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Why I'm Backing Sophie Walker for London Mayor

21/04/2016 10:31

I decided months ago that I would cast my vote in the London Mayoral election according to candidates' policies around the sex trade.

As the campaign to implement the Nordic model in the UK accelerates, I will be voting for Sophie Walker, leader of Women's Equality Party, which just launched a crackdown campaign on stalking and which is the only party that officially backs the Nordic model.

This approach involves the decriminalisation of people selling sex, who are overwhelmingly disadvantaged women and girls, and the criminalisation of those buying sex or managing the sale of sex, most of whom are male. The Nordic model also provides viable exit plans to help women and girls out of prostitution.

The Nordic model or variations of it are already in place in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and France.

I back the Nordic model because it has been proven to reduce trafficking, while full decriminalisation and legalisation have been proven to fuel trafficking.

I don't believe we should seek to regulate an industry that supports trafficking, an industry in which about 50% of women are raped, 80% are controlled by pimps, 90% want to exit and for which the average age to enter is 13-15 years old. It's an abusive system that needs to be dismantled and the way to do that is to hit the demand by criminalising punters and pimps.

It's pretty easy to debunk the counter argument; the myth that full decrimalisation of the sex industry would improve safety and reduce the harm done to women and girls in the sex industry.

Who is causing the harm? Pimps and punters.
Who do you want to decriminalise? Pimps and punters. Oh wait.

I joined Women's Equality Party in October so I was always likely to back Walker, but now I've decided it would probably be counterproductive to cast my second choice vote.

The Liberal Democrat and Green parties both back full decriminalisation of the sex industry, so I wouldn't go near their candidates.

Labour's Sadiq Khan and the Conservative Party's Zac Goldsmith have refused to answer questions about their stances on the sex industry.

I contacted both candidates and also Goldsmith's press office and received no response at all. Not even a holding email.

As a journalist, I am used to being told by press officers to get lost by way of phrases like "no comment" or "this is not a story", but I can honestly say it is pretty unusual to be completely ignored.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his right hand man John McDonnell are both long-standing supporters of full decriminalisation of the sex industry, despite the fact that the Crown Prosecution Service, Women's Aid and most women's rights charities regard prostitution it as a form of violence against women and girls.

Even Unison recognises prostitution as a form of gender-based violence and opposes full decriminalisation. That must be a tough one for Corbyn and McDonnell to square.

As far as many feminists are concerned, Corbyn and McDonnell have made their opinions of women clear. Their brand of socialism - brocialism as we call it now - would have women making the tea and staffing the brothels. It is astonishing that these so-called Hard Left men cannot or will not see the blatant class inequality that underpins the entire sex industry. Despite making up 50% of the population, women and girls are a side issue for Corbyn and co.

I personally believe the Conservative Party would be far less likely than Labour to fully decriminalise the sex industry, as long as Andrew Boff of Greater London Authority Conservatives stays away from the frontline.

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So, as a left-leaning voter I am guiltily feeling more inclined towards Goldsmith for Mayor. And that's saying something because I grew up in a house that had a photo of Thatcher on the inside of the toilet lid.

We do not need a replication of the Leeds "managed prostitution zone" in London, which is what Boff is proposing. The Leeds managed zone was declared a success despite the fact that during the pilot period a young woman was murdered and two rapes were reported.

The Leeds model has been denounced by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women which says it all, really.

Women's Equality Party has proved it is serious; it has attracted thousands of members, made history with its women-focused party political broadcast and put up several formidable candidates for the London Assembly.

On May 5 as we vote for our new Mayor, Walker is the only choice for anyone who cares about the safety of women and girls and about gender equality in the UK.

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