think that the fact that IUSW union members might lose a bit of business or have to change their working practices trumps a coerced woman's right to decide what happens to her own body, you may need a knife and fork - you're going to choke on that party line.
  • If you think that making prostitution more illegal or totally illegal is going to stop it happening, you're a fool.
  • If you're worried that you might sleep with a sex slave by accident - you may want to look again at how and where and why you buy sex.
  • If you think that no significant part of the sex industry is currently a)unsafe or b) underground, you're either lying, ignorant or extremely lucky.
  • If you think that the ultimate culpability for abuse within prostitution lies with the women who turn to vice and let themselves be abused, you're a wanker.
  • If you want to be able to buy sex legally, but would be apalled if your own daughter/sister/friend sold it - you're a hypocrite.
  • If you think that prostitution is universally easy, fun and profitable and that all the girls doing it have a great time, you're so wrong.
  • If you think that all prostitution is rape, you're also wrong.
  • If you think that prostutition prevents rape - that the more whores we have, the fewer sad lonely fuckers will attack and rape women - you've entirely missed the point.
  • If you think that prostitution should be a buyer's market like any other - you're a libertarian.
  • If you think that prostitutes should be locked up and that we're living in a world of sexual slavery and should learn to like it - you're the wanker I met in the pub last week, you still owe me a pound fifty, and rest assured, I know where you live.


  1. I wish they'd leave it all alone, everything to do with abuse and trafficking and having sex with girls non-consensually is already illegal and i don't really think it's helpful to have legislation passed by people who have no fucking clue what they're talking about

  2. Sex IS consensual rape.

  3. "Paying to sleep with a single mum who happens to have moved into prostitution because there's no other way for her to see her kids and pay for their prescriptions at the same time"

    To my eyes, it seemed like she entered prostitution because she prefered the lifestyle rather than anything to do with prescriptions... did you read the article?

    The danger with this legislation isn't that it will be used to stop women forced into sexual slavery, which is, as the comment above rightly states, already illegal, but that it'll be used against Madams and pimps who have legitimate agreements with the prostitutes in question. Its also dangerous because, really, how on earth can the client know whether a prositute is working of her own free will or if someone is making her to do it? It's just ripe for fining and criminalising a load of people who don't really deserve it. But I suppose the gov. needs the money at the moment... I wonder if my clients (everyones clients)would be commiting a crime if you replace the words 'sexual services' with 'services'...

    Also, I consider it a bit mean spirited that it'll apply internationally. Way to go ruin our South East Asian holidays.

    And...sweat shop workers love it. Otherwise they wouldn't do it.

  4. Why is the egregious "Mark" such an expert on venery and prostitution? Is he a member of the Salvation Army perchance? - or an amatory client who has had the business of doing pleasure with sundry harlots - or even hobbity little James Purnell masquerading as a member of the human race?

    Life is very mysterious...

  5. "I wish they'd leave it all alone, everything to do with abuse and trafficking and having sex with girls non-consensually is already illegal "

    When abuse of trust was criminalized,

    I said I needed 300 teachers convicted per annum, the Brits told me, they'd no intention of doing any if they could avoid it.

    The de jure position and practice of criminalization are completely distinct.

    I now need 650 British teachers per annum as an absolute bottom-line figure.

    In relation to violent pornography, it is the same deal. Feminism, needs to tell, the NASUWT, to get their train wreck of a union, off the tracks.

    WE had the same thing with the major jail guard union in the USA, they talked about VAW, but privately they wrecked everything in private deals.

    The NASUWT has a veto on ( the output) of sex crime laws in Britain.

    "There will only be a maximum of 10 to 15 prosecutions a year under the new "abuse of trust" law backed by MPs last night, Whitehall officials have admitted."

    "Police will not target offenders against law on violent porn
    • New ban expected to bring just 30 prosecutions a year
    • Women's groups worried by lack of active approach"

    Let me put it to you this way, if hundreds of British teachers are doing X in other peoples countries, what are they doing on their home game.

    In the USA the FBI were run off the road, and some were shot.

    We had to fight to get abuse of trust laws delivered as prosecutions.


    3 shot at federal prison as FBI served warrants on guards in ...
    3 shot at federal prison as FBI served warrants on guards in Florida from ... A low security prison for female inmates is next to the detention center. ... - 47k - Cached - Similar pages

  6. I'm a little concerned about the fact that this post doesn't address the concerns that sex workers' rights advocates have about the overall effect this law will actually have in the lives of sex workers and prostituted women - especially as you have quotations from both the IUSW and the ECP, which I know have both raised these issues already. Namely that it will be yet another factor driving them to hide from law enforcement rather than being able to enjoy its full protection (after all, if you have to hide from them, then by definition they can't play a preventative role towards crimes against you - they can only provide a retributive role after you've been raped, murdered or mugged).

    Furthermore, the 'strict liability' clause in the new law means that it doesn't only affect pimps and men who pay pimps for rape-access to a trafficked/prostituted woman. It affects all sex workers in the same way, because men who buy sexual services will never be able to know for certain the status of a sex worker as "controlled for another person's gain" or otherwise. This, in turn, has the de facto effect of outlawing every buyer of sexual services (even though that's not what the law says) and making every transaction into a gamble from his point of view.

    While it may look like a reasonable compromise, the law as it is proposed will still be harmful to sex workers' rights and safety. What is more, the only comparable system, in Finland, has yet to produce a single conviction despite being in operation for two years already: it won't have a realistic impact on sex trafficking, but it will hurt women who need protection the most, because they will continue to feel that they have to hide from the law (to protect their client base) rather than having the law work for them.

  7. So it's okay to have sex with a girl after two or three social outings, e.g., dinner engagements followed by a club, but not after paying her straight up, in a businesslike fashion, cash in hand, to provide some kind of sexual service?

    The latter option seems much more honest and economical to me than the former in so many ways.

    Oh baby baby it's a wild world...

  8. I'll have you know that James Purnell is a fine figure of a man - 6 foot 2 of rippling muscle and louche good looks.
    Any impression to the contrary is entirely due to the 'william hague effect'.

  9. Alice - but by the same logic, stealing is non-consensual shopping. The two really aren't very similar in intent, outcome or social effect. What's your point?

  10. A. John - you're missing the point. I'm not against prostitution.

    Put it this way, if you will. You want someone to clean your house for you, because you happen to be a lazy bastard. One way of doing this is to hire someone - either from a legitimate agency or an independent cleaner - to come in and pay them by the hour, depending how messy your pigsty is. Another fairly sad but perfectly valid way of acheiving the same effect would be to start a relationship with a person, marry them, cover all their bills and promise to take care of them for ever with the implicit understanding that they pick up your underwear. Thousands of people, for better or worse, do this every day.

    What's not okay is to kidnap someone and FORCE them to clean your house, or indeed pay someone else to do the kidnapping for you - whether or not you know about it. Do you see?

  11. Mark.

    Change your moniker to "Loki" after the Norse god of mischief. And stop extracting urine involuntarily from so many serious and well meaning people, some of whom probably have kidney complaints and would prefer a catheter inserted up their urethra rather than your wit inserted up their arse! You are funny but also very very naughty.

    As for Purnell... well... I for one would LOVE to see HIM fucked (up) in every way imaginable after excluding EVERY possible sexual avenue.

  12. Hold on Penny!

    In your response to my post you seem to imply that I am a "lazy bastard" that lives in a "pigsty". Or that I am in favour of loveless marriages in which the wife is subjugated and reduced to a state of submissive thralldom.

    Can I take the liberty of pointing out that the initial in my name actually stands for Augusta and that I myself am currently pursuing a gainful and successful career in the sexual industry as a model, stripper, dominatrix and prostitute!

    Of course I am completely against people trafficking where young women are deceived into travelling to a foreign country in the belief that they were going to take up secure, well paid and respectable positions, only to discover upon arrival that they are actually going to be coerced into performing various sexual activities for little or no money and completely against their will.

    Sometimes you seem to be rather "down" on the opposite sex you know. Some men are really quite nice. You ought to try one yourself some time.


  13. Laurie, Sex trafficking is a very bad thing and those involved should be punished but if you're going to advocate it you really need to address the practicality of it - How is someone out looking to pay for sex supposed to determine if they're trafficked, and anyway how do you define "controlled for another person's gain"? Does anyone with a pimp count as controlled? How about if her pimp tells her to smile more? Just where is the line?

  14. "If you think that the fact that IUSW union members might lose a bit of business or have to change their working practices trumps a coerced woman's right to decide what happens to her own body, you may need a knife and fork - you're going to choke on that party line."

    To be fair, I don't think the IUSW are saying this either - their concerns seem to be for the ways in which the laws may put vulnerable women in more danger, for example, as you point out, by forcing sex workers to work outdoors.

    The fact is, no piece of legislation is going to "solve" the issue of prostitution. Ensuring that no one is in sex work either forcibly, or due to having very limited options is going to require a confronting not just sexism, but racism, capitalism, immigration controls, transphobia, ableism and other systems of oppression. Given that the Labour government is responsible for propogating a lot of the above systems, they're clearly using this legislation to look good while not effecting any real change. I mean, one of the most effective ways to fight trafficking would be to loosen immigration controls, but the government is consistently doing the opposite.

  15. Penny what exactly are you saying? This time I'm honestly lost. Your argument is so muddled it makes little or no sense. I can't work out your position.

    Also what does this mean?

    "If you think that prostitution should be a buyer's market like any other - you're a libertarian."

    A buyer's market is simply when there is more supply than demand. So prices are cheap and favour the buyer. This has nothing to do with libertarianism.

    In relation to the subject -- prostitution has to be made legal. There is no other solution. No amount of legislation will stop the demand side of the market. And as a result people will take the legal risks to supply said market.

    If it remains illegal the market will remain in the hands of crooks because they're willing to take the risks. And they'll continue to use the sex/slave trade to maximise profits to compensate for those risks.

  16. I see the proposed law as unworkable, ignoring the known difficulties for police to efficiently demonstrate control and coercion by one person on another. If I thought, after over a decade of studying these questions, that it were possible truly to sort out the real victims from the false, I'd support the current bill. But where trafficking and migration is concerned, it is rarely easy to divide up migrants this way. Clients will ask police to prove that victims are trafficked or controlled, and whilst in a few cases that will be possible, in many it won't, particularly where complicated migration histories are involved. I wrote about this vis-a-vis the bill for the Guardian in The Shadowy World of Sex Across Borders

    Best, Laura Agustin
    Border Thinking on Migration and Trafficking

  17. Sometimes you seem to be rather "down" on the opposite sex you know. Some men are really quite nice. You ought to try one yourself some time.

    Some people are gay A John. Get over it. But from what she's written elsewhere on her blog Penny Red isn't. Try to work on the homophobia and stereotyping eh?

  18. With regard to an earlier post of yours, I used to make modest monetary donations regularly to the Poppy Project, or Eaves Housing which I think they are a part of. I Didn't realise about some of the "conditional" support with regards the law.

  19. Clients will ask police to prove that victims are trafficked or controlled…

    That’s the point of “Paying for sexual services of a prostitute controlled for gain” and moving liability onto the punter. The Police don’t have to prove anything. The responsibility lies with the buyer. And it also isn’t all about trafficking and migration we also have controlled by pimps and drug-dealers in the equation.

    Maybe it will be difficult to implement but so what? At least it will make some punters think twice about just who they are paying for sex.


  20. "Some people are gay A John"

    No shit!

    I had no idea!

    Well you learn a little something every day!

    What makes you think that I am heterosexual anyway Anonymous? For all you know I could be bisexual or previously dallied with the maidens of Mitylene on the island of Lesbos.

    For your information I am probably one of the most liberal and least homophobic people on this or any other planet! Life is short and when you've been dead a million years you've only just started being dead so lighten up enough to recognise gentle teasing and good humour when you see it. Try to be less defensive and glum and don't take everything you see, hear or read to heart so precipitously.

    I am quite sure that Penny Red smiled and chuckled after reading my words, recognising them for what they are, and was amused rather than offended by what she saw.

    Ask her if yourself don't believe me.

  21. Guys, sorry for not responding to all of these fine points, I am in bed with the deathflu :(

    Suffice it to say that I do agree with the people who say that this law is going to be hard to implement. But I'm not sure that in itself is a case for not having a law. I have no beef with people selling sex, but I do have a great deal of problem with abuse within the sex industry, and I think the mistake people make is in thinking that one must always and forever entail the other. Just because a majority of the sex industry has historically been abusive doesn't mean that it always has to be.

    Oh, and A.John - 'I am quite sure that Penny Red smiled and chuckled after reading my words, recognising them for what they are, and was amused rather than offended by what she saw.'

    Look, I get the joke you were trying to make, but I'm with the Anon. poster here - I'm just not sure the humour was well placed, particularly not when making a jibe that infers the well-worn cliche of all feminists being lesbian man-haters.

    I think - I hope - that in making that inference jokily you were trying to express a form of solidarity, and that's laudable. But you've got to understand that, as feminist-identified women, we face this kind of abuse for real quite a lot, which makes us touchy. You wouldn't believe, for example, some of the comments I actually have to delete from this blog in order to maintain it as a safe space for women posters.

    So you have to understand that we will be sensitive about 'jokes' made at our expense - and for good reason, I think. Possibly there's a whole post in here...

  22. Laura

    All the (DWP) Jobcentre investigations were down to me, not some, but all of them,

    I'd also like to find if all the first girls (DEL/Jobcentre) are alive, before the DWP give me any more work.

    The Northern Echo - Stories for 20 October 2006
    20 Oct 2006 ... James Jerome Brennan is alleged to have arranged the meeting in a pub car park after contacting the 15-year-old through an internet chatroom ... - 57k - Cached - Similar pages

    That is what their first client looked like


  23. "I wish they'd leave it all alone, everything to do with abuse and trafficking and having sex with girls non-consensually is already illegal and i don't really think it's helpful to have legislation passed by people who have no fucking clue what they're talking about
    25 January 2009 23:41 "

    Rape was illegal in New Zealand, and the sex workers advisors, what do we call those?

    who were 'pimps' decided they needed a new law, which was funny, because, they were the dudes, what the heck was their fucking job?

    Using kids, 14 or 15 in strip clubs was not illegal already, and Helen Clark wouldn't include that as a compromise.

    INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.TV: Benson-Pope and the Naked Schoolgirls
    27 Feb 2007 ... According to another female student in an email to Investigate, David Benson- Pope again tried to see naked schoolgirls on the 1998 fourth ... - 20k

    It turned out that raping prostituted women, was one of the few gobshite things already illegal,

    as you can see from the exploits of an ex-teacher and one of Helen's prize cabinet ministers.

    I really liked Helen, because she was a female Tony Blair, I'd rather eat my own shit than listen to her

    When pimp groupies, accuse me of leveraging something, with Jacqui Smith MP,

    I'm not in this for a Harvard debate, Pimps campaign to win, whatever way.

    Jacqui Smith will meet the Taliban, before she meets the IUSW.

    I'm an expert on Afghanistan so you can take that to the bank.

    (I also advise our readers in Humberside to look into home-schooling)

    There is one other thing, I only get paid if I win.

  24. All my gay friends joke constantly with each and with me about their sexuality and sexual mores. I have come to take such behaviour and banter as the norm, but after thinking about what I have read on this blog, I suppose I have to concede that Anonymous and Penny Red have a valid point.

    If one black person calls another black person a "nigger" it carries a different connotation, black to black, than it would were a white person to do the same thing, white to black.

    The reason I ribbed Penny about being "down" on men was because when she read my first post I believe she jumped to the conclusion that I was actually a man with a history of paying prostitutes for sexual services rendered. When Ms. Red included the following sentence in her rebuttal:

    "You want someone to clean your house for you, because you happen to be a lazy bastard."

    I surmised that she did so principally because she thought I was male and was hence being a little "down" on me mostly because of my gender; this why I included the little teasing dig in my next comment.

    I have suffered prejudice myself in so many way throughout my life too. But the way I look at it is: Why should I care about the opinion of someone about me personally when their opinions on every other topic under the sun are probably vapid and valueless?

    Why concern yourself about the opinions of homophobes about you personally when you couldn't care less about their thoughts and opinions vis-a-vis any other issue? Concern about worthless opinions volunteers you as their victim.

    However, I apologise if I have inadvertently hurt anyone's feelings. If you look inside yourselves, experience and intuition should inform you that I never intended to be malicious in any way, shape or form.

    Quite the contrary in fact.

  25. In Englewood, Chicago, a white person saying 'hello' to a black person, might be fatal, they can get plenty riled over the sight of white people.

  26. "they can get plenty riled over the sight of white people."

    Or maybe they just get riled over the sight of you...

  27. "Or maybe they just get riled over the sight of you..."

    In Englewood?

    of course, if he is good at being riled,

    I'm stopped at lights,

    my front window has popped and it is the last sparkling puzzle my brain will ever do,

    I am dead already.

  28. i love all the items on your checklist, especially the last one.

    its great that there are people out there,more eloquent than me that also understand that you can only regulate something if you legalize it. :D

    (apologies for the slightly wacky compositioin of this post, awe has scrambled my cognative function and will for the next five miniuts-then im emailing this to everone in my email circle,even the spammers,especialy the spammers.)

  29. Hey – great blog, just looking around some blogs, seems a really nice platform you are using. I’m currently using WordPress for a few of my blogs but looking to change one of them over to a platform similar to yours as a trial run. Anything in particular you would recommend about it? Weedies

  30. Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!
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