Major legislative news this week

// 13 November 2009

A major piece of legislation was given Royal Assent and signed into law yesterday, containing two significant clauses which will be of interest to feminists.

Firstly, Clause 13 (formerly Clause 14) of the Policing and Crime Bill was passed without amendment and now makes it a criminal offence to buy sexual services from someone who has been subjected to “force, deception or threats”. Hitherto, the only recourse for police was to try to charge a punter with rape, which relies on proving that he (or, I guess in theory, she) had reasonable cause to believe that consent was not freely given. As far as I’m aware there was no law against buying or selling sex, only in various activities inevitably associated with prostitution, such as keeping a brothel, streetwalking and trafficking. Clause 13 makes it a criminal offense even where the punter didn’t know that the prostitute was controlled for gain. I’m no lawyer, but at face value this seems sort of analagous to it being an offense to handle stolen goods even if you didn’t know … that is to say, it puts the onus on the person receiving the goods or, in this case, services to be sure of their provenance before buying them. It’s a clear shift of responsibilty towards the men buying sexual services (obviously I don’t mean to compare women who work as prostitutes to stolen objects such as TVs, I’m just trying to make an analogy…)

The other clause of interest, Clause 26 (formerly Clause 27), reclassifies lap dancing clubs so that they require licensing as sex establishments rather than as cafes and bars. This gives much more scope for local objections to the granting of licenses, and allow the police to shut down lap dancing clubs where they’re near ‘sensitive locations’ such as schools.

The Act also modifies existing offences such as kerb crawling and loitering.

protest_small.JPG

There was a huge amount of work and pressure for this legislation from the feminist Demand Change! coalition, headed by Eaves and Object. Sasha Rakoff, Director of Object, said:

“These provisions in the Policing and Crime Bill mark a major victory in the fight against the dehumanisation of women in the sex industry. The mainstreaming and glamourisation of lap dancing and prostitution promote sexist stereotypes of women as objects, and not real people. It is a no brainer that purchasing a woman who has been exploited should be illegal, and that lap dancing clubs should be regulated as part of the sex industry and we are delighted that Parliament has prioritised the voices of those who have been exploited and who care about equality above the voices of profit and sexual entitlement. Today’s victory in Parliament shows that treating women like sexual objects is not inevitable or unstoppable and that it has no place in the twenty first century”

Comments From You

gadgetgal // Posted 13 November 2009 at 2:44 pm

Big up to Eaves, Fawcett and Object – I’ve supported their campaign from day one, it’s good to know it’s finally paid off!

saranga // Posted 13 November 2009 at 4:32 pm

hurrah!

reader // Posted 14 November 2009 at 12:36 pm

This is an awfully unlucky analogy and also an irresponsible, uninformed article. ‘I’m no lawyer, but at face value this seems sort of analagous to it being an offense to handle stolen goods even if you didn’t know … that is to say, it puts the onus on the person receiving the goods or, in this case, services to be sure of their provenance before buying them’.

This is offensive to women who provide this kind of service and it is also nowhere near the quality standards of the fword. You do not need to be a lawyer to give an informed account of the law (and an actual link to relevant official sources) rather than an inaccurate interpretation.

It is also offensive to me as a reader, especially as this is categorised as ‘news’ when it should be ‘opinions’, it is offensive to my intelligence as well, surely I can make my own links to other legislation. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, DVDs and TVs are not human and don’t have agency. Really, please edit this article.

Alex T // Posted 14 November 2009 at 10:40 pm

Isn’t it nice to hear some good news? Great stuff.

gadgetgal // Posted 15 November 2009 at 4:12 pm

@reader:

“In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, DVDs and TVs are not human and don’t have agency.”

Well, since agency involves a principle and an agent who carries out the orders of said principle to deal with a third party, I can only presume you mean a dvd or tv can’t have a pimp. Which is correct in itself, but what it has to do with anything said in this article I have yet to figure out…

JenniferRuth // Posted 16 November 2009 at 9:02 am

Fantastic news! Well done to Eaves, Fawcett and Object for their work! It’s brought about some real change :)

George // Posted 16 November 2009 at 10:46 am

@ gadgetgal – ‘agency’, the philosophical concept, as in ‘ability to act’.

I agree with reader. Although Lynne recognised that this analogy furthers the idea of sex workers as inert bodies that can be bought and sold, she carried on using it. Which isn’t good.

cim // Posted 16 November 2009 at 12:01 pm

gadgetgal: In this context “agency” means “the ability to make decisions” (example usage “disabled people are often incorrectly assumed to lack agency”)

gadgetgal // Posted 16 November 2009 at 4:20 pm

Hi again – I was just pointing out that some people are going to need an analogy of something they have more experience of if they’re just quickly reading something and don’t have time on their hands to pour over legalese, whether linked to or not, and also that even then it can be confusing (as in my example of the difference between the dictionary definitions of the word “agency” and the legal one). It’s got nothing to do with intelligence or a lack thereof, it just makes it easier to help people understand what the legislation says and why that makes it news.

I also don’t see how the analogy could really be put any other way – aside from the fact that she stated in the article “obviously I don’t mean to compare women who work as prostitutes to stolen objects such as TVs, I’m just trying to make an analogy…” (i.e. she ISN’T comparing a woman to a TV), having worked in the sex industry I’d still have to say that’s about the only one that made sense to me, whether I find the terminology of it offensive or not (which I don’t, by the way).

And if people here are intelligent enough to understand the legal terminology well enough to not need an analogy, I’d have to presume that they’re also intelligent enough to understand what an analogy is and how it’s not really real, it’s just descriptive. So I don’t see many f-word readers going away believing that women are now comparable to TVs just because of this article, I think that’s stretching it a bit…

Tiffany // Posted 16 November 2009 at 8:55 pm

Amazzzinng!!

Well done all who supported this cause.

George // Posted 17 November 2009 at 9:35 am

@gadgetgal

Analogies are interesting because, although they do not directly say “A is B”, they do forge some kind of link between the two in our minds. This is how they work.

In an area such as sex work, which has a long history of defining sex workers as victims, bodies or objects (from many different perspectives) I think we have a responsibility to refrain from forging this link. Of course no one thinks that a sex worker is a stolen television – nevertheless, we are still falling into the trap of objectifying language.

The question is this – do we want to use this kind of analogy as a way into understanding the problem? Or do we need a more responsible alternative?

Guest Blogger // Posted 17 November 2009 at 10:03 am

Hi everyone

I’m sorry if that was an inappropriate analogy. I was in two minds whether to use it. Just so you know, the reason I did use it was because as I was writing I was going through in my head potential objections to the clause, and one of the most obvious was that “well if someone doesn’t know then it’s not fair to criminalise them”. And then I remembered that already with stolen goods there is an onus on the buyer to check, and I was thinking that if we already think stolen goods are worth that level of protection then we definitely ought to think that the buying and selling of services related to people’s bodies are worth it.

I probably should have elaborated around that thought a bit more. Apologies if the analogy has offended.

Lynne Miles // Posted 17 November 2009 at 10:44 am

…and, oops, that was me (author of original post) but I was logged in to mod guest blogger comments elsewhere… sorry.

gadgetgal // Posted 17 November 2009 at 11:31 am

@George

I agree analogies to a certain extent can become associated with the things they’re being compared to, but not to the extent that the majority of us would be so confused as to mix the two up entirely, especially on a website like this. I know many people can read what’s been said here and comment on it but most of the people who do are intelligent and interested enough to understand the distinction between the two. If we were to write everything with the idea in mind that most people don’t know what basic terms mean and are easily confused by them most of the articles on this website and others would probably be made up of so many definitions and provisos that no one would read them anyway (solving the problem of anyone taking offence, I guess).

I think we can argue our way all round the usage of language in any context, anywhere, how that affects people, and whether it should, but sticking to your last questions I would have to answer:

“Do we want to use this kind of analogy as a way into understanding the problem?”

It’s not really a question of want – this is the closest thing in law that compares to what’s been written in the legislation (I know, I checked) which makes it easy for the reader to understand what’s being said. That said, it could have had a longer explanation as to why it was used, which Lynn’s already held her hands up to in her response;

“Or do we need a more responsible alternative?”

Seriously, I tried looking – I can’t find anything that compares. Maybe if you can find one that everyone will know and therefore understand then the problem would be solved. Until then I don’t think people should have their speech taken away from them because it might be considered by some to be a bit problematic – many languages still have male and female nouns, which is sexist however you look at it, but to just take that away would then make most of them unintelligible! And I also have to say many analogies (if not most) are problematic (I’m thinking of a few religious ones I’ve been told just recently) but because of our history, society and culture we understand what others mean when they say them – it doesn’t mean I’m going to think I should be religious or that the person telling me is! It’s just something in common that we can both understand, and we can use it to make other concepts clearer.

So, in short, I agree that perhaps the analogy could have been elaborated upon to make it clearer as to why it was being used. But I still think it was the most appropriate one to use under the circumstances.

George // Posted 17 November 2009 at 4:35 pm

@ Lynne – it’s always difficult to explain legislation in clear language, I actually think the article was good! Especially because we’re celebrating something here, right?

@ gadgetgal – I’m not taking away anyone’s right to speak, I’m questioning the use of this analogy. I think it is important to examine our language and metaphors as they are important indicators of our thoughts, and this is in that vein. I’m not saying Lynne is BAD, or that we should ban it, I’m just examining it!

Perhaps we could compare it to the fact that “I didn’t know she was under 16” cannot used be used a defence in cases of unlawful sexual intercourse, apart from in exceptional cases.

gadgetgal // Posted 17 November 2009 at 9:49 pm

@George

Spot on and well done! That’s a perfect analogy, in fact it’s pretty much the same thing in legal terms. Cool! I’ll remember that when I have to explain it to anyone in future :)

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