The first dom who abused me (the first dom I had, who groomed me at 16) was a well respected member of the BDSM community. Locally, and across the state. Other members of the community – most who knew I was a minor – told me he was a good guy, a good dom, an exemplar of BDSM ‘values’. He was renowned across the state of New York.
When he was tired of abusing me, he gifted me to other upstanding members of the BDSM community.
When I moved, I was given to a dom of the BDSM community in my new state.
Don’t let them hide behind the idea of community; the idea that the community polices itself and protects subs. Just like the real cops, they only protect the abusive assholes.
They knew. They all knew. They knew when a dom violated safe words. They knew when he hurt a sub. They knew when he pushed past a sub’s limits. They knew about the grooming. They knew about the abuse. They knew about the rape. The community fucking knew. They just didn’t care.
Last Monday, James Martin was sentenced to four and a half years in jail for killing Stella Frew. They had argued in his van, then he accelerated away with her hanging off its side, eventually running Frew over, causing her catastrophic injuries. Martin sped away with her handbag in the van, which he later dumped.
The cause of their altercation? Martin refused to pay her for the sex act she had just performed on him. Like many women who sell sex, Frew struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and was under their influence when she approached Martin. Her daughter described her for the court as the “kindest, most warm-hearted woman” who had been abused and hurt by men her whole life. The judge commented that Martin had shown barely any empathy for his victim.
And so it has always been. Prostitution is laced with mortal peril: women who sell sex are 18 times more likely to be murdered than women who don’t, according to one study. Yet these women have throughout history been cast as second-class citizens, not worthy of the same concern as other victims.
How best to prevent violence against those selling sex, the vast majority of whom are women, is a question that has long divided feminists. For some, it is about decriminalising the selling and buying of sex, which in England and Wales would mean dropping criminal offences such as kerb crawling, soliciting and running a brothel. There will always be prostitution, so the argument goes, so best to keep it out in the open. Others agree that the selling of sex should be decriminalised in all circumstances and think women should be provided with ample support to get out of prostitution, but argue that the buying of sex, an almost exclusively male activity, should always be a crime.
The full decriminalisation argument is driven by a belief that it is possible to sufficiently strengthen the agency of those who sell sex to transform it into “sex work”, like any other job. You can see what makes it an appealing frame, powered by an archetype that has evolved from the Pretty Woman male saviour narrative, to the sex-positive woman sticking two fingers up at a socially conservative society by making bags of money doing something she loves. Sex work is a choice that should be respected and we should destigmatise it by decriminalising the men who buy it and regulate it to make it safer. Women railing against this are depicted as prudes constrained by their own squeamishness about sex.
There are two reality checks that bring these theoretical arguments crashing down to earth. The first is that for every woman or man selling sex who regards it as a positive choice, and there are some, there are many more who have been trafficked or exploited and are effectively enslaved to criminal networks, working for a pittance, or for drugs to forget the trauma of being forced into selling yourself to be penetrated again and again, or for nothing at all.
In one investigation into sex trafficking, Leicestershire police reported that 86% of the women in brothels they visited were Romanian; in Northumbria, it was 75%. Numerous studies have shown just how dangerous prostitution is: a majority of women selling sex have experienced severe and repeated violence, with more than two-thirds suffering from PTSD at levels comparable to war veterans. Women who are actually or effectively being forced into selling sex have little voice in policy debates, although there are prominent survivor networks that argue for abolition.
Second, as the feminist campaigner Julie Bindel exposed in her 2017 book The Pimping of Prostitution, decriminalisation and regulation has not been the success its advocates claim. Bindel visited and interviewed women working in legal brothels in the Netherlands, Germany, Nevada, New Zealand and Australia and found exploitation to be rife, with legalisation acting to empower brothel owners. In one Las Vegas brothel, women weren’t allowed out unaccompanied or without their manager’s permission. In a German brothel, women had to service six men a day at the minimum rate just to make back the room rent. In a New Zealand brothel, women said men could simply complain to the manager and get their money back, leaving them with nothing.
Decriminalisation increases the overall extent of prostitution in a country without decreasing its harms or delivering any of the promised benefits of regulation. In New Zealand, Bindel revealed there were only 11 brothel health and safety inspections over a 12-year period. And decriminalisation makes it even harder for the police to combat trafficking; Spanish police describe how difficult it is to investigate when they enter a brothel and clearly frightened and distressed young women tell them they are working there by choice.
Decriminalisation can’t make prostitution safe because it is inherently dangerous and exploitative. How is a woman selling sex supposed to maintain safe boundaries or withdraw consent when a man physically capable of killing her is hurting her?
The men who buy sex all too often escape scrutiny. The Invisible Men project documents the nauseating way men talk online about their experience of women selling sex, very little of it printable. Research finds that men who buy sex are also more likely to abuse their partners, have a stronger preference for impersonal sex and to commit rape and other sex offences.
Correlation may not equal causation, but it’s not hard to imagine how using women for a price, even if it hurts them, further hardens already toxic attitudes towards women. These men have a vested interest in the sanitisation of their sex-buying. Perhaps the most extraordinary example is the former MP Keith Vaz, who chaired a home affairs select committee inquiry that came down against criminalising those who buy sex, and who a few months later was exposed as having offered to buy cocaine for two men selling sex.
There should be zero stigma, only help and support for those caught up in prostitution. But we legitimise the men who engage in the harmful practice of buying sex to our detriment. In the UK, it is estimated about one in 10 men have paid for sex; in Spain, where it is decriminalised, it is much higher. To accept that prostitution is always going to happen, and therefore the best we can do is regulate it, not only means tolerating the abuse of women: it is to be complicit in its expansion.
This morning the Court of Appeal handed down a long-awaited judgment in the case of Re C, a legal case fraught with tension due to the sensitive and complex nature of what lay at its heart.
In short, C, a learning-disabled man, wished to seek out the “services” of a prostituted woman to pay her for sexual access, but he lacked the mental capacity to make such arrangements for himself.
One of several legal issues at hand was the fact that, if such a care worker was permitted to make such arrangements, they may be committing an offence under s.39 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which prohibits care workers from “causing or inciting sexual activity”.
To cut a long legal story short, the Court of Appeal overturned the original ruling of the Court of Protection, and stated that in this instance C’s care workers were categorically not permitted to facilitate the purchasing of sexual access on behalf of their learning-disabled client.
Understandably, this case produced a strong emotional reaction: why should individuals with learning disabilities be prevented from having sex? Surely they too should be allowed to engage in “autonomous sexual expression” which “respects the […] humanity and dignity of all involved” as the original judgment from the Court of Protection stated.
But this is a subtle misdirection. To view this through the prism of blanket sexual autonomy is to obfuscate the reality of prostitution. For many women and children trapped within the brutal system of prostitution, agency or choice is far from their reality.
For example, in one case in the Netherlands (where prostitution is legalised), six defendants were found guilty of trafficking more than 100 women into State-regulated prostitution via a sprawling and organised network of accomplices, where women were subjected to violence including “rape and coercion into breast enlargement or abortion” which was used as a method to control them.
One study spanning five countries found that women were frequently subjected to treatment such as “… [being] urinated on, pinched in the breasts, sodomized, objects inserted in anus and vagina, bestiality … weapons used against women … being strangled with a bandana, burned … bound with extension cords, assaulted with … knives and guns, hit with shoes and a liquor bottle…”
Furthermore, even if women do try to escape this form of modern slavery, studies have reported consequences such as: “physical punishment when they made mistakes or tried to run away … they had to service men … even when they were ill or did not feel well … Their movement was highly controlled, and most were not allowed to leave the premises and were tightly guarded”.
And so we see the argument begin to shift. No longer is the purchasing of sexual access an issue in which parties of equal bargaining power are coming to an amicable contractual arrangement, exercising their shared autonomy. In the vast majority of cases, a man is exploiting the vulnerabilities of a woman who has few other choices but to acquiesce to the offer of payment.
It should be noted as well that the Court expressly acknowledged that C posed a “risk of sexual and violent deviancy”, and that there was “a serious question mark over whether he could safely be left alone with a sex worker”. Would a situation in which C was left alone with a prostituted woman be any different from one of the violent scenarios outlined above? Perhaps not.
As a result, the heart of the issue is whether any given individual has a right to purchase sexual access. This was an argument advanced by C, arguing that his Article 8 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for your private and family life) meant if criminal liability were to be incurred under s.39 SOA 2003, it would be an interference with his private life. A private life which, it is implied, includes the right to purchase sexual access to another human being. Thankfully, the Court rejected this argument.
As the judgment states, there is no sign that Article 8 includes an obligation for states to allow care workers to facilitate the purchase of sexual access for their clients (or the obligation to permit this to occur more generally without criminal sanctions). As Dr Charlotte Proudman, one of the barristers who worked on this case, told me:
I welcome the court’s decision today. It is not a human right to pay for sex. The government’s public policy approach shows that it needs to take a cautious approach to prostitution because of the exploitation that underpins the sex trade.
This judgment rightly shows that s.53A makes it difficult (if not impossible, as I would say) to prove that a woman hasn’t been coerced into prostitution particularly when we reflect on the plethora of coercive constraints that women are subjected to — sex abuse as children and in adulthood, grooming, financial control, trafficking, objectification, verbal and physical abuse, rape and it goes on.
I’ve seen many of my clients exploited in prostitution and it would be wholly wrong for the law to condone this in any way, especially to confer a right to a man to sexually exploit or buy a woman’s body. This is not a human right. It’s abuse.
Beyond the context of this case, this ruling will hopefully begin to change how we talk about prostitution and the way in which people with disabilities have been used by the pro-sex trade lobby.
As Julie Bindel outlines in her book The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth, many disability-rights activists find it extraordinarily distasteful to suggest that individuals who may have either a physical or mental impairment must rely on purchasing sexual access to lead a fulfilling and rich life — “If you have a disability, you are so undesirable that you must pay to have sex with somebody.” It is quite clear why many would, and should, find this grotesquely offensive.
As for the issue of an individual’s “rights” when it comes to prostitution, the reality is beginning to come out in the wash. For too long the discourse has focused on the rights of those purchasing sexual access — but what about the rights of the women to not be subjected to degrading and violent exploitation? It is those women who must be our concern and priority, and both the law and the Government must no longer tolerate their subjugation.
Nazir Afzal is a solicitor and the former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England. Among his notable cases, he brought the Rochdale sex grooming gangs to trial in 2012.
Nazir’s parents arrived in the UK from Pakistan in 1961 and he was born in Birmingham the following year. After completing his legal training he started his career as a defence lawyer but soon realised that he preferred prosecution to defence, joining the Crown Prosecution Service in 1991.
As director of prosecutions for London he turned his attention to so-called honour-based violence and brought successful prosecutions against the perpetrators of these crimes. In 2011 as chief crown prosecutor for north-west England he began investigating sex grooming gangs in Rochdale, overturning a previous CPS decision not to bring charges against the gangs. He brought prosecutions against nine men who were convicted and jailed in 2012 for the sexual exploitation of 47 young girls.
Nazir retired from the Crown Prosecution Service in 2015. He currently chairs the Catholic Church’s new safeguarding body and advises the Welsh government on issues of gender-based violence.
Courtney Wild was archetypal prey for Jeffrey Epstein. Petite, blonde and blue-eyed, she grew up with a struggling single mother on a Florida trailer park. At a party, aged 14, another girl asked her if she wanted to make $200 giving an older guy a massage.
Inside a stupendous Palm Beach mansion, the overawed Courtney massaged someone she believed was a wealthy brain surgeon. Then he told her to strip, fondled her while he ejaculated, and handed her a wad of notes. She hated every second, but the money was life-changing. She anaesthetised herself with alcohol and cannabis and returned. He raped her and paid her more.
Soon she learnt she could escape his attentions — and double her money — by recruiting new, younger girls. By 16, she was working regularly for him, able to afford her own apartment.
Thus, on an industrial scale, morning, noon and night, for years, Epstein was serviced with vulnerable children. They were transported on his private jet, some from abroad, in a sex trafficking pyramid scheme. Famous names flit in and out of this book — Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, Bill Gates, plus several of America’s biggest business and legal names. It is not suggested that they knew what Epstein was doing but they are all tainted by his friendship.
Epstein, incidentally, kept 20 phone numbers for Trump in his so-called Black Book, including one marked “emergency contact”.
It’s hard to grasp quite how sordid Epstein was. Troubled girls from poor, broken homes believed he would make them famous models; some were infatuated with him. If they agreed to his demands, they thought they would escape their miserable lives, dreams would come true. Some did thrive, but the majority ended up damaged and drug-addicted, even dead. “He victimised people he thought nobody would ever listen to, and he was right,” Courtney said.
The person ultimately responsible for bringing Epstein down and finding justice for these children wasn’t a big name from one of America’s elite newspapers. It was a local woman who listened. Julie K Brown was a tough, award-winning investigative reporter on a provincial paper, the Miami Herald, who had her own troubles: she struggled to bring up two children as a single parent, relied on payday loans and lived in fear of redundancy.
Perversion of Justice is the story of how Brown, under-resourced, often unsupported and at considerable personal risk, exposed the way the American legal system let Epstein off the hook. There should have been a reckoning in 2005, when two dogged Florida police officers pursued him for abusing a 14-year-old girl. The FBI identified a further 36 children. But Epstein was a big donor to the Democrats with formidable connections and a bottomless bank account. He bribed, intimidated and paid off the victims, and in a stitch- up between state and federal lawmakers was treated with unheard-of leniency. In 2008 he got 13 months for two charges of soliciting minors and spent much of the sentence on extensive “work release” (of which more later). The US attorney for the Southern District of Florida who accepted his plea deal was Alexander Acosta, later appointed by Trump as labor secretary.
And so the scandal might have remained buried, had it not been for Brown. In 2018, after years of poring over court documents and crossing the country coaxing victims and police officers to speak, her explosive revelations were published by the Miami Herald in a series of videos and articles.
Epstein was arrested a few months later on federal charges for sex trafficking in Florida and New York, and found dead in jail soon after, in August 2019. Much more of his depravity is now known. Within days Acosta had resigned from his post at the White House. Epstein’s associate Ghislaine Maxwell is on remand awaiting trial and a raft of powerful men may not be sleeping easily.
Brown’s book bears testament to the extraordinarily porous relationship between American law and politics, and the endemic corruption. It’s also an age-old heartwarmer about the little person taking down the mighty. The divide in America, she says, is not between left and right, it’s between those with power and those without. Epstein’s philosophy, like that of other wealthy men, was if you had enough money and knew the right people, you could get away with anything.
Brown discovered media organisations who had filmed victims’ stories, but chosen not to broadcast them. Their words, she says, mattered less than the words of the man in the boardroom with dollars at stake. What happened with Harvey Weinstein repeated with Epstein.
The financier threw his money around like bait, bribing or extorting almost everyone involved, flouting the justice system in every possible way. In 2005 neither state nor federal prosecutors put a stop to his intimidation, thereby sabotaging their own cases. Lawyers for the girls were convinced the government and the defendant were working against the victims.
Brown found evidence that Epstein continued to access under-age girls while on “work release” during his brief 2008 sentence. Threesomes in fact, two girls at a time, while the sheriff’s deputies stood outside the door.
By 2011 he had reshaped himself as a maverick science philanthropist, flying geniuses around the world and hosting conferences to save the planet. He adapted a submarine so Stephen Hawking, a guest on his notorious Caribbean island, could go underwater for the first time. He sprayed money at causes to save the world, cure disease, fund AI and rescue humanity. Modestly, he planned a baby ranch at his New Mexico compound, seeding the human race with his own DNA. He was obsessed with cryonics — the freezing of humans to preserve life — and told people he wanted his head and penis frozen.
Ah, that penis. In a mysterious incident shortly before his death, he was found unconscious in his cell in New York, a windowless room, infested with insects and rats, with standing water on the floor. Had his fellow inmate, a corrupt cop, tried to kill him, or had the cop, as he claimed, prevented Epstein killing himself? “For reasons unexplained,” Brown writes scathingly, “the authorities had bunked a hulking accused killer with a 66-year-old nerd with an egg-shaped penis who happened to be the nation’s most famous child molester.”
Brown reveals evidence showing it is unlikely that Epstein, once in solitary, killed himself by hanging. What happened to the prison tapes? Why did both guards fall asleep? Why was the scene tidied up so quickly? And how would a man who employed staff to do everything for him, to the point of lacing his shoes, know how to hang himself so effectively he broke three bones in his neck? His death suited many people.
Others will write fuller, more polished accounts of the Epstein scandal. But Perversion of Justice is a gritty, honest and quietly magnificent statement about one woman’s bravery, the hard graft of investigative journalism and the vital ability of a free press to do what the legal authorities conspicuously wouldn’t: bring one of America’s most wicked men to justice. I see a movie in it.
By March 2021 at least 175 women had filed complaints about Epstein and more than $67 million had been paid to his victims. Meanwhile, in her book’s acknowledgments, Brown credits her landlady for not kicking her out when she couldn’t pay the rent. The one thing this book lacks is an index, but — little known fact — often authors have to fund these themselves. Under the circumstances, Julie K Brown is forgiven.
More than 30 women are suing the company which owns the streaming site Pornhub, alleging exploitation over the use of explicit videos of them.
The women say the videos were uploaded to Pornhub without their consent and have lodged a civil suit in California.
The California lawsuit accuses Mindgeek of running a “criminal enterprise”.
In a statement, Pornhub called the allegations “utterly absurd, completely reckless and categorically false”.
Pornhub is free to use but users can pay a monthly fee for higher-quality video streams and extra content.
Its content is mostly uploaded by its own community and publicly viewable. However, the company has said every video uploaded is reviewed by human moderators.
Pornhub told the BBC: “Pornhub has zero tolerance for illegal content and investigates any complaint or allegation made about content on our platforms.”
It said it had “the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history, which include the banning of uploads from unverified users”.
However, the BBC’s US partner CBS says Pornhub does not require its users to verify the identity or age of those featured in its videos – nor, according to CBS, does it seek to confirm the consent of people who appear in videos posted to the site.
One of the women in the suit told CBS she was only 17 when her boyfriend coerced her into making a nude video. The woman, who used the pseudonym Isabella, said the video was later posted on Pornhub without her consent and she only found out about it from a friend.
Pornhub said it “takes every complaint regarding the abuse of its platform seriously, including those of the plaintiffs in this case”.
It added that it did not intend to let the “hyperbolic language in the lawsuit distract from the fact that Pornhub has in place a safety and security policy that surpasses that of any other major platform on the internet”.
Last December, a New York Times investigation accused Pornhub of being “infested” with child-abuse and rape-related videos – claims the site denied.
Pornhub said it received 42 billion site visits in 2019, with 6.83 million videos uploaded, for a combined viewing time of 169 years. It did not say how many moderators it employed.
County lines gangs have been exploiting young women by passing them round dealers as “gift girls” as a reward for making profits, according to a new study seen by The Times.
Young women and girls have also been victims of online grooming and increasingly severe and sexual violence, the report from the University of Nottingham found.
Policing County Lines: Impact of Covid-19 was based on interviews with frontline services dealing with the impact of county lines drug dealing.
County lines refers to the use of a phone line in a city that acts as a call centre managing deliveries — usually of crack and heroin — to the surrounding counties. The exploitation of young and vulnerable people by the gangs has made the tactic a policing priority.
According to the report: “One youth worker referred to the use of ‘gift girls’, describing the sexual exploitation of females by county lines actors where victims are sexually exploited and passed around the wider network as a reward.”
Another told the report’s authors that “pop-up brothels” run by organised crime groups and using young British girls had emerged as a phenomenon during the pandemic.
“Online grooming featured consistently among those we spoke to, particularly involving females who were being coerced into taking and sharing explicit images of themselves,” the report went on. “While it was unclear whether this was linked to sexual or criminal exploitation, rising cases of self-harm in young females were attributed to this form of online activity.”
Young people were also being used to steal cars as the gangs moved away from using public transport. The study looked at hospital admissions and found an increase in the number of injuries treated in A&E as a result of road traffic accidents, police car chases and vehicles being used as weapons.
The report stated that injuries “sustained by female victims in relation to county lines activity were becoming more severe and sexual in nature”.
Another worker told the study that there had been an increase in the number of males aged 21 and under attending A&E in the south of the country who had been the victim of rape by heterosexual males in a gang context.
The injuries have also become worse in young men, with “fingernails pulled off, hair pulled out”, one source told the report, adding that young people being stabbed five or six times was “kind of an average amount”.
In the end, Valérie Bacot could take it no longer. For almost four decades, her husband, Daniel Polette, had been a malign presence that dominated her life: he molested her when she was 12, made her pregnant at 17 and then trapped her in an abusive relationship, during which she bore him three more children.
Now in the ultimate humiliation, he was pimping her out for sex in the back of their battered Peugeot people-carrier in the woods near their home in Saône-et-Loire, in central France, getting his kicks from watching through a chink in the curtain in its rear window.
In March 2016, after an encounter with a particularly brutal client, Bacot claims to have grabbed the loaded pistol that Polette kept next to the driver’s seat and, closing her eyes, shot him.
Daniel Polette first began to show an unhealthy interest in Bacot when she was a young child
“There was a loud noise; the flash, the smell,” she said in an interview with Le Parisien last week. “I got out of the car, opened the door, he fell. I thought only of saving myself because I was sure he was going to kill me.”
But he was dead. When Bacot told her elder children she had killed their father, they hugged her. Two of her sons, together with her daughter’s boyfriend, then helped her bury his remains in the forest. “I packed the earth down like crazy with my hands. I was too afraid he would come out to kill us,” she recalled.
Next month Bacot, 40, goes on trial for murder in a case that has turned a spotlight on conjugal violence in France — and on the few victims who dare to fight back.
By this weekend more than 384,000 people had signed a petition demanding Bacot’s freedom. A television interview with her drew an audience of 4.5 million and a book in which she tells her life story went to the top of the bestseller list after its release last week.
“I was struck by Valérie’s strength, her courage and her intelligence. I really wanted to help her to tell this story,” said Clémence de Blasi, a journalist who ghostwrote the book, Tout le monde savait (Everyone Knew), having met Bacot after her release in October 2018 pending her trial.
In talking to Bacot’s children and others around her, de Blasi realised what a powerful hold Polette had over his wife. “He was watching her permanently, day and night,” she told me. “He was someone who was extremely dangerous and ready to do anything.”
It was Bacot’s mother who first brought Polette into her daughter’s life. After breaking up with her husband, she had a series of casual relationships before meeting the lorry driver in 1992 and inviting him to live in their home in the village of La Clayette, 60 miles north of Lyons.
Polette soon began to show an unhealthy interest in the young girl, who had just turned 12, going into the bathroom while she was washing and insisting on rubbing her with cream. Bacot’s mother tried to keep his activities quiet but word eventually reached the local authorities, and in 1995 Polette was arrested and convicted of sex offences against a minor.
Bizarrely, however, on his release after 33 months in jail, he was allowed to return to the home in La Clayette and was soon abusing Bacot again and raping her. After she became pregnant in 1998, she moved with him into a little house in Baudemont, a neighbouring village of a few hundred people, where, despite an age difference of 25 years, they lived as a couple for two decades, marrying in 2008.
According to Bacot’s account, it was anything but marital bliss: he frequently beat her, on one occasion breaking her nose and on another holding an unloaded pistol against her temple and pulling the trigger. “The next time there will be a bullet for you and for each of the children,” he told her.
Bacot thought of denouncing him to police but was fearful of how he would retaliate and did not dare to go herself. Instead she sent her children, but the police refused to listen to their claims and sent them away.
In the meantime, he had forced her into prostitution, initially only at weekends but then, after he gave up his job, almost full-time. To get clients, he made her distribute flyers in the local area. Once their daughter was 14, Bacot feared he would force the girl to sell her body too.
With no money and no friends or family to turn to, Bacot felt she had no alternative but to stay with her tormentor — until the day she shot him.
At first the family pretended he had gone away. But Bacot was eventually denounced to the police, apparently by the mother of her daughter’s boyfriend. At 6am one day in October 2017, the police came for her; she knew she was going to be arrested and for days had been sleeping in her clothes.
Bacot’s experiences show in an extreme form the plight of women who fall victim to conjugal violence and the failings of social services, according to her lawyers, Janine Bonaggiunta and Nathalie Tomasini. “Valérie was transformed by the extreme violence she suffered into a remote-controlled puppet who, against her will, became an object for her perverse husband,” they write in a preface to the book.
In too many cases, such violence ends with the woman being murdered. Earlier this month a 31-year-old mother-of-three in the Gironde died after her former partner shot her in both legs, poured petrol on her and set her on fire while still alive.
It was the 39th such killing this year, after 90 in 2020, according to Féminicides par compagnons ou ex (Women killed by partners or exes), a campaigning group that tracks such cases.
In a few instances such as Bacot’s, however, it is the victim who turns killer — as with Jacqueline Sauvage, whose case became a cause célèbre in France after she was sentenced to ten years in jail for shooting dead her husband in 2012 with a hunting rifle. He had abused her and driven their son to suicide. After an outcry over her treatment, François Hollande, then the president, gave Sauvage a full pardon.
Bacot’s growing band of supporters would like her to be pardoned too. “Even though she committed murder by killing her torturer,” their petition says, “given the 25 years of suffering she endured to general indifference, it is her freedom that we ask for.”
The campaign — together with Bacot’s highly unusual step of writing a book in effect justifying her actions — may not go down well with the court, however, and Bacot herself seems reconciled to her impending punishment.
“I am looking forward for this to end, to finally know what is in store for me,” she told Le Parisien. “I have done my job, fulfilled my role as a mother; now I can go to prison with peace of mind.
“I deserve to be jailed for a very long time. This trial is not only mine, it is also that of ‘the other’ ” — the term she uses for Polette, whose name she cannot bear to say out loud. “I hope that I can be stronger than him and for once in my life win against him.”
A victim of drugged rape on Pornhub & Xvideos sent me this screenshot of how she would do the traumatic weekly task of searching for her assault videos on these sites. Xvideos just disabled the search terms but not all the videos.
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.