This Is Our Job

This is our job so just recognise our rights and get over it.

As I am a male sex worker I naturally paid especial attention to the recent debate in the House of Commons following the second reading of the policing bill. I was particularly interested where the debate dealt with the government’s proposals for tackling the demand for prostitution. As a sex worker I view my work as being just that work freely entered into and a job that gives both a sense of purpose and worth. I was shocked therefore by the utter ignorance of the realities of my work shown by nearly all the speakers and also by the acceptance of common prejudice as fact by many. It is alarming that legislation is being proposed by people with little knowledge of the subjects they presume to legislate on. I would hope that what ever your personal moral perspective is on sex work that you agree that it is morally wrong to base law on personal taste, personal preferences and inaccuracies that objectify all persons involved in sex work as caricatured victims. Recognition of self agency and the acceptance of basic human rights regardless of personal prejudice should be the basis of good law and indeed has been accepted as such for some considerable time. Bad law enacted to appease those who would presume to be seen to do good usually ends in law that ignores human rights and further disenfranchises those the law presumes to help. Bad laws enacted to send a moral message, which has always been the experience of sex workers do nothing to end abuse but rather further damns those who are already disenfranchised with more stigmatisation and criminalisation.

I do understand and share the genuine concerns expressed in regard to the horror of trafficked women and children in our industry. I also share the concerns over street sex workers who work to feed drug habits or who are coerced to work through the agency of boyfriends or vicious criminals. I, like most sex workers, understand these concerns very well. After all, I don’t want our industry and our jobs being tainted by association. I also understand however that it is wrong to tarnish and persecute a whole industry because of a wrong perception that the suffering of a minority either through drug addiction or through exploitation by criminals should somehow represent the experience of the majority. I have been around the industry for ten years and have met and worked with hundreds of escorts and I can honestly say that in those ten years I have never come across a trafficked person. I am not denying that they exist, but just as corrupt policemen and politicians are not automatically indicative of their professions, then neither should vicious criminals and their abused victims be indicative of the experiences of all sex workers.

I have always associated my personal politics with the struggle for universal recognition of human rights. Supporting the feminist movement and the argument that a person’s worth should never be based on either gender or sexual orientation is an essential understanding of human rights. I find it therefore distasteful when some women claim their understanding of feminism as an excuse to both encourage stigmatisation and alienation of women, men and transgender persons. It is worse still that they also incite the law to persecute and endanger the lives of those with whom they have an ideological difference. One can debate certainly but to incite persecution is dishonourable and does feminism little credit. Feminism is after all a movement with not one opinion but many.

The feminist movement has traditionally struggled against similar injustices as those suffered by gays and lesbians. But now, some in the feminist movement appear to have betrayed that common history, by siding with those who have historically equally silenced both the sexual expression of women and minorities. I would hope that today women would be united in defending their fellow women when they are stigmatised and persecuted, even those with whom they disagree, if not for their sexual orientation, then for engaging in consensual adult sexual acts disapproved of by some in our still patriarchal society. There is something wrong when women persecute other women because they exercise free agency in a way that they disapprove of. Some feminists, who angrily dismiss dissenting female voices in the sex worker/prostituted women debate, referring to them as “Pimp groupies”, are simply adopting the censorious voices of male legislators. They have in effect become the guardians of the new patriarchy, walking hand in hand with state and religion, to send a message of moral disapproval, poorly dressed as social indignation of perceived male brutality towards “prostituted” women.

The adoption of the mantle of self righteous indignation by prohibitionists when they speak disparately of sex workers rights is both disingenuous and dangerous. They encourage the enforcement of bad laws now and support the adoption of more bad law with the intention, they claim, of protecting the vulnerable. If prohibitionists were honest they would admit that the intention of this bad law that denies sex workers rights, has nothing to do with protecting women and children or in stopping trafficking. The purpose of the persecution now, as in the past, is both to eliminate our work and alienate us from society. New proposals to criminalise clients and further target brothels are just more of the same.

Prohibitionists and politicians collude without conscience to present a salacious spectacle of abused victims of sex work as evidence that the caricature of the victim is every sex worker.

Trafficked victims, along side drug addled street women, are humiliatingly paraded by prohibitionists as proof of insidious and endemic abuse. This is actually worse than anything the traffickers and abusers could ever do because they belittle the plight of these real victims by inciting enactment of bad laws that will persecute and endanger them further as well as further alienate the rest of us. It is the most callous abuse of wrecked individuals for political propaganda imaginable and every one involved from politicians to radical feminists should be appalled and ashamed.

And what of the majority of sex workers who do not fit the caricature? We are ignored and insulted should we dare speak. The law is used to criminalise us and stigmatise us.

The government, despite wringing its hands over the plight of poor “raped” and “abused” street women, is proposing sending those same victims to gaol should they fail to attend rehabilitation classes. Sex workers in contrast are arguing for human rights and for humane and dignified exit strategies and support for these vulnerable sex workers who are coerced and who turn to sex work as a survival strategy. Our moral guardians and would be saviours however, are planning to gaol and criminalise those they argue are the most vulnerable. Who is the human rights abuser the sex for sale industry or the government?

It would seem that Human Rights are for others and not for us. The problem is that because the prohibitionists have reduced sex workers to degraded caricatures they can then in their eyes discuss us dispassionately as no longer human but rather as objects. All sex workers are therefore an annoying problem to be legislated against in the hope we just go away.

Sex worker do have a voice however through the IUSW and they have union recognition through the GMB. We know our own problems and we want to address them and to find solutions but we can not do that when we are pursued as criminals. Sex workers exist in a world where we have to keep one eye out for the law and the other on the real criminals, who target us because they can knowing that the law is as likely to prosecute us, should we seek legal protection, as they are to prosecute the criminals. Only recognition of our rights will stop this and allow us to create safe areas and foster good working practices.

All the arguments and use of statistics as evidence by both sides is only at best a side issue. The real and only argument is the acknowledgment of sex workers human rights and the recognition of our labour as genuine labour and therefore due the full protection of the law rather than the full rigor of the law to persecute us.

No abuse has ever been mended by further abuse. Recognise our rights and then work with us to mend our industry.

-Douglas Fox, Activist for the IUSW and Amnesty International

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