In the Booth with Ruth – Tara Burns, Survivor of Labor Trafficking in the Sex Industry, Sex Worker and Sex Workers’ Rights Activist

Tara Burns, a sex trafficking survivor, sex worker and sex workers’ rights activist, discusses the advantages of the sex workers’ rights and anti-sex trafficking movements working together.

Ruth Jacobs

Tara Burns

Could you share how you became involved in the sex workers’ rights movement and why it’s so important to you?

There are so many moments that have added up to my becoming an activist. When I was sixteen a District Attorney declined to prosecute my father for abusing me and pimping me out because she thought a jury would not believe a teenage prostitute, even in the face of physical evidence. When I was an eighteen year old stripper I was raped and the police made fun of my dress and threatened to arrest me for making a false report. A decade ago when the Internet seemed young I discovered blogging, and sex worker bloggers like Audacia Ray helped me think critically about sex work and my life for the first time. In 2009 Carol Leigh explained the sex trafficking laws to me and I realized that a lot of…

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Northern Ireland’s Criminalisation of Buying Sex Puts Sex Workers at Risk

Sex workers and allies protest at Stormont. Photo: Matthias Lehmann/Matt Lemon Photography

Sex workers and allies protest at Stormont 
Photo: Matthias Lehmann/Matt Lemon Photography

This article was first published on The Huffington Post – 22 October 2014

On Monday, Lord Morrow’s ‘Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill’ passed the final vote by the Northern Ireland Assembly. An amendment tabled by Sinn Fein to have the law evaluated in three years is simply not enough: sex workers needed Northern Ireland to wake up to the danger of criminalising the purchase of sex now, not in the future.

Lord Morrow claims Clause 6 of his Bill, which criminalises paying for sexual services, will reduce sex trafficking. In Sweden, however, where the purchase of sex has been criminalised since 1999, this has not proven to be the case. In fact, in a Swedish police report that states the extent of trafficking cannot be measured, an increase in indoor prostitution is indicated by the number of Thai massage parlours, known to operate as brothels, in Stockholm and the surrounding area rising from 90 to 250 between 2009 to 2011/12.

Author of the book Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden, Dr Jay Levy, who conducted fieldwork in Sweden over several years on the outcomes of the so-called ‘Swedish model’ says, “There is absolutely no empirical evidence that overall levels of sex work or trafficking have decreased following the introduction of the law in 1999; instead, sex work has simply been displaced off-street.”

Sex trafficking has been used as a smokescreen in a moral crusade to end prostitution. Justice Minister David Ford does not believe criminalising the purchase of sex will reduce trafficking. He believes criminalising the purchase of sex will endanger sex workers. Research conducted by Queen’s University found 61% of the sex workers they surveyed in Northern Ireland believed criminalising clients would make sex workers less safe, and 85% did not believe that it would reduce trafficking. Indeed, UNAIDS has found that criminal laws related to sex work increase danger for sex workers.

“Trafficking is an evil, hateful scourge, let’s get that straight. But the study from Queen’s University showed that most sex workers in Northern Ireland are there by their own free will,” Kate, a Northern Ireland based escort, told me. “So surely they have the same rights as any other workers, to support themselves, and members of their families in many cases, and to work without fear. This law takes that right away. It’s already difficult to go to the police and if clients are criminalised, it would be impossible.”

In 2011, the Northern Ireland Department of Justice (DOJ) held a conference on women involved in prostitution to share information and best practice and identify potential actions, building on their research paper published earlier that year, which investigated the issues faced by women in the sex trade. After the findings were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it was discovered that of the 45 delegates invited to that conference on women involved in prostitution, not one was a woman involved in prostitution.

As well as missing key delegates, the conference also missed key points from their agenda, which included dealing with the high rate of crimes committed against women in prostitution and the lack of reporting of such crimes to the police. Had safety – not ideology – been their priority, perhaps the Merseyside hate crime model would have been passed at Stormont this week. Merseyside leads the UK on conviction rates for crimes committed against sex workers. Their joined-up approach of the police working with sex work projects that offer outreach, harm reduction and help exiting the sex trade has also led to the number of women working on-street in Merseyside being reduced by half.

While the police change their focus from enforcement to protection, it has been shown in Merseyside that the trusting relationships developed during outreach lead to exiting. Worryingly though, the documents from the DOJ conference revealed there was perceived risk around providing outreach services, which are essential and lifesaving.

Due to their similar stance on prostitution, there is a lack of outreach and harm reduction provided to sex workers in Sweden. “[Sex work] has been increasingly stigmatised, following through into discrimination from service providers, healthcare providers, and the police. There is additionally considerable opposition to sex worker-targeted harm reduction in Sweden, which is felt to encourage and facilitate sex work and therefore to undermine Sweden’s aims of reducing levels of prostitution,” Dr Levy says. “The legislation has been hugely detrimental in terms of the health, safety, and wellbeing of sex workers. It is very disconcerting that yet another state is pushing to criminalise the purchase of sex.”

Decriminalisation of sex work is the legislation supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, UN Women, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, the WHO and Human Rights Watch among other organisations. This legislation ensures sex workers’ rights. Increasing safety should be paramount, so that sex workers can work together from premises, as research shows they are most vulnerable to rape and other violence when working alone.

Justice Minister David Ford believes prostitution and human trafficking should be dealt with as separate issues. Clause 6 of Lord Morrow’s Bill is meant to abolish sex trafficking, but there is no evidence to suggest this will happen. The result will be that both sex trafficking victims and sex workers will suffer. In their effort to make it more difficult for men to procure sexual services, they will make it more difficult for support services and police to engage with women involved in sex work and also to identify and assist victims of sex trafficking. The Queen’s University research found the vast majority of clients would not be deterred by the law from purchasing sexual services. Where buying sex is already illegal in Sweden, sex workers based off-street report there is no reduction in the number of clients.

“This will make life so much less safe for anyone involved in sex work, and will divert resources from vulnerable people,” says Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, sex work law expert and Reader in Psychology and Social Policy at Birkbeck, University of London. “Stormont should be ashamed of itself because there is enough good evidence around to show the failed Swedish experiment for the dangerous sham that it is.”

Supporters of Lord Morrow’s Bill eliminated from their agenda the safety of the very women they claim are vulnerable. They attempted to defame those who do not back the criminalisation of the purchase of sex as supporters of sex trafficking in order to undermine their arguments. They should have properly examined the available evidence and consulted with those to whom the legislation applies: sex workers themselves.

In the Booth with Ruth – Jemima, Sex Worker, Writer and Student

Jemima, a sex worker, discusses the advantages of the sex workers’ rights and anti-sex trafficking movements working together.

Ruth Jacobs

Jemima Red Parasols line El Tiradito at SWOP-Tucson’s 2013 International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Event
Photo Credit: C. Elliott

Could you share how you became involved in the sex worker rights movement and why it’s so important to you?

It honestly was Twitter for me. I was a sex worker, but like most isolated by the nature of the work. Whilst I knew the law as it applied to me I was unaware there were people campaigning to change the laws, or that other countries had different systems, many of which were a lot worse than the UK. I started talking to and reading other sex workers writings, and attended a few events. Realising that I was not alone was such a huge moment for me.

The isolation of sex workers, and the way it feeds into our various oppressions, increases stigma, makes it less likely for crimes…

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Collateral Damage: Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns at Kampnagel, Hamburg

Ruth Jacobs

Guest post by Carol Leigh
http://vimeo.com/98282879

Trailer from Collateral Damage:
Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns

This work is dedicated in Loving Memory to Andrew Hunter, who held my (virtual) hand through this process, encouraged me and provided an abundance of information and material.

FANTASIES THAT MATTER. IMAGES OF SEXWORK IN MEDIA AND ART

a conference in conjunction with Kampnagel International Summer Festival, Hamburg, in collaboration with Missy Magazine

“Beyond the moral and political questions of how to handle sex work, it has also become very clear that the debate is dominated by projections, fantasies and myths.”

Whore Images: Bleeding Hearts and Critical Thinking[1]

by Carol Leigh

I am honored to screen Collateral Damage: Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns at Kampnagel’s sex work issues conference “FANTASIES THAT MATTER. IMAGES OF SEXWORK IN MEDIA AND ART.” The images of trafficking play a particularly crucial role in this crusade. The images

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The Sex Trade: Lies, the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ and Other Silencing Tactics

Silence by Alberto Ortiz, Flickr

Photo credit: Alberto Ortiz, Flickr

This article was first published on The Huffington Post – 2 June 2014

Most people are voiceless because no one is letting them talk or listening to them when they do. There is a lot to be said for quitting being the voice of the voiceless and letting people speak for themselves. But not by those seeking to abolish the sex trade. Words are put into people’s mouths when they can be, and when they can’t, those people are silenced and dismissed.

Amnesty International UK has not accepted such tactics, instead listening to people in the sex industry and voting for decriminalising the consensual sale of sex between adults and rejecting the “end demand” Swedish model at their recent AGM. But in the European Parliament, these underhand tactics, which influenced voting earlier this year, have yet to be condemned.

These are 5 places where lies and silencing tactics need to stop:

1. Fundraising – dishonest activists and making children lie

At the end of May, Somaly Mam, a celebrity anti-sex trafficking activist and fundraiser, resigned from her foundation, following the uncovering of lies in her own story of being sex trafficked and the discovery that she forced children to lie about being sex trafficking victims to raise funds. From the 1990s, young girls including Long Pros and Meas Ratha were made by Mam to tell harrowing stories of being sex trafficked in television interviews. Worryingly, this incident of children being forced to lie to raise funds for an NGO is not an isolated case.

2. UK & European Parliaments – bias and libel

In March, the biased All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade – funded by anti-gay charity CARE – released their biased report attributing quotes to the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) that were in fact said by an NHS Outreach Project Worker and using some of the ECP’s, Professor Phil Hubbard’s and my quotes out of context. The report recommends the “end demand” Swedish model, which does not work to end demand, but does increase danger and stigma.

In February, before the European Parliament voted on MEP Mary Honeyball’s report recommending the Swedish model, Ms Honeyball sent an email to MEPs libelling the 560 NGOs opposing her report as being “comprised of pimps”. The NGOs included anti-human trafficking, women’s rights, HIV/AIDS and human rights organisations, as well as sex worker led organisations – the people she was silencing claiming to care for. A counter-report demonstrating the severe lack of evidence in Ms Honeyball’s report was also signed by 94 academics. The Swedish law does not work and is dangerous. Sex workers deserve a law that ensures their human rights as do sex trafficking victims, not a law that fails them. Mary Honeyball’s defamation of 560 NGOs should make the result of the vote void.

3. Campaigning – ignored and spoken for

The European Women’s Lobby, Equality Now and other groups seeking to “end demand” ignore the danger the Swedish model creates. They selectively choose people formerly in the sex trade who support their approach while dismissing the concerns voiced by sex workers and their call for decriminalisation, which is echoed by the World Health Organization, UN Women, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and Human Rights Watch among other organisations.

Lori Adorable, a sex worker who I recently interviewed on sex workers’ rights and how negative experiences of the sex trade, like mine, are often used by those seeking to abolish prostitution to argue for the Swedish model, recommends “people explore the websites of the organizations who are members of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects.” Regularly, these people are spoken for “but these women are speaking for themselves, and they’re asking for decriminalisation.”

4. Television – being “unrepresentative” and spoken over

Women currently and formerly in prostitution are used in a tokenising way by anti-prostitution feminists and religious fundamentalists pushing for the Swedish law that will result in dire consequences on lives they cannot even imagine living. When we do not satisfy the requirements of their mouthpiece, we are discounted, shut up and shut down.

Laura Lee, whose experience of sex work is positive and very different to my own, is discounted and told she is not representative on BBC Newsnight.

On BBC1 The Big Questions, I am spoken over by a woman claiming to care for women like me, who have had a traumatic experience in prostitution. Though earlier in the programme, she says I make prostitution sound “warm and cuddly”. For those who know me, they will know how ludicrous this is.


5. Social media – the pimp lobby, dismissing and co-option

Current and former sex workers who disagree with the “end demand” agenda are told they are not representative, they are pimps, they are shills of the sex trade lobby, they are suffering from false-consciousness, and some have received threats of rape and death.

I am accused of being the “Pro-Prostitution-Lobby’s humane face” who “peddles” misinformation and fights “dirty”…by a former friend. And I am “probably very unhappy”, but then she would know through the hours we spent talking on the phone (which, due to being in different countries, cost me hundreds of pounds I do not have currently).

Pimp Lobby Accusations

Note: Sex workers’ rights activists are against sex trafficking, and some of us actively engage in anti-human trafficking activism in addition to sex workers’ rights activism. These are both human rights issues affecting people in the same industry. Caring about both groups of people is probably the most natural for people who really do care about those in the sex industry and not involved in activism with moral, religious or anti-prostitution feminist agendas to push a dangerous ideology.

I need a laugh not to cry after that.

“Before I spoke English and could use Twitter I was representative of some young Indian sex workers,” writes Molli Desi, a London based sex worker. “[N]ow I have broken through that technological and cultural glass ceiling I am no longer representative and I can be ignored.” She rightly states that this is “a disingenuous argument and disqualifies our attempts to participate. It also allows for the unheard voices of my still “representative” friends to be appropriated and spoken for by others.”

It is easier to use a woman in the sex trade when she is not present to speak for herself. A vulnerable woman who is homeless and suffering from addiction was used by an anti-prostitution feminist to argue for the Swedish model, which she opposes as does the photographer, Chris Arnade, who took her picture.

Women, men, trans men and women, and nonbinary people in the sex trade are not only and not always someone’s daughter, son, sister, brother, mother or father, but they are always people deserving of their right to be listened to and truly heard.

In the Booth with Ruth – Pye Jakobsson, Sex Workers’ Rights Activist from Sweden

Pye Jakobsson, a dedicated activist fighting for the human rights of marginalised groups, discusses the advantages of the sex workers’ rights and anti-sex trafficking movements working together.

Ruth Jacobs

Pye Jakobsson - Sex Workers' Rights Activist

Pye Jakobsson is a former sex worker, presently taking a break from sex work while working in HIV-prevention. Her current roles include Project Manager at Hiv-Sverige/HIV-Sweden, Co-Founder and Coordinator at Rose Alliance, an NGO by and for current and former sex and erotic workers in Sweden, and President of The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), which advocates for rights based health and social services, freedom from abuse and discrimination, and self determination for sex workers.

Could you share how you became involved in the sex workers’ rights movement and why it’s so important to you?

I actually started out in the HIV-rights movement in Portugal in the ’80s. When I moved back to Sweden in 1994 I was quite shocked at the judgmental and infantilizing attitudes there was against sex workers and just started doing activism on my own. I was quite naïve I guess as it was sort of…

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In the Booth with Ruth – Meg Munoz, Former Sex Worker, Trafficking Survivor, Ally and Rights Advocate

Former sex worker, trafficking survivor, ally and rights advocate, Meg Munoz, discusses the advantages of the sex worker rights and anti-human trafficking movements working together and why she advocates for decriminalisation.

Ruth Jacobs

Meg Munoz

How did you become involved in the movement against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation?

Following my time in the industry, connecting with the sex worker rights and anti-trafficking movements was just natural. I started escorting at 18, but due to drug and alcohol issues, I took a break after about 2 years. A few years later, I found myself suddenly supporting myself and going to school so I went back. The reality is, I liked what I did. I loved the economic independence and personal freedom I felt. I had nice clients and good money rolling in, but based on social stigma, a lack of real support, and my family upbringing, I felt like hiding everything was my only choice.

About 2 years back into the industry, I had a close friend turn on me. He blackmailed me, threatened me, and literally terrorized me for the next 3 years while…

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