If we’re living through a resurgence of feminism, Kat Banyard is one of the principal reasons. Since 2010, when she founded the activist group UK Feminista and published her agenda-setting first book, The Equality Illusion, she has worked assiduously to further women’s rights. In 2014, she launched the End Demand campaign to bring the “Nordic model” to the UK – a legal framework that treats the act of purchasing sex as violence against women, criminalising buyers, decriminalising the prostituted, and establishing services to support those exiting the trade. Pimp State is a detailed account of the case against the sex industry, and for the Nordic model: tightly argued, closely evidenced, and persuasive in its call to action.
The London Young Labour summer conference takes place this Sunday. Among the motions to be voted on, motion 8 deserves particular scrutiny from feminists: it is titled “Standing up for sex workers’ rights, supporting the decriminalisation of sex work.” It is principally concerned with committing LYL to opposing the Nordic model. A number of feminist activists, academics and frontline service providers have collaborated to critique the claims and evidence offered in this motion.
As a feminist and a Labour Party member, I am publishing the full document below and hope that any delegates attending the LYL conference will consider it carefully before voting. It is a detailed and thorough rebuttal of motion 8, and very much worth reading in full. However, the conclusion is a particularly powerful explanation of why the Labour movement should never legitimise an industry founded in exploitative power relations:
as feminists we believe that women who sell sex are fellow human beings who operate under the constraints and limitations of all human life. Most of them are neither superior, sexually liberated entrepreneurs, nor weak and defenceless victims. They are responding to the demand created by men and catered to by pimps and traffickers (among others), a demand which can and should be delegitimised through the introduction of legislation that signals that sexual exploitation is not an acceptable “service” to purchase, even if the money exchanging hands seems to make it a “free” transaction on behalf of the class of people thus being exploited. The protection of those who sell should not be conflated with the legitimisation of those who buy. Those within the Labour movement who fail to distinguish or even acknowledge these two very different constituent elements of the sex industry, and who do not identify which holds the power, should explain their position better and more honestly than they have done in this motion.