The decision by the European Parliament to vote in favour of Mary Honeyball's paper is a very dark day for human rights and the rights of those of us often shunted to one side, sex workers. Throughout the whole "consultation process" Ms. Honeyball did not listen to the voices of sex workers, surely crucial to a law which will affect our lives so dramatically.
At first glance, it's hard to see how Ms. Honeyball could have reached the conclusions she did, flying in the face of such noted advocates of decriminalisation as the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and the World Health Organisation to name but two.
From the very beginning, Ms. Honeyball refused to recognise that she was conflating prostitution and trafficking, two very separate entities. She claimed that "80% of sex workers are trafficked", which is hugely erroneous and not helpful to any debate which must be based on hard evidence. The 80% figure comes from The Big Brothel report, which has been widely debunked by many academics, not least because the method of data collection was at best, haphazard. Telephoning various brothels to enquire as to the ethnicity of the ladies available is not proof of trafficking, and a distinction must be made between migrant sex workers and those who have been trafficked without their consent.
In a 2009 study, Dr. Nic Mai surveyed 100 migrant sex workers and found that only 6% felt they had been "tricked or coerced" into the industry, a far cry from 80%. He went on to say - : "The research evidence strongly suggests that current attempts to curb trafficking and exploitation by criminalising clients and closing down commercial sex establishments will not be effective because as a result the sex industry will be pushed further underground and people working in it will be further marginalised and vulnerable to exploitation. This would discourage both migrants and UK citizens working in the sex industry, as well as clients, from co-operating with the police and sex work support projects in the fight against actual cases of trafficking and exploitation." Amnesty International too, have recognised that sex workers' rights are human rights, saying that they "support the decriminalisation of prostitution on the basis that prohibition creates a criminal market that stigmatises and alienates sex workers".
But aside from the evidence as cited above (and there's lots more), Ms. Honeyball made the massive error of only listening to those who would agree with her, not real sex workers on the front line. As a sex worker with twenty years experience, I was told I am not representative of the industry. I responded by saying that I have worked in what can reasonably be described as a chicken coop right up to a five star suite, so to refer to me as being in some sort of ivory tower is wrong. It's also not helpful, when an expert on real sex work (as opposed to the academia behind it) offers an insight and is immediately dismissed. "We know better than you", is no basis for any law and what will result is the compromise of the safety of many sex workers. Our safety will be in danger until sex work is decriminalised and we can work together, that's fact.
Rather, Ms. Honeyball chose to listen to those who benefit from funding and book sales by their opposition to my choice to work in the sex industry, and it is a choice. The "survivors" used by abolitionists to strengthen their case can wheel out tale after tale of horror and destitution, if it pays them to do so. I'm not suggesting for one moment that some women don't have desperate backgrounds or circumstances which lead them into a job they despise, not at all. But they are the women who will suffer the most if the Swedish model is implemented. "We must legislate for the majority", declared Ms. Honeyball. That's the crux of this debate, I AM the majority. What a pity Honeyball wouldn't engage with me backstage in the aftermath of our Newsnight debate, I had so much more I needed to tell her - the truth.