Today marks the first anniversary of Ireland’s Sex Buyer’s Law - the Act that makes criminals of those who control and use prostituted women.
Changing the legislation required a hard-fought battle led by survivors of the sex trade, against an organised and vocal industry. Ireland’s law is now the inverse of current UK law, which criminalises the women who sell sex, rather than those who purchase it.
I find it extraordinary that the purchase of a woman’s body for sex is legal in the UK.
A place where women have been disproportionately hurt by savage cuts to public services and welfare, struggle to access work against the most expensive childcare in the world, where one in four experience domestic violence and coercive control - in sum, make up two-thirds of the UK’s poorest amid growing violence against them - and then are told that it would not be fair to curtail their ‘choice’ to rent themselves out for money, should they wish.
Where attempts to frame the prostitution of women as violence against them are greeted with accusations of prudishness and control.
Where those same women are shunned while their punters walk the streets unnoticed.
Where no-one has yet provided an answer to why Telford, Rochdale, Oxford and other massive cases of organised sexual abuse of vulnerable girls keep happening; but men’s right to access the inside of a woman for orgasm whenever they wish is never questioned.
Also this week, the National Crime Agency reported the highest number of victims of slavery and trafficking since it started collecting data, with a third of those cases relating to sexual exploitation. Across Europe, demand for women and children’s bodies is on a larger scale now than it ever has been.
We must start joining the dots and tackling the root cause of sexual exploitation: Demand.
As Mia de Faoite, a survivor of prostitution, says, placing the criminal burden on the men who buy sex is a forceful deterrent because it makes clear beyond all doubt who is responsible for this gross violation of human rights.
She told me: “It is a sad day for humanity if prostitution is seen as an acceptable answer to female poverty. Ireland decided it was time to make the buyers who willingly sustain this cruel system accountable and responsible for their actions. It has formally removed the female body from the market and now social change for the greater good is not just a possibility - it is inevitable.”
Criminalising buyers saves women’s lives. According to Home Office research, 50 percent of women in prostitution in the UK started being paid for sex acts before they were 18 years old. More than half of women involved in street prostitution in the UK have been raped or sexually assaulted - the vast majority of those assaults committed by sex buyers. Women in prostitution are 12 times more likely to die than women in the same age groups in the general population. Lifting the fear of prosecution helps women to come forward to access justice and the support and services that can help them exit prostitution.
The last year has seen an extraordinary uprising among women tired of being abused, harassed and discriminated against. Women are taking to the streets and to social media in their millions to demand their equality. In a time when we are challenging that culture for women in every workplace, we should not abandon the most marginalised women to be bought and abused by men.
I am proud to lead the only party in the UK that has as core policy the intent to introduce a Sex Buyer’s Law to end demand for women’s bodies - and the trafficking and slavery that grows every year in order to meet that demand.
Accepting the prostitution of women, under any conditions, contributes to a culture of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies for sexual gratification and power. It allows the message to continue that there are categories of women for different purposes. Those categories limit all women’s lives. It’s time for all women to be free. It’s time to change the law. Join us.
Sophie Walker is leader of the Women’s Equality Party