Yesterday the European Parliament backed measures which have been rejected as a violation of basic human rights by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and UNAIDS. Mary Honeyball MEP's report advocating the criminalisation of the purchase of sex were widely criticised by the experts, including sex workers, academics, human rights activists and a variety of NGOs throughout Europe, who repeatedly presented her with solid evidence demonstrating that her proposals would further marginalise and stigmatise sex workers and ultimately cause them harm.
Despite the overwhelming evidence Ms. Honeyball charged ahead on a moral crusade to eradicate sex work at whatever cost. Despite sensible evidence based responses from both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats she utilised the Labour Party machinery and her colleagues in the so-called Group of the Progressive Alliance lined up behind her to support her regressive, authoritarian proposals.
Her recent media appearances could easily be edited together to form a montage of discredited studies and misleadingly quotes statistics which have no basis in reality. She hasn't even been consistent in her use of misquoted or misunderstood figures. Some specific examples can be found in a Total Politics article I wrote with some colleagues.
Despite this, those opposing the proposals have engaged meaningfully in the debate by presenting evidence informed by research and experience. I wrote to every single MEP and received many thoughtful responses (and a particularly amusing one from a certain high profile UKIP MEP). The responses from Ms. Honeyball's Labour colleagues, however, ranged from the simple party-line, lobby fodder "I am in full support of Mary Honeyball" to the slightly more nuanced "I am in full support of Mary Honeyball because I am against trafficking" to which I was tempted to respond suggesting that she supports a proposal that is actually about trafficking rather than one which seems not to recognise that there is a distinction between consensual sex and coercion.
As a former Labour Party Parliamentary candidate and political adviser this was a sad day for me. I joined the Labour Party when I was sixteen to challenge legislation which discriminates against a particular group and to fight stigma, not entrench and legitimise it as Ms. Honeyball's proposals will.
Throughout this debate she has largely ignored the voices of her opponents and, in particular, the sex workers whose livelihoods and personal safety will be undermined if her proposals are enacted. Rather than engaging in any meaningful debate, as her opponents have done, she resorted to underhand politics and attempted to disqualify the voices of those who disagree with her by sending an e-mail to her MEP colleagues the day before the debate was due to take place, outrageously suggesting that the NGOs who are opposing her proposals "are comprised of pimps".
The NGOs she was referring to include the La Strada International, a major European network of anti-trafficking organisations, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW), many women's rights organisations like Planned Parenthood Federation Europe and HIV prevention organisations, like Aids Action Europe and the European Aids Treatment Group. If the lack of a legitimate argument leads someone to resort to tactics as undignified and unprofessional as libelling those who disagree with them it would normally be a clear sign that they had lost the debate. The fact that the proposals were successful is a tragic indictment of the way politics works. We should demand more from our representatives.
For a while I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I believed that she was so sure of her own beliefs that she was blind to the evidence and did actually believe that what she was advocating would help sex workers. After a recent appearance on Newsnight, Dr. Belinda Brooks-Gordon, a leading academic in this field, asked Ms. Honeyball why she wanted these women's lives to be more dangerous. Ms. Honeyball shrugged. Dr. Brooks-Gordon said that she felt at the time that the shrug meant that Ms. Honeyball didn't know, not that she didn't care. I'm not so sure. She wants to exclude sex workers from her sisterhood and has a moral objection to sex work which she is seeking to impose on others at any cost.
One of the reasons why I left politics was because of people like Mary Honeyball (who all too often thrive in political parties) who would resort to such underhand tactics to willfully defame reputable, well-established organisations who attempt to engage with her in a dignified and meaningful way. For these sorts of politicians the ends justify the means and, in this case, sex workers, activists and all the experts who criticised her proposals were getting in the way of her moral crusade. During my time working in politics I met many people that I admire but my colleagues in this field, those who Mary Honeyball described as pimps, are some of the most capable, dedicated and principled people I have ever known. She should be ashamed of herself for dragging this crucial debate down into the gutter by making outrageous, baseless accusations about the very people she should be listening to and engaging with.