Independent | The Lib Dem way of solving our prostitution problem is nothing more than an Orange Book for penis rights

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The old sexist joke about women and politics goes that the place of a woman in the movement is prone. For the Liberal Democrats, until 2015, the place of a woman was in an unsafe seat if she made it into parliament at all – of the three main parties, the Lib Dems had the fewest female MPs, and they were concentrated in the party’s most precarious constituencies.

When the Lib Dems collapsed at the polls, it became a party of men. And a party of men is exactly who you’d expect to come up with a policy of totally decriminalising prostitution, likely to be adopted at the Lib Dems’ spring conference.

Read the full post at the Independent

Independent | Liberal Democrat Dennis Parsons is wrong – prostitution is abuse, not a career to aspire to

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The revelation that Keith Vaz was unwinding from his work chairing parliamentary inquiries into the law on prostitution by arranging to “break” young prostituted Eastern European men is a good reminder that whenever a man ventures an opinion about the sale of sex, we should ask what his skin in the game is. The best available data tells us that one in ten men has paid for sex.

According to Dennis Parsons, the main cause of harm in prostitution is people who insist that prostitution is a cause of harm. “The fact that we are asking ‘should we seek to prevent people entering sex work?’ is part of the problem,” he told a special session of the Lib Dem conference. “You wouldn’t ask the question ‘should we prevent people becoming accountants?’ You’d just take it for granted.”

Read the full post at the Independent

New Statesman | Keith Vaz’s defenders have backed his call for privacy

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Privacy, like power and money, is one of those unevenly distributed commodities. And as with power and money, if you want to lay claim to privacy, having a penis is a great place to start. Even when a man’s personal conduct is in direct conflict with his public duties, he can still try to plead his entitlement to a “private life”. That’s the line Keith Vaz’s defenders have taken since Sunday, when the Sunday Mirror published allegations that the Labour MP for Leicester East paid two men for sex and that he did this while chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which is currently conducting an inquiry into the laws on prostitution. The same day Vaz was exposed, the Sunday Times published a list of “childless politicians” who were, inevitably, women: if you’re female, scrutiny is permissible all the way into your uterus, however little it has to do with your work.

The commons committee that Vaz chaired launched its inquiry into prostitution in January stating in its terms of reference: “In particular, the inquiry assesses whether the balance in the burden of criminality should shift to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.” In other words, Vaz was involved in an inquiry to decide whether people who pay for sex should be criminalised. The committee’s interim report, published in June, declared that it was “not yet persuaded” that criminalising punters would be “effective”, despite evidence of the policy’s success in Sweden and Norway.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Guardian Review | Pimp State by Kat Banyard

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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.

Read the full review at the Guardian

New Statesman | A modest proposal for making the sex industry safer – make punters get a licence

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“Civilisation” is a rum concept. For much of history it’s been defined with women on the outside: great men do their great works, and women are vaguely imagined on the fringes. Jeremy Corbyn thinks we should have a more “civilised” approach to prostitution: “I want to be [in] a society where we don’t automatically criminalise people”, he told an audience at Goldsmiths, and that gender-neutral word “people” means he’s not only talking about freeing those in prostitution (mostly women) from the heinous burden of criminalisation, but also and more controversially striking away the laws concerning men who pay for sex.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Little Atoms | What does a successful prostitution policy look like?

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What does a successful policy on prostitution look like? The first and obvious answer is “nothing like what the UK is currently doing”. Although the sale and purchase of sex are both legal in the UK, related activities (such as soliciting, kerb crawling, or keeping a brothel) are criminalised. The Crown Prosecution Service includes prostitution within its “violence against women framework” – but despite this, since 2013, more women than men have been targeted under prostitution law.

Whichever side of the ideological lines you fall on when it comes to the sex industry, a system that punishes those it identifies as victims more than those it identifies as perpetrators can only be described as a terrible failure.

Read the full article at Little Atoms

New Statesman | The death of Daria Pionko shows there is no “safe” way to manage prostitution

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Daria Pionko was supposed to be safe. Or safer, anyway. That, at least, was part of the thinking behind the “managed prostitution area” established in the Holbeck area of Leeds in June 2014 and officially announced the following October. It was also a tidying-up exercise, in response to locals’ concerns about living alongside street prostitution. By suspending the laws on kerb-crawling and soliciting between seven at night and seven in the morning in one non-residential part of town, Leeds City Council hoped to draw all the city’s outdoor prostitution to one unobtrusive place.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Statement in response to London Young Labour Summer Conference Motion 8 supporting the decriminalisation of sex work

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.

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Who do you listen to?

There’s one guaranteed pro-sex-work response whenever you write something unenthusiastic about prostitution, and that response is: listen to sex workers. It was the dominant theme of critical replies to my review of Melissa Gira Grant’s Playing the Whore: listen to sex workers, then you’ll see how wrong you are.

In some ways it’s a peculiar logic when it comes to sex work – it claims the privileged status of the victim, while pro-sex-work advocates simultaneously insist that sex workers are not victims – but there’s a logic to it that I wouldn’t dispute. The people directly affected by any situation have undeniable insights into their condition, and I want to listen to them. I want to do justice to the people who figure in my politics.

But when I’m told listen to sex workers, the assumption is that “sex workers” as a class adopt a coherent line which I’m obliged to follow. (Again, this is a bit weird because one of the main strands of anti-legislation argument also holds that sex workers are too various to be dealt with under a single framework. Nevertheless, there it is.)

So for example, Gira Grant espouses decriminalisation, and presents that as an aim pertinent to all sex workers – in fact, she argues for total freedom from the state, including no registration and no taxation on income. But in Italy, some sex workers are campaigning for the right to legally register their occupation and to pay tax (doing so would make them eligible for pensions, which is a highly reasonable thing to want). Who to listen to, Gira Grant or the Italian protesters?

Or maybe I should listen to Rachel Moran, a former prostitute who considers the purchase of sex an act of violence against women and campaigns for its criminalisation (her own testimony, in her memoir Paid For, makes a pretty compelling case). Moran holds a very different opinion on who the victims of prostitution are:

The acceptance of prostitution makes all women potential prostitutes in the public view since there are only two requirements for a woman to work in a brothel: one is that circumstance has placed her so […] and the other is that she has a vagina, and all women are born meeting at least one of these requirements.

Paid For, Rachel Moran (Gill & Macmillan, 2013)

In other words, women as a class are affected by the fact of sex work, which means that all women have the right to be listened to as the affected class.

The “listen to” argument shrugs off responsibility. Rather than make your own judgments, it allows you to outsource your moral thinking to another party, and give up the tricky obligation to weigh facts and balance rights.

But it also obscures a moral judgment already taken: when someone says listen to sex workers, they’re defining the class “sex worker” by the opinions they think it proper for a sex worker to hold. (For example: anyone endorsing Moran’s writing and campaigning is liable to be called a “SWERF” – Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist – even though she had sex for money over the course of many years. Including her is still considered to be excluding sex workers, because sex workers are supposed to support the continuation of prostitution.)

This kind of covertly selective listening is not enough. Absorbing testimony is critical to developing your politics, but it’s not a replacement for the work you need to do yourself. That work is hard, of course. It takes you into areas where you have no guide but your own judgment, and the judgments you make have the potential to affect real lives if you are ever in a position to shape policy, or even just to influence other people’s opinions. That’s a responsibility I can understand anyone preferring not to acknowledge, but it’s a responsibility you have whether you want it or not. And it’s why the “listen to” argument is necessary, but it’s never sufficient.