Equal Rights, feminist, London, prostitution, Sex Trade, Sexual Equality, Trade Unions, Women MPs, Women's Rights

I was delighted to be invited to speak, on work undertaken in the EU on prostitution, at the launch of OBJECT and eaves’ new DEMAND CHANGE! campaign in Parliament yesterday afternoon.

Two powerful and inspiring organisations, OBJECT, is a campaigning organisation which is fundamentally against the objectification of women. And eaves is a London based feminist charity that provides supported housing to vulnerable women, women trafficked into prostitution, and those who have experienced domestic violence.

The new joint initiative between eaves and OBJECT – DEMAND CHANGE! – aims to promote an increased understanding of the myths and realities surrounding prostitution; calls for prostitution to be seen and widely understood as a form of violence against women; and is lobbying for the adoption of the ‘Nordic model’ of tackling demand and decriminalising women in prostitution.

Answering questions at the DEMAND CHANGE! event in Parliament

Answering questions at the DEMAND CHANGE! event in Parliament

As an ardent supporter of the Nordic model, of tackling trafficking and violence against women through prostitution by criminalising the purchase of sex, I wholly support the DEMAND CHANGE! campaign and its aims. I believe campaigns such as these are key to changing the public perceptions and entrenched cultural attitudes towards the sale of women’s bodies for sex, which is  is the only route towards the UK adopting the Nordic model to reduce this intolerable violence against women, children and men.

This event was a great opportunity to take back the battle ground on prostitution from the garish vocalists for pimps and punters The English Collection of Prostitutes and the International Union of Sex Workers. Who interestingly, now that legislation on lap-dancing clubs and prostitution have now passed out of the Commons, were not present at the event. A key indication of the sorts of people that are behind these frighteningly naive organisations, which deny figures on trafficking and offer up prostitution as a feminist choice when the clear reality is that no one would ever wish this destructive and demeaning career  on anyone whom they cared about.

In my speech I discussed the European Parliament’s women’s committee’s inability to agree on the issue of prostitution due to the very varied legislation of each member state. As heated debate on the topic of the health of prostitutes, in the socialist group of the FEMM committee, showed last year, prostitution remains the last great feminist taboo.

Speaking to Swedish expert on the 'Nordic Model' Gunilla Exberg

Speaking to Swedish expert on the 'Nordic Model' Gunilla Exberg

22 thoughts on “DEMAND FOR CHANGE!

  1. Dear Mary, I appreciate that members of OBJECT and yourself may hold differenet views from the GMB union sex work and IUSW branch in terms of whats the best way to deal with the issue of prostitution/sex work ect but it’s simple not true to say we were not there at the OBJECT meeting yesterday. We did try to attend to hear your point of view but were prevented from doing so at the door of the meeting because I was the branch secretary of the GMB sex work branch. A lady with a clib bord of names who said and I quote, “that alowing the branch secretary of the GMB IUSW to come to the meeting was like admitting the leaders of the BNP to a Steven Laurance memorial service.” I appreciate you may not want us to hear what was being said in the OBJECT meeting but in attending I was only responding to an invite I was sent. The lady at the door intimated that it must have been in error as they wouldn’t have invited someone from the GMB. I was shoked to hear such an inflamatory and heart renching illiatration used. In all that we do we should show respect to each other as people who honestly come to this sebject with I think sinserly held views and if one side is to be prevented from attending you should at lease be honest about it. I would very much like to attend future meetings and our absence will not be for want of wishing to engage you with the greatest respect I do hold for you all . Chris Student Branch Secretary GMB IUSW sex work and London Entertainments branch

  2. There is much I could say here, but I think I shall just state that this area is a highly complex one and the difficulties involved are not made easier by crass oversimplifications.

    There is little in Section 2 of the Policing and Crime Bill, beloved though it may be to certain feminists (but certainly not others), that will not further exacerbate the difficulties inherent in our Victorian approach to these issues.

    The criminalisation of prostitutes’ clients, for example, will be the last nail in the coffin for many Palermo trafficking victims as it will deny them one of their few opportunities for help in escaping from imprisonment, as testified by Crimestoppers, among others.

    I wonder if Gunilla Ekberg pointed out that in the first eight years since Sweden adopted its treasured law of criminalising the purchasers of sex, serious sex crime in Sweden, including rapes and sexual coercion, mostly against women, have increased by more than 40%, as recorded by BRA, the Swedish crime prevention authority,
    and grew a further 9% in the first five months of this year alone:

    Increased efficiency in the closing of brothels through Closure Orders, if carried out on any scale, would result in a burgeoning population of street prostitutes,
    as happened when UK brothels were first outlawed in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. This provided ideal conditions for the Jack the Ripper murders three years later.

    Reduced tolerance of ‘kerb crawlers’ and increased drives by the police will result in street prostitutes being displaced to work at times they are not used to or in places with which they are unfamiliar, destroying their links with each other, all of which will further compromise their already tenuous safety, or else will force many of them to other forms of crime to feed drug habits.

    The entire package will make prostitutes far more difficult to find for NHS and other outreach services, as in the Aberdeen disaster reported by the BBC here:
    …in direct defiance of the theme of this year’s UN World Aids Day, as mentioned here:

  3. Oh dear @ stephenpaterson. Are you really saying that ‘men are just men, they are going to be violent in order to get sex if they can’t have it any other way, and we have to create an underclass of women to service them and allow them to get away with exploiting trafficked women because they just can’t help it and cannot curb their natural urges to be sexually aggressive”?

    I had no idea men were that awful and really can’t control themselves. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky, or perhaps I’m too ugly for men to force themselves on me. Perhaps I’ve just lived a very sheltered life… Suddenly separatism seems so appealing.

    Also, in reply to the first post. I didn’t organise or attend the OBJECT event, but I do know it’s quite usual not to invite those who oppose you to a launch event of your new publication / campaign. I would find it unusual to have people gatecrash an official launch event. The usual protocol (as anyone from GMB would have been able to inform you) would be to ring and ask for an invite and attend only on that basis.

  4. Eaves has had millions of pounds of taxpayers money poured in to it. Last financial year: 3,608,395 pounds of taxpayers money (1,200,000 pounds from the Home Office) out of its total funding of 5,220,603 pounds. It produced the discredited Lilith that tried to link stripping to rape. What rubbish!
    Object is an organisation that produces poison. It represents no one, only about 12 ‘members’ turn up to its monthly meetings, they should be treated with the contempt that that deserve.

  5. The punters that supposedly report trafficked victims are few and far between, and they will still go ahead and rape the victim anyway before they report anything.

    As far as increasing rape statistics, are you suggesting that a whole class of women should be ready and available to take sexual abuse on behalf of all the ‘nice girls’?

    Increased brothel closure combined with reduced tolerance of kerb crawling and a change in attitude by men who don’t actually need to buy sex (they will be deterred by the new law and this is a good thing) and proper exit services, will not result in more street prostitution or ‘displacement’. Where brothels are legalised, this gives the green light to traffickers and abusers with minimal police interference due to restrictions on raids. They are a haven for abuse and prostituted women often report feeling more trapped and co-erced into unwanted sex acts in brothels than on the street.

    The key is changing men’s attitudes towards buying women’s bodies. Men don’t need to buy sex, they can masturbate. Men have to take responsibility for fuelling this trade in flesh. The new law will start to change attitudes and is a positive step.

  6. I’m an activist with the IUSW – I’ve worked in the sex industry for nearly ten years, in brothels, for escort agencies and independently. I’m rarely described as “naïve”, and I would not use this word to describe the other sex workers who campaign on this issue through the IUSW.

    Like my colleague, I was refused entry to the Demand Change event, despite possession of a printed invitation, though in less offensive terms. Sex workers who might express an inconvenient contentment with their work and call for equal rights and the full protection of the law as solutions to the stigma and marginalisation we face were carefully excluded.

    Garish or not, the IUSW and the GMB sex workers branch campaign for
    • human, civil and labour rights
    • inclusion and decriminalisation
    • freedom to choose and respect for those choices, including the absolute right to say no
    • the full protection of the law
    for everyone in the sex industry, whether by choice, circumstance or coercion.

    Rather than denying the figures on trafficking, we seek to draw attention to them. 80,000 people are estimated to work in the sex industry – mostly women, but also men and transgender people. The Home Office estimates 4,000 women (5%) are trafficked into prostitution. The figure of 4,000 has remained constant since 2003, despite the enormous increase in both media and policy attention to this issue.

    Pentameter 1 and 2 – nationwide, intelligence-lead police operations – raided 1,337 premises (estimated as more than 10% of the total) over two years, and found 255 victims of trafficking (equivalent to approximately 2500 across the entire industry). (By contrast, a single raid on a farm in November 2008 rescued 60 victims of trafficking.)

    The chocolate teacup definition of trafficking in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 does nothing to target abuse, criminalising experiences such as my own trips abroad with clients. It is morally obscene that in British legislation that this is considered indistinguishable from some of the worst and vilest human rights abuses in any industry. Laws that do not target abuse are useless in preventing abuse, as evidenced by the Home Office admission it frequently uses the Palermo Protocol definition of trafficking than the one it was responsible for drafting.

    There is no more valid group of stakeholders in this debate than we who work in the sex industry. We are the people who will be living with the enduring consequences of legislation and policy. But often there is refusal to acknowledge that our views on our own situation might have relevance, let alone importance – that was the case at the launch of Demand Change.

  7. Immediately the first two responses are from pro-prostitution lobbyists whose sole intent is to ensure women and girls remain the sexual slaves of male buyers. Oh yes, I know all about the claim ‘but prostituted women choose to undertake this pseudo work’ but this claim is a nonsense because most women involved in prostitution do not want to remain or even had an informed and free choice.

    The ones with real choices are the male buyers or Johns as many prostituted women term them. Naturally any challenge to men’s pseudo sex right to women and girls is immediately challenged by claims criminalising male buyers will drive prostitution underground and ensure prostituted women suffer even worse violence from the male prostitutors.

    All lies of course, because one only has to see how Amsterdam and Germany’s legalisation of prostitution has failed miserably. Likewise New Zealand’s legalisation is an abysmal failure because prostitution is primarily about profit and those who make immense profits are definitely not prostituted women or girls. It is the male brothel owners, pimps and other businessmen who see nothing wrong in female sexual slavery which of course is euphemised under the term sex worker.

    The last bastion of male privileges and supremacy is the pseudo male right for all men and boys, if they so wish, to buy women and girls for the sole purpose of masturbating into their bodies and demonstrating to other males their masculinity.

    Criminalising the male buyers is not a moral issue but is one about women’s and girls’ human rights. Of course statistics will be produced claiming Sweden’s laws criminalising male buyers have not worked but if the reader goes to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Website they will see criminalising male buyers does work but it can only work if there is sufficient support and exit strategies for women involved in prostitution. Likewise, long-term educational programmes need to be directed at boys and men telling them clearly and concisely that being male does not automatically entitle them to buy women’s or girls’ bodies. In fact no one should have the right of sexual ownership of another human being but since it is overwhelmingly women and girls who are treated as dehumanised sexualised commodities, this issue becomes one of apparently ‘choice.’

    The IUSW and their cohorts do not represent prostituted women but they certainly represent powerful men who are determined women’s oppression continues unabated. IUSW is a figurehead for the sex industry and because the sex industry is a business and profit is the central feature, there will continue to be challenges to criminalising male buyers.

    Perhaps one day the UK government will have the nerve to criminalise male buyers rather than pass legislation which is non-effective. The only ones who profit at present are the Johns,pimps and of couse the brothel owners.

    The reason why male sexual violence against women and girls has increased in Sweden is not due to the criminalisation of Johns but is because many of these male rapists believe it is their right to rape and sexually assault women and girls they know. Unfortunately the Swedish criminal justice system is similar to the UK’s in that it abounds with rape myths and women-blaming. Swedish males who rape women and girls know their chances of being convicted are almost zero – likewise here in the UK over 95% of males charged with raping a woman/women are acquitted. But deliberately attempting to conflate two separate issues into one does not work. Criminalising male buyers is a start and it sends a clear message to all men and boys that women and girls are human not men’s dehumanised sexualised commodities.

    Challenging endemic rape myths is a huge task and the reason is because most male rapists know the woman/women/girl they rape and these rapists believe they have the pseudo unlimited male sex right to women and girls. Criminalising male buyers has not caused men to commit more rapes, because the figures for male sexual violence against known women and girls remains unchanged. What needs to be changed is the legal system both here in the UK and also in Sweden. Both countries have predominantly male judges and it is male judges, together with predominantly male police officers and other law officials who continue to believe women are responsible for causing ‘innocent men’ to commit rape.

    Criminalising male buyers of women and girls will not automatically reduce all forms of male violence against women but it is a very important start and furthermore it sends a clear message to all men and boys that they are not entitled to buy women and girls for the purpose of masturbating into them or to prove their masculinity to other males.

    Challenging endemic male beliefs that males must never be held accountable for their actions or behaviour is not just about prostitution it is about male power and control over women and girls. Criminalising male buyers is a start but of course Swedish feminists realise that prostitution is one tenatacle of men’s violence against women and so the demand for ending all men’s violence against women and girls must continue.

    Women and girls are not for sale.

  8. Brilliant stuff. This is a very necessary cause. How can there be equality between women and men when it is still seen as acceptable to be able to buy women’s bodies to use as objects? Good luck with the campaign – these measures are long overdue.

  9. Invitation from Chris Student Branch Secretary of the GMB IUSW branch and Hester. We have read the above comments from supporters of OBJECT in particular the idea that we represent men who would rape women or that we would ever want to be on the side of anyone who would do down people who work in the sex industry is I think born out of at best misunderstanding of who we are and what we are about as indeed is the idea that I am naive (I have 13 years of experience in the sex industry in a very hands on way). The best antiseptic to mutual suspicion is sunlight. With this in mind and as weren’t able to meet on Wednesday (even with an invite) we’d like to invite all those from OBJECT indeed any organisation with concerns to come for tea at our house. We don’t want to convince you of our ideas but let there be reasonable free flow of views between us and at the very least if we were to learn more about each other I’m sure we’d find you to be what I’ve always believed you to be, decent people who want to do the right thing for sex workers. So let’s hold fire, come for a cup of tea and at least then if you feel we are all these awful things you will have least met us. You can come on your own or with friends and if it helps why not bring members of an organisation known to us both they know us both and can vouch for our tea making. You would all be most welcome Hester 07879811596 Branch Secretary of GMB IUSW sex work branch

  10. I find it astonishing that Object has prevented the GMB from attend a political meeting in parliament organised by a MEP that direct affects it members. It is then deplorable for Mary Honeyball MEP to then attack the GMB for not attending! Mary do you understand the meaning of democracy and free speech?

    The GMB is a major trade union with nearly 600,000 members; one in every 32 people at work in the UK is a member of GMB.

    Who are Object? On its website it describes itself as a “charitable organisation”. It solicits donations from the public, yet it does not show a registered number or details. It does not appear to be registered with the Charity Commission. We need transparency from Object. Who does Object represent? We know it only gets about 12 ‘members’ to turn up at monthly meetings.

    Come on Object, have tea with the GMB! Ok they may have 600,000 members and you only have 12, please show some courtesy.

  11. I find it amusing that pro-sexual abuse posters here are trying to attack the legitimacy of OBJECT and Eaves, whilst trying to promote the claims to legitimacy by the IUSW – who can not stand for the rights of the workers, since they openly allow punters and pimps into their membership with voting rights etc. Their GMB membership has to be an oversight which I’m sure will be corrected in time. Also the ECP who do not have to disclose whether or not members are or ever have been prostitutes either.

    Chris Student’s slippery and creepy invitations to tea are actually freaking me out. His posts have all the charm of the childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I feel like I need to scrub myself down having read them.

    Catherine Stephens admits that she specialises in servicing men who are severely disabled, – not the kind of men who can and do abuse/rape/murder prostituted women. It is strange that she peeps out of her cosy very specialist and non-mainstream niche of ‘sex-work’, and acts like she can speak for the majority of prostitutes.

    And I notice the also mis-named ‘reason’ has gone from advocating ‘treating with contempt’ to joining Chris Student in the creepy, slippery ‘just one little turkish delight’ tone in two posts. Creepy.

  12. It needs stating loudly and frequently, that the IUSW is not a legitimate union.

    They allow pimps, brothel keepers, pornographers and johns to join, and want us to believe that the sex industry is just one big happy family, where the only problem is the criminalisation of the industry (which leaves a bizarre void on the demand side, none of them are willing to talk about who’s actually abusing prostitutes, or driving the demand for prostitution).

    We are supposed to believe that this ‘union’ can represent the interest of the most exploited ‘workers’, while at the same time representing the interests of the people who exploit them.

    And how about Catherine Stephens shutting down a GMB fringe meeting on prostitution because a representative from The Poppy Project was speaking?

    Where does Catherine actually find the time to engage in any ‘sex work’, what with all the campaigning, and ‘radical anthropology’ ( she engages in?

    Pentameter 1 and 2 found as many trafficked women as it did, because within government, border agencies and the police, there is a culture of disbelief with regards to trafficking victims/asylum seekers. Combine this with the extreme vulnerability and trauma of those trafficked into the sex industry – which may leave a woman/girl with PDST and unable to describe what has happened to her to an unsympathetic audience, combined with the stigma attached to prostitution which means she may no longer have a home to return to – and it’s really no surprise.

  13. The GMB has every right to cancel a meeting that was about to be hijacked by those who are determined to harm it.

    Look at the abusive language above: “pimps”, “brothel keepers”, “johns”, “representing the interests of the people who exploit them”, “not a legitimate union”.

    Would there have been a constructive meeting with language like that? Of course not.

  14. I was speaking for myself in my post, I do not represent The Poppy Project, and had no involvement with the GMB meeting, all the ‘abusive’ language is mine alone.

    If you’re so keen on defending the IUSW, perhaps you could actually address some of the issues I have raised?

  15. Interestingly, Object has not explained why it does not appear to be registered with the Charity Commission, although .its website describes itself as a “charitable organisation” and solicits donations from the public.

  16. ‘Reason’, you are attacking a feminist organisation with a level of scrutiny you evidently do not think needs to be applied to pimps and pornographers. The sex industry is huge and hugely profitable, and fuelled by sexism, poverty and inequality, but you don’t think that needs examining at all.

  17. sarahcl, on July 1st, 2009 at 1:12 pm Said:
    And how about Catherine Stephens shutting down a GMB fringe meeting on prostitution because a representative from The Poppy Project was speaking?

    As has been stated on the blog sarahcl references:
    The only problem with this story is that, like so much commentary on sex work, it’s completely inaccurate. The facts of the matter can be confirmed by Kamaljeet Jandu, the GMB’s National Equality & Inclusion Officer.

  18. sarahcl
    You really do have a warped view of the world!

    I have simply asked why Object does not appear to be registered with the Charity Commission, while it describes itself as a “charitable organisation” and solicits donations from the public. This can hardly be described as “attacking”.

  19. A charitable, or ‘non-profit’ organisation does not have to be registered as a charity to receive/request public donations.

  20. Ahem “reason” (or should we say ‘contempt trying unsuccessfully to masquerade as reason’), you nailed your colours to the mast in your first post. You left a rather ‘stalker in the bushes’ comment about the people who turn up to Object’s meetings. You come across as totally adversarial and yet you act like the organisation owes you some sort of explanation.

    It can only be a weird form of narcissistic arrogance (akin to the kind that gives a person a weird sense of entitlement to subject others to unwanted sex, as long as you have the money to pay for it), which makes you believe that a) anyone from Object’s management comittee has the time or inclination to engage in debate with a adversarial punter/stalker, or b) that they are under any sort of obligation to do so.

  21. Human rights, yadda, yadda, yadda. I work in law enforcement and the last thing we need is more bloody human rights.

    We need proper sentencing. How long do you reckon Madoff would have got had he been convicted in the UK? My bet is he would have got 10 years and served 5, most of that in a low security jail.

    My personal preference would be a reintroduction of the death penalty for serious organised criminals, but failing that life should mean life and life sentences should be passed for people trafficking.

  22. Slavery is endemic in much of the unzleiiicvd world, and especially in the muslim world. Religion is still a large part of the problem mainly because religion permits and even endorses slavery.

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