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Nobody screws more prostitutes than the government

January 17th, 2006

Dr Petra

Years ago, when I was studying for my PhD, I had a poster on my wall. It said ‘nobody screws more prostitutes than the government’ and was a criticism of how sex workers are largely excluded from legal and policy decisions that affect their lives.

When my head of department wanted me to remove it (“it’s just not fitting for an academic department dear”) I hung onto it all the more dearly.

I don’t remember what happened to that poster but today I really wished I had it to hang on my wall.

The Home Office (HO), after a lengthy wait, has revealed it’s new plans for tackling prostitution.

Cue predictable media images of women in mini-skirts walking darkened, rain-swept streets or bending over and propositioning unseen punters in cars.

Also cue a confusing range of responses. Some papers welcoming ‘mini-brothels’ which the HO proposes will help prostitutes work more safely. Others have interpreted this as the UK disgracefully legalising brothels. But none of them appeared to answer the one crucial question – why was this report released today?

The HO finished their consultation in November 2004. Even with time required for compiling consultation information that’s a considerable delay in reporting back. The media was in such a rush to report the new findings (particularly the mini-brothels) that it didn’t question why these findings were released now. Could it be anything to do with deflecting attention from the current government crisis over sex offenders in schools?

We should also question why many of those who work with prostitutes either weren’t told about this report’s release, or were only given a couple of days notice – leaving them inadequate time to respond to it.

The report is based on several misleading ideas about prostitution:
- the majority of prostitutes are adult females who work on street
- nobody chooses to sell sex, or willingly engages in prostitution
- all clients seek to harm prostitutes
- clamping down on kerb crawlers will remove or prevent prostitution

Which allowed the media to further stereotype sex workers as all being drug addicted, dirty women from dysfunctional families. And to gratuitously discuss ‘why men go to prostitutes’.

Whilst I welcome any efforts to protect the welfare of children, deal with trafficking, and offer help to those affected by drug or substance abuse (which this report takes pains to stress it will do), I don’t believe this report has fully considered the needs of adult sex workers – and feel many of the recommendations could put sex workers at greater risk.

I particularly feel that sex workers haven’t been adequately consulted or fairly reported within the HO exercise.

The report recommends school education to inform young people about the dangers of prostitution, yet we have no mandatory school sex education at this time. Perhaps if we did, the curriculum could also cover issues of confidence, negotiating skills and self-esteem to enable young people to say ‘no’ to any sex they felt coerced into – and a safe space to ask for help if they were being encouraged toward prostitution.

It also doesn’t seem to acknowledge the more we criminalize prostitution, the more prostitutes will be a target for abuse from those in their community. And the more difficult it will be for those involved in prostitution to get any healthcare, emotional or social support they may need.

The recommendations focus on clamping down on sex work, without offering real alternatives to poverty and associated problems that lead people to be coerced into or kept in prostitution.

I’m still working my way through the final report and media coverage. Whilst I’m pleased that young people are being thought of, I’m disappointed that once again sex workers feel their voices haven’t fully been heard.

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