Below are two articles I spotted recently on poverty in New Zealand. I think it is useful to point this out, as sex industry advocates want us to think that prostitution is ‘necessary’ because of women’s poverty, and that prostitution somehow ‘cures’ women’s poverty (if that were true there would be no poverty by now).
If prostitution was such a great way to make money, wouldn’t all poor women do it? The reality is that prostitution is most profitable for the pimps and brothel keepers, and a very small number of young, conventionally attractive, relatively privileged women, for a short time only; other women end up there out of desperation, deeper desperation, it seems, than having to rent a garage to live in.
Schoolgirls in New Zealand are skipping class because they cannot afford sanitary pads and are being forced to use phonebooks, newspapers and rags to make-do during menstruation.
In the last three months local charity KidsCan distributed 4,000 sanitary items to more than 500 low-income schools nationwide after they were given a NZ$25,000 (USD$18,000) government grant to begin to address the issue.
Because KidsCan buy in bulk, they are able to purchase packs of sanitary products for around NZ$1 – instead of the NZ$4-8 that supermarkets usually charge. Sanitary products are taxed in New Zealand.
Vaughan Couillault, principal of Papatoetoe high school in south Auckland, said it was a “serious concern” that many of his 700 female students from lower socio-economic backgrounds could not afford the products to manage their monthly cycle hygienically.
This year KidsCan started supplying the school with sanitary items, but before that his staff would make regular trips to the supermarket to buy sanitary supplies, and charge female students 50 cents to cover costs. According to Couillault, at other low-income schools in New Zealand teachers buy students sanitary products using their own money.
Sarah Kull, a school nurse at Papatoetoe, said since the 50 cent charge was removed the number of students approaching her for sanitary products had increased to around 10-15 pupils each day. Half of them needed one-off items and half were stocking up to cater for their entire period.
“There is a shame factor involved in asking for help with such an intimate part of your life, and I think the girls we see approaching us are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kull.
“A lot of girls are too embarrassed to ask. We also have about the same number each day come to us for pain relief related to their periods. Paracetamol is cheaper than pads but there is still a cost involved, which for many students from low-income families is unmanageable.”
Labour MP Louisa Wall is spear-heading the campaign to draw attention to school-age girls who can’t afford the average NZ$5-15 (USD$3-10) a month for sanitary items. She has also been told of women in hospital who have been unable to access sanitary items, and that many female university students struggle to pay to cover their periods.
“Local schools started coming to me and saying: ‘We need help with this’. Girls are skipping class and sports because they can’t afford the sanitary items that make their periods a normal part of life,” she said.
“This issue is still taboo and we really need to start addressing it because sanitary items are not a luxury – they are a basic necessity. Not being able to afford them is holding many girls and women back, and I am especially concerned about them missing out on education because of their periods.”
Should we consider schoolgirls in New Zealand to be at a disadvantage compared to the girls in various African countries, were ‘dating’ a ‘sugar daddy’ in return for money for basic essentials like sanitary pads is ‘normal’ (remember, ‘normal’ here doesn’t mean ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘beneficial’, it just means commonplace and unremarkable)? Are these schoolgirls being ‘oppressed’ by the age limit of 18 to enter the sex industry? Remember, sex industry advocates are pushing for the decriminalisation of the commercial sexual exploitation of children as well (this is something I want to write about in more detail, I have seen a sex industry advocate use the rationalisation that ‘children are poor too’).
Hundreds of families in Auckland are living in cars, garages and even a shipping container as a housing crisis fuelled by rising property prices forces low-income workers out of private rental accommodation.
Charity groups have warned that, as the southern hemisphere winter approaches, most of the premises have no electricity, sewage or cooking facilities.
“This is not people who haven’t been trying. They have been trying very hard and still they’re failing,” said Campbell Roberts of The Salvation Army, who has worked in South Auckland for 25 years.
“A few years ago people in this situation were largely unemployed or on very low-incomes. But consistently now we are finding people coming to us who are in work, and have their life together in other ways, but housing is alluding them.”
Auckland’s housing market is one of the most expensive in the world, with property prices increasing 77.5% over the last five years (this growth has now slowed), and the average house price fetching over NZ$940,000 (£440,000), according to CoreLogic, New Zealand.
Combined with low interest rates, rising migration, near full occupancy of state housing in South Auckland, and minimal wage rises, the pressure on many low to middle income earners has become too much to bear.
Some families are now forced to choose between having a permanent roof over their heads, or feeding themselves and their children.
Jenny Salesa, a Labour MP in the South Auckland suburb of Otara, says Maori and Pacific peoples are overwhelmingly bearing the brunt of Auckland’s housing crisis, and she has people coming to her office every day begging for help.
“People are living in garages with ten family members and paying close to NZ$400 for the privilege,” said Salesa.
“People are ashamed their lives have come to this, and they try to hide. But you can tell which garages are occupied – there are curtains on the windows, small attempts to make it a home. And on the weekends, in the park, there can be up to fifty cars grouped together, with people sleeping in them.”
Salesa estimates nearly 50% of people asking for her help in finding a home are in paid employment, and many families have two parents working and are still unable to make ends meet.
Nobody knows exactly how many people are living rough in Auckland, but common estimates range in the hundreds.
Darryl Evans, CEO of Mangere Budgeting in South Auckland, says on some roads in South Auckland every second house has additional accommodation erected – be it an occupied garage, a portable cabin with a chemical toilet, or tents pitched on the front and back lawn.
“Up until a few years ago, a family member might let you camp in the garage at no cost, as a temporary set-up,” said Evans.
“But now landlords have cottoned on to how desperate people are, and are renting out garages or Portakabins for hundreds of dollars. Our food bank – every food bank in Auckland – is under the most pressure its ever been.”
Evans has also seen many families get trapped in a cycle of a gradual migration south, chasing cheaper rents, but causing huge unrest for children, who are unable to access regular schooling, health care or social support networks.
“People living in these situations are feeling huge shame,” said Evans.
Last week the New Zealand government announced NZ$41.1m for emergency housing, but with winter mere weeks away, charities believe any assistance will come too late for most.
“We warned the government six or seven years ago that a housing crisis was looming,” said Roberts.
“Successive governments have ignored our warnings, and now look where we are. The worst homelessness I have seen in 25 years. You might be able to survive like this in the summer, but you can’t in winter. You just can’t live like this in a New Zealand winter.”
The Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, has announced a national plan to fight violence against women.
Mr Macri said every 37 hours a woman was attacked in Argentina and that education was the key to ending deeply rooted cultural patterns of violence.
The plan, due to start next year, includes creating a network of women’s refuges, and money for the electronic tagging of violent men.
Last year 235 women were killed in gender violence incidents in Argentina.
The government’s National Plan for the Eradication of Violence against Women is putting into force a 2009 law.
Presenting the plan President Macri said: “We all need to commit ourselves. This is not only the job of government it is for society too.”
Maria Fabiana Tunez, the president of the National Council of Women, a government agency, said the plan would last three years and include introducing gender violence awareness into the school curriculum. Staffing at a telephone helpline for women will also be increased.
The national plan comes after a series of rallies and demonstrations in several cities last year.
The initial demonstration last year followed the murder of a 14-year-old pregnant schoolgirl, Chiara Paez, who was found buried in her boyfriend’s garden three days after being reported missing in the town of Rufino in central Santa Fe province.
In the past year there have been protests elsewhere in Latin America against gender violence, in countries including Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia and Brazil.
More than 500 children have been identified as potential victims of online sexual abuse during a major investigation by Police Scotland.
The force said 30 million indecent images were seized and 77 people had been charged during Operation Lattise.
The charges include rape, sharing indecent images of children and grooming for sexual purposes.
Of the 523 potential victims, some as young as three, 122 have been referred to child protection services.
The operation, which involved 134 separate investigations, was carried out between the 6 June and 15 July.
Police said child victims had been found after the homes of 83 suspects were searched and 547 computers and other devices seized during the five-week operation.
Almost 400 charges have been brought so far, including rape, sharing indecent images of children, grooming for sexual purposes, sexual extortion, indecent communication with children, possession of a firearm, bestiality and drugs offences.
In one instance, a computer that featured 10 million images depicting child abuse was found. Police Scotland said it would take four full-time officers six months just to view the number of images uncovered.
Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, who led the investigation, said: “This is not sexting in terms of people sending abusive messages to each other.
“This is children being sexually abused and these images being shared.
“It is about real victims in Scotland and elsewhere. It’s about these horrific acts which ruin people’s lives and we need to make sure that stops.”
Mr Graham called on parents and carers to be “alert” but not alarmed and said there were people in society who used technology to identify children who may be vulnerable to exploitation.
The investigation involved officers analysing in excess of 100,000 online chat logs.
Examination of one device led officers to conclude that one adult suspect had been sexually communicating with more than 110 children and young people.
Det Insp Andy McWilliam, who was also involved in the investigation, said that new technology meant there was no way for perpetrators to hide or erase what they had done online.
He said: “Whether they throw the computer in the bath or not, we can find what they have looked at. And we can use covert technology to identify who you are and where you are.
“These individuals want to be wherever children are. They are using websites, chatrooms and forums.
“These men – and it is predominantly men – are using the profiles of younger children to groom them and offend against them.”
Police are also working with young people and parents to help raise awareness of the potential dangers of the internet.
They said a key aim was to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.
Figures from Police Scotland have shown that the number of recorded offences are growing each year.
In 2014-15, there were 23 offences of grooming children for the purposes of sexual offences. Last year it was 50 – an increase of 117%.
The offence of taking, distributing or possessing indecent images of children increased from 605 in 2014-15 to 645.
QotD: “Prosecuting Eleanor de Freitas ended in tragedy. So how do we deal with alleged false reports of rape?”
The tragic case of Eleanor de Freitas has provided more questions than answers. What should be done about those few cases in which women make false allegations of rape? Should libel courts be used to determine the woman’s guilt in such cases? And how do we ensure that the disproportionate attention in the media regarding false allegations does not lead to an even bleaker outlook than already exists for rape victims seeking justice?
In January 2013, De Freitas, who had had a very brief sexual relationship with a man named Alexander Economou, alleged rape to the police. Economou was arrested, questioned, and then released without charge. Police decided not to proceed with the case, but in August that year Economou, the son of a wealthy shipping magnate, took out a private prosecution against De Freitas for perverting the course of justice. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) examined the evidence and concluded it met both the evidential and public interest test set out in its code, and took it over.
Economou had alleged that De Freitas was advertising herself as an escort. Part of the evidence being relied on by the CPS was CCTV footage of her and Economou shopping together for sex toys, the day after the alleged rape. As a defendant in criminal proceedings, De Freitas was publicly named. Four days before the trial was to begin, her mother found her hanged in the family home.
Her father, David de Freitas, was referred by the charity Inquest to a lawyer with expertise in rape investigations and in holding the state to account. De Freitas attempted to persuade the coroner in the forthcoming inquest to examine the role of the CPS in pursuing a prosecution, and how it impacted on Eleanor’s death. The coroner refused, and De Freitas decided to go to the media in a desperate attempt to reverse that decision and to raise the issue in public.
De Freitas had seen his daughter’s mental health spiral out of control with the stress of a forthcoming trial, and had questions as to why the CPS saw fit to pursue a young woman suffering from bipolar disorder through a trial during which details of her sexual history would be made public.
Had the coroner agreed to examine the role of the CPS in his daughter’s death, De Freitas would not have felt the need to go public. But as a result of the publicity generated by De Freitas’ campaign against the CPS and coroner, Economou decided to sue De Freitas for libel – in order, he said, to clear his name, despite the fact that De Freitas never named Economou, nor claimed he was guilty of rape.
Yesterday, Economou lost his case. Had he won, the implications for those reporting rape to the police, or even disclosing such allegations to friends and colleagues, would have been incalculable.
In 1999 the first case of slander brought by a man accused of rape resulted in a hung jury. Had he won, the woman who had alleged rape would have subsequently been stripped of her anonymity, as was Eleanor de Freitas.
In 2000, a man was awarded £400,000 in damages following a defamation case against a former colleague who had been found, according to a civil standard of proof, to have falsely accused him of rape. The average criminal injuries compensation tariff at that time for rape victims was £7,500. Such cases deter women from coming forward to report rape. The woman in this case had not even been to the police, but had told colleagues.
Home Office-commissioned research on rape attrition from 2005 found that around 3% of reports of rape are false. The impression given by some sections of the media and men’s rights groups paints a very different picture.
The charging of rape complainants with perverting the course of justice is an area of huge controversy. In 2011 Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, instituted a consultation that led to a full review with new recommendations and guidance introduced.
The tragic outcome of the Eleanor de Freitas case demands a full analysis of why such a vulnerable woman with a serious mental health diagnosis came to face trial, taking her life rather than undergo the ordeal. Her case should have provided a crucial opportunity to explore in detail whether the current guidance is effective.
Now that the libel trial is over, perhaps we can remember Eleanor de Freitas as a human being, and not just a case. David describes his daughter as having been “loyal and kind”.
Perhaps the most fitting legacy for Eleanor is a public inquiry into her case, with an aim to learn lessons from this tragedy. Should the CPS have proactively sought to take over a private prosecution from a man who could start the ball rolling because he was rich enough to bring it in the first place? So far, David de Freitas has been prevented from asking these questions. They should now be answered.
QotD: “There is, I think, a link between the purity politics of the left and the misogyny of left-wing men”
The left never, ever has to tackle misogyny because it’s something that only ever happens to women and women are, as we all know, less pure than men (menstrual blood, original sin and all that).
There is, I think, a link between the purity politics of the left and the misogyny of left-wing men. The exploitation of women’s bodies and labour is not merely not a priority for them; on the contrary, it is a necessity. Women get their hands dirty – cooking, cleaning, nursing, birthing – in order to free men up to get on with the more serious business of “fighting for equality.” Misogyny may be deplored in theory, but when you look at actual women, they are never good enough to merit protection. Men are. Men always are. There’s not a man on earth who doesn’t benefit from the unpaid labour of women, but that is only natural. As Andrea Dworkin put it, “God is the right, nature is the left.” There’s always a moral reason for hating women. Ruth Smeeth worked for an evil corporation, as have I. Screw us. While men’s humanity is not in question, women only get one humanity token and we blew it.
Today’s left wing men have their own bastardised version of intersectionality to use as an excuse for continuing to dismiss women’s issues and needs. I don’t think for a minute any of them have read any Crenshaw, yet they consider themselves experts when it comes to lecturing their female peers on privilege. Crenshaw had an important point to make about the way in which intersecting oppressions require specific analyses and practical responses as opposed to one-size-fits-all solutions. As far as your average lefty male is concerned, intersectionality simply means calling a woman a bigot whenever she seeks to articulate the material nature of female oppression. Only a whorephobic bully objects to the sex trade. Only a transphobe considers abortion and surrogacy to be women’s issues. Only a middle-class bitch shirks the housework and pays another woman to do it. It’s funny, isn’t it, how the left-wing intersectional ideal ends up being not the liberation of all women, but ensuring all woman remain barefoot and pregnant, serving men. Because it just wouldn’t be fair for some women to get out of this and not others.
If you want to be one of the righteous, don’t pay other people a pittance to do things for you when you can get the women right on your doorstep to do it for free.
And I’m pissed off with this. I’m pissed off with the fact not only that purity costs money (very few of us can afford to quit a job in moral pique) but that it imposes a specific, unacknowledged tax on women. We’re meant to shut up about rape threats for the sake of party unity. We’re meant to carry on cooking, cleaning, caring, serving, because it would be “exploitative” to expect anyone else to do it. We’re meant to pretend that Hillary Clinton is the same as Donald Trump even though Trump clearly thinks all women are scum. We’re meant to perform the exact same role capitalist patriarchy has always expected us to perform only don’t worry, girls! Come the revolution you’ll be scrubbing floors and sucking cock in a socialist utopia!
I’m sick of it, men. But you don’t have to listen to me. My hands, unlike yours, are unclean.
Many former prostitutes do not support the full decriminalisation of the sex industry, as a model exemplified by New Zealand (NZ), which was indicated as a possible long term aim in the report. As such the model received comparatively little criticism compared to the Sex Buyer Law, in spite of the wealth of criticism available from many respectable organisations, as has been indicated, including survivor organisation SPACE International. As a former prostitute, not only was I dismayed by the predominate male panel, but by the cautious bias indicated in the report, saliently demonstrated in the insistence upon qualifying the positives for the Sex Buyer Law, whilst being remarkably uncritical of the purported positives of full decriminalisation.
I was also dismayed, hugely, by the paucity of attention noted to the element of the Sex Buyer Law which calls for government funded support services for women exiting, or have exited the sex industry, as in France where almost five million Euros per year is being offered; an amount which although insufficient, represents a starting point. Whichever legal system is in place, it is utterly irrelevant to the needs of prostitutes – who are often forced to return to the industry because of the lack of support in exiting – without adequate exiting services specific to their needs. As a former prostitute and as someone who has recently spent time interviewing women in prostitution and exited women, services that support women who suffer from trauma, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – and who wish to escape – should receive access to secular assistance, include temporary emergency housing, refuge, counselling and aid in obtaining social security.
Though I and other survivors would support the decriminalizing of those who sell sex, I would caution emphatically against the decriminalizing of brothel management and profiteering, especially if it enables the existence of large brothels and brothel chains. Unlike some of the women who gave evidence from the perspective of the industry who support the New Zealand model, I have actually worked in a New Zealand brothel. I discussed my experience in a recent article, however to summarize, the long term consequences of the ability of some to operate large brothels include increased competition and decreased charges as the brothels begin to run on a ‘low price/high volume’ basis, which can lead to prostitutes having to see more customers and needing to offer a higher range of, often, more dangerous or uncomfortable sexual activities, such as oral sex without a condom and anal sex.
In theory, the NZ model enables women to refuse customers however there is a very limited number of customers you can refuse before the brothel suggests you find other places to work, and often will insist on you having a ‘good reason’ to refuse any given customer. In practice, in all brothels, women will regularly have sex with customers that they simply do not want to. This has serious implications for laws relating to sexual harassment and coercion in the work place, unless of course, we are to make prostitution a special case.
Added to which, we are supposed to be able to negotiate the services that we are willing to offer, but from my own experience, this often doesn’t work in practice as the brothel managers can apply soft pressures. Indeed it is self policing, as customers simply won’t choose women who try to put up too many ‘boundaries’ as competition is so fierce, and as such women either capitulate to demands or struggle to earn enough money.
Punters feel vindicated in applying pressure and putting the prostitute at greater risk of danger, pain or discomfort, because the industry has been legitimised and they feel they have a right as consumers. The humanity of the women who are rented has always been shaky, but this is further cemented by the mega brothel culture.
I have spoken to Chelsea who currently works in a NZ brothel and has corroborated my story:
My experience at the brothel is that of terrorism. It is a constant battle to uphold even the most minimal personal boundaries such as safer sex practices, like condoms and dental dams and no saliva transference (kissing) and not doing the deed more than once for a guy without being paid more than once. I definitely find it extremely difficult to even get bookings because most of the time I attempt to assert these minimal of boundaries.
She and I are not alone as critics who have experience of the New Zealand model. Sabrinna Valisce, a former campaigner for it, has since changed her position:
I worked pre- and post-law reform. The Prostitution Reform Bill passed into law to become The Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) in 2003. The good part of it was that the threat of a criminal record was removed. This would happen under The Nordic Model also. I volunteered at the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), so I was [able to compare our decriminalization] goal … to the results. I, and others who were agitating for decriminalization in New Zealand, we always wanted the power to be placed firmly in the hands of the prostituted person/sex worker. Decriminalization didn’t do that. The power went to the brothel owners, escort agency owners and johns. Immediately following the PRA, the pimps became legitimate businessmen. They introduced “All-Inclusive.” An “All-Inclusive” is a single fee paid by the john to the brothel/escort agency via the receptionist. This means that the prostituted person/ sex worker has no power of negotiation. It also means that the pimp decides her earnings. The pimps gained the power to decide what a “service” would be paid and how much of that belonged to them. They also gained the power to withhold the woman’s earnings or even deny any existence of those earnings. Prior to law reform we negotiated our own money and decided our own services.
I would urge the panel and the government to put more consideration into exit services, and to consider the opinions of those campaigners, who have direct experience of the New Zealand model, who feel extremely strongly that the decriminalisation of brothel keeping and profiteering will further harm women in prostitution, and take what powers of negotiation or assertion they have, away.
Nordic Model Now have released a thorough and comprehensive response to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s Interim Report on Prostitution, I will highlight some of it below, but please go and read the whole thing.
If you are a UK citizen, writing to your MP about this could be an effective form of activism (rather than lobbying the committee directly), if there are going to be any law changes, they will be voted on in the House of Commons.
On 1 July 2016, the UK Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) released an interim report on its inquiry into prostitution.
Nordic Model Now! welcomes the recommendation to decriminalise soliciting and to delete convictions and cautions for prostitution from criminal records, and the call for in-depth research. However, we have some serious concerns about other aspects of the report.
We are particularly concerned that it exhibits a significant bias. This is not surprising given that the committee is composed of eight men (Keith Vaz, James Berry, David Burrowes, Ranil Jayawardena, Tim Loughton, Stuart McDonald, Chuka Umunna, David Winnick) and only three women (Victoria Atkins, Nusrat Ghani, Naz Shah).
Prostitution is an extremely gendered institution, with the majority (80% or more) of those bought and sold in prostitution being female and 99% or more of the buyers (punters) being male. Prostitution therefore has a very different significance for women than for men. The committee has downplayed evidence of the harms that prostitution causes both to those who are in it, and to women and girls and gender equality more generally.
Moreover we find it troubling that many concerns about these serious and significant harms have been written off as “moral values” and “emotive” reactions, while the report fails to mention the thinly veiled entitlement that infuses many of the contributions from men and which inevitably clouds the judgement of the male members of the committee. Instead there is an unexamined and clearly incorrect assumption that they are acting dispassionately.
Conflicts of interest
It is notable that there is no mention of whether the members of the committee are or have been sex buyers. It is clear that this is a common male behaviour and the majority of the committee members are male, and so it is statistically likely that some of them are or have been sex buyers.
The inquiry had a brief to consider whether buying a person for sex should be criminalised. Being a sex buyer or having a history of sex buying is a therefore a clear conflict of interest. We believe there is a strong case that members should formally declare whether they are or have been sex buyers and if so, to step down from the inquiry.
On page 3, the report says:
“Terminology is also disputed, with some opposition to the description “sex workers”. Our use of the term in this report is a neutral one and refers to female, male or transgender adults who receive money in exchange for sexual services.”
The term “sex worker” was coined as part of a deliberate attempt to normalise and sanitise prostitution by implying that it is ordinary and wholesome work. It is a euphemism and many people reject this term and many survivors of prostitution ask that it not be used.
The report defines the term as the exchange of “sexual services” for money. This is yet more euphemism. The Oxford online dictionary defines service as “The action of helping or doing work for someone.” Being paid to be sodomised, to endure a man ejaculating in your face, and many of the other core components of prostitution are not helping or active work. Rather it is being used as an object for someone else’s gratification.
The committee’s choice of term and definition therefore reveals a position, a judgement, on the issues, and to describe that as “neutral” is disingenuous.
Migrant workers and trafficking
The report does not make it clear how the committee defines sex trafficking.
At least one written submission drew attention to the fact that the Modern Slavery Act uses a different definition of human trafficking from that internationally agreed and set out in the Palermo Protocol, and the urgent need to correct this anomaly.
The variations in how sex trafficking is defined and understood can explain some of the extreme variations in the numbers of trafficked persons in the studies quoted. For example, on page 13 the report quotes research by Professor Nicola Mai which “found that only around 6% of all female interviewees felt that they had been deceived and forced into selling sex in circumstances within which they felt they had no share of control or consent.”
The Palermo Protocol definition makes clear that consent is irrelevant when any of the following means have been used:
“threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
The notion of “abuse of power or a position of vulnerability” recognises that trafficking can take the form of taking advantage of people’s vulnerability within structures of inequality based on aspects like age, sex, race, caste, and poverty. This may not be apparent to the person being taken advantage of. Not recognising the true extent of one’s lack of options is a normal psychological mechanism to maintain the hope and sense of control without which life becomes intolerable or even impossible. The report from Nikki Holland on the following page of the report implicitly recognises this dynamic.
In the light of this, Professor Mai’s test of whether the women he interviewed had been trafficked is severely flawed. That the committee reports his findings uncritically suggests that they too are uninformed about both the internationally agreed legal definition of trafficking, and its awful realities. We believe that this lack of understanding is a thread that can be seen running through the entire report and contributes to the committee’s misguided conclusion that sex trafficking and prostitution are separate issues.
The Palermo Protocol definition makes it clear that third-party involvement in the exploitation of another’s prostitution is the essential feature of sex trafficking. As Catharine MacKinnon says, “trafficking is straight-up pimping”.
Most women and girls in prostitution worldwide have a pimp. So we should not be surprised that Sigma Huda, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking 2004–2008, said: “Prostitution as actually practised in the world usually does satisfy the elements of trafficking.”
We insist the committee (and the government) familiarise themselves with the Palermo Protocol definition and use that as the standard.
The Sex Buyer Law
The section of the report on the Sex Buyer Law is perhaps the most disappointing of all. The section starts by saying that a “large proportion of the evidence we received was from individuals and organisations arguing in favour of the introduction of a Sex Buyer Law in England and Wales.” The report then goes on to largely ignore that evidence and to extensively quote and refer to those who are clearly opposed to this approach.
For example, this section of the report quotes or refers to 17 people or organisations who are clearly ideologically opposed to the Nordic Model, three who support it and three who appear to be neutral, as shown in the following table.
Pro Nordic Model Neutral Ideologically opposed
- Nordic Model Information Network
- APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade
- Mika Malmö
- Swedish Government
- Norwegian Ministry of Justice
- ACC Nikki Holland
- Amnesty International
- Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford
- Professor Peter Shirlow of the University of Liverpool
- Support and Advice for Escorts (SAAFE)
- The Sussex Centre for Gender Studies
- Laura Lee
- Professor Philp Hubbard of the University of Kent
- The Sex Work Research Hub
- The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective
- Dr Jay Levy
- International Union of Sex Workers
- Action for Trans Health
- Bridie Sweetman
- Feminists for Solidarity Sweden
- The Sussex Centre for Gender Studies
- Miss E, a sex worker
- Sex Worker Open University
Moreover much of the “evidence” in this section from those who are opposed to the Nordic Model is biased, not strictly relevant, or is conjecture and argument.
For example, under the subheading, “Health,” the Sex Work Research Hub is quoted as stating that “data from multiple countries linked criminalisation of sex work with up to a five-fold increase in risk of HIV infection or other sexually transmitted infections.” However, the research referenced does not appear to have been conducted in a country that has implemented the Nordic Model approach. We therefore question the relevance of including this quotation here.
Another example is the report saying that Bridie Sweetman “argued that the Swedish model limited the ability of sex workers and their clients to access preventive health measures and health checks; was associated with a drop in willingness to carry and use condoms; and workers were more likely to engage in unprotected sex out of desperation for work and the inability to report a client for insisting on unprotected sex.”
However, her written evidence on these points is mostly pure conjecture, such as that a client would have to admit to committing a crime in order to seek a sexual health check-up and that a “sex worker” would be “further stigmatised and degraded if they seek assistance from sexual health providers.” Similarly she says: “There is also a drop in willingness to carry and use condoms for two reasons: condoms are often used as evidence of transactional sex.” However, this is backed up by a reference to page 88 of a World Health Organisation publication from 2013, Implementing Comprehensive HIV/STI Programmes with Sex Workers which does not mention the Nordic Model.
Arguments for and against the Nordic Model
The bias of the committee is further revealed in the way the arguments for and against the Nordic Model were presented.
The arguments for were put under the heading “Potential benefits of a Sex Buyer Law” and amounted to two brief paragraphs; whereas the arguments against it were put under the heading “Arguments against a Sex Buyer Law” with two entire pages separated under a number of subheadings, containing many quotations, most from those who are ideologically opposed to the Nordic Model or have vested interests in the sex trade.
For example, page 26 quotes the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW). In an interview with Julie Bindel and Cath Elliott, Douglas Fox, one of the leading figures in the IUSW, admitted that it is an activist and lobbying group rather than a trade union and that it includes pimps, who are redefined as managers and “sex workers”.
Another example is self-described “sex worker”, Laura Lee, who was quoted several times in the report, including in this section on page 25. She uses advertisements on social media both to accrue business and for political campaigning. She has raised funds for a legal battle against the Sex Buyer Law in Northern Ireland directly from men who pay for sex regularly. Thus there is a potential conflict of interest, as her public position and expressed views must take into account the wishes of those who fund her campaigning work.
So the committee chose to quote a lobby group run by and for the benefit of pimps and a campaigner funded by punters and possibly pimps rather than the European Women’s Lobby, UNISON, Welsh Women’s Aid, SPACE International, the Soroptimists, or the Women’s Support Project. None of these organisations were quoted a single time in the entire report, even though the former represents hundreds of women’s organisations throughout Europe, UNISON is a large trade union that represents millions of low paid women, SPACE is an international organisation of survivors of prostitution and the others are well-respected and established women’s charities.
Many other organisations, including those that work with prostituted women or conduct research on how policy affects women and girls, submitted written evidence that was ignored, including Community Safety Glasgow, Ruhama, JBS-R Associates, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, Women @ the Well, Women Analysing Policy on Women, Wales Assembly of Women, Trust Women’s Project and the Judith Trust. All of these organisations recommended a Nordic Model approach.
It appears that the committee did not make a concerted effort to understand the thinking behind the Nordic Model and the conclusion of this section states, incorrectly, that it “is based on the premise that prostitution is morally wrong and should therefore be illegal”. We urge the committee to reconsider the Nordic Model afresh, taking on board the full written presented to the committee and the oral evidence from Kat Banyard, Mia Faoite and Alan Caton.
The interim report cannot be considered evidence-based because the selection of the evidence relied upon was biased and the evidence that didn’t match that bias was downplayed by undue emphasis on routine caveats or the dismissal of the motives of the person presenting it as “emotive” or deriving from “moral values”.
No one demolishes the attempt to dismiss the argument for the Nordic Model on the basis that it is a moral crusade better than Meagan Tyler:
“Perhaps this all depends on how you define “moral crusade.” If you view the movement for women’s equality as a “moral crusade”, then I suppose it is. If you are determined to dismiss all of the evidence in support of the Nordic Model and instead want to debate this on a “moral” level, then by all means do. Those who think violence against women is a bad thing are bound to win that argument.”
Prostitution causes great harm to those who are in it, it damages society, it leads to higher rates of harassment and sexual violence, it treats women as commodities that can be used to generate profits, it lowers the status of all women. Of course it is a moral and ethical issue.
We believe that the committee has failed in its responsibility to consider the issues surrounding prostitution dispassionately and we believe they need to start afresh. But first we urge the committee to take a step back and consider what type of society they want the prostitution legislation to contribute to. For example:
- What are the core principles that govern our society?
- Do we believe in equality between men and women, girls and boys?
- Do we believe in the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
- Or do we believe that might is right?
- That greed is good?
- That women and girls must acquiesce in the face of the ancient patriarchal male sex right?
- That women and girls are not in fact fully human and so their rights to dignity, safety and freedom don’t count?
We urge the committee to consider these, the ethical issues that underpin the system of prostitution and the ever expanding sex trade. We believe that only after considering such questions should they proceed with their inquiry.
We urge the committee to read again, with an open mind this time, the many written submissions from individual women and organisations who called for a Nordic Model approach. The committee has a very serious responsibility to get this right because the health and well-being of future generations of women and girls depend on it and many people will take their lead from the committee.
When the government considers its response to the interim report, we urge it to take into account all of the flaws and weaknesses that we have set out above.
We end with a short quotation from the written submission from Jill Thomas:
“The open sale of women as bodies for sexual pleasure undermines equality and messages of consent. The main cause of sexual violence and abuse is a man’s attitude and belief in the worth of women. The relegation of women to a commodity to be enjoyed without any care for her feelings or impact on her health is dehumanising to all women and girls and ultimately dangerous. It has no place in a modern egalitarian society.”
Sometimes it is hard to hear yourself described as a terf, a bigot, hysterical, a prude, actual human garbage. You know what you are fighting for is dignity and fairness for women, but you have a million men, in dresses and out, telling you that you’re literally, hitlerally the worst sort of oppressor of the most oppressed people on earth. A bona fide monster.
This has happened every time women stick up for themselves. It happened to the suffragists. They were knocked down in the street for just wanting to vote. It happened to the women’s libbers. Marc Lepine shot feminists down with bullets. But they don’t do it because we’re Hitler. Men act like this when they’re threatened, especially misogynistic men.
Putting women first in a world that hates women is not ever going to be an easy ride. But something that makes me feel better about all this is knowing that the more threatened they are, the angrier and nastier they get, the more I know that I’m on the right track. Any cause that gets men so frothingly supportive has to be bad news for women, has to be. And if I was wrong, if I was just ridiculous, if I was talking bullshit, they wouldn’t be so determined to shut me up.
Perhaps the term “sexlamism” best describes the dogma of these terror groups due to the presence of institutionalised sexism and/or sexual violence, along with the sexual motivation that plays a crucial role in their recruitment. The governance of Daesh is deeply sexualised. Men are given the provision of Daesh’s lustrous heaven upon joining, with wives and slaves in ample supply, sins legitimised. Supposed martyrdom is encouraged with the distant mirage of making love to seventy-two hoors in paradise. They believe, however, that being killed by a woman will deprive them of their imaginative sensuous paradise, and they will perish in hell. Thus, the hatred of women has proven to be largely beneficial for the Kurdish army, as the Women’s Protection Units, an all women faction of the YPG which is estimated to be 10,000 troops strong, is fighting ISIS to re-take territory in north-eastern Syria. It has therefore helped them win victories.
Their ideology of “sexlamism” encompasses abuse against homosexuals, transsexual people or people of other orientations and religions. Not only is it prevalent in terror groups, but it’s also legalised in some countries such as Saudi Arabia, where everyday sexism determines the political discourse. Some examples in Saudi Arabia include victims of rape being punished rather than the offenders. This notion also infers a racist doctrine that views the world in a binary – the Muslims vs. the Infidels. These “infidels” are perceived as being sexually immoral and looked down as being too liberal on women. The illusion of an Islamic Caliphate is also entwined in this seductive textual interpretation to unite the Muslim ummah into one nation.
Nonetheless, Sexlamists in their private lives are obsessed with pornography (in a February 17, 2015 article, New York Post reported that Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden found a fairly extensive stash of modern pornography in his possession), they communicate through it (media sources reported that terrorist cells embedded secret coded messages into shared pornography and onto pedophile websites) and justify their own salacious carnal practices on religious grounds. Al-Qaeda leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Al-waki, had also indulged in notorious promiscuity. Adultery and fornication are strictly prohibited in Islam, but in terror groups abhorrent sexual practices reign supreme. Daesh, for instance, has issued fatwas justifying rapes of Yazidi women to make them Muslims. Rape is the mechanism of Daesh to achieve their strategic objectives, since it humiliates and shames respective communities.
Daesh also sells Yazidi women held as captives in the slave market, where they are exhibited naked and priced according to their physique. Women are publicly gang raped and families and communities forced to comply with their code of conduct. Sexism dominates internal organisational structure of the Sexlamist groups where men occupy leadership positions; women on the contrary are placed in authority only over women to moralise their behaviour. The women in these groups serve patriarchal figures who protect the patriarchal misogynist structure within the organisation.
The issue of women’s rights, victimisation of women in terror groups gets sullied in terrorist debates. Pornography is rarely discussed in counter terrorism narrative, even though evidence suggests that increased consumption of pornography might cause radicalisation, it is a rare issue in the security discourse.