I'm a sexworker and I'm not a victim

by Sokari Ekine // 24 September 2008, 21:29

Tags: prostitute, sex worker, trafficking

In "I'm a sexworker dont take away my livelihood", Lara responds critically to the "Brothel Report" by the Poppy Project (research into the UK sex industry in London. which goes to great lengths to paint sexworkers as women who are forcibly trafficked, drug addicts, drunken victims of pimps. Lara's story which is one story but no doubt there are as many Lara's as there are sexworkers with vastly different experiences challenges this stereotype of sexworker as victim

"I feel obliged to state at this point that I have a good degree from a good university, as so many people assume we do this job because we are poor, uneducated souls. I say "we" because I am not alone - I know many, many women who work the length and breadth of the UK in the same way as I do. I cannot speak for all these women, of course, and I do not intend to try to do so, but suffice it to say that my situation is not an unusual one."

Lara goes on to explain "her situation" which is probably typical of the majority of working Mums across the country. A situation she was personally unhappy with - long hours away from home, little money to show for the hard work, no time for your kids. She chose to do something different that would enable her to have a better quality of life - work as an "escort" from home. As she explains this is not for everyone but it was done out of choice and she is not a victim to be pitied nor a criminal nor a bad parent.

Escorting seemed like the natural solution. I say "natural" because it felt natural to me. I am well aware that this is not a job everybody could do. But as a sexually-aware and sexually-experienced woman in her mid-30s, the thought of having sex with strangers did not terrify me. I remember thinking that I might even enjoy it (and that has proved to be the case).

I work from a flat on which I pay the mortgage - I do not have any landlord to worry about. I charge £150 per hour and I get enough enquiries to enable me to choose my own working hours

What the Brothel report does is conflate sexworkers like Lara with women who are forced into prostitution through trafficking, pimping and drug addiction. Lara represents many women in the sex industry who have the right to chose how they earn a living without having to live up to some latent Victorian sense of morality that is built on belief that women and sex are dirty. As Lara points out the kind of people who traffic women for prostitution are hardly likely to bother whether prostitution is legal or otherwise. They are already operating illegally by trafficking and abusing women. By criminalising prostitution as opposed to focusing on preventing and prosecuting trafficking AND by failing to support those women who are real victims of crime, more women like Lara are put at risk by having to go underground and of loosing their children. What the Brothel Report doesn't show is the hypocrisy of the British government towards trafficking victims who when found are in nearly all cases deported back to their home countries where they are once again vulnerable to be trafficked not just back to the UK but other countries across Europe and beyond.


Cross posted from Black Looks

Comments From You

Shea // Posted 24 September 2008 at 21:42

I saw this in the Guardian, but what Lara fails to see is that adopting Swedish legislation isn't about putting her out of a job, its about protecting her and much more vulnerable women from both pimps and traffickers AND police extortion. Make life harder for the men buying sex, not the women selling it. If society already frowns on men who buy sex, making it criminal might give them yet more food for thought. The Swedish model isn't about criminalising prosititution, its about criminalising the men buying sex.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 24 September 2008 at 23:48

The Poppy Project's report focused on what the brothels offered to men who wished to buy women's bodies.

Some women are fortunate to be able to have a measure of control over the numbers of men they sexually service but unfortunately the vast majority of prostituted women do not have this power. Research has consistently shown the vast majority of prostituted women wish to exit if sufficient services and support were to be given to them.

We need to look beyond the claims that prostitution is just a 'job' and instead focus on the real harms prostitution causes to all women. Because if we believe it is acceptable for predominantly men to buy women for the purpose of committing rape and other forms of sexual violence then slavery which is widely seen as an abuse of human rights should also be allowed.

Trafficking is not just an international issue it is also a national one. Prostituted women are routinely trafficked from one city to other within the UK.

Attempting to conflate prostitution with 'victorian morality' is a deliberate attempt to sidestep the real issue of prostitution. Demanding the abolition of prostitution and also the criminalising of male buyers is not about victorian moralities but rather it is a human rights issue.

If prostitution is just a 'job' why then are there laws against individuals selling their organs. After all, this is a way of earning money, yet laws are in place outlawing this practice.

Trafficking cannot be separated from prostitution since male demand is such that a constant fresh supply of women must be made available for men to buy.

Sweden has criminalised male buyers of prostituted women but it has also put in place services and support networks to enable women wishing to exist prostitution to have access to health care, training and support in order that they can obtain work. For more information on the realities of prostitution rather than claims prostitution is just a 'job' go to Coalition Against Trafficking In Women or Feminist Coalition Against Prostitution. Both these websites provide evidence that prostitution is never just a 'job' and the fact majority of women involved in prostitution have not freely chosen but instead have been constrained by poverty/experiencing male sexual violence/or have believed the lies the sex industry promotes concerning prostitution. Prostitution is never just a 'job' it is the deliberate dehumanisation of women and reduction of women into men's sexual commodities.

Cara // Posted 24 September 2008 at 23:52

er, yes, but the proposals are to criminalise *buyers* - not sex workers.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 25 September 2008 at 08:55

I read Lara's article and I believe what she says. But I also believe the words of women who aren't so privileged and lucky to be in a situation like her and experience prositution in a much more horrific way.
Sometimes it seems as if we are meant to take a side - either you have to be completely against prositiution or completely for it. As if there can't be gray areas. Personally, I just don't want to see any laws that hurt women. Also, I can't help be a little more concerned for women forced into prositution or doing it out of desperation than I am for Lara. The Swedish model seems the best for both worlds.
Lastly - I cant help but notice the comments on Lara's article (mostly from men) who seem to be so willing to totally buy into Lara's story and completely disbelieve the stories about abused women in prositiution. Why? Because Lara's story is the one that benefits *them* the most.
So, can't we stop pretending that all women are either loving their job in sex work or that they are all abused and miserable? Both stories are true and we need laws that *both* protect and support women.

sokari // Posted 25 September 2008 at 09:13

I dont see Lara's story as the definitive "sexworker story" and I dont think that is how she herself is presenting it. The point is that criminalising prostitution is not the solution to improving the lives of sexworkers vis a vis safety, health and violence. On the contrary criminalisation increases the dangers in terms of health and their safety because it does not allow for any support structures to exist. Instead of criminalising the government should be providing these structures to protect sexworkers so they can work in a risk free environment and that includes protecting trafficked women by NOT deporting them and treating them like criminals and focusing on those women who need support and help.

Kath // Posted 25 September 2008 at 09:29

As Lara explains, she 'chose' to become a prostitute because she felt she had very little in the way of other options. If her job had paid better, allowed her more flexible working hours or access to childcare she would have had a much freer choice over how she earned a living. These are the changes the government needs to bring about to ensure that women like Lara have choice in their lives.
At the same time there is a big problem of women being trafficked and forced or coerced into prostitution. In order to stem the demand for trafficked women the buying of sex should be made illegal, without criminalising prostitutes themselves and with immunity from prosecution or deportation for trafficked women. Whilst I feel for Lara, I feel compelled to point out that we do not all have the 'right' to do whatever we please, without considering the damage (direct or indirect) it does to other people.

Jo // Posted 25 September 2008 at 10:04

I'd like to second the points that both Jennifer-Ruth and Kath have made above.
Decriminalisation does absolutely nothing to challenge wider structures that shape gender inequality in the labour market; Lara herself explains that she chose escorting in order to give herself a better quality of life - what exactly does this tell us about the current structure of the labour market?
If we don't talk about gender when we talk about sex work we're ignoring a huge part of the issue. In many ways decriminalisation would just entrench gender inequalities, since most frequently in the sex industry it is women who provide the 'serivce' and men who 'buy' the service. Lara's story is a testament to the fact that power relations within this arrangement aren't always that simple, but I can't help but feel that in the long-term decriminalisation is not going to improve the lives of women who don't have Lara's options.
Decriminalising and deregulation of the industry would simply maintain the status quo, and as Jennifer-Ruth points out, who would the only surefire benefactors of that be?

Tony Moll // Posted 25 September 2008 at 10:04

Kath said:
“Whilst I feel for Lara, I feel compelled to point out that WE DO NOT ALL HAVE THE 'RIGHT' TO DO WHATEVER WE PLEASE, without considering the DAMAGE (DIRECT OR INDIRECT) IT DOES TO OTHER PEOPLE.”

You do not have to FEEL FOR HER, just respect her right to do what she wants with her own body. Women who decide to go into prostitution are NOT responsible for trafficking of other women. It is the traffickers that are responsible and it is an incompetent government that has been negligent in enforcing tons of laws which already prohibit their actions.

So please stop blaming these women for ‘indirect’ damages! And yes, she most certainly has the right to do whatever she pleases with HER body.

sokari // Posted 25 September 2008 at 10:09

Kath @ "I feel compelled to point out that we do not all have the 'right' to do whatever we please, without considering the damage (direct or indirect) it does to other people." In what way does Lara's choice hurt anyone?

Yes Lara would have had more choices in her life if the benefits you mention were available and I would add to that "wages for housework" See article by Deborah Orr which values the labour inside the home.

How will criminalising prostitution stop trafficiking? Drugs are criminalised yet the drugs trade is worth billions of £ across the world - the ease with which anyone can access class A drugs is testament to the lack of commitment by this and other government in dealing with the problem. And there lies the problem not with prostitution itself.

Sarah // Posted 25 September 2008 at 11:18

I respect Lara's right to earn her living as she chooses, and I'm glad she's happy with what she does - however her 'defence' of her choices does seem to gloss over the very real problems with the sex industry. Just because she is OK, doesn't mean there aren't serious problems in the industry as a whole. Just because she is personally not victimised, doesn't mean there aren't other women who are trafficked, drug-addicted, raped and abused. That isn't just a stereotype, as she seems to suggest - it's reality for many women and girls.

Lara seems to be arguing against a straw-man here. When feminists (and others) speak out against the abuse of women in the sex industry, we mean the women who are being abused. If she's not being abused or coerced in any way, then we're not talking about her.

Audrey // Posted 25 September 2008 at 11:19

I think that it is economic conditions which render Lara as unable to seek any other alternative that need attention. Her story does not validate prostitution for its own sake, it is an outcome of inequality. Legalising this 'work' would also send a message to society that there is a second class tier of women who have nothing left to sell but their bodies and are willing to do so, encouraging men to see women as split into a two tier system with some that they treat as equals and others they can pay to degrade as much as they wish (ie the reason men go to Thailand). Legalisation has also led to prostitution being advertised in job centres along side other real forms of work which women have fought long and hard to define themselves through ie intellectual and skills based labour, not defined by their gender as disposable commodities for men. Attention needs to be paid to change the economic conditions - otherwise Lara's children could end up doing the same 'work' she does...and that is hardly progress for her daughter is it?

Ellie // Posted 25 September 2008 at 11:53

It does seem that the govenrment would be acting rashly to simply criminalise people who buy sex before they've even tried funding and providing decent services which could actually reach and help the women who need it. Surely that would be step one on any kind of plan to try and protect women in the sex industry.

Amy Clare // Posted 25 September 2008 at 11:53

I'm not surprised by yet another 'happy hooker' telling the world about how she enjoys being a prostitute... lest we forget Belle Du Jour and the spin off TV series featuring Billie Piper glamourising this profession. (The cynic in me wonders whether stories like this are touted around by male-owned newspapers in order to make men feel better about buying sex.)

So-called 'high class' escorts who make a lot of money from sleeping with rich men often brag about how much money they make in a night and compare it to what they would earn in a 'normal' profession. However, they fail to see the context. If a prostitute for example accompanies a high-flying businessman to a party (and later sleeps with him, of course), it doesn't matter that she's getting say three grand for the night - she's still the lowest-earning guest at that party, and her male client is probably earning tens (if not hundreds) of times as much as her from his job in the city. Therein lies the problem - the women are not the ones earning the most money in this world, they're vastly less likely to be rich or powerful, vastly less likely to be in the upper echelons of professions like business, finance, medicine, politics, etc. Women should be encouraged and given the opportunities to do the jobs these men do, not sleep with them for what - to the men - is small change. (Is there really a difference between a factory worker buying sex for twenty quid and a city banker buying sex for £3k?) If prostitution is such a great job with such brilliant money-making and career prospects, then why aren't men doing it? After all, if there's money to be made doing something, men are hardly shy about doing it, are they? This is borne out by the fact that in prostitution, men are the pimps, not the prostitutes; the traffickers, not the trafficked. They basically take up whatever position in the industry affords them the most money and power - and being an actual prostitute ain't it.

I agree with Kath actually (and Tony, I don't know why you feel you have to shout). Women touting the benefits of being a prostitute are just making life harder for those women who are on the game because they have no other choice (either through physical force, drug addiction or poverty). Because guess whose story people believe? That's right. It's Lara's. And then no-one does anything about the horrors many women face as prostitutes because people are going around believing that women sell their bodies, to paraphrase Billie, "because they want to".

Jess McCabe // Posted 25 September 2008 at 11:58

"to live up to some latent Victorian sense of morality that is built on belief that women and sex are dirty."

All these arguments have been really well rehersed, and I've said what I think about this already, but I think it's important to be clear that feminist objections to prostitution are not about women or sex being dirty, or Victorian morality, and are not the same as religious/right-wing objections to prostitution.

Zellieh // Posted 25 September 2008 at 12:11

In 'I'm A Sexworker', (http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2008/09/im_a_sexworker) Sokari's link to the Brothel Report (http://www.parracity.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/5395/Brothel_Report.pdf) goes to something in Australia, some kind of report to Parawatti local council? It's not THe Big Brothel Report by the Poppy Project at all - that report's at: http://www.eaves4women.co.uk/Publications.php, and doesn't seem to be available to read on the web; you have to order a print copy. Could you correct this, please? Thanks

PS - I also find it annoying that this post is labeled '*I'm* a sexworker' when it's written by *Sokari*, appropriating Lara's experiences, *not by Lara herself* - and nowhere does Sokari say that s/he has any direct personal experience of the 'industry'. I'm concerned that Sokari may be claiming an identity s/he has no right to.

sokari // Posted 25 September 2008 at 12:11

Amy Claire @ "no one does anything about the horrors many women face as prostitutes". Absolutely - Lara is one story there are millions of other stories most of them horrendous so all the more reason to not to criminalise and provide proper support as per my previous comment.

Those who keep calling for criminalising prostitution should ask themselves how this will stop prostitution? It wont and will make it even more horrendous for sexworkers, leave them open to more risks and violence not to talk of the stigma attached to their work which again prevents sex workers from seeking help when they desperately need it.

Audrey // Posted 25 September 2008 at 12:40

Re: Ellie's comments
Actually, the Government have tried a re-education programme to tackle the ideological platitudes behind men who pay for sex whilst investing in exit services for women. This has been piloted in Ipswich and found to be highly successful, adding weight to support for legislative change. The biggest attitude to change is the misogyny of men who see the purchase of women for sex as a 'consumer right,' treating women as worthless commodities to buy, come inside and dispose of. Criminalisation cements a way of addressing this fallacy which has a positive outcome for societal attitudes towards women as a whole.

Kath // Posted 25 September 2008 at 13:18

Sokari, "In what way does Lara's choice hurt anyone?" What I mean is that Lara isn't hurting anyone directly but that the industry she works in hurts lots of women. That's not her fault. But if the negative side of criminalisation (of clients not prostitutes) is that she loses this source of income then it must be weighed against the potential positive consequences for women who are trafficked, abused and coerced into prostitution.

Tony Moll, there is no need to shout at me. I do feel for Lara's plight, whether I have to or not.

Jess McCabe // Posted 25 September 2008 at 15:29

@Zellieh I think that's going a bit far - it's clear from the first line that Sokari's headline is referring to the account in the Guardian.

Laura // Posted 25 September 2008 at 16:13

I have been a sex worker for many years - it's a job I enjoy and feel I'm empowered by. I am an intelligent, educated, middle-class woman and as such have confidence and a sense of self-worth which has enabled me to make my own choices and go about my work in the way that best suits me. However, I'm more than aware that it's not that way for most women working as prostitutes. I strongly believe that the way forward is not to criminalise any 'side' of sex-work. In almost all sectors of prostitution the conditions are set by what the male 'customers' needs are, no area of prostitution is ever about the women's needs, ever. If men are made wary by criminalisation then the conditions in which women will have to work will go further underground, compromising their safety yet more. Men will be less willing to give identifying details about themselves to escort agencies or solo prostitutes. The danger this puts women in is immeasurable, it will remove even the very meagre level of
protection afforded by the idea that men might be held accountable in some way for their behaviour with prostitutes due to having used an unblocked phone number or given credit card details. For God's sake, if the government genuinely wants to protect women working in the sex industry then they need to put money into supporting exit programmes, sexual health, education and housing solutions. Support the unionisation of prostitutes, help fund the language classes for non-English speaking prostitutes run by the sex workers union where women are taught to use and understand language that they might not find in a typical guidebook but that will allow them to negotiate their boundarys. The only money spent on regulating prostitution should be money that goes to support women. How about a police unit working undercover to offer help to trafficked women directly? How about a safe-call service for independent prostitutes? How about a licensing and accreditation scheme for men who work as drivers? How about growing up and accepting that prostitution will always go on and that what needs to happen is that women need to be visible and supported?

Lucy // Posted 25 September 2008 at 16:34

I read this piece on the Guardian, and Bindel's earlier piece, and was really dissapointed by both. Both seem to rather miss the point of a great segment of the research concerning the kind of demand for sex work in London.

The the adverts and communications described by Bindel et al should, as far as i can see, not necessarily be considered representative of the women working in the sex industry, but as descriptors of the kind of demand there is for sex work, and the market forces that are acting to produce a situation in which so many women are trafficked and abused.

Since reliable research into the condition of sex workers is so difficult to perform, how about looking directly at what kind of demand the market is catering for, like this recent Scottish study, which interviewed men who buy sex:

http://www.scot-pep.org.uk/A%20commentary%20on%20challenging%20men%27s%20demand%20for%20prostitution%20in%20Scotland.pdf

To me, studies like this explain pretty clearly why we have such a problem with trafficking et al. Trafficking is so lucrative because this is what so many men who buy sex actually want. And, to me, it seems like this is what government should be focusing on. Rather than drawing legal lines, how about educating more men to understand how what they are doing harms women?

Rachel // Posted 25 September 2008 at 16:45

Is it me, or does Lara never actually refer to herself as a prostitute, only a sex worker? I may have missed where she does, but in general Lara seems unwilling to identify as a 'prostitute', which to me only seems to actually encourage the negative and socially exclusive views held by many people about prostitutes? Maybe I'm readying too much into this, but it seems significant to me. To me, a sex worker could be anyone who works in the sex industry, which obviously doesn't actualyl involve having sex with people for money, and is therefore different from prostitution. Just a thought.

Audrey // Posted 25 September 2008 at 17:19

I do not see that fact that Lara is middle class or educated as a relevant to endorsing prostitution; it makes it even worse that a woman in this position has so little in terms of social and economic resources that she sees no other option than to sell her body. Seriously, what is the point of women having an education if after all of that, their working identity is based upon gender and 'serving the needs of men'? It is the very antithesis of equality.

De-criminalisation in Holland and Germany has led to traffickers and abusers working behind closed doors, immune to prosecution, with an unprecedented boom in the sex trade as pimps are seen as legitimate business men that the police cannot touch. These are the real, documented impacts of legalisation. Hardly what anyone would want, and had led to greater misery for thousands of women, not less. It was these findings which motivated the UK Govt to criminalise men who purchase sexual services for its effect on a generation of women.

I'm sorry, but the straw man argument of legalising prositution will never, ever convince me. I would hate for my daughter to see a brothel on the high street or a job advert for prostitution and see it as a legitimate form of work performed by women to serve men. By stating that 'it will always be here' is no justification for supporting it: cruelty to animals will go on but we do not support it do we? We need to work towards a world where an educated woman uses her brains as a source of self definition, not renting out her vagina to 'serve' men - who then treat and perceive other women as submissive vehicles for their wants and needs. Not in my name.

Juliet // Posted 25 September 2008 at 17:25

Forgive me for being pedantic, but doesn't "choice" imply the existence of one or more valid alternatives? If Lara decided to take up escorting because that was the only occupation she could find that would give her a decent income and time for her kids, how is that a choice?! I don't view her as a victim, but if someone's options are that limited, they are not making choices.

Of course sex workers deserve rights and protection and the right to do what they do. But how about the right NOT to be a "sex" "worker"?! How about other valid options being provided?

sokari // Posted 25 September 2008 at 17:26

Rachel@ the word prostitute is often used as a derogatory term and abuse which is why many women prefer to use the term "sexworker".

I feel like I am just repeating myself here. How does the criminalisation actually help sexworkers and women in general?

At present many sexworkers are working within a double edged sword. Whilst they are criminalised by the state living in constant danger of loosing their children to social serives. On the other hand many of them work without protection from crime including pimps, traffickers and drug dealers to name a few. In addition to the above they are marginalised and stigmatised by society at large including women.

My argument is that sexworkers / prostitutes should not be criminalised. For example, since criminalisation in Scotland assults on women have increased from about 8 reported each month to 3 per night.

"Assaults on prostitutes in Edinburgh rose sharply in the run-up to the new legislation as sex workers sought less public places to operate. Scotpep, which offers support to sex workers in city, recorded more than 60 attacks in the first six months of the year - compared with about 80 during the whole of 2006."

so everyone goes into hiding - sexworkers & punters - now who is in more danger?

Dube // Posted 25 September 2008 at 17:58

Can I just point out that 'sex workers' are not exclusively female?

Audrey // Posted 25 September 2008 at 18:14

Well, the idea surely is that punters stop being punters because there is a law against it and they face prosecution and public humiliation for what they are. Tackling demand is much better than encouraging it, especially if integrated with investment into exit services which help women - and their children - out of this dangerous and dreadful situation. Like I said, in Ipswich this dual strategy was highly effective.


The number of times I have heard men justify their use and abuse of prostitutes by saying 'there's no law against it,' well now they cannot. Many men will now think twice about what they are doing and the reasons behind the law change, ethically and morally. In the long term, that is a force for good so fewer women end up servicing a burgeoning sex trade because demand is severely stemmed. Casual punters like stag do goers stop being so.

Moreover, taboo as it might be and I am not afraid to say it, women need to think twice about what it involves rather than be duped by ITV representations of the trade so it discourages them in the first place and breaks the cycle of naivety, exploitation, misery, drug dependence and danger. Long term it is the only solution. Whereas legalisation sets up a force of permanence that will only lead to the sex trade getting worse and grow to uncontrollable proportions, such that it is regarded as 'acceptable' in the 21st century for women to sell themselves as flesh to men - and it is not.

Faith // Posted 25 September 2008 at 19:18

"How about growing up and accepting that prostitution will always go on and that what needs to happen is that women need to be visible and supported?"

Laura,

You had me up until this sentence. I agree that governments need to provide services to help sex workers, not punish them. I do not, can not, and flat-out will not accept that prostitution is inevitable. That I do not accept this is not an indication that I need to "grow up".

Shea // Posted 25 September 2008 at 19:27

@ Sokari-- as far as I'm aware the Swedish model doesn't criminalise sex workers, the opposite in fact. It de-criminalises sex work for those selling and criminalises it for those buying.

In fact prostitution is already legal in this country, what is illegal are activities such as soliciting and kerb crawling associated with it. How would legalising prostitution completely prevent women losing their children to social services or de-stigmatise it?

"For example, since criminalisation in Scotland assults on women have increased from about 8 reported each month to 3 per night."

Could it be that women are reporting more now, aware that they will not face prosecution for soliciting, rather than an increase in incidents themselves? Just a thought.

james // Posted 25 September 2008 at 20:07

"If Lara decided to take up escorting because that was the only occupation she could find that would give her a decent income and time for her kids, how is that a choice?!"

What realistic other option do you think she should be entitled to? Put some numbers on it.

She was earning £450 a week as a PA. £23,400 a year, more than the national median wage, for about a 9 hr working day. (That's without considering child benefits or tax credit, or CS; which she'd be entitled to on top of that). At the moment, at a minimum of 5 hourly sessions a week @ £150, she's earning upwards of £39k a year.

What exactly do you mean by a "decent income" and "time for her kids"? Say we pick 17.5 hours a week working, and £28k for money (slighly upwards of the inadequate £23.4k) - that's £56k a year annualised. Now can everyone can be entitled to that - I wish everyone could pull in £50k for half a weeks work, but there's not enough money to go around.

What exactly are you proposing in terms of hours and annualised salary? I'm willing to be proved wrong, but I don't think there's any workable answer.

Brandy // Posted 25 September 2008 at 20:51

Re the criminalization of John’s leading to prostitution being ‘driven underground’. If the industry is driven so ‘underground’ that even the law are unaware to keep tabs on it how on earth are regular Johns going to find it? Your regular Joe Blogs who uses prostituted women are hardly associated in Mafioso type activities. You are talking serious organized crime here that ordinary people (who make up the majority of the punters) i.e. stag parties et al have no access to or connections with what so ever.

So...John Smith from down the road can find this 'even further underground' prostitution ring - but trained police cannot.
Yeah right.

Brandy // Posted 25 September 2008 at 20:53

The Swedish model de-criminalizes the worker but criminalizes the buying of sex. I.e. the John

Tony Moll // Posted 25 September 2008 at 20:55

Juliet said:
"If Lara decided to take up escorting because that was the only occupation she could find that would give her a decent income and time for her kids, how is that a choice?!"

Do without a decent income, live in tiny flat, spend less time with kids, don't have kids, take a low paid job, work long hours in Tesco, go back to school etc etc etc. Tough choices but choices nevertheless.

She chose to be a prostitute. She said she chose to do it. At least respect her as thinking human being capable making descions for helself.

Kath,
sorry, I was not trying to shout at you. Just trying to emphasise some words. Apparently caps is not the way to go.

Alex T // Posted 25 September 2008 at 22:12

What does it matter either way whether someone is a high-class escort by choice, or a poor woman 'on the game'? Why does anyone think it's ok for men to buy women's bodies? I don't think choice is the issue here, what bothers me a a culture where it is acceptable for men to have access to women's bodies, that they feel it is their right. At one end of the continuum you have high-class escorts/sex workers etc., then moving along it you have prostitutes on the streets, pole-dancers, strippers, page 3 models, beauty pageants, young girls wearing barely anything on nights out, then finally me, getting my backside pinched in a bus queue.

Men do not have any right to my body, and they are being given the message that they do. It's all part of the same problem.

tony moll // Posted 26 September 2008 at 08:27

Alex
“What does it matter either way whether someone is a high-class escort by choice, or a poor woman 'on the game'?”

It matters to the people trying to ban prostitution.

“Why does anyone think it's ok for men to buy women's bodies?”

The only people who should think it is ok, are the women selling sex and the men paying. The same applies to male prostitutes and their male and female customers.

“what bothers me is a culture where it is acceptable for men to have access to women's bodies, that they feel it is their right.”

Heterosexual men will do whatever they can to have ‘access to womens’ bodies. As long as it is consensual they have done nothing wrong.

“At one end of the continuum you have high-class escorts/sex workers etc., then moving along it you have prostitutes on the streets, pole-dancers, strippers, page 3 models, beauty pageants, young girls wearing barely anything on nights out, then finally me, getting my backside pinched in a bus queue”

Sorry you get pinched in the bus queue. It certainly does not give you a blank cheque to ban all things that annoy you.

“Men do not have any right to my body, and they are being given the message that they do. It's all part of the same problem.”

Good. Your choice.

Lisa // Posted 26 September 2008 at 10:42

Surely our social and economic structures pressurise (not force) women like Lara to seek to maximise their hourly take-home pay ? This is not a gender issue only but raises serious questions about the way our society is structured. Why do we isolate families, segregate children, tolerate the commercialisation of our private lives, swallow the C21st capitalist myths and continue blindly to trap ourselves in a very narrow existence ? I do say ourselves because women (especially educated, middle-class women) ARE free to reject all of this and carve out an alternative existence for themselves. It's not easy to go against the herd but it's the only way that a women can be free to resist the pressures to make maximum money in minimum time.

The Market rewards sex work at a higher rate than till work at Tesco because 'sex sells'. It's not just a question of a lust for sex that provides a powerful motive to buy but there is a clear imbalance in sexual activity - the buyers want to buy more than they want to or can engage in free sex. An analogy to the drug industry is only partially useful - in that there wouldn't be an illegal drugs trade if there wasn't a market for it. (The legal status is irrelevant.) However with the sex industry the sellers (like Lara) are selling something that most people (and this is still true) engage in freely - unlike the drugs trade. Buyers couldn't buy unless there was someone willing to sell. It appears to be very difficult for feminists to debate the sex industry because providers of sexual services come in all guises -consenting, non-consenting and partially consenting ! A one-size fits all isn't the solution.

Audrey // Posted 26 September 2008 at 11:12

That link on the success of the program run in Ipswich, criminalising men and helping women to exit:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/suffolk/7451108.stm

Leigh // Posted 26 September 2008 at 12:08

While Lara may well not be a victim, there are plenty of sex workers who ARE, and their need for whatever protection the law can provide is greater than her need for the opportunity to sell sex.

Soirore // Posted 26 September 2008 at 12:42

Tony - We don't get a choice on how our bodies and sexualities are viewed by men. I have been offered a job in the sex industry by an aquaintance who hardly knew me. He thought he was doing me a favour as I was unemployed at the time. To me this is unacceptable. Why should anyone assume that my body is for sale? I'm sure that men alone on street corners don't get approached with queries on prices and services. Women do, a lot, and we have the right to go about our lives without men assuming that we are there for their sexual gratification. The normalisation of prostitution denies us this.

Lara may feel that she's a sexworker and not a victim but she voluntarily works in an industry that victimises other women. This is something that I wouldn't, and many previous commenters wouldn't, be a part of. Money is tight for lots of people but Lara was not poor, the economic reasoning is just a blind in this argument. She wants to sell sex because she likes to and it is convenient for her. She cares more about taking a holiday every year than the oppression of women that her job is supporting. As pointed out above, stories like hers (of a very singular experience no less) only distract from the more important issues.

Juliet // Posted 26 September 2008 at 13:14

Tony Moll and James, I really have to laugh at your posts. Talk about not seeing the bigger picture! I made my point and I made it clearly. A feminist standpoint, for me, is not something I feel I have to justify.

"I'm willing to be proved wrong". If only!

Faith // Posted 26 September 2008 at 13:16

"Heterosexual men will do whatever they can to have ‘access to womens’ bodies. As long as it is consensual they have done nothing wrong."

That's entirely debatable. I, as a bisexual woman, no for a fact that not all consensual sex between men and women is perfectly a o.k. as I have had consensual that did cause me harm due to the particular circumstances.

Faith // Posted 26 September 2008 at 13:16

"Heterosexual men will do whatever they can to have ‘access to womens’ bodies. As long as it is consensual they have done nothing wrong."

That's entirely debatable. I, as a bisexual woman, know for a fact that not all consensual sex between men and women is perfectly a o.k. as I have had consensual sex that did cause me harm due to the particular circumstances.

Stephen M // Posted 26 September 2008 at 13:45

Do I/we want to normalize the sex industry? I don't think so..... not when I read research like this:

http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/pubtrfrep.htm

I have a feeling this issue is very much like thinking that all our meat comes from "Old McDonald's Farm"

Tony Moll // Posted 26 September 2008 at 14:52

Soirore said:

“We don't get a choice on how our bodies and sexualities are viewed by men.”

And so you shouldn’t. I’m a straight guy but a few weeks ago a gay guy tried to chat me up and said I had a nice bum.

“I have been offered a job in the sex industry by an aquaintance who hardly knew me. He thought he was doing me a favour as I was unemployed at the time. To me this is unacceptable.”

So you turned it down, good.

“I'm sure that men alone on street corners don't get approached with queries on prices and services.”

No, but I get asked for drugs a lot by men and women, especially at night when leaving a dodgy nightclub.

“Lara may feel that she's a sexworker and not a victim but she voluntarily works in an industry that victimises other women.”

If she stopped working the industry would go on just as it has been. The solution is to stop the trafficking.

“She wants to sell sex because she likes to and it is convenient for her. She cares more about taking a holiday every year than the oppression of women that her job is supporting.”

Once again, the solution is to stop the trafficking. She is not the cause of the problem.

Kath // Posted 26 September 2008 at 17:25

Tony, apology accepted. Caps can be interpreted as shouting.

Shea // Posted 26 September 2008 at 18:08

@ Alex T --"At one end of the continuum you have high-class escorts/sex workers etc., then moving along it you have prostitutes on the streets, pole-dancers, strippers, page 3 models, beauty pageants, young girls wearing barely anything on nights out, then finally me, getting my backside pinched in a bus queue."

I think thats a bit unfair. This is the classic trick of blaming men's actions on women. The reason you get your bum pinched isn't because of prostitution, but because a man thinks he can do this. Would it still happen if there were no prostitutes/strippers/page 3 models etc? I'm guessing it would (I mean it happens in Saudi Arabia where women are covered up and porn is banned).
The supply is generated by the demand and to lay the blame of collective action on a few individuals because of their profession seems unjust.

I think good questions are 1) why is it our society values sex above intellectual or skilled labour? (Lisa's point)

2) why when there are many women willing to consensually agree to sex are men still paying for it?

Shea // Posted 26 September 2008 at 19:23

I just wanted to clarify my last comment. I meant that it isn't too hard for a man looking for sex to go out and find it consensually with another woman. I wonder if the whole thing about prostitution/ stripping etc has less to do with the sexual aspect and more to do with controlling the behaviour of another. I think thats the real turn on for these men.

Faith // Posted 26 September 2008 at 20:28

"And so you shouldn’t."

Got a bit of male privilege working there, Tony? Women absolutely have the right to expect men to view our bodies with respect. Not doing so is sexist. Women have just as much of a right to live in a world free of sexism as POC have to live in a world that is free of racism.

sokari // Posted 26 September 2008 at 21:13

Zellieh @ What utter nonsense. The title of the post is based on statement made by Lara and as a blogger I claim license to choose my blog titles. I am not appropriating Lara or anyone else.

As to my secret identity try doing a google on my name or alternatively go to my blog @ www.blacklooks.org where all will be revealed.

Gourmet Swinger // Posted 27 September 2008 at 01:05

The sex industry is the offspring of decadent, economically depraved society - let's not forget that. It's the world's oldest profession because it's the world's most accessible: The market is always there. Do you know why?

Lazy, disgusting, sexaholics are also offspring of decadent, economically depraved society.

Here's a little 411 on 'johns:' They actually get off by handing over their money. In their minds, handing over that money guarantees that "happy ending" or whatever they call it these days.

'Johns' are mostly business owners or other well to do people who let themselves go. They don't care about being in shape or how to speak with a woman. All they care about is the power of money and what it gets them. They have lusty, corporate attitudes and they mostly couldn't care less what kind of day their "relaxation assistants" are having.

'Johns' don't want to become swingers because they know they have to get in shape to meet shapely women and they have to learn how to speak properly with women to get them "warmed up." They're too lazy to do that.

IanMiddx // Posted 27 September 2008 at 23:35

Please see the Guardian comment page for a huge number of comments on this issue.

I can't recall one which linked ethics over prostitution to ethics over other consumer purchases, so I will - chances are any very cheap clothes on the high street are almost certainly made by people with less choices than Lara.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 28 September 2008 at 12:59

Ian - I am sure that most readers here read the comments on the original article. I myself saw this post on CiF before it was posted here.
I comment a lot on CiF but I didn't comment on this article because it gets too tiring and depressing to read and counter-act the misogynistic comments sometimes. People are happy to believe Lara's story (and I do too) but constantly rip into stories where women are abused or miserable in prostitution. They want to disbelieve them. Why? Because Lara's story is the one that benefits men.
There is enough room (unfortunately) in this world for people to have both miserable and enjoyable experiences in the sex trade. Those who are abused probably have less choices than Lara too.
So, please, this isn't about the ethics of high street clothing (which I am also certain that commenters on the F-Word are concerned about, as they are concerned about many, many other things). This is about making laws which protect all women in the sex trade, whether they be privileged like Lara or abused like the thousands of other women who are trafficked, have no choice and are raped. This is not about making laws to protect mens consumer choices.
The main issue that always comes up in the comments of CiF in articles about prostitution is about mens right to buy sex as and where they please. NOT about the women and their safety and protection and rights. Doesn't that make you think?

sokri // Posted 28 September 2008 at 15:15

My final thoughts on this.
What interests me is the anger displayed at Lara and her story which is clearly threatening she her experience of being a sex-worker is not the abusive negative one that most readers would prefer it to be. Therefore they refuse to acknowledge her story as valid and at the very least as some minuscule minority rather than the reality.

How many readers here have actually spoken to and listened to sexworkers - or dont their voices count? How many have met women who are here in this country by choice? How many have met women or anyone who has been trafficked (a good percentage of who are from countries like Nigeria and Ghana). Making prostitution legal gives women protection including those who are acting against their will and being abused. If women were not afraid of being deported they would be much more likely to report being trafficked; if they were not afraid of being criminalised they would be much more likely to report crimes committed by men against them.

Coming from Africa and fully understanding the colonial paternalistic mentality of knowing best what is good for others, I do find some of the statements here disturbing.

How scary is it to imagine one woman has voluntary chosen to be a sexworker because it offers her the kind of financial independence a regular job never would and there is no pretense. Nor does she have to put up with the unwanted looks and bottom pinching asshole or listen to the male laughter around women's bodies that goes on in the workplace!

sam // Posted 29 September 2008 at 20:39

sokri said:

"What interests me is the anger displayed at Lara and her story which is clearly threatening"

Anger where? I just reread all 53 posts in this thread and I don't see the slightest whiff of this stink you're purportedly smelling here. Not one person has said they think Lara is brainwashed, or working under "false consciousness" or anything like that at all.

Instead, almost every post has done exactly what you say they should do, which is "acknowledge her story as valid and at the very least as some minuscule minority rather than the reality."

You say, "if they were not afraid of being criminalised...", and that is proof-positive you haven't heard the many people right here who explained that the Swedish model decriminalizes women. I don't know how many more times that key point has to be explained before it sinks in, but the people posting here gave it their best shot.

Finally, the suggestion that legal sex workers in legal strip clubs, lap dancing clubs, pornography studios, and brothels don't have to put up with "the unwanted looks and bottom pinching asshole or listen to the male laughter around women's bodies that goes on in the workplace!" shows an incredible break with the well-documented sexist abuses that disproportionately occur in these legal establishments. It is preposterous to suggest that legal sexually-oriented businesses foster environments where women employees are sexually harassed less than women in non-sex based types of employment, are less likely to experience bodily invasions, and are less likely to hear men laughing about women's bodies.

noyfb // Posted 05 October 2008 at 17:33

Live and Let Live. My opinion is this: it's ok if she WANTS to do it (not forced by drug-addiction, pimps, poverty, etc) and it's ok, IF she is disease free. It's her body, let her do as she "chooses", so long as she doesn't spread any diseases (harming others). Pretty simple, isn't it?

noyfb // Posted 05 October 2008 at 17:35

Oh, and I must add, I personally would never choose prostitution...simply because sex would become a job (ie: not recreation)

Laura Agustin // Posted 07 October 2008 at 21:45

Just as Lara's is only one story, though typical of many, there are many different stories for migrants who sell sex, too. Often people are willing to grant diversity to UK or European citizens but deny it to migrants, which doesn't make sense. There are so many reasons for leaving home, and not all are violent, mean or disastrous. I urge not taking a colonialistic view towards 'poor', third-world or non-European women.

Laura Agustin, Border Thinking, http://www.nodo50.org/Laura_Agustin

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