The Laura Lee Blog – Why Sex Work Needs Decriminalising

WHAT started as a promising article by Cath Sullivan on Jean Urquhart’s proposition on the decriminalisation of sex work sadly dissolved into stereotypes and myths.

Man on top of woman in bed
Intimate couple during foreplay in bed – shoot with lensbaby

The vast majority of women do want decriminalisation, that at least, is correct. In recent studies in both France and Northern Ireland, a massive 98 per cent of sex workers said that decriminalisation would give them safer working conditions.

Decriminalising sex work does not legitimise violence against women, the effect is quite the opposite. It sends out a message to would be attackers that we are no longer vulnerable and alone; safety in numbers.

It’s not so long since Graeme Bell was convicted of two rapes and two attempted rapes in Perth. He targeted sex workers because he knew they were alone, and, in an astonishing statement having just punched one of the victims full force to the head, he said: “What are you crying for? You’re only a prostitute.”

It is this societal view of sex workers as some form of sub-species which needs to stop, and decriminalisation and giving us labour rights goes a long way towards starting that process.

In a jaw dropping statement, Sullivan goes on to say in her piece that the majority of men expect something more for their money and that it usually involves pain.

Having been in the sex industry for 22 years now, and in every role imaginable, I can tell you that’s not true. The vast majority of clients are respectful and always mindful of boundaries.

More Scared

The truth is, most clients are more scared than I will ever be, especially if it’s their first visit. As to the assertion that sex work isn’t a job which a man would choose for his sister/daughter: it’s 2015. Women make their own choices, without the need for approval from a man, or anyone else for that matter.

There is no doubt that some women who choose to do sex work as a solution to poverty or to fund an addiction have chaotic lifestyles. Forcing them to work alone will do nothing whatsoever to help them. Neither will giving them criminal records.

One of the very many failures of the Swedish or Nordic model, is that the most vulnerable sex workers cannot get access to basic outreach services, such as condom distribution and needle exchange. The state is failing those women in forcing them to work in dangerous conditions and denying them healthcare.

It’s simply not possible to criminalise one half of a contract, all parties are affected. Sex workers report having to make very quick assessments of on street purchasers in order to avoid detection. It’s no surprise that the rate of violence has sky rocketed. This is NOT how we protect vulnerable women.

Sullivan concludes by wistfully hoping for a society without prostitution, that simply won’t happen. In history, there has never been a society without prostitution, nor will there ever be.

Managing the Vulnerable

For me, once we accept that, the issue then becomes how we can manage the most vulnerable within the industry. The answer is simple – decriminalise and allow us to work together for safety. The World Health Organisation and UNAIDS agree. So too, does Amnesty International following an extensive two-year investigation speaking to sex workers all around the world.

Jean Urquhart MSP also agrees. That’s because she listened to us, sex workers, who are experts on our own industry and lives. This week saw Rhoda Grant’s latest attempt to secure “evidence” towards introducing the Swedish model thrown out.

The long road towards decriminalisation in Scotland starts now, and I look forward to working with SCOT PEP to ensure it happens.

Too many lives are at stake and we cannot, and will not, give up.

Laura Lee

Laura Lee

Irish mother, writer, animal lover, perpetual student and sex workers' rights campaigner.
Laura Lee

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