Decriminalisation Will Make Sex Workers Safer - Not Increased Morality
As an ex-sex worker I can say from first hand experience that it’s extremely risky and unsafe in this country to operate in the industry.
It’s one of the oldest job roles in the world, yet receives an almost unparalleled amount of stigma due to the morality of others. It’s because of this morality that sex workers today are forced to operate in the shadows, taking on unsafe bookings with clients, and place themselves in danger because the institutions that preach this morality force them to do so.
There is a movement in the UK to amend our out-dated legislation towards sex workers. Its widely recognised by, not just governmental bodies, but charities and sex workers themselves that the current system doesn’t work - however, none of these groups can decide on how.
What’s more unsurprising is that conservative view of morality is rearing its ugly head and proposing to place sex workers in further danger. They recite studies and quote facts that make little to no sense – and most don’t even consult sex workers about what they really want.
Like most of ex and current sex workers; I’m for full decriminalisation of sex work (not to be confused with legalisation). However instead of preaching at you about my view, I thought the best way to show you why it’s the best option is to show you the other options proposed and just how dangerous they are:
Criminalisation – (Russia, South Africa, Most of United States).
This is the full criminalisation of sex work. You will be arrested and fined for let alone being a seller, but also the buyer and/or being the third party (IE Pimp or “Madame”). The aim behind this aggressive law is to deter you from selling or wanting to purchase sex all together – however it doesn’t work.
Criminalisation has not reduced the rate of sex workers in the US or other countries. However it has increased violence, rapes and assaults over the years. Even when you’re caught as a seller, the fine and criminal record disables these workers from getting other jobs – so the system actively forces these victims to do more sex work to pay off the fine.
In New York, for example, carrying a condom can be used as evidence that you are soliciting for sex work. This means that sex workers are being forced to also not carry protection in case they are arrested. In Los Angeles, officers have been previously caught trying to force bribes on workers so workers will get off the fine.
Ultimately Criminalisation is the most dangerous, does not solve any problems and only increases risk of abuse of power, assaults and actually increases sex work. However conservative groups continue to say it’s the best way to go.
Partial Criminalisation – (UK & France)
This is the current law in the UK – selling sex is completely legal, however soliciting & brothel keeping is illegal. Sounds good on paper however this, in my opinion, is just as dangerous for workers as criminalisation.
The definition of a brothel in UK law is “two or more workers working in the same residence or venue”. This doesn’t include a pimp or Madame, but even workers self managing and working in groups. This means if workers want to work together for safety they can’t – the system forces them to take on clients alone. If the client becomes aggressive no one is there to stop it and without a witness the aggressor gets away with it. To be safe workers will break the law and work in pairs or more – however the client can still get away with it by blackmailing the workers with phrases such as “You won’t tell, you’ll get arrested too!”.
If workers break the law they’re fined like in the US. This has the same affect as before – workers are then forced to remain in sex work to work off the fine but then are made to do it unsafely. The case of Mariana Popa in 2013 proves this; the London Met’s policy forced her to work alone that led to her murder.
Nordic Model – (Sweden, Norway & Canada)
Now, lets look at one of the newest legislations. This policy would legalise the seller but criminalise the buyer – also known as the “End demand approach”. This one is a favourite of “so-called” women’s rights groups, as they believe it liberates women sellers and will help persecute male buyers.
Recently even Bristol West MP, Thangam Debbonaire, has came out in favour of this and has actively thrown her support for the policy via her Twitter to concerned constituents. But, there are a few things she disregards in favour of her morality. Women’s rights groups also take the same opinion – believing that ending the “demand” for sex work will protect women.
Let alone would this approach continue to increase stigma for those that want to work in sex work. It’ll also increase the dangers of acquiring clients significantly. It would force workers to drop their prices in order to make the risk for the client more appealing.
It also forces workers to take on untraceable clients – when I worked around London I would make sure I had the names and contact details of clients before I met with them. If I had an out-call I would make sure I had as much details of the place I was meeting. In Sweden, sex workers struggle to get any of these counter measures from their clients and often the details they do get are Alias’ or fake.
The Nordic Model also has little to no evidence it has decreased the rate of prostitution and sex work in Sweden (it’s origin country). It’s troubling that Thangam Debbonaire MP is proposing this even though it’s the policy that scares sex works the most! However, I guess it looks good for women’s groups who falsely believe it increases female liberty – when in fact in just places them in more danger. Also worth noting to Thangam that she should also look out for the significant proportion of sex workers that are male and buyers that are female that her comments ignore.
Legalisation – (Germany, Nevada & parts of Australia).
Also known in Sex Worker Rights groups as “Back Door Criminalisation” - this should not be confused with decriminalisation. This policy is designed to let sex workers operate as long as they do so in certain conditions and abide by certain regulations. However legalisation does not remove previous laws just makes them redundant.
Sex workers can only operate in particular venues that hold such licenses. Each sex worker must be registered, periodic medical exams are law and certain solicitation techniques are still illegal – which makes working in a brothel the only option and impossible for workers to be independent.
These regulations are purposely made difficult, expensive and hard to comply with in order to deter those from entering the industry – however it only forces those not to comply and to put themselves in danger. Non-compliance is an offence and leads to fines and criminal records (see Criminalisation).
This has the image of being the most liberal approach that works for everyone – however it has just as many flaws as any previous option I’ve mentioned. Not a way to go if you want sex workers to be safe above making a policy seem good to the public.
Decriminalisation – (New Zealand)
In 2003 New Zealand did something else - they fully decriminalised sex work. Sellers and buyers are free to operate as any other business or consumer. Decriminalisation means “removal of laws which penalise the sex industry – treating sex work like any other work within New Zealand”. This is now called the New Zealand Model.
The came to this decision by doing something a little more radical – they asked sex workers how they would feel safer. They removed the tainted morality of pressure groups, took the politics out of the decisions made and put the safety of the workers first.
This allowed sex workers work collectively for safety. Made pimps, madams and brothels accountable to the state like any other employer and workers rights were protected with entitlements. Research from the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective shows 96% of sex workers believed this new legislation made them feel safer.
It's Stay Brave's point of view, that decriminalisation of sex workers is the most viable, safe and liberating for not just women but all genders that work within the industry. Sex worker rights campaigner Toni Mac, in her Ted talk on the topic, gave a perfect closing statement that I couldn’t ignore. She said instead of adopting the attitudes of “Would you want your daughter doing it?” approach to new legislation, you should be asking “What if your daughter is doing it? How safe is she working tonight? Why isn’t she safer?”
It’s my opinion that MP’s like Thangam Debbonaire look into the New Zealand Model and put the safety of sex workers before her out-dated morality around the demand for the industry.
If you're a sex worker and wish to learn more on how to be safe while working within the UK you can contact SWISH, which supports anyone involved in the sex industry. Our services are completely free and confidential, and we provide clinics, support work, outreach and counselling services.
This article was written by Alexander Morgan, CEO of Stay Brave. Alex is a survivor of abuse and exploitation and campaigns against gender stigma that prevent access to abuse services. You can hear more from Alex by following him on Twitter or reading his articles on HuffPost.