THE BLOG

Full Sex Industry Decriminalisation Puts Women's Rights Last

08/10/2015 08:11 | Updated 07 October 2016

Prostitution is in the spotlight since Amnesty International joined a number of large organisations in recommending decriminalisation of all aspects of the sex industry.

That's not the Nordic model, which reduces demand by decriminalising only the sale of sex and promoting supported exit plans. Full decriminalisation would allow pimps and johns to proceed with their exploitation and abuse of women and girls, with a stamp of human rights compliance.

Full decriminalisation is defeatist, at best.

Our society is trying to normalise a concept of safe, happy "sex workers." I don't buy it and neither should you.

A study by Prostitution Research & Education shows that an estimated 89% of women in prostitution want to exit, that more than 70% have been assaulted and more than half have been raped.

It is estimated that the average age of those recruited into prostitution is 13-14 years old.

Still, Amnesty International's policy has enthusiastic support from those who claim it would benefit prostituted women, protecting them from abuse by enabling regulation.

Instead, decriminalisation would empower the abusers. Research also shows that where decriminalisation takes place, trafficking rises.

When prostitutes and survivors describe the violence and degradation they have suffered, they are quickly silenced by those championing the supposedly liberating opportunity to reclaim prostitution as a safe, enriching and empowering occupation.

Prostitution is none of those things and will never be conducive to women's liberation or to equality.

I've seen this in City networking. I've seen men I know become predatory and misogynistic around strippers and escorts, as women join in the "banter" to secure male approval and avoid appearing prudish. I've done it myself, I'm embarrassed about that. I've seen men become lecherous towards their female business associates, including me. I've said: "I'm fine with those women being here but don't treat me like one." Now I realise that I was really saying was that I'm above that, but another woman is fair game.

That's not equality.

I'm not fine with being objectified, sexualised and undermined because I am a woman. And I've been a woman long enough to know that if it can happen to women in general it can happen to me, or you. Are you fine with that?

If you back decriminalisation, have you stopped to really think about what the arguments you use to make your case really mean for women?

You might say prostitution reduces rape. Do you really think it is better for some women to be sacrificed than to tackle rapists? What would you solve if you saved one woman from rape by turning a blind eye to the rape of another?

No sentence should start with "rape is terrible, but," so if you raise your voice over the women who have been raped in prostitution, think again about what you're really saying.

You might say prostitution is a job like any other. Would you want it for your daughter, your wife, your mother? Do you really mean that the safety and dignity of some women is valid only when viewed through the lens of your connection to them?

You might say most prostituted women are safe and acting out of choice. Do you really think that if you were at extremely high risk of being raped at work, you would choose to stay in that job and you would like to make it easier for your potential rapists to get away with raping you?

You might say pimps and johns will still be prosecuted if they harm prostituted women. Are you really saying it is ok to wait until they do and that they have a right to participate in an abusive supply chain in the meantime?

You may indeed really think all of that. But if you do, don't applaud the decriminalisation of abusers in the name of women's rights. Acknowledge your disregard for the human rights of the women you have "othered" for your subjective idea of freedom. Consider that you may care more about the choices of abusive men than the safety of prostituted women.

Consider that in your desire to be seen as progressive and liberal, you ignore the humanity of one of the most vulnerable groups of people surviving today.

Prostitution is the commodification of the bodies of women of girls. It is born out of the ideology that women are second-class citizens raised to service men. Decriminalisation would reinforce that, declaring that women's rights must come last.

If you think that is acceptable, you cannot stand for women's rights, you cannot stand for women's liberation and you cannot stand for equality.

Feminism in London favours the Nordic model and is running a sex industry panel at its conference on 24-25 October at the Hilton Metropole, Edgware Road. Abolishing the Sex Work Myth: The Rise of the Prostitution Survivor Movement - Sunday October 25 at 12:30.