This article was first published on The Huffington Post – 7 April 2014
With politicians’ infamy for ‘shifting the burden’, this was not the best title for an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report. Chosen to reflect their recommendation of shifting the burden of criminalisation from the seller of sex to the buyer, in practice this fails as badly as when politicians endeavour a cover up – like why was this group funded by a religious anti-gay charity!?
Just like our politicians here, even in the face of evidence, Sweden remains adamant not to admit their mistake. Their National Police Board reports nearly 3 times as many Thai massage parlours (which are known to operate as brothels) in Stockholm and vicinity from 2009-2011/12 (from 90 to 250) but still they claim their sex purchase ban is a success. By the way, for anyone who is not aware of this, the aim of the sex purchase ban is not to increase prostitution or to push it indoors; the aim is to end sex work and sex trafficking. There is no proof of any decrease in either. And worse, there is an increase in danger, most especially for women working on-street.
I won’t be shifting burden as has been done in this report, unfairly with the use of a couple of my quotes out of context, as well as Professor Phil Hubbard’s and the English Collective of Prostitutes’ (ECP), in addition to quotes being attributed to the ECP which were in fact said by an NHS Outreach Worker.
As I have stated previously, without the criminalisation of clients, the government here should still invest in exiting routes for people seeking to leave the sex trade. Investment for such services is recommended in this report. However, whether or not the government will invest remains to be seen and these services will only work if they are non-judgemental, non-religious and not enforced.
The APPG has taken on board my recommendation for the policing approach operating in Merseyside. However, I did say at the launch of the report last month that the Merseyside model relies on good relationships between the police and people in prostitution, and this is impossible under the Swedish model.
It is extremely disappointing the report suggests anti-social behaviour orders for women working on-street. Is it really anti-social when a woman is doing what she can to make sure her children eat, her house is warm, her rent is paid? Because that is the reality for most women in prostitution. Most of the 80,000 people in prostitution in the UK are in poverty, and 70% are single mothers.
The APPG seems to have no idea of the effect of criminalising clients when stating people selling sex will be decriminalised. By criminalising the buyer, the person selling sex becomes the protector of their potential clients. Those working on-street have to place themselves in more out of the way and dangerous areas so the buyer is not caught. And so he is not caught, she doesn’t have time to negotiate before getting into his car, check there’s no one else hiding in the back of the car, or by talking with him seeing if he is slurring his words indicating he might be drunk. There are many dangers to this. I have been driven to the middle of nowhere and raped and didn’t expect to get out alive, and in the UK where police crackdowns on street prostitution have been instigated they have resulted in murder.
At the time of providing my written evidence last year to the APPG, I was a supporter of the Swedish model as I did believe it was in the best interests of people in the sex trade. It seemed to make sense that women, men, trans men and women and non-binary people selling sex would be decriminalised and exiting routes would be invested in and established. Clients would be criminalised to ensure a reduction in demand for sexual services, and with statistics that I had read of 9 out of 10 people in prostitution wanting to leave the sex trade if they could, the model sounded like an ideal solution.
However, the “end demand” model has failed in Sweden, a wealthy country with a small population and a small number of people engaged in selling sex. If it cannot work there, it has no chance of working in the UK.
The decriminalisation of people selling sex is a misnomer as other laws are used against them: migrants face being deported and potentially returned to dangerous countries, landlords are forced to evict if they are informed a sex worker resides in their premises and mothers face losing custody of their children purely because by selling sex they are deemed unfit parents. These issues mean when a sex worker is the victim of crime, they cannot report to police.
By the time I gave my verbal evidence, I had begun to have doubts about the Swedish model. However, I was unaware of so many issues: that it has failed to achieve its aims of reducing sex trafficking and sex work and that it creates danger and increases stigma. But my fear at the time was that exiting routes would not magically appear overnight. With 80,000 people in prostitution in the UK, who are mostly in poverty and 70% of those single mothers, where would the money come from to invest in such services, which must be complex, as well as lifting them out of poverty? So although I did not recommend the criminalisation of clients, I did not know all the facts I do now, so my reason is not the reason I would have today nor did I have the conviction I do now to fight the Swedish model.
Without that knowledge, on the day of my verbal evidence I could not report the dangers let alone the failure of the Swedish model. Though I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak at the meeting launching the ‘Shifting the Burden’ report last month where I covered nearly every point from my article condemning the European Parliament’s vote in favour of Mary Honeyball’s report recommending the criminalisation of the purchase of sex.
I believe the Swedish model is social cleansing of the poorest and most vulnerable women. This is something Sweden has a history of undertaking – forced sterilisations were taking place up until quite recently.
Women in the sex trade who are injecting drug users are the worst hit by their sex purchase ban. No harm reduction (condoms, lubrication etc.) for sex workers or drug users (needle exchanges) is provided in Sweden as it is erroneously believed to encourage sex work and drug use. That was me, an intravenous drug user who sold sex, and I am the same person I was back then and I am the same as other women selling sex and shooting up their drugs, and I will fight for those women. They matter to me, and they should matter to every person who cares about human rights and every person who claims they want to end violence against women. And if you don’t care about the women in the sex trade like me who shoot up drugs, if you care at all about human rights and are against violence against women, then you should be against the Swedish model, which is violence against women.