This is not the way to do it

There was a report in the Observer yesterday on police raids on brothels in Soho. These raids appear to be heavy-handed, with women being photographed by reporters and threatened with exposure by the police, and, from other reports I’ve read recently, more about the gentrification of the area than the welfare of the women. This is not an abolitionist approach, as there are currently no large-scale, comprehensive, non-coercive exit programmes available, and as far as I can tell, no kind of help has been offered to these women.

Any abolitionist model worthy of the name must have exit programmes and safety nets in place first, and these services need to acknowledge that exiting can take a long time, with poverty, drug addiction, homelessness, lack of education, and the legacy of violence and sexual abuse all needing to be remedied. We are trying to undo centuries, if not millennia, of male supremacism and the poverty, discrimination, inequality, and abuse of women under it; that is not going to happen overnight with just a change in the law. We may have to accept the necessity of a legal transitional period, which may have to include tolerance zones for prostitution (which, by extension would mean tolerance of the johns too), in order to keep women safe during this transitional period – a first step would be the Merseyside Model of police relations.

A CiF piece out today by Diane Taylor calls for a “truce in this debate” and claims that “whether you criminalise buyers or criminalise sellers, the impact on sex workers is the same”. Taylor ignores completely the many sex industry survivor individuals and groups that support an abolitionist approach; she also ignores that Germany has become the destination of choice in Europe for sex trafficking, entirely because of Germany’s decriminalisation of the sex industry.

Taylor also says that “those who do want to get out lament the lack of financial and emotional support available to them, and equate leaving sex work to tumbling into a bottomless, moneyless rabbit hole” while at the same time ignoring the fact that there is fuck all in the way of exiting services available in Germany or New Zealand, because in those countries, it is seen as ‘just work’.

No law ‘works’ 100% (in that no law 100% eliminates the thing criminalised; we have had laws against murder for millennia, but murders still keep happening), the Swedish Model does not ‘work’ 100%, but it is still better than decriminalisation, which has led, in Germany, to mega-brothels and entirely legal flat-rate brothels, with New Zealand building its first mega-brothel (with the full support of the New Zealand’s ‘sex worker collective’). To borrow from Winston Churchill’s views on democracy, we have to choose the least worst option available, and that is, still, an abolitionist approach.

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