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      Ban Sex Work? Fuck Off, White Feminism

      August 10, 2015
      From the column 'Paris Lees'

      Image by Sam Taylor

      Did I tell you about that time your dad bent me over and gave me the big daddy D? I was basically a big prostitute back in the day and entertained various strangers for coin, including your pop. Yes, it's one of those articles. It's time to talk about sex work, with me, your favourite media whore. I feel duty bound to break my self-imposed silence – I'm on holiday, fuckers – to speak out on a subject that, like so many important issues in the media, has been discussed almost exclusively by a privileged few who are neither affected by nor particularly informed about their current excuse to grandstand. The loudest voices I have seen in the latest sex work debate bring zero first-hand experience to the table. Yeah, I see you, White Feminists.

      I am both white and a feminist. But I am not what you would call a White Feminist, capital letters, for I am also trans. White Feminism is a special club but membership doesn't rest solely on race. White Feminism is about privilege. Ladies who lunch and feel hard done by because a man held the door open for them on their way in to the Four Seasons. White Feminism is many things but it is not inclusive, or, in fancy feminist lingo, "intersectional". The voices of the "wrong sort" of women – black women, trans women, sex workers and so on – get drowned out, just as "bad" women have been silenced and shamed by privileged women, men and society in general since time immemorial. White Feminists have the biggest media platforms and are able to do this. They can launch patronising campaigns to save "fallen women" who cannot possibly be expected to make choices for themselves or, if they do, to understand the implications of those choices like the clever, educated ladies of White Feminism do. White Feminism always knows best. It is paternal and judgmental and, in many cases, indistinguishable from the partriarchal dictatorship it ostensibly seeks to dismantle. I am just saying.

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      Take the open letter to Amnesty International, signed by Lena Dunham, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson last week. It attacks the human rights organisation for "the outrageous act of speaking to people who sell sex, listening to what we say and then drafting its draft policy on sex work to reflect the evidence," as sex worker Molly Smith put it in the Guardian. Here's Amnesty bigwig Thomas Schultz-Jagow on the same subject:

      "The draft policy draws upon extensive evidence, including testimony from sex workers and research from agencies like Unaids, the United Nations AIDS-fighting agency, and the World Health Organization, and positions from UN Women and other human rights groups.

      "We must remain focused on the evidence and what it says about the best way to protect the rights of sex workers, one of the world's most marginalised groups."

      Evidence, evidence, evidence! What does all this annoying evidence reveal? That the "Swedish Model" – criminalising clients, not sex workers – doesn't make anyone safer. In fact, in Norway, Amnesty found that sex workers were regularly made homeless by the police, and, as a result, were reluctant to report crimes such as rape. What sort of "feminist" solution leaves women afraid to report rape? What the fuck, White Feminism?!


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      I wonder what White Feminists will make of a report, published last week by the Institute of Economic Affairs, that suggests prostitution may "help to reduce sexual crime rates". Dr Catherine Hakim, who authored the report, says prostitution laws are outdated and there are too few studies to conclude that the sex industry damages women: "The very concept of prostitution is no longer workable in today's world of fluid sexual markets, where anyone can meet anyone on whatever terms they choose. Decriminalisation is the only workable way forward." But what the hell does she know? She's only a bloody sociologist, not an actress or anything!

      I understand why women like Lena Dunham may take an instant dislike to prostitution. I had a lot of fun during my working girl days, but, in an ideal world, of course sex would be conducted within loving relationships. Or mutually thrilling Happn hookups. And men wouldn't want to stick their penises inside women and other men who were only really letting them do it for the money. But we don't live in an ideal world. We live in the real world, where laws, blogs and raised eyebrows aren't going to put an end to the oldest profession going. Or, as Dr Hakim puts it, "The commercial sex industry is impervious to prohibitions and cannot be eliminated." Criminalising people within the sex industry, the report notes, just pushes the whole thing underground. It would be better to focus on making the business safe.

      I suspect the reason White Feminists want to ban sex work is based less on firm, informed conviction that it will protect sex workers (who they can't even be bothered to listen to) and more on some visceral objection to the fact that prostitution exists at all. I expect Lena Dunham and co would love to think that there wasn't a healthy market for dreary, everyday prostitution and that it is all pimps and coercion and human trafficking, but it is not. In the UK alone, the sex industry is estimated to be worth £4 billion. White Feminists will know men who have paid for sex. Maybe their fathers, brothers, husbands, sons or friends and colleagues. The men who used to pay me for sex were, on the whole, just "normal people". Like me. Kinda. Like I say, I've probably fucked your dad. I'm not proud of that but, like the existence of sex work itself, it's an ugly truth we just have to confront.

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      I've said it before and I'll say it again: sex work is not the same thing as trafficking. In the same way that sex is not rape and being a cleaner is not the same as being a slave. It's about consent. I consented to have sex for money. No one forced me to. It was a choice. Maybe I'd have made a better choice if better choices had been out there for me but it is what it is. Criminalising sex work is particularly cruel at a time when many people are resorting to food banks to feed their children, even in the West, even people who have jobs. And in the majority of countries around the world, stigma and discrimination mean that queer and trans people can find it impossible to find regular employment.

      If you think sex workers should be doing something better, build something better for them rather than taking away what little they have – and reducing their choices even further. As Molly Smith points out, "the reality of criminalising those who pay for our services is that sex workers are left with fewer clients, including men who we might otherwise have felt able to turn away – those who seem drunk, aggressive or who have a reputation for violence". I suspect the increased competition would push prices down too, forcing working boys and girls to do even more sex work. Beggars can't be choosers and neither can prostitutes if you make the game that much harder for them.

      Why else might White Feminists be against making sex work legal? As Molly Crabapple tweeted, "many fancy white ladies oppose sex work decriminalization because they think of cops as benign problem solvers not perpetrators of violence". Her blog expands on this: "Whether we're speaking of the Bronx or of Cambodia, police enact violence on sex workers and trafficking victims alike. They rape, steal from, beat, extort, and arrest both sex workers and trafficking victims. Decriminalization is an important step to stopping this."

      Few sex workers enjoy media platforms and waiting for the media to seek out sex workers' voices when discussing sex workers lives is like waiting for an aged John to cum, dress and fuck off home. Sex workers need a voice. There are a handful of current and former sex workers in the public eye – Brooke Magnanti, Stoya and the Molly Smith for starters – but we're a teensy minority. The people this legislation affects most are women from poor backgrounds, women of colour, transgender women or indeed transgender women of colour from poor backgrounds. Women who didn't attend lovely posh universities like Emma Thompson and women who didn't sign that lovely posh letter. Let's hope Amnesty International remains focused on the evidence, then, and ignores the ignorant wails of fancy White Feminism.

      @ParisLees

      Topics: Paris Lees, sex work, prostitution, column, law, UK, United Kingdom, White Feminism

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