Hotel brands owned by Hilton, Intercontinental and Best Western are among a number of leading global chains accused of profiting from sex trafficking.
In a landmark case that lawyers claim demonstrates “industry-wide failures” to prevent sex trafficking, it has been alleged that women and children were held captive, abused and sold for sex in their guest rooms across the US.
A total of 13 women have accused a dozen hotel groups of wilfully ignoring warning signs that sexual exploitation was taking place on their premises.
The litigation, which was filed this week in a federal court in Columbus, Ohio, marks the first time the hotel industry has faced legal action as a group. It draws together 13 separate lawsuits filed in Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Texas.
New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg – litigating on behalf of the women, many of whom were minors when the trafficking was alleged to have occurred – said the hotels “derived profit” and “benefited financially” by “providing a marketplace for sex trafficking”.
“It seems clear to us that these hotels knowingly put their own profits over the protection of the children, teenagers and young women who were being sold for sex at their hotels,” said Paul Pennock, trafficking and abuse practice group leader at the firm.
“We believe that they neglected their duty to take action to stop these heinous crimes for decades, and it is time for them to be held responsible for what they perpetuated through total inaction.”
One of the women in the complaint says she was held captive for six weeks in 2012 at various Wyndham Hotels locations, where repeated beatings broke her nose on two occasions, left her lip permanently scarred and caused an infection on her face. She was 26 at the time.
“I just wish that people realise how much [sex trafficking] really is here in the US,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a shady hotel or a nice hotel, it’s going on in all of them.”
An estimated 80% of all human trafficking arrests occur in or around hotels, the lawsuit claims. In 2014, 92% of the calls the National Human Trafficking Hotline received involved reports of sex trafficking taking place at hotels, according to the litigation.
Despite well-publicised industry-wide initiatives to tackle child and sex trafficking, including staff training to identify potential victims, the hotel chains named in the lawsuit failed to adequately implement such policies, and in some cases failed to implement any policies at all, the lawsuit claims.
“As well as the trafficking of enslaved children and exploited women in the sex industry, hotels should also be concerned about the risks of forced labour in ancillary services such as cleaning and catering,” said Aidan McQuade, former director of Anti-Slavery International.
“But this case should be a reminder to all businesses in all industries, not just hospitality, of something they should have learned over at least the past 10 years: unless you can establish effective systems to identify and remediate slavery and trafficking where it occurs in your supply chains and operations, you may well be the next held to account in the courts of law and public opinion.”
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.
It is midday in Bhairchawa, one of the 23 official border checkpoints between Nepal and India. Each day, up to 100,000 people cross under the stone arch separating the two countries. Some are on foot, others in trucks or on bikes, mopeds and rickshaws. Amid the chaos – the people, the dust, the noise of traffic and honking of horns – are the guardians: women who, having survived the horrors of human trafficking, now spend every day trying to spot potential victims and their exploiters among the crowds.
One of the women on duty today is Pema. While we talk, her eyes remain fixed on the crowds, scanning the throngs of people moving slowly across the checkpoint.
She is right to be vigilant. The 1,750km open and porous border between the two countries is a dream for traffickers and a nightmare for those trying to stop them. It has helped this crossing become one of the busiest human trafficking routes in the world.
More than 23,000 women and girls were victims of trafficking in 2016 according to the annual report published by the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal. However, numbers could rise to 40,000 Nepalese victims a year, according to NGOs in the field. Last year, a study conducted by Sashastra Seema Bal, the Indian armed border force, said detected cases of trafficking from Nepal to India had risen by 500% since 2013.
Pema says she knows how to spot potential victims because she was herself trafficked across this border when she was 11 years old. Born in a remote village in the north of Nepal, she was taken by a friend of her parents, drugged and sold into a brothel in India. Years of rape and torture followed until she was rescued by Maiti Nepal, an anti-trafficking charity, following a raid on the brothel.
Pema lived at a Maiti Nepal shelter and has since trained to become one of 39 trafficking survivors working for the organisation as border guardians. The group work at nine checkpoints between the two countries, in collaboration with border police.
Pema spots a man trying to cross the border, holding the arm of a girl wearing a red leather jacket. She is wearing high heels, and is stumbling, unable to walk properly. “She is dressed too elegantly … One of the things traffickers do is buy women new clothes, to gain their trust,” says Pema as she approaches them and asks for their IDs. The girl does not have any, and the man says he is a businessman working in India and that she is his girlfriend. They are taken aside; Pema and the border police start to question the man.
It turns out their fears are well-founded. The man is a classic “lover boy” fraudster, a man who has seduced a young girl on Facebook and convinced her to leave her family and run away together.
“He has a record,” says Pema. “He was trying to get her out of the country to sell her to a brothel. This happens every single day.”
When the girl learns the truth, she collapses in tears. She is taken to one of Maiti Nepal’s transit homes, where she will receive help and emergency accommodation until she can be taken back to her family.
“It is hard for them to take in the fact that their boyfriend is a trafficker who just wants to sell them,” says Sirta, another of the guardians. “The same thing happened to me. My boyfriend sold one of my kidneys and then he sold me. I am only alive today because I was rescued.”
I worked for a decade under decrim. But before that, for a little, I was a stripper so we’ll start there.
One night, let’s call her Stacy, came in for opening and was extremely distraught because she’d been raped a few hours earlier, she came in to talk to me because she didn’t have anyone else. Our manager told her she could either work her shift or be fired. The only reason she was allowed to leave was because I said I’d leave too and I was making them too much money at that point for him not to cop it from the owner if that happened. She didn’t go to the police because she knew they wouldn’t care.
Then when I was nineteen I switched to working in brothels. People like to think drugs come before that but usually they don’t. Most of the time that comes after you start, to cope with it.
I routinely worked with trafficked women in legal brothels because under that system, it’s actually way easier to traffic them in. Most of them were South East Asian and I know at least three of them are dead, I’m fairly certain a lot more of them are now.
I’ve seen men come in and leave because they wanted ‘younger’ girls, despite there being girls working that were 18 and looked 15.
The night a john tried to choke me, I slammed his head into the mirror. I was warned by police after that next time I would be charged with assault.
I don’t feel the statistics accurately portray the history of abuse most if not all of us have experienced. I met maybe five women who said they hadn’t been abused in some way during childhood, whether it be sexually, physically or emotionally. In ten years.
Literally no one was there because they wanted to be. It was because if not, you starved or worse. I’ve never met any of us who was in the girl’s room between “”“clients”“” preaching about how great it was. We talked about what we would do if we had a choice and what we hated about johns and management, and every level of horror you can imagine that we’d experienced in our lives.
Decriminalization is just a different shaped cage. It’s still designed to trap and commodify women and girls as sex toys for men. I’ve seen women raped and beaten, I’ve known women who have been killed or who have ended up killing themselves.
The reason it’s not okay to people to exchange money to kill someone but it’s okay to exchange money to rape someone, is because the world we live in perpetuates that women and girls are lesser, and that our worth is based in fuckability to men.
And you could ask anyone who is exited the same and their stories don’t vary from ones like mine. But we’re called liars by people who have never set foot in a brothel in their goddamn lives, for challenging the bullshit notion that there is a class of women it is okay to exploit.
Which UK political party cares more about women: Labour or the Conservatives? If I’d been told five years ago that I would even be thinking of asking that question, I’d have thought it was a joke.
As a lifelong Labour voter and supporter, who has found herself disillusioned and dismayed with the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, I have been hopeful that socialist men will finally recognise the dire need to tackle sexual and domestic violence towards women and girls as a major priority. I have been bitterly disappointed.
I will never vote Conservative, because as a feminist campaigner I believe that for all women to be liberated it is necessary to understand and work to dismantle the endemic inequality that exists within every facet of society. The Tories have a terrible track record in terms of funding services for women escaping violent relationships and giving a damn about women at the bottom of the pile, preferring to focus on the “glass ceiling”, which affects about 5 per cent of the most privileged women.
Despite having failed to elect a female leader in 118 years, probably most would still say Labour is the party that cares most about women, and understandably. It is not for nothing that Labour feels like a more comfortable place if you are female.
Under Tony Blair, some female-friendly (as opposed to hard-hitting feminist) policies were introduced, such as national minimum wage, tax credits, childcare strategy, increased child benefit, increased public sector spending, same sex adoption rights, and Sure Start children’s centres.
The criminal justice system also was given a shakedown during this period: for example, the provocation defence for domestic homicide was scrapped, which had previously allowed some men who killed female partners to claim they had been “provoked” into killing as a result of her alleged infidelity, or “nagging”.
These are hard-won changes. So it is with a heavy heart that I have watched Labour concede whole swathes of feminist ground to the Tories over the last few years. If anyone at Labour HQ has noticed, no one seems to care. Some of it undoubtedly has more than a hint of virtue signalling. But something much more profound is going on.
Under Blair, women-only shortlists were introduced in order to address some of the massive imbalances in the House of Commons, but Corbyn has decided that the only criteria for being included on such shortlists is self-identification. In my view, this renders the initiative null and void.
Labour is supposed to be the party of socialism, and to recognise structural inequality. What better example of desperation, poverty, and indignity is there than the sex trade? And yet in 2016, Jeremy Corbyn said, during a talk at Goldsmiths University, that he is in favour of blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade. “Let’s do things a bit differently and in a more civilised way,” he said.
While I would hope that anyone with any sense would support the decriminalisation of the women (and men) selling sex, socialists, both male and female, should recognise that the global sex trade is a dumping ground for care leavers, childhood sexual abuse victims, girls and women of colour and from indigenous communities, and women subjected to domestic violence.
The last thing we should be doing is removing all criminal penalties from brothel owners, pimps and punters, as Corbyn and many other men on the left are in favour of doing.
In 2015, John McDonnell sponsored a laughably ideological report from a group that would like to see prostitution completely decriminalised. Decriminalisation is another way of saying: open season on women’s bodies. Like the Netherlands, where women suffer the indignity of standing in window brothels so men can select which ones they consider worthy to buy. Only a small number of courageous Labour Party women speak out against this crazy position, such as Thangam Debbonaire and Naz Shah.
On the other hand, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission is currently carrying out an inquiry into prostitution and the law. This is a fairly mainstream Tory group with MPs from all wings of the party. As part of this inquiry, I today spoke in a debate in parliament on the motion: “Should men have the right to buy sex?”, moderated by Baroness Fiona Hodgson.
This inquiry is streets ahead of anything else that has happened in parliament for ages.
The Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry last year effectively collapsed after its chair was found to be paying for sex himself. Other previous efforts have all got stuck trying to sift the contradictory evidence from other jurisdictions.
My opponent, Dr Belinda Brooks Gordon, argued that “disabled men, and returning war heroes, should be allowed to buy sex”, the implication being that these men, “can’t get a real date”. I argued that there is no such thing as a “right” to sex, and that it is a classic neoliberal argument.
This inquiry is asking crucial questions. In a previous hearing, sex trade survivors were asked: “What does it mean to freely enter prostitution?”, and “When does prostitution become exploitative?” Yes, yes, yes.
When women’s bodies are being rented for orgasm, when women are routinely abused, even killed. When women in poor countries are being told to sell themselves out of poverty, we need to ask ourselves if the decision to advertise their flesh as consumable is a just one.
Sex Trade Survivors, Women’s Rights Advocates, Anti-Trafficking Organizations Globally Urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Uphold and Implement Canada’s Prostitution Law
New York, April 20, 2018 – Within 24 hours 2,280 sex trade survivors, women’s rights advocates, anti-trafficking organizations and concerned individuals, including Canadian citizens, from all over the world signed an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling on him to uphold and ensure full implementation of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). Feminist author and activist Gloria Steinem was among the signatories. The call to action came in response to the Young Liberals of Canada’s proposed resolution, “Decriminalization of Consensual Sex Work and Sex Trade,” scheduled to be tabled at the National Liberal Convention this week.
PCEPA, which passed in Canada in 2014, decriminalizes prostituted individuals, who are mostly women, offering them services, and targets sex buyers, who are overwhelmingly men, for the harm they cause in prostitution. This legal framework, which was originally known as the Swedish Model, has been adopted by Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Northern Ireland, Ireland and France. While PCEPA still criminalizes prostituted women in certain circumstances, something Canadian activists are working to amend, the law’s goal is to end the commercial sexual exploitation of individuals and protect human rights, especially those of women and girls, while recognizing that sex buyers fuel the global multi-billion dollar sex trade. Despite these laudable aims and evidence from other countries of the efficacy of this legal model, Canada has not comprehensively implemented PCEPA throughout its provinces but those that are using it are finding the law an excellent tool.
“Every day I witness the unspeakable violence and devastation that prostitution inflicts on women and children,” said Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre in Ontario, who advocated for the enactment of PCEPA. “If we have to re-debate whether the best Canada can do for our vulnerable is facilitating their commodification and sexual exploitation by decriminalizing prostitution, then we have failed in our promises for equality and protection of human rights for all.”
The open letter also calls on Prime Minister Trudeau, as the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party to reject the Young Liberals’ proposal to overturn PCEPA and to decriminalize all aspects of the sex trade in Canada, including pimping and sex buying.
“When Canada and its leaders speak about ending gender-based violence and violence against women, but support a pro “sex work” motion, which would decriminalize pimping and sex buying, Canada is being hypocritical,” said Alaya McIvor, an Indigenous sex trade survivor working with Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Manitoba. “We should be embarrassed about these efforts trying to reverse the great work that’s been done and a law for which we fought so hard to protect victims of sexual exploitation.”
While Indigenous Peoples in Canada only comprise 4.8 percent of its population, evidence shows that Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately represented in the sex trade. In one report, a network of front-line service organizations across Canada estimated that of the women and girls they serve who have been sexually exploited in prostitution, 50 percent of girls and 51 percent of women were Indigenous. Evidence has also shown that full decriminalization or legalization of the sex trade would spark an increase in sex trafficking, including of minors, to meet the consequent demand for prostitution.
Back in March I made two complaints to the BBC over the way commercial sexual exploitation was reported on the BBC’s news website; in April, the BBC replied to my concerns, and altered the web pages.
I am absolutely certain that, in relation to the BBC’s reporting of Fiona Broadfoot’s victory in the High Court, I am far from the only person to have complained to the BBC, so cannot claim this as my own, sole, work.
The BBC originally used the headline “Former sex worker ‘vindicated’ after High Court win”, it now reads “Sex abuse victim ‘vindicated’ after High Court win”
This is my original complaint:
The use of the term ‘sex work’ in a piece relating to the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. Fiona Broadfoot was 15 when she was first commercially sexually exploited, 15 is below the age of consent so this was statutory rape, rape is not ‘work’. Broadfoot has said clearly on twitter that she was never a ‘sex worker’. ‘Sex work’ is a partisan term and should be used with caution, and should never be used to describe the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
To which I received this reply:
Thanks for contacting us regarding use of the phrase “former sex worker” in the headline to the following BBC News article:
The use of this phrase in the headline reflects the fact that the “three women, who say they were groomed into prostitution as teenagers, have won a High Court battle” and “successfully argued that the disclosure of convictions for working in the sex trade many years ago was disproportionate and a breach of their Article 8 Human Rights – the right to a private life.”
Thanks again for your feedback. Complaints are sent to senior management and news teams every morning via our overnight reports.
So I complained again:
I contacted the BBC two weeks ago to complain about the use of the term ‘sex work’ in an article about the commercial sexual exploitation of a fifteen-year-old girl, the reply I received was an insultingly lazy, circular, cut-and-paste (effectively: we used the term ‘sex work’ because it was an article about ‘sex work’). ‘Sex work’ is a partisan term, the debate over whether the sex industry is a form of exploitation, or freely chosen work is far from over. The term ‘sex work’ itself is begging the question (‘sex work is work’, ‘this bad thing is bad’). Under any other circumstances, coerced sex is called rape, but when money is exchanged, coerced sex gets called ‘work’. Fifteen is below the statutory age of consent, therefore any sexual activity below the age of consent is rape. Fiona Broadfoot has contacted the BBC via twitter to say that she was never a ‘sex worker’, and that she objects to the use of the term in the article about her. I would like someone at the BBC to explain to me why it was considered appropriate to call a commercially raped child a ‘sex worker’
And received this reply:
Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that three women have won a High Court battle which means they will not have to tell future employers about their soliciting (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43261021) and we’re sorry that you were dissatisfied with the initial response from our central complaints team.
Having reviewed your complaint I think you raise a fair point.
While we wouldn’t refer to statutory rape in the absence of actual charges or convictions for that offence in connection with the story, we have since amended the headline to now refer to how:
Sex abuse victim ‘vindicated’ after High Court win
We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and we’re sorry once again that you’ve had to write to us twice to make this point.
I also complained about the reporting of trafficking into the sex industry in Spain. This is the complaint I sent:
I am writing to complain about the use of the term ‘sex work’ in an article about sex trafficking, sex slavery, and the commercial sexual exploitation of children (‘Spanish police break up Nigerian sex trafficking gang’ published online 23 March 2018).
‘Sex work’ is a partisan term, it is not a neutral descriptor; under any other circumstances, coerced sex is called rape, but when the rapist hands money over to a third party controlling the rape victim, some people try to call this ‘work’. The term ‘sex work’ takes a sexual abuse and sexual exploitation issue, and reduces it to a mere labour issue.
The article in question clearly says that one of the victims of sex trafficking was an under-age girl, which means she was incapable of consenting to sex, and it is therefore entirely inappropriate to describe her rape as ‘work’.
Language matters, the meaning of words matters, the BBC is supposed to be impartial and trust-worthy; by using a contested term like ‘sex work’ in this context (the Europol report uses the terms ‘prostitution’ and ‘sexual exploitation’ only), the BBC is failing to be either of these things.
I received this reply:
Thank you for getting in touch with your comments on a recent article headed, ‘Spanish police break up Nigerian sex trafficking gang.’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-43514125)
On review we agree that use of the term ‘sex work’ may be ambiguous in relation to the 39 women and girls trafficked into forced sex by a notorious Nigerian gang.
We have updated the article to clarify that while they were paid for sex, they were not employed in ‘sex work’ in the traditional sense of a person legitimately employed in the sex industry.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention and we hope this addresses your concerns.
The line in the article “Gang members forced the women into sex work in order to pay off a 30,000 euro ($37,000; £26,000) debt.” Has been changed to “Gang members forced the women into paid sex in order to pay off a 30,000 euro ($37,000; £26,000) debt.”
It’s not ideal, since ‘paid sex’ doesn’t really communicate fully the reality of being held captive and raped so someone else can receive money, but it’s better than ‘sex work’. I also don’t agree that the sex industry is ever ‘legitimate’ even when it’s legal, but that is a political stance, and I can only ask the BBC to be impartial!
The moral of this story is, it’s always worth complaining to the BBC, they are a publicly funded body, and they are therefore answerable to the British public.