Today [19th January 2021] the High Court in London hears a landmark legal challenge. It relates to the policy for criminal records for prostitution to be held on file until those convicted are 100 years old. Currently, women who have escaped the sex trade and have convictions for street soliciting will have to live with this record for ever. And it’s not only the police that can access these records – so too can bodies including the Royal Mail, trading standards and credit checking organisations. This is not just a gross violation of human rights, but also deeply unjust.
As I have discovered during the vast amount of in-depth research on the global sex trade I have conducted over the past three decades, women find it difficult if not impossible to exit prostitution. Those that do escape are judged, stigmatised and disenfranchised. So how did this legal challenge come about?
In 1996, I met Fiona Broadfoot who was not that long out of prostitution. We were at a conference on violence against women, and Fiona was giving her first public address on the grim realities of the sex trade. Pimped into prostitution aged 15, she had endured indescribable violence at the hands of her pimp and numerous punters. But as I would come to learn, Fiona’s story was more typical than extraordinary.
Fiona had a criminal record several pages long. Women in street prostitution would be routinely picked up by the police and sent through what we called the ‘revolving door’. The magistrates would issue them a fine for soliciting or loitering. Needing to earn the money to pay the fine, the women would go back out onto the streets, get re-arrested, and the whole charade would begin again. The kerb crawlers were rarely arrested and therefore acted with impunity.
Fiona and I came up with an idea: to launch a legal challenge to decriminalise the women selling sex on the streets, and to prevent the law from requiring those women that have previous convictions to disclose them. Handily, my partner, the indomitable Harriet Wistrich qualified as a lawyer in 1997 and began challenging state agencies for failure to tackle violence against women. It took 20 more years before we were able to formulate a constructive case against the Home Office, which involved involving additional claimants alongside Fiona.
In 2018, after three years of jumping through legal loopholes and case preparation the team won a legal challenge against the Disclosure and Barring Scheme, which means that women no longer have to show these records of their abuse and exploitation from many years back. This is a big deal. Prior to the legal challenge, when women with criminal records for soliciting applied to volunteer in any position involving children or vulnerable adults, including at their own children’s school, they would be required to disclose their previous involvement in prostitution.
On hearing about the challenge, and of the fact that a further case would be brought to challenge such criminal records being held on file, a number of women with similar experiences came forward. As Sam, one of the claimants in today’s case tells me, it is interesting that those organisations seeking to normalise and decriminalise the entire sex trade (as opposed to decriminalising the women and criminalising the pimps and punters) have not taken this case to court despite their considerable resources and networks of lawyers that take the ‘sex work is work’ line.
A number of years ago, distressed by yet another knock-back following a job interview, Sam approached one of the ‘sex work is work’ groups in the hope they would help her. Despite the fact that our very high profile legal case was already in progress, of which this group was well aware, Sam was merely advised to write a letter of disclosure ‘explaining’ her convictions and outlining how she got involved in prostitution which she could add to her job applications in the future. ‘It took me another four years before I found Harriet and Fiona, by looking online for women that are against prostitution rather than celebrating it as a profession,’ she says.
The powerful lobby which views prostitution as ‘sex work’ has neither been involved nor helpful in this case. As I wrote about the 2018 case at the time:
‘When Fiona [Broadfoot] and I contacted members of the pro-prostitution lobby to ask if we could form a united front to argue for the decriminalisation of the women, we were told, in somewhat hostile terms, that they would not work with abolitionists. We were further told that if we dropped our efforts to criminalise sex buyers then they may consider joining forces with us. We refused.’
Had that same offer been made regarding today’s legal challenge we would have refused again. Protecting the men that create the demand for prostitution is a disgrace. These men are the very reason why women are sexually exploited, and yet groups such as the English Collective of Prostitutes argue that criminalising them is wrong. Until we end demand for prostitution, more women like Fiona and Sam will be drawn into this nightmarish life.
If today’s case succeeds, the victory will be down to the sex trade survivors that dare to expose the truth about the horrors of the sex trade, and not those that seek to sanitise it.
I’m very angry today
Yesterday I went to the women’s march. It was great. It felt a little shallow, some people had signs with memes or fandom things in them. There was a guy with a sign that said “real men respect women” which lol.
But there were young women, a collective of old women who had knitted a whole sign out of yarn, a collective of romani women dennouncing discrimination and misogyny they face, little girls with their moms, there were marxist women, women fighting for education, there were some people with trans flags too, and also many signs making a symbol out of their female bodies and making chants referencing it, there were marxist women, there were women pro and anti hijab/forced modesty, and women pro and against prostitution. It was a very plural experience, and that felt good, to have us all screaming against sexual violence and sitting down in honor of the women murdered in 2019. It was a good reminder that we’re very plural, and that the people who would demand to control the narrative really don’t control all of what feminism is. Too much difference of opinion weakens a fight, but in such a time when any difference among feminism is severely punished, it’s important to realize that yes, different opinions can coexist. Because that’s the important thing, the march I attended was peaceful.
That was not the case in Madrid or Barcelona. In the later, they had “kill terfs” signs. In the former, a group of women who are prostitution and gender abolitionists had a really big sign demanding an end to sexual slavery and explotation and people tried to cover their sign, when that failed, they tried to cut it up, with A KNIFE, people took one of the signs down and tried to break it and stomp on it claiming it was “transphobic” (all the sign said was “stop misogynistic violence” but you know, it was made by a group that supports the abolition of prostitution so, they’re Satan) the feminists in question were pushed around violently, one was punched, someone tried to threaten an old woman and her dog. The people who did it? Some were part of THE MARCH ORGANIZING COMMITTEE, others were trans activists with pink bands on their arms meant to signify and “inclusive march”.
So I read that this morning, and I’m very very angry, but for once, that anger feels good. It feels righteous, like anger I can turn into something. Because I went on Twitter, and there were so many women talking about this, and not just random gender critical women, but women who have been historical figures of Spanish feminism for decades. Important activists. Journalists with a very big following. People who had no real clue what was going on but the violence didn’t sit right with them. A deputee of our Congress just casually rting gender critical articles. There has been a lot of talk on tv here over the last few days over the divisions among feminism especially when it comes to self-id and prostitution/pornography, and it is very clear whose side the mass media is on. But our perspectives were brought to the forefront, and they were listened to somewhat. And after yesterday’s circus so many more people are speaking out about who the problem is and who actually causes these so-called divisions. I don’t know if this means that we have a chance to influence things, we’re gonna have our own gender self-id row very soon (also our Minister of Equality said, about the proposal to make a law that deals with sex trafficking since we have so many cases of that, that she’s “for the complete abolition of sex trafficking but she has friends who are for the regulation of prostitution so :(” and so many people are calling bullshit, but there’s being talk of a law tackling trafficking by activists groups, the conversation is out in the open, now we must move our pieces)
I don’t know if this new notoriety is gonna make anyone listen, but we’re here, we’re condemning the absolutely despicable behaviors promoted by liberal feminists and trans activists, and so many people with a big following are doing it. For once it really feels like they won’t shut us up.
Ok I’m gonna tell you what they did in France and Belgium.
A prostitution survivor named Fiji was holding a sign that said : I am a survivor of incest and prostitution and I am an abolitionist. «Abolitionist» is what we call anti-prostitution feminists in France.
As she was bravely marching, the liberals kept following her, laughing at her and taking pictures to identify her. Then some girls came behind her, one of them asked : «are you against prostitution ?» she replied «yes», the girl said «I am pro sex» and, still smiling, tried to steal the sign from Fiji’s hands. All the feminists that were supporting her held on to her sign and protected her. The liberals were laughing. The feminists were outraged «how are you not ashamed ? How dare you do that to a victim ? How dare you speak of feminism ?» they asked. The liberals laughed some more and started chanting «DEATH TO ABOLITIONISTS».
The liberals kept following them and laughing… feminist survivors were not safe… in a march for women’s rights. After a while, the liberals took out their own sign it said : transfeminists. You can see them behind Fiji on the picture I posted above.
Anti-prostitution activist Joana and her group (which included ex prostituted women) were attacked and punched in the face by men and women wearing masks.
«They saw us preparing for the march, taking out our banner and they jumped us, kicked us, hit us». Their big anti-prostitution banner was stolen. Joana tried to run after the thieves to get her banner back. As a result 5 people wearing masks beat her up in the middle of the street. The police had to intervene to stop the beating.
Later that day a local «anti-fascist» group wearing masks posted a picture of themselves proudly posing with a racist banner they had stolen. On the ground is Joana’s banner that says “survivors, feminists, abolitionists fighting” and “collectif abolition porno prostitution” which I don’t need to translate I think.
After realizing that Joana’s banner was visible the “anti-fascist” page changed the picture.
Too late. They have been reported to the police.
Several survivors of prostitution have reported that as they were marching some liberals/trans activists were chanting «death to abolitionists» and «death to fascists». A prostituted friend of mine added : «there were no fascist near us, yet the trans activists were looking at us, they were menacing and trying to provoke us, you could tell they wanted to beat us up». One liberal screamed “no feminism without whores !”, others were getting close enough to whisper “death to abolitionists” in women’s ears and then disappear into the crowd like some sort of sick game.
On facebook, prostitution survivor Emma wrote this post:
«I just came back from the march for women’s rights in Bruxelle. We had abolitionist signs. We were booed several times by women who chanted «death to abolionists, death to fascists» looking us straight in the eyes.
So I had to endure the violence of a pimp, the discrimination that goes with prostitution and now I am told to die during a march for women’s rights because I am speaking up about the suffering I’ve been through.»
She added a video to her post in which we can see and hear liberal women chanting «death to abolitionists».
All that being said and speaking from my experience in France, liberal pseudo-feminism is more of a cult than anything else. They are a minority who have built an echo chamber for themselves, mostly on the internet, and when out in the real world, facing their limits as an idiotic and self centered little cult they shout and threaten and grin and kick but normal people don’t understand a word they are saying. They remind me of skinheads actually. Dangerous and pathetic at the same time.
Anyway, nothing can stop actual feminism and sisterhood.
QotD: “COVID-19 puts women in New Zealand’s sex trade in more danger than ever; why isn’t the decrim lobby helping?”
On March 21, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would go on lockdown in response to COVID-19. She explained:
“We are fortunate to still be some way behind the majority of overseas countries in terms of cases, but the trajectory is clear. Act now, or risk the virus taking hold as it has elsewhere.
We currently have 102 cases. But so did Italy once. Now the virus has overwhelmed their health system and hundreds of people are dying every day.
The situation here is moving at pace, and so must we.
We have always said we would act early, decisively, and go hard. And we will.”
Ardern introduced the four-tiered alert system the government would be using, to first Prepare to tackle the virus, then Reduce risk of community transmission, then further Restrict person-to-person contact, and finally Eliminate risk by imposing full quarantine.
By Monday, March 23rd, New Zealand moved to Alert Level 3 and prepared to move to Level 4 after 48 hours. Our borders are closed and people are being asked to stay home and remain two metres away from each other, for instance when “undertaking essential shops.” Essential services are still operating, and schools are closed except to the children of people who keep them running. Ardern has clarified that “there will be no tolerance” for breach of orders, adding:
“The police and the military will be working together, and there is assistance at the ready if required. If people do not follow the messages here today, then the police will remind people of their obligations, they have the ability to escalate if required, they can arrest if needed, they can detain if needed.”
Many New Zealanders take pride in Ardern’s leadership. The government has prepared financial packages for employees, businesses, and sole traders to reduce the financial burden as people are asked to self-isolate to stop the virus from spreading, and laid out the details on a Unite Against COVID-19 website.
Women’s Refuge, an organization that oversees a network of domestic violence safehouses throughout New Zealand, has acknowledged that one of the biggest concerns of the lockdown is that many women and children are not safe at home. Chief executive Dr. Ang Jury explained that, “although it’s clearly very necessary, self-isolating will likely mean an escalation of violence for many women.”
The alternative for many women would be to join the 34,000+ New Zealanders who suffer severe housing deprivation. Homeless women are more vulnerable than their male counterparts, also because of the high risk of sexual violence. For women, the threats of domestic violence, homelessness, and prostitution are connected, and many women in prostitution have suffered domestic violence as well as homelessness and transience.
This begs the question: what advice is the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective (NZPC) issuing in response to COVID-19? This is a question that needs to be asked for another important reason: prostitution also lends itself to the spread of disease. The Ministry of Health funds NZPC to the tune of $1.1 million per year ostensibly for this reason: to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The NZPC’s approach is to distribute condoms, pamphlets, and a 125-page manual titled, Stepping Forward, to “assist” prostituted women in dealing with the problem themselves. About half of Stepping Forward is dedicated to describing common STDs, using small, badly photocopied images of genital warts, gonorrhea, and chlamydia as they appear on men’s genitals.
A handbook produced by the Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health Service advises women in the sex industry that, in the event of condom breakage, they should remove semen by “squatting and squeezing it out using vaginal muscle exertion. Fingers can be used to scoop.”
In 2005, a 24-year-old woman was strangled, bound, raped, run over, and killed after an argument with a john resulting from his refusal to use a condom.
Those who defend decriminalized prostitution often argue that completely eliminating the risk of the violence and disease involved with prostitution is not possible, because prostitution is inevitable and cannot be stopped, and because it is essential — some men simply cannot live without sexual access to women. So, offering women pamphlets and condoms, and normalizing prostitution by legitimizing it legally, is the best that can be done.
Yet after the COVID-19 lockdown was announced, NZPC updated the front page of its website to announce that prostitution must be halted by midnight on Wednesday. The page reads:
“COVID-19 INFORMATION: INSTRUCTIONS TO STOP PHYSICAL CONTACT SEX WORK BY MIDNIGHT WEDNESDAY 25 MARCH 2020
NZPC recognises that sex work is work and is the main form of income for a number of people.
However, with New Zealand going to a Level 4 alert, sex workers are asked to comply with the requirement to stay at home during the four-week period of isolation indicated by the Government. Only those in essential services will be permitted to work. Sex work is not classed among the essential services (doctors, pharmacists, police, ambulance, fire, vets, food production, and supermarkets).
Therefore NZPC wants all sex workers to comply with the four-week closure.
Failure to comply could result in officials arriving at your place of work to enforce compliance.”
The message concludes with a link to the Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) website, and to the government’s Unite Against COVID-19 site.
There are a few concessions involved in this notification on NZPC’s website. One is that prostitution can be stopped — and immediately — if the political will is there and the need is considered urgent. The fact that the rate of sexual violence against women in prostitution is higher than that committed in any other context has simply never constituted an urgent enough threat. The second concession here is that men do not actually need prostitution — it is not essential, a human need, or a right. It is something men can live without.
There are also some assumptions underlying NZPC’s decision to target prostituted women with its instructions to “STOP PHYSICAL CONTACT SEX WORK BY MIDNIGHT WEDNESDAY.” According to studies that NZPC helped to carry out, 72 per cent of these women are stuck in the sex industry due to circumstance. A 2007 survey conducted by NZPC to review the current laws showed that 10 per cent of women in prostitution say they “don’t know how to leave,” 8.5 per cent say they “can’t get help to leave,” 24 per cent “don’t know what else to do,” and 29.5 per cent “have no other income.”
Yet NZPC assumes that it is these very women who have the power and responsibility to shut down the industry. They assume it is the “supply,” not the “demand” — or more accurately, the victims, not the perpetrators — who should be threatened with state intervention in case of “failure to comply.” Will prostituted women be arrested? Are we going to see a return of the brothel raids that police used to carry out before the Prostitution Reform Act? Will this be endorsed by NZPC?
That the NZPC is putting full responsibility in the hands of these women, who have little if any alternative, and threatening them with police intervention if they fail to comply, demonstrates that the organization is not a feminist one, nor anything resembling a union standing for workers’ rights.
This response to COVID-19 highlights the fact that full decriminalization of prostitution does not actually protect women.
On Tuesday, the survivor-led organization Wahine Toa Rising (WTR) sent a letter to ministers in parliament asking, “What financial and other support is available for women and young people who are currently in prostitution,” and, “What measures are in place to ensure women and young people in prostitution are protected from catching or transmitting the COVID-19 virus?”
The least that a Ministry of Health-funded organization could do for women in prostitution in response to COVID-19 is to demand an allocation of funds from the government to help women exit the industry safely, and to insist on the banning of buying and pimping women, rather than threaten abused women into staying home, when they are part of a demographic that makes them especially likely not to have a safe home to go to.
NZPC tends to minimize the true hardships involved with prostitution. In a 2017 article announcing the launch of a safehouse to help women exit the sex trade, NZPC programmes coordinator Dame Catherine Healy claimed that only 10 per cent of women need assistance leaving prostitution. This does not agree with global research, survivor testimony, or NZPC’s own surveys.
This leads to another point: prostitution is an industry that profits from crisis, and this crisis may be no exception.
The workforce is gendered — this is the problem that pay gap campaigning points to. Care work tends to be feminized — 92 per cent of New Zealand’s nursing staff and 72 per cent of teaching staff are women. In industries and sectors that are not “feminized,” women tend to be paid less, considered more dispensable, and are more at risk of losing work and a living wage. In cases where companies are shedding staff, women will likely carry the burden disproportionately. Airlines, for instance, are likely to be sending stewardesses home as they reduce business.
This is how crisis tends to unfold and one reason why it typically leads to an expansion of the sex trade — because women still need to shelter and feed themselves and their children during economic crises. Men will exploit their increased dependence regardless of the circumstances. Hell, they are apparently already making corona virus-themed pornography.
If New Zealand’s sex trade expands because of women’s vulnerability and the economic fallout resulting from COVID-19, it goes without saying that this will lead to a spread of disease, and not only this respiratory illness. Syphilis is on the rise in New Zealand. In the year ending March 2019, 548 cases were reported, up from 82 in 2013.
Yet NZPC continues to simply hand out condoms and pamphlets and promote the legitimization of the sex trade. It offers no exit services, and, as stated, even undermines the need for them when other people take on the task. It does not protect women from danger. The advice NZPC offers women in Stepping Forward, in terms of “dealing with violent clients,” is:
“Make as much noise as possible to attract attention. Try calling FIRE, a passerby will probably pay more attention. If you wear a whistle around your neck, blow it in his ear.”
NZPC later says that “getting loud” can “backfire because some clients are just wanting you to do this so that they have an excuse.”
Before the lockdown was announced, on March 19, liberal news site The Spinoff released an article titled, “Covid-19: What happens when touching people is part of your job?” which included reference to prostitution. In it, Healy casually advised women in prostitution:
“There’s also cam work, but that’s not a big money earner generally. When you think we have several thousand sex workers at the moment, the best suggestion is for them to find alternative income.”
That week, Healy responded to an inquiry she received from a woman asking her for help by sending her a screenshot of the WINZ Job Seeker form, totally ignoring the fact that the nature of her job is to help women whose circumstances are desperate.
Prostitution is also correlated with family violence through pornography, of which camming is a form. The filming of prostitution to make pornography has been called a “public health crisis,” and in New Zealand, approximately 54 per cent of child abusers are known to use pornography. Many of these porn-consuming men will now be spending more time at home, with their children.
As Wahine Toa Rising founder Ally Marie Diamond says:
“Full decriminalization only protects the pimps, buyers, brothel owners, and those who profit from the sex trade. As COVID-19 has proven, women in the sex trade in New Zealand are not protected. They are not safer, they are ultimately in more danger now than they would have been prior to 2003. When are we going to start opening our eyes and waking up to what is happening around us? It really is time to look at it another way.”
Another thing COVID-19 has proven is that when a threat is considered urgent enough and the political will is there, the government and the New Zealand public are willing to commit to a course of action that will not just reduce but eliminate that threat.
While we are in isolation, many people will be reflecting more deeply on their lives and relationships. Prostitution and porn affect us all. They perpetuate rape and objectification and there is no end to how much and how deeply they affect sexual relations and the culture we live in. Right now, these industries and their normalization are contributing directly to a situation in which many women and children are unsafe, including at home, under quarantine.
Perhaps a few questions for us all to consider while we are on lockdown are these: isn’t men’s violence against women and children an urgent threat, worthy of eliminating? Can it end as long as rape is accepted as inevitable, and normalized and made profitable through prostitution and porn? What would it really look like for us, individually and collectively, if we took the steps necessary to eliminate the threat of men’s violence against women and children from our lives, and from our culture?
QotD: “If someone had told me 10 years ago that so-called feminists would be demonstrating outside a lap-dancing club, waving placards in support of stripping for a living, I would have laughed”
I am, according to those who seek to legitimise prostitution, a Swerf — meaning sex-worker-exclusionary radical feminist. This is a fairly new insult brought to you by the nice folks that introduced Terf (trans-exclusionary radical feminist).
Swerf means a feminist who considers prostitution to be harmful and abusive, which it most certainly is, and I have been labelled a Swerf since the acronym first emerged online in 2013 on a website called Everyday Whorephobia. Before that I was merely a “pearl-clutcher”, “prude” and “anti-sex puritan”.
In 2017, during the Sheffield launch of The Pimping of Prostitution, my book on the sex trade, a group of blue-fringed “feminists” (and a few bearded men) picketed the venue, shouting slogans such as “Blow jobs are real jobs!” and “Proud whores!”.
Swerf and Terf — which when used together sound like a bad meal at a tourist-trap steak house in Leicester Square — are misogynistic insults aimed at us uppity women who refuse to accept the erosion of women’s hard-won rights.
The former prostitute Rachel Moran, whose memoir, Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution, laid bare the reality of the sex trade, was compelled to embark upon a lengthy defamation case against a pro-prostitution lobbyist who repeatedly claimed, over a period of eight years, that Moran had made up her entire story of child abuse, homelessness, substance abuse and being bought and sold on the streets of Dublin. The “happy hooker” crew cannot easily deal with the abuse and exploitation inherent in the sex trade, and often attempt to shame and silence its victims. Every high-profile sex-trade survivor who exposes the truth of prostitution comes in for similar treatment.
Where did this valiant attempt to sanitise the sex trade emerge from? The Labour Party officially supports blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade, but I am not sure Jeremy Corbyn realises that this means the removal of all laws against pimping, brothel-keeping and paying for sex. Many assume decriminalisation means stopping the arrest of those selling sex, but don’t realise it also means exploiters go free.
The Liberal Democrats also take the view that prostitution is a job like any other, and have ignored survivors telling them otherwise. One of the party’s prominent female members, Wendy Chamberlain, argued against criminalising the punters by saying that “sex work has been going on for thousands of years and sadly no policy will end it”. So has murder, but I have yet to hear calls for its decriminalisation.
When Caroline Lucas was its leader, the Green Party supported an increasingly popular strategy of criminalising the demand while supporting those in prostitution to leave the sex trade, but a bit of haranguing on Twitter soon had her changing her mind.
If someone had told me 10 years ago that so-called feminists would be demonstrating outside a lap-dancing club, waving placards in support of stripping for a living, I would have laughed. But this is what happened in Sheffield recently when Sophie Wilson, a 23-year-old councillor and the Labour candidate for Rother Valley in South Yorkshire, decided that the feminists campaigning to have the licence of the city’s branch of Spearmint Rhino revoked on the grounds that stripping is exploitation were, as she eloquently put it, “trashy Swerfs”.
The pro-prostitution lobby almost always holds up the “rights” of “sex workers” to “choose” to sell sex. It is interesting how the terms “agency” and “empowerment” are only ever applied to degrading things imposed upon women, such as stripping, pole-dancing and prostitution. While jumping on to the #MeToo campaign about sexual harassment and consent, the anti-Swerf brigade seem to forget that prostitution is paid sexual harassment.
De Wallen, a well known red-light district in AmsterdamANDREA PUCCI
One picket line I had to walk through was on my way to speak at Leeds city council about the disgrace of its “managed zone”, where men can shop for sex with a vulnerable, drug-addled woman without fear of arrest. The protesters were shouting “Swerfs off our turf!” and “Hands off our clients!”
When a woman was murdered in the zone by a punter, the subsequent evaluation of the pilot scheme, conducted by academics so woke they need never set an alarm clock, concluded that the initiative had been a success and that it should become permanent.
The anti-Swerf crew were given another shot in the arm in 2016, when Amnesty International adopted a policy supporting the removal of all laws relating to prostitution — or, as Amnesty calls it, “adult consensual sex work”. An internal policy document, leaked to me in late 2013, made it clear that senior personnel had already reached the conclusion that men have the right to pay for sex and that women often “choose” prostitution as a career. There was even a suggestion that criminalising the punters, or even sending them on a “re-education” programme, could be a serious human-rights violation.
When feminists support the sex trade, they are giving men permission to buy and sell the most disenfranchised women on the planet. To invent and use an insult against the women campaigning for an end to commercial sexual exploitation is grotesque and unforgivable.
To suggest that supporting prostitution is somehow woke and progressive is ridiculous. I recall the words of the late feminist author Andrea Dworkin: “Only when women’s bodies are being sold for profit do leftists claim to cherish the free market.”
When the sex trade survivor Rachel Moran published her memoir, Paid For: My Journey through Prostitution, she knew not everybody would be happy that she’d laid bare the realities of sexual exploitation. Pimps, brothel owners and punters would hardly be pleased that she’d lifted the lid on the world’s oldest oppression. What she could never have imagined was having to sue another woman for defamation, for repeatedly claiming that Moran had based her book on a pack of lies.
Gaye Dalton, who was also a prostitute in Dublin’s southside red-light district, one of the spots where Moran was bought and sold, has repeatedly alleged that Moran fabricated her entire life history, and had never even been in prostitution. These extraordinary claims were ruled as, ‘Untrue, offensive and defamatory’ by a judge in Dublin’s Circuit Court today, and Dalton was legally restricted from repeating them.
In 1989, when Moran was 13-years-old, her father took his own life. Her mother, who also suffered serious mental health problems, then became even more difficult to live with. Moran left home shortly afterwards, moved in and out of hostels, state-funded B&B accommodation and domestic violence refuges, before becoming street homeless. Soon after Moran was groomed into prostitution. Her life was dogged by men’s violence and abuse, drug addiction and transient accommodation. After seven years, in 1998, Moran found the strength to kick narcotics and exit prostitution. She returned to education, undertook a journalism degree at Dublin City University and began to write her memoir Paid For, which took her a decade to complete.
The book, published in 2013, became an instant bestseller. Feminists all over the world picked up Paid For, which world-renowned legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon described as, ‘The best work by anyone on prostitution ever.’
Moran soon became a much-loved icon within the international feminist movement, and her book has since been published in the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy, Korea and various other countries. Moran had set up an organisation made up of sex trade survivors, SPACE International, the year before her book’s release. SPACE grew as an organisation, and Moran became its Executive Director. The organisation, which operated without funding for the first four years of its eight year existence, was held together by an ingenious strategy of connecting sex trade survivors with feminist organisations who wanted to hear their voices, with much interest generated by Paid For. Moran and her colleagues slept in feminists’ spare rooms, on sofas and in cut-price B&Bs, as they spread their message about the abuse inherent to the sex trade to as broad an audience as possible, on zero budget.
The reality of this history – an absolute grassroots feminist struggle – is probably what makes the allegations against Moran so unjust and insulting. Far from fictionalising her history, Moran laid out the painful truth so other women wouldn’t have to live it. Far from profiting from it, the first time I met Moran at a feminist conference in Malmo, she didn’t even have the price of a meal. I ask Moran about those early days and what was involved in building an organisation from the ground up. She said ‘I began travelling internationally in 2012 on the back of a blog I’d begun writing a year before my book came out, and I met all these fantastic women from across Europe and North America and the thing that struck me so forcibly was that, regardless whether we were white women from Europe or black women from the US or Indigenous women from Canada, we were all saying the same thing. You couldn’t fail to see what a powerful force these voices would be if they were united. The first thing we faced were lies and slurs, and we face them to this day.’ One such slur would be that delivered by Ms Dalton, who allegedly said the women of SPACE International were ‘A pack of greedy, spiteful little frauds who sold sex workers lives out along with their souls.’
‘It’s just disgusting to see our women spoken about in that way’ says Moran. ‘Every woman representing SPACE International has lived the sex trade, many of us delivering frontline services to women currently in prostitution. We know what we’re talking about because we’ve lived it and we’ve witnessed other women live it. Whitewashing the sex trade won’t work with us. That’s why our voices must be rubbished as fraudulent. They are a dangerously powerful opposition to the counter political narrative.’
Asked how she feels about finally being vindicated, Moran says, ‘Well I always knew I could be vindicated because I always knew I was telling the truth. What I didn’t know was whether I’d be able to see Ms Dalton inside a courtroom. Thankfully that day has come and the media is now reporting what I’ve always known.’
Moran’s court submissions included two affidavits, one from a former foster mother who took Moran into care under court order after she had been arrested from a brothel as a minor in 1992, and the other from the Vice Squad Officer who’d arrested her.
It’s not just about Dalton though, is it? I ask Moran. ‘No, it isn’t’ she says. ‘This is not nearly as straightforward as one women spreading malicious rumours about another. It’s much further reaching and more sinister than that. This was a concentrated campaign of harassment that ran for years involving hundreds of people, thousands of tweets, scores of videos and blog posts, false allegations, defamation and the deliberately threatening public release of my home address.’
Some of that mud stuck. I remind Moran that I myself was prevented from publishing a profile piece on her in a major British newspaper on the grounds that there were ‘murmurings about her authenticity’. ‘There’ve been murmurings about the authenticity of every woman who’s ever spoken out against male violence in the history of the world’ says Moran. ‘Those murmurings don’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that some women who’d call themselves feminists believe them and repeat them. I’d suggest they look up the word “feminist” in their dictionaries, or take a look in the mirror, or maybe do both at the same time.’
In a letter submitted to Dublin’s Circuit Court Ms Dalton’s psychiatrist described her as ‘ill’ and asked the Court for leniency on her behalf. I ask Moran how she feels about Dalton now? ‘I have some sympathy for her’ says Moran. ‘I feel she’s been used. The piece that’s been revealed here is a long-term psychiatric patient’s bullying and vilification of a total stranger with allegations that have just been deemed defamatory in an Irish Court. The piece that’s gone under the radar is how a whole global cabal of pro-sex trade voices took advantage for years of her mental frailty and of my inability to defend myself against it. They used one woman to hurt another, and they knew exactly what they were doing.’
A friend told me his student daughter had become a feminist activist. Check out her Facebook page, he said. So I did, expecting posts on the gender pay gap or #MeToo. Instead I discovered the campaign to which she and her mates devoted their energy was to save the Sheffield branch of Spearmint Rhino.
Seriously? A lap-dancing club? Indeed, a multinational lap-dancing corporation, where men from London to Las Vegas can pay near-naked women to grind on their crotches in private booths. Spearmint Rhino, whose posters of strippers dressed in sexy uniforms for “naughty schoolgirl” parties were banned by the advertising watchdog, and which exists to flatter and feed the sexual entitlement of men, according to its founder John Gray.
Not just any old Spearmint Rhino either but Sheffield’s, where the council recorded 74 breaches of the licence and 145 of the club’s own code of conduct, including sexual touching and masturbation. Yet outside the club with placards, demanding the council ignore such violations, were women students.
Until recently feminists campaigned to close such clubs, which proliferated under New Labour’s shameful loosening of licensing laws. Residents fought to stop them being sited near homes or schools, where passing girls would be cat-called. Women in business battled male bosses who entertained clients in strip joints, meaning female executives must either endure the bump ’n’ grind or lose networking opportunities. Women’s equality was judged incompatible with male sexual services on every high street.
Yet the Spearmint Rhino feminists told Sheffield council that “stripping is a crucial drive in the feminist movement” and “plays a huge role in empowering women”. Those who wanted the club closed, including the local Women’s Equality Party, were “SWERFs”: Sex Worker-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, ie prudes and bigots. Among the club’s most vocal supporters was Sophie Wilson, 23, a Sheffield councillor and now the prospective Labour candidate for Rother Valley.
Given this constituency includes part of Rotherham, you’d expect Ms Wilson to be mindful of the town’s recent sexual abuse scandal, aware that 20 men were jailed for grooming, rape and trafficking, that her voters include some of the 1,500 female victims. These grotesque crimes, the ensuing cover-up and recriminations, have left a festering wound. No surprise that residents voted for a zero-tolerance policy on sexual entertainment venues: from next year Rotherham council won’t renew any strip club licences.
Yet instead of reaching out to victim groups, Ms Wilson has gone to war against one of Rotherham’s bravest survivors. Sammy Woodhouse described being raped and impregnated as a 14-year-old by Arshid Hussain, now jailed, in her memoir Just A Child. With low self-esteem, few qualifications and criminal convictions (after Hussain inveigled her into robbery and drug dealing) she could only find work as a stripper in clubs.
For nine years she endured sexual assaults, the constant badgering by clients for “extras”, saw foreign women trafficked by pimps who demand girls illicitly offer sex. Many lap dancers she met shared her troubled trajectory: child abuse, manipulative boyfriend, a subsequent sense of worthlessness. The parallels with the Rotherham victims are obvious. As the National Crime Agency wrote: “The girls, who were all vulnerable and craving attention and love, were deliberately targeted for the sole purpose of becoming sexual objects for the men.” Perfect strip-club fresh meat.
Sammy Woodhouse is aghast that middle-class students believe lap-dancing clubs are empowering. Or that Sophie Wilson responded to Spearmint Rhino’s offer of a free night out as reward for saving their licence with an excited: “I’m up for it.” In response, Ms Wilson called Woodhouse — a Rother Valley voter — “SWERF trash”. It is hard to believe such an immature, insensitive person could be selected for a seat beset with complex problems. But the Rother Valley long-list compiled by Labour’s NEC excluded most local candidates. Ms Wilson was a Momentum choice.
She will need all the goodwill she can get. The seat has never returned a Tory but Labour’s majority has fallen steadily to 3,882 at the last election. Despite this, Sophie Wilson’s only impact so far is to trample on the town’s sensitive past.
Who will go out leafleting for her on dark nights now? And if she wins, will she prove to be another hastily chosen, social media big mouth with little real-life experience, like the disgraced Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara?
Yet sadder than this betrayal of South Yorkshire voters by the party they have always trusted with power is the mindset of Spearmint Rhino feminists. Has the first generation raised on internet porn come to believe that sexual objectification is normal, even desirable? They call themselves “sex positive”, implying that women who oppose lap-dancing clubs ain’t getting any. (As if the sex trade has any respect for female pleasure.) They say lap dancers just need unionisation and for men to tip them well.
This, remember, is the #MeToo generation that calls a hand on a knee sexual assault and railed against entitled businessmen ogling hostesses at the Presidents Club charity ball last year. Yet it does not see that the narrative that gave Harvey Weinstein impunity to grab any passing starlet is played out in every £30 private dance. Wrapped up in their own narcissism and “identity” they are blind to the bigger picture. They are Spearmint Rhino’s useful feminist idiots. Ladies, you’ve been had.
When I first heard about the tragic case of Cyntoia Brown, sentenced in 2006 to 51 years for killing a man who was paying to use her for sex when she was 16-years-old, I immediately thought of Emma Humphreys. In 1985, Emma also killed a man in very similar circumstances.
Both girls killed as a result of severe provocation and mental ill health, caused by the extreme abuse they had endured in prostitution.
Brown shot Johnny Allen in 2004. On the night she killed him, Allen picked up Cyntoia and took her to his home. Brown said in her statement she thought he was reaching for a gun during sex, so she shot him with a handgun and fled with his money.
The defence claimed Cyntoia was a victim of sex trafficking who feared for her life and was afraid of coming back to her pimp, “Cut Throat”, who used to beat and terrorise her, with no money. The prosecution said she was a greedy opportunist. Cyntoia was convicted of murder.
Like Cyntoia, Emma had grown up with appalling abuse, and was pimped into prostitution as a runaway child. Having met Trevor Armitage on the streets of Nottingham, Emma – who had been prostituted on the streets aged 13 – moved in with him, desperate for a home.
Armitage began beating, raping and pimping Emma, and her life was sheer hell. She killed him after he threatened her with a “gang-bang”. Like Cyntoia, she was just 16 years old, and yet was convicted a few months later of his murder. The jury failed to understand how child abuse and neglect is a training ground for prostitution, and how pimps and other predators target girls such as Emma.
Following a relentless three-year campaign to overturn Emma’s conviction, she finally walked free in July 1995. Emma had served a decade in prison for the “crime” of defending herself. But the lifetime of abuse, and her decade in prison took its toll on her mental and physical health, and Emma died three years later.
Cyntoia had been in prison for over a decade when campaigners brought her case to the public’s attention, and soon the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown trended on Twitter. Celebrities including Kim Kardashian, and even Snoop Dogg, himself a former pimp, called for her release.
Cyontia says that “My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.” Emma said much the same when she was released. What Emma needed, and what all the girls caught up in prostitution need from us is to call it what it is – child abuse.
We need to challenge those that claim that when the Cyntoias and Emmas of this world reach 18 they are merely exercising a “choice”. One pro-prostitution organisation recently referred to Cyntoia as “a survival sex worker” as opposed to a victim of sexual exploitation, and called for changes to attitudes so that such young women can hang on to their “agency”.
A child in the sex trade has no “agency”. She is a victim of sexual abuse and violence. Girls such as Cyntoia and Emma usually never come to our attention. They often take their own lives, die from HIV, are murdered by pimps and punters, or end up in prison. We owe them a duty of care, and that begins by calling prostitution what it is: one of the worst forms of sexual exploitation and brutality on the planet.
A pornography festival in London this weekend has been forced to relocate after protests.
Faced with the prospect of a picket, organisers of the London porn film festival, which describes itself as “celebrating queer, feminist, radical and experimental porn”, pulled screenings from the Horse Hospital, an arts venue in Bloomsbury. The three-day event will instead be held at a new location disclosed only to ticket holders.
Multiple complaints about the festival were made to Camden council. Local authorities have the power to permit screenings of uncertificated films.
Despite the festival’s progressive intentions, feminist organisations branded it demeaning. Janice Williams, chair of the activist group Object, said the films on show promoted “degradation and oppression”. Rude Jude, one of the festival’s organisers, disagreed. “This is the next step on from the moral panic and the rightwing conservative groups that protested this kind of thing before … Britain likes to think of itself as a place tolerant of queer people, but when queer people assert ourselves, we’re attacked.”
The festival programme includes screenings titled Soft Tender Tuff Bois, described as a “love letter to all genderqueer and transmasculine people”, and The Kinks Are All Right, which takes the theme of “seductive humiliation”.
Rude Jude said the festival was staged as a response to 2014 legislation that extended pornography laws to films streamed over the internet: “It banned so many queer acts. It banned the depiction of female ejaculation, caning, breast play, flogging. These things are part of queer sexuality. The festival was formed as a protest.”
The coordinators of a separate pressure group, Women Against Pornography, said: “Feminist pornography is an oxymoron … feminism is not about individualistic wishes or desires, it is about liberating all women from the oppression of males. This can never be achieved by being tied up in a bed or by telling women that torture will make them free.” Women Against Pornography cited “security reasons” for not wanting to reveal their names.
In a letter to Camden council, Williams singled out a festival strand titled Sex Work Is Work, the online description for which included the hashtag #necrophilia. Williams claimed the festival was to show extreme pornographic images and pornography that is “likely to result in serious injury” to the performers. The hashtag has since been removed from the festival site.
In a series of Twitter posts, the festival claimed transphobia underlay the attack on the event. Women Against Pornography refute the accusation: “In the letters we sent there was no mention of transgenderism. However, if transgenderism is apparently so closely linked with pornography then that’s not a very good advert for it. As radical feminists we are gender critical, although this didn’t form part of our criticism of the festival.”
The Horse Hospital, which does not receive public money, is known for its grassroots art programming and has hosted the festival since its inception. “We’re in a difficult position here. We’re always up against it with somebody,” said director Roger Burton.