I was a whore. An entirely awesome prostitute. Working alone through an independent agency. The sex I had was legal. No, I do not feel shame.
During this time, I was raped, beaten up, threatened, bullied, coerced and brought into the world of drugs. I was a maverick, working alone, and the UK law is ok with lone prostitutes and their clients. If I had tried to increase my margin of safety and emotional support by sharing my flat with a couple of other girls, we would all have ended up in jail (on your tax pennies) for being a brothel. France has recently just made paying for sex illegal, and many people here in the UK are advocating we do the same. Let me convince you otherwise.
People prostitute for lots of reasons, but usually the root cause is our social system has failed them. Many of my friends were also sex workers. We'd hook up for drinks, chat, gossip. Like most, I hadn't chosen to be a prostitute. If you insist there was choice, then these choices were direly constrained. I was unemployed, alone, unentitled to benefits, and all the 'institutional social nets' really couldn't care less. We chronically fail as a supportive society outside of the rhetoric lies of "we're in it together". My xxx are we!
I needed to pay my rent on a mouldy basement flat in Leith, otherwise homelessness on the streets awaited. I already knew what that was like after having lived on the streets of Marseille for a while. I needed to eat. I very nervously began prostituting, and I became very good at it, making the traverse from cheap prostitute to expensive high class escort. I learned a great deal about people, hypocrisy, class, law and crime. Meeting some 'bad' people who had great ethics, and socially acceptable people in high positions who were worse than criminals. But I would like to talk to you about our laws on sex. They're a mess. We're even thinking about making them worse and following France.
Some old posh dudes with outdated Victorian morals once had a laugh and wrote the Sexual Offences Act 1956, steered by the Wolfenden Committee. It made it illegal for men to solicit (seek) prostitutes, or for prostitutes to organise together into brothels, along with other absurd laws such as making it illegal to have sex with "imbeciles and defective idiots". This document was only significantly updated regarding prostitution by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which made paying for sex legal, but kept pimping (controlling a prostitute) and brothels illegal. In 2008 the Policing and Crime Bill was added, making it an offense for a person seeking sex to be caught with a person being pimped.
Good! I hear you cry.
"Brothels are hotbeds of illegal trafficking and exploitation".
"Pimping and prostitution are grossly immoral and abusive".
"Someone caught having sex with someone being pimped should be charged".
You may applaud the law for the 'difficult' job they do, despite the fact that police are usually either apathetic to abuse, or are active in manipulating and taking advantage of prostitutes. The people voicing these sentiments are nearly always those who lead clean, comfortable, safe, comparatively affluent lives far removed from the lived reality of sex work. Such advocates are promoting laws born from ignorant privilege, which damagingly govern the cognisant disadvantaged.
Trafficking vulnerable people into the country for forced prostitution is a major problem. I have experienced and written about this in India. Full legalisation combined with an informed UK regulated framework of the sex trade will help solve such problems by working with prostitutes. Sex workers will feel more empowered to approach and report trafficking cases in a system where their own activities are entirely legal. Prohibition simply drives the sex trade underground and dialogue stops, ultimately making trafficking and abuse easier and simpler for the traffickers, not harder.
For positive changes to happen, prostitutes and former prostitutes need to be engaged and consulted with the process of politics and law making, not shunned, shamed and marginalised. If we follow the example of France regarding prostitution laws, all we do is muddy an already confusing legal landscape where prostitution is quasi-legal. Advocates may claim that the law does not penalise and punish the prostitute, only the client. This is another argument from ignorance. If the clients are driven underground, so is the sex worker.
Laws do not and will never stop the trade of sex. Decreeing sex work illegal simply puts already vulnerable people in greater danger. Social integration, discourse and an informed flexible legal structure is the way forward. Prostitutes need platforms, not cells.