Opinion: Fighting for sex workers’ rights in Scotland

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 11.01.01So, here we go again! Another bid to introduce the Nordic Model of criminalising the clients of sex workers has been launched this week in Scotland. This time it comes from a group called End Prostitution Now; a campaigning organisation made up of some very familiar faces and backed by Rhoda Grant MSP whose last attempt to introduce this legislation failed in 2012. Advocating for sex workers’ rights in Scotland can sometimes feel like playing Whack-a-Mole; every time we successfully argue against one campaign to make sex work more dangerous, another pops up almost immediately – perhaps having undergone a slight rebrand, but always essentially the same as the last.

On Monday, End Prostitution Now’s spokesperson Jan Macleod (whose widely-discredited research on the matter has been described by academics as “violating fundamental principles of human research ethics”) appeared on Scotland Tonight to defend the proposals. When challenged on the dangers caused by the Nordic Model in practice, she claimed that Googling brought up mixed evidence and stated that it was difficult to know which sources to believe.

Well, Jan, I can think of a few decent sources; how about the Swedish Government who, despite being desperate to have their law deemed a success, had to admit that “[n]o causal connections can be proven between legislation and changes in prostitution”? They’ve also conceded that sex workers in Sweden are now experiencing increased violence.

Or there’s the Swedish Police who reported a threefold increase in the number of ‘massage parlours’ between 2009 and 2012. A little more Googling might lead you to this report from the Norwegian Ministry of Justice which describes the model forcing sex workers “to move to hidden and therefore potentially more dangerous locations to meet clients”.

Still not convinced? Perhaps you could take a look this report from UNAIDS which notes that The approach of criminalising the client has been shown to backfire on sex workers… There is very little evidence to suggest that any criminal laws related to sex work reduce demand for sex or the number of sex workers. Rather, all of them create an environment of fear and marginalisation”.

All of this is before we even begin to look at testimony from the sex workers themselves so, to conclude, I would suggest with all due respect that perhaps your problem with Google is less do to with finding believable sources, and more to do with being unable to find any evidence to suit your own anti-sex work agenda.

Update: Alison McInnes MSP has reminded us that Rhoda Grant MSP has proposed amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill that would criminalise clients of sex workers in Scotland. The Justice Committee will discuss amendments on Tuesday (June 16th) so please contact the members of the committee to make your thoughts on this known!

* Jade O'Neil was a European list candidate for Scotland and blogs at Misinformed Musings. She proposed the motion on protecting the safety and rights of sex workers at Scottish Conference.

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  • My comment was going to focus on the fact that pushing sex work underground only endangers prostitutes, increases criminality, drug use and human trafficking and helps spread STIs. I was going to follow it up with the need to introduce legalised and regulated red light districts to cut out the pimps, cut down on drug use and stop the spread of de seas through regular health visits. Then I remembered that Thai has been said time and time again.

    Let’s legalise prostitution – and let’s legalise it now

  • Bloody auto-correct on my phone lol

  • Ellie Cumbo tried and failed on Sunday to slag us off when London Young Labour passed a motion to support the decriminalisation of sex work, saying it’s the “sort of thing that should be left to Lib Dems”.

    I’m never going to regret actually listening to friends and colleagues in the industry before proposing the motion last Autumn. FPC will be butting together a working group soon to create a new policy paper on the issue, and I urge everyone to take part.

  • Jennie Kermode 11th Jun '15 - 4:13pm

    It’s cheering to see this article after seeing a great deal of one-sided coverage in the press. I am not a sex worker but I used to date one and I have friends in the business, and it horrifies me that, again and again, this discussion about what is best for them resurfaces without them having any opportunity for early-stage input. Again I see people insisting that they’re all brainwashed and unable to understand their predicament, and it reminds me of the excuses that used to be used for locking up gay men and feminist women in psychiatric institutions. A civilised society should be deeply wary of this kind of infantilisation, a pernicious technique which seeks to rob people of their right to make their own choices.

  • I just want to point out that “sex work” and prostitution are not synonymous; prostitution is one kind of sex work. There are other kinds that do not involve sex with clients, or even physical contact with them. The danger is that by not recognizing the diversity in sex work, policies or decisions may be made which affect all sex workers while being only appropriate for one kind of sex work.
    More briefly, if you wish to talk about prostitution, you should use the word straightforwardly, and not assume that “sex work” is a euphemism for it.

  • Andrew Carey 11th Jun '15 - 6:30pm

    Good post.

    I think most people if pushed would say that they want whatever legal and policing framework works best to reduce involuntary prostitution. But Jan Macleod can’t imagine that some prostitution is not involuntary and there are a small numbers of the population preferring to do this thing that she herself can only visualise as disgusting and abusive.

  • I think most people if pushed would say that they want whatever legal and policing framework works best to reduce involuntary prostitution

    I think there are a lot (perhaps a majority, perhaps only a sizeable minority) of people who, if pushed, would say that they want whatever framework will reduce all prostitution, voluntary or involuntary, because they think that buying or selling sex is immoral*.

    The difference between voluntary and involuntary prostitution not being that one is moral and the other immoral, but that those involved in the latter are victims who need to be helped rather than criminalised and farther victimised (whereas those involved in the former simply need to be stopped from plying, by choice, an immoral trade).

    I think this because if you don’t think that prostitution is immoral, then logically you should be in favour of legal, regulated brothels, such as in Nevada or Germany. We don’t have those in Britain and there is no realistic prospect of them being established; the only possible reason against them is that you think prostitution is per se immoral; ergo, there is not a majority in Britain who think that prostitution is not immoral.

    * And they would say that other forms of that same trade, such as marrying for money, are also immoral, but are harder to legislate against.

  • Alex H – you are completely right regarding pushing the industry underground! I would argue against legalisation and regulation, however, and push more for a decriminalised system. Sounds picky but it is quite different and the latter is shown to be the most effective!

    Mark – I hope you’re right and that it will be defeated but it will certainly not be the last time we need to speak out against it! It’s important that we continue to do so, though.

    Sarah – I’m glad to hear about the working group, I’d very much like to be involved with that! As you know I really supported the Federal motion but I do have a few niggles with it which I’d love to discuss when there’s chance to.

    Jennie – thanks! I’m happy to have cheered you  You make a very good point – there’s a real human side to this that too often gets overlooked and there are far too many people who want to take choices away from sex workers in the name of ‘rescue’.

    David-1 – You are absolutely correct that the terms ‘sex work’ and ‘sex workers’ encompass the whole area but we do try to avoid the p-word now as it’s too often considered a slur and all of the workers and industry groups that I’ve spoken to about it would much prefer that we move away from it and use their preferred language. In this instance there isn’t a big distinction to make as the campaign wants to end all forms of ‘commercial sexual exploitation’ which they class as all sex work, not just the buying and selling of sex (though the focus is very much on criminalising men who buy sex, as if they’re the only people who do!)

    Andrew – You are completely right. Currently all sex workers are effectively considered ‘involuntary’ by the Scottish Government as it’s assumed that they must be victims of the industry. This is a harmful attitude that needs to change! That said, we do have to recognise that there are people forced into the industry who don’t want to be and that’s something that needs to be tackled urgently; the evidence suggests the best way to do that is to decriminalise the actual workers (who, by definition, are voluntary!)

  • Tim

    “I think this because if you don’t think that prostitution is immoral, then logically you should be in favour of legal, regulated brothels, such as in Nevada or Germany.”

    A couple of points you can think something is immoral and still want it to be legal. I favour legalisation I consider immoral as I don’t believe in pushing my morality on others.

    Secondly you can favour legal control and want a different model to Navada or Germany.

    There are many ways to do this.

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