‘Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden’ – Dr Jay Levy Discusses His New Book

Jay Levy

Can you tell me about your new book Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden?

My book deals with the outcomes of Sweden’s sex purchase law, a law that criminalises the purchase of sex and that has been hugely internationally influential. In the book, I present the results and analysis of fieldwork and research that I undertook in Sweden between 2008 and 2012.

My research was originally for the purposes of my PhD, and focussed on the outcomes of sex work and drug legislation in Sweden, concentrating on what the outcomes of Sweden’s sex work abolitionism and drug prohibitionism have been. The book focuses almost exclusively on the outcomes of Sweden’s sex work legislation, which I felt merited involved exploration, given that other states continue to advocate for the adoption of the ‘Swedish model’. Writing the book provided me with an opportunity to include more verbatim respondent quotations than I had been able to include in my other work to date, and to expand on many ideas and discussions that I hadn’t been able to include in other papers or my PhD.

In my book, I stress that Sweden’s international influence is not well-deserved, since the law has been demonstrably detrimental in terms of exacerbating the harms that can be associated with sex work, detrimentally impacting service provision and harm reduction, increasing stigma and social exclusion, and I also emphasise that the law has failed to reduce levels of sex work, which was the principal aim of the legislation. So, the law has failed to achieve its goal, and it’s been hugely damaging. This probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that criminalising legislation of this sort frequently exacerbates harms and social exclusion, pushing groups into clandestine space, but in spite of this, there are consistent attempts to export and import the Swedish model. I don’t only discuss this particular law, but also other laws that are used to directly target and destabilise the lives of sex workers in Sweden.

What led to your interest in studying the subject of sex work?

Much of my research has focussed on laws, policies, and discourses that socially exclude, stigmatise, and marginalise people, both contemporarily and historically. In my book, I note that “my interests and political perspective had, no doubt, come to shape my academic interests, with these circularly coming to inform my personal interests”. Many of the tools of silencing, controlling, and stigmatising groups are markedly similar, whether we are talking about issues of racism, LGBTQ people, sex workers, or people who use drugs, for example, which have all been research and advocacy foci of mine.

In terms of the focus on Sweden’s sex purchase law, I was particularly struck by the extent to which the law is internationally influential, but in a context where the law hadn’t been involvedly evaluated by the Swedish government and where much work produced on the topic seemed hugely biased, and didn’t include the voices of those to whom the legislation pertains, sex workers themselves, or other key stakeholders for that matter.

Can you share about the research involved and how you went about undertaking that?

I conducted pilot research in 2008, which involved a brief trip to Stockholm and a few interviews. This fed into my Master’s thesis at Cambridge. Following the pilot research, I moved back to Stockholm later in 2008 for several years. I also spent a bit of time in Malmö and Oslo to conduct fieldwork on the outcomes of the Swedish model in the south of Sweden, and the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Norway, respectively. My research methodologies primarily included participant observation and involved, semi-structured qualitative interviewing. I kept a field diary of my observations and notes on my participant observation, informal conversations and interviews, and formal recorded interviews took place throughout my research too. Interviews were pretty involved, and many lasted for several hours and I interviewed some respondents on several occasions. Respondents included sex workers, service providers, social workers, police, and policy makers and politicians, and interviews transcribed at over 400,000 words, so coding/analysing the interviews was hugely time consuming! Given the book’s foci and the importance of methodology, and the fact that I identify methodological faults and failings of some other research, I felt that transparency of my methods was very important. I therefore included an involved Methodology chapter in the book, though this would often be omitted or heavily abridged in a book such as this.

Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden by Jay LevyWhat was your process for writing the book, was every chapter planned in advance, and did you come across any difficulties in the writing process and if so, how did you overcome them?

My primary issue was probably in terms of how to structure the book. The book is structured around the interviews I conducted, and a significant proportion of the word count is verbatim respondent quotations. I really want to position respondents as active and not passive in my work, to allow the words of respondents to speak for themselves, and to respect respondents as experts on their own lives and experiences.

In order to make sure I didn’t miss any significant themes that had come up in interviews, I used what’s sometimes termed a ‘Grounded Theory’ method of categorising data: each interview was rearranged under core themes and headings, and new themes and headings emerged as I went through each interview. The creation of new themes/headings stopped when no new categories emerged from the interviews. This provided they key structure for the book, though there was a constant process of moving things around for the sake of flow of argument etc. Quotations are presented in such a way as to present numerous and contrasting respondent views and analyses on the topic in question.

The book begins with an overview of the legal debate and establishment of the law, followed by an exploration of how sex work has come to be constructed and understood in Sweden and in broader feminist discourse. I then move on to the outcomes of the law – and the understandings that justify it – on levels of sex work in Sweden, on service provision and sex workers’ experiences of service provision, and on the lives and experiences of sex workers, including experiences of the Swedish police. All this is preceded by an introduction that discusses Sweden’s history of eugenics, social engineering, and containment and control of various groups, and hopefully contextualises the rest of the book.

Could you describe the target audience for the book?

There are a few target audiences. I hope that the book will be a useful tool for sex worker rights organisations, and for policy makers and politicians who are interested in the outcomes of the Swedish model. It will also be of interest to academics and students in various fields including law, women’s and gender studies, human geography, sociology, and criminology.

What are your plans for the future?

As I mentioned, my work has also focussed on the impacts of drug prohibitionism and the harms that prohibition does to people who use drugs. Some of this research is discussed briefly in my book, which I think helps to contextualise broader issues surrounding social control, stigmatisation, harm reduction, service provision, HIV/AIDS policy and law, and so forth. However, the majority of my research on drug law and policy wasn’t included in the book. I would very much like to publish my research on Sweden’s drug legislation, laws that criminalise the very use of drugs and allow for compulsory treatment of people with drug dependencies; I’m now planning to devote more time to this.

Where can people buy the book?

It’s available on Routledge’s website here, as well as Amazon internationally (UK link & US link), Waterstones, Abebooks, and so forth.

Where can you be found online?

I can be contacted at: j.levy.03@cantab.net.

  • Dr Jay Levy’s video interview on the Swedish sex purchase ban can be watched here.
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The Swedish Model Criminalising The Purchase of Sex Is Dangerous: The European Parliament Should Have Rejected It

This article was first published on The Huffington Post – 27 February 2014
An extended version of this article can be read on Women News Network

Some 560 NGOs and civil society organisations along with 86 academics and researchers urged the European Parliament to reject the report promoting the criminalisation of the purchase of sex that was put forward by London MEP Mary Honeyball in a plenary session this week in Strasbourg. But although the European Parliament has voted in favour of the report, putting pressure on EU member states to re-evaluate their prostitution laws, they do not need to make the same mistake.

Not surprisingly, the experiment has failed. In the thirteen years since the law was enacted, the Swedish government has been unable to prove that the law has reduced the number of sex buyers or sellers or stopped trafficking. All it has to show for its efforts are a (contested) public support for the law and more danger for street-based sex workers. Despite this failure, the government has chosen to ignore the evidence and proclaim the law to be a success; it also continues to advocate that other countries should adopt a similar law. (“The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A Failed Experiment in Social Engineering”, Ann Jordan, Program on Human Trafficking and Forced Labor, Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law)

In sound bites, the Swedish Government has been spinning their sex purchase ban, known as the “Swedish model” or sometimes the “Nordic model” though it is not adopted by all Nordic countries, as a success. However, research does not show it has reduced sex trafficking or sex work. In addition, their own police report demonstrates it has pushed prostitution indoors with nearly three times as many Thai massage parlours in Stockholm and the vicinity:

In 2009, the National Bureau of Investigation estimated that there were about 90 Thai massage parlours in Stockholm and vicinity, most of which were judged to be offering sexual services for sale. At the turn of 2011/2012, the number of Thai massage parlours in the Stockholm area was estimated to be about 250 and throughout the country about 450. (The Swedish National Police Board, Situation Report 13 “Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes” for the year 2011)

Mary Honeyball, Labour’s Spokesperson on the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, who wrote the report recommending the Swedish sex purchase ban, said she wanted a model that reduced prostitution. She claims demand has halved in Sweden. However, this is untrue:

The law has been enforced almost entirely against clients of street-based sex workers but the government does not have any evidence of a decrease in sex buyers since the law went into effect. They do not know how many men were soliciting on the street before or after the law. They do not know if men moved from the streets to indoors and on line, or out of the country. They have not collected such data and so cannot prove any success in achieving the primary goal of the law. (“The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A Failed Experiment in Social Engineering”, Ann Jordan, Program on Human Trafficking and Forced Labor, Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law)

On Sunday 23 February, I met Mary Honeyball at the BBC1 debate on The Big Questions about whether it should be illegal to pay for sex. Clearly, by the inaccuracies she was stating, she is misinformed – and misinforming others – about the actual outcomes of the Swedish model.

There is very little evidence to suggest that any criminal laws related to sex work stop demand for sex or reduce the number of sex workers. Rather, all of them create an environment of fear and marginalisation for sex workers, who often have to work in remote and unsafe locations to avoid arrest of themselves or their clients. These laws can undermine sex workers’ ability to work together to identify potentially violent clients and their capacity to demand condom use of clients. (UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work)

As someone who had a traumatic experience of prostitution, mine is a standard narrative held up as an example of why the Swedish model is needed. But actually my traumatic experience in the sex trade, suffering being raped more than once and beaten once, every time while working alone, and ending up an intravenous heroin and crack addict, is a prime example of why decriminalisation is needed.

There is no drug harm reduction practised in Sweden because it is deemed to enable drug use. So as a former intravenous addict, I would probably have died from a blood-borne virus or perhaps lost a limb. Equally, there is no harm reduction for sex workers because access to free condoms is erroneously believed to encourage people to sell sex. So I would be at an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases if I was unable to afford my own condoms. These issues primarily affect women working on-street who are most often in poverty and many suffering with addiction. The sex purchase ban has put these women in more danger:

The approach of criminalising the client has been shown to backfire on sex workers. In Sweden, sex workers who were unable to work indoors were left on the street with the most dangerous clients and little choice but to accept them. Where sex work is criminalised, sex workers are very vulnerable to abuse and extortion by police, in detention facilities and elsewhere. (UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work)

The Swedish model has meant for sex workers who are mothers, they are at risk of losing custody of their children as by selling sex they are deemed unfit parents. This happened to Petite Jasmine and custody of her children was given to the father, a man known to be violent, who had threatened and stalked her. She was given no protection by the Swedish authorities. Then, in 2013, he murdered her.

The Swedish model is social cleansing, something Sweden has history of undertaking. It must not be done in this country or in any country.

Without the criminalisation of the purchase of sex the UK, and other countries, should work to establish comprehensive services to meet the needs of women, men, trans men and women, and nonbinary people seeking to leave the sex trade. There are 80,000 people in prostitution in the UK, most of whom are in poverty and 70% are single mothers. Huge investment from the government is needed and these complex services are going to take a long time to build. Additionally, these services will not work if they are forced.

For many women selling sex, they do not have other options, so we need to reform our benefits system and end poverty so no woman has to sell sex in order to pay her rent so her family are not made homeless, to ensure her children eat, or to heat her home. Criminalising her clients is not going to help her. It will only put her in greater danger.

The priority for police must be building trusting relationships with people in prostitution as it is in Merseyside, but this is impossible when clients are criminalised under the Swedish model. Merseyside has astonishingly high conviction rates for violent offenders targeting sex workers, which makes all of society safer. Their hate crime model, working closely with sex work projects that offer harm reduction services, has great results on assisting women leave the sex trade and ‘exiting’ is not the focus.

Women being able to work together in well-lit areas on-street and a small number of women being able to work from premises together should be decriminalised as research shows whether on-street or off-street, women are more at risk of rape and other violence when they are on their own and isolated. The two women who were recently murdered in London were working alone: Mariana Popa who was working on-street, and in an area where a police crackdown on street prostitution was being enforced, and Maria Duque-Tunjano who was working alone in a flat. Under decriminalisation they might still be alive because they would have been able to work with other women for safety.

Decriminalisation also means sex trafficking victims do not need to fear arrest and being charged. Jes Richardson, a sex trafficking survivor, was not able to turn to police for this reason, and it was a sex worker who helped her escape. She is another woman formerly in the sex trade who is advocating for decriminalisation. The Swedish model, according to the Swedish Police report, cannot demonstrate it has reduced sex trafficking:

According to the Swedish National Police Board it is difficult to estimate how many people may have fallen victim to human trafficking in Sweden during 2011. The number of victims discovered in Sweden depends largely on the resources which the police put into detecting this crime and on the skills that exists within the police organisation. The level of these initiatives varies between police authorities and differs from one year to another. Neither is it possible to identify (nor indeed to locate) all of the victims, mostly girls and women, who are mentioned in tapped telephone calls or observed during police surveillance.  (The Swedish National Police Board, Situation Report 13 “Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes” for the year 2011)

Sex workers are often well placed to identify and assist sex trafficking victims and essential in ensuring this and developing it further are good relationships between the police and sex workers.

I stand with 560 NGOs and civil society organisations and 86 academics and researchers who also object to the Swedish model and urge EU member states not to criminalise the purchase of sex when reassessing their prostitution laws.

Dr Jay Levy, who conducted research in Sweden over several years on the outcomes of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, met with me in London at the end of 2013 to discuss his findings.

Action Alert: Stop Attacks, Arrests & Evictions Against Sex Workers

Soho Safer Working Premises ClosuresFrom The English Collective of Prostitutes

Violence against sex workers is increasing. Tragically, two sex workers have been murdered in London in the past three months. At the same time, the police have stepped up raids, arrests and closures of premises where women are working in relative safety. This is despite senior police officers admitting that: “[police] operations to tackle the trade are “counterproductive” and likely to put the lives of women at risk.” 

Eighteen flats in Soho, Central London, have been closed. Most of the women who were evicted are mothers and have now lost their livelihood.

Women are appealing against eviction on 10, 17 and 24 February at Isleworth Crown Court. Please join us in demanding that these closures be stopped.

Please write urgently addressing your letters to:

MODEL LETTER at: http://prostitutescollective.net/2014/02/07/action-alert-stop-attacks-arrests-evictions-against-sex-workers

Background

Last December, 200 officers in riot gear with dogs raided sex workers’ flats in Soho. Some women were handcuffed and dragged out in their underwear in front of the media. Closure notices were issued against 18 flats and closure orders were then confirmed by a district judge in subsequent court cases.

In order to get a closure order, the police have to show that prostitution offences are being committed on the premises, namely “controlling for gain” and “causing and inciting prostitution”. Each court case followed a similar pattern. Women gave evidence that they were working independently and consensually and were not controlled. One woman explained: “Another sex worker told me about the address and that it was a good job . . . I decided to work as a prostitute . . . I wanted a better life and to support my two sons”.

Police claimed in court that women were controlled because they were “required to work certain days of the week, between certain times and charge a specified amount of money for each service”. No “controller” was named or identified.

District Judge Susan Williams found sex workers’ evidence “truthful”, admitted that “no evidence has been put before me of force and coercion” and acknowledged that a maid “is considered essential for safety”. But she rubber-stamped police claims that women were controlled and ruled that the “lure of gain and the hope of a better life” for women who were “desperate to earn some money” was “incitement”. She closed every flat that came before her. Why is women’s poverty and the determination to get out of it being used to justify the closure of safer premises?

Soho is one of the safest places for women to work as they have a maid or receptionist with them and the support of the local community. Of the two women recently murdered one was working on the street and one was working indoors, but alone. Most of the women who were evicted in Soho are mothers and grandmothers. Immigrant women were targeted by the police who took them away and held them for hours despite women protesting they were not trafficked.

Westminster Council backed the raids despite Cllr. Nickie Aiken’s claims that: “Our policy is that if a brothel is just providing a sex service, we just turn a blind eye because we think it is safer for the women and safer for the residents and other businesses around.” 

Met police commander Alison Newcomb initially briefed the press that the raids were “to close brothels where we have evidence of very serious crimes happening, including rape and human trafficking.” But in NONE of the closure order cases has there been any evidence of rape or trafficking. Newcomb later admitted that “no specific number of women were suspected of being trafficked.” Why are these closures going ahead?

The Met Police just got European Union funding to tackle trafficking – were the raids staged to justify this money and get more?

Local people are concerned that the closures are to make way for the gentrification of historic Soho. Actor Rupert Everett, who came to court and wrote about it in the Observer, described what he saw as “a land-grab, facilitated by the police.

Sex workers have been part of the Soho community for centuries. If they can be closed down without any evidence of force or coercion, any sex worker flat anywhere can be closed, in fact any flat – if a friend helps a sex worker design a website, that can be taken as evidence of control and the flat closed. Thirty seven premises were recently closed in Newham. Who will be safe then? How long before LBGTQ people or immigrants are targeted, or in fact anyone who doesn’t fit the ambitions of the land-grabbers?

If the police get away with this onslaught against those of us who have such strong and visible support, then attacks, arrests and evictions will escalate, especially against those of us who work on the street. One woman described the discrimination and degradation she faces at the hands of the police:

“The police wait outside my house to catch me when I leave. It doesn’t matter how I’m dressed, who I’m with, where I’m going, they say I’m loitering. When they stop me they jeer at me, and make jokes at my expense, often sexually explicit jokes. When they arrest me I’m strip searched and they sometimes leave the door open so the male officers can see in. All this is to humiliate me.”

In the name of safety, human and legal rights, and in the name of historic Soho

WE MUST STOP THESE CLOSURES!

Dr Jay Levy, Researcher and Consultant, discusses the outcomes of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Sweden

Ruth Jacobs

Dr Jay Levy conducted research in Sweden over several years on the outcomes of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex. His research and political interests include outcomes of sex work legislation and discourse; outcomes of drug legislation and discourse; feminist theory, gender theory, and queer theory; harm reduction, HIV/AIDS, STI, and blood-borne infection policy and law.

Some of his relevant work includes:

Levy, J., forthcoming, Criminalising the Purchase of Sex – Lessons of the Swedish Model (Routledge)

Levy, J., Swedish Abolitionism as Violence Against WomenSex Worker Open University (SWOU) Sex Worker’s Rights Festival, Glasgow , 6 April, 2013 (published online)

Levy, J., Impacts of Swedish Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex on Sex WorkersBritish Society of Criminology Annual Conference, Northumbria University, 3-6 July, 2011 (published online in English and French (translation))

“In the Booth with Ruth – Dr Jay Levy, Researcher and Consultant” Produced…

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Criminalising clients puts people working on-street in greater danger and forced ‘exiting’ does not work

Ruth Jacobs

Since reading of the murder of Mariana Popa, a 24-year-old Romanian woman working on-street in Ilford Lane in October 2013, I have thought about her often. Her death occurred just as police embarked on a hard line ‘cleaning up the streets’ approach to prostitution named Operation Clearlight.

I have recently investigated another such ‘cleaning up the streets’ campaign in Medway, Kent for BBC1. Their Safe Exit scheme was meant to help women exit the sex trade and was hailed a success. However, our investigation found that although Kent Police claimed to have reduced numbers of women working on-street in Medway by 90 or more, only one woman was actually helped and sadly she is no longer alive. Another woman was murdered, and other women who were working on-street are known to have died since the scheme started. In response to our Freedom of Information request, Kent Police was…

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BBC1 Inside Out – Documentary Investigating Policing of Prostitution in the South East – Monday 13 Jan, 7.30PM

Inside Out - Merseyside model 750A short documentary investigating the policing of prostitution in the South East will air on Monday 13 January at 7.30PM. It will compare this with the Merseyside hate crime model, which leads the country, ensuring people in the sex trade feel safe to report crimes committed against them and perpetrators are convicted.

As well as airing on BBC1 in the South East region, the documentary can be watched across the UK on BBC iPlayer and on Sky channel 963 and Freesat 959.

At 7AM on Monday morning I’ll be on BBC Radio Kent discussing the Merseyside model with Clare McDonnell and at 10AM I’ll be interviewed about my past in prostitution by Julia George.

A clip from the previous BBC1 North West documentary on the Merseyside model can be watched worldwide on BBC News here.

The BBC1 London Merseyside Model documentary can be viewed on iPlayer here.

For more information on the Merseyside model click here.

Please add your name to the Change.org petition calling for the Merseyside model to be made law UK wide.

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – 17th December

Every Sex Worker Deserves SafetyI wanted to write something for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers but I didn’t think I could as I’ve been in too much of a dark place these last few weeks with my own suffering from the repercussions of sexual violence. I wanted to go to London to stand in solidarity with sex workers and allies to mark this day, but for the same reasons, tonight, I couldn’t do that either. Then I felt selfish wrapped up with my own pain when tonight there will be women in the sex trade who will be raped, who will be beaten and some will be murdered. So I have to say this…

Violent men think they can beat, rape and murder women in the sex trade because they do not have the protection of the police and recourse to justice. Then there are some feminists who say all sex work is violence and rape. If this is so, how can anyone in the sex trade report violence or rape against them, if it is all the same? Let me tell you, because I have lived this, it is not. There is nothing remotely similar between clients who respected my boundaries and clients who raped me, or the client who beat me. This complete disparity must be recognised so the police do take notice and deal with the rape or violent attack we’ve suffered as they would any other victim. If our friend, sister, mother or daughter is murdered by a client, it was never part of their job!

Most people in the sex trade do not have other choices, many are in poverty, and for those who do have other choices and still choose to sell sex, every single person deserves the same respect from all of society and the same protection of the police and recourse to justice when they have been the victim of a crime and for that to happen, the Merseyside hate crime model must be made law UK wide.

The hate crime model is not just about classifying crimes against people in prostitution as hate crimes; it is so much more than that. There are relationships built between people in the sex trade and sex work projects, between people in the sex trade and the police, and the police work closely with the sex work projects. There is a dedicated Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) who supports the victim of crime from report to court. And for all this to work, the police prioritise protection of people in the sex trade over enforcement of the law. This means in Merseyside, people in prostitution are not viewed as ‘easy targets’ by criminals as they are throughout the rest of the UK.

And to prioritise protection over enforcement that means that when a woman, man or transgender person reports a crime committed against them, the police deal with that crime and treat that victim of crime as a victim and not a criminal, as is known to happen in the rest of the UK where the victim of crime is instead charged for something related to prostitution. So in Merseyside, the police do not charge them for working in premises with another woman for safety, which is classed as running a brothel, they do not charge them for soliciting if they were working on-street, they do not charge their university student twenty-year-old son or their elderly mother who lives with them for living off immoral earnings. They deal with the crime reported against them and treat them the same as any other victim of crime.

Knowing this is what has increased reporting of crime in Merseyside, is what brought about a 90% conviction rate of those who raped sex workers in Liverpool in 2009 and a 67% conviction rate for those who raped sex workers in Merseyside overall in 2010, is what has made all of society safer by taking off the streets more rapists, murderers and other violent criminals and what means there are fewer rapes, other violent crimes and murders.

What is operating in Merseyside is a discretionary decriminalisation of sorts. Decriminalisation is needed for the safety of people in the sex trade. It does absolutely not decriminalise sex trafficking. There are laws in place already that need to be upheld when a man pays to have sex with a sex trafficking victim, because that is rape every time. There are laws in place already that need to be upheld when a man pays to have sex with a child. This is child sex abuse. That money has changed hands does not make this anything other than child sex abuse and it needs to be treated as such. There also needs to be tougher sentences for trafficking in persons, which is already a crime.

To the people currently seeking to abolish prostitution, in a capitalist society what you are actually saying is abolish prostitutes because there is no money for exit routes; our UK government here is not going to invest in this if it even has the money. Most people in prostitution are in poverty. Shelter estimate there are 80,000 children who are homeless. If their mothers choose to, and it might be their only choice so there isn’t a real choice, but if they do, sell sex so they don’t end up homeless, or to take them out of the temporary accommodation homelessness has left them in and in which over half have witnessed disturbing incidents, we as a society need to make sure they are as safe as they possibly can be. We need to end poverty. That is what we should be seeking to end, not demand. This is the wrong fucking way round. And I can’t see why people cannot or will not see this.

As we’ve seen in Scotland when clients of women working on-street are criminalised, the women are left mostly with the more dangerous clients, murderers and rapists, and they have to see more clients for less money and they have to agree to sex acts they don’t want to do because of lack of clients. And you might argue that they do not have do this, but if their home is freezing because they have no money for gas, if their children have lived on porridge for a week and they want to buy them some meat, if they are about to lose their home because they are in rent arrears and the council won’t help them and this new bedroom tax has meant their benefits are no longer enough, and they would rather sell sex and have their home warm, their children fed, not end up homeless, then they need to be able to do that as safely as possible. And if the woman wants the money to save going into further debt while studying, or for drugs, or for any other reason, whatever the reason, she deserves the same safety, and not the judgement of people on their plastic moral high ground.

Some people seeking to abolish the sex trade want to criminalise clients in every country based on research of the Swedish model, research that does not stand up. It is a “failed experiment in social engineering” and Sweden has history here. They want this Swedish model, which regrettably I used to support because I did believe it was best for people in the sex trade, but it will cause more rapes and murders, deeper poverty and more homelessness, to operate globally. And even if the research did stack up, any sane person can see you cannot replicate something that relies on government investment for ‘exit routes’ from a wealthy country with a tiny population and a small number of people in the sex trade to the UK, which has an estimated 80,000 people in prostitution. And then use your common sense when you look further to India, for example, a poor country with a huge population and high number of people in the sex trade, where if there was this Swedish model, there will also be starvation and death for women in the sex trade and their children and grandchildren.

I do believe there needs to be in every country serious investment for real alternatives for women seeking to leave the sex trade. Personally, I do not believe these services should be forced, but optional, and non-judgemental and non-religious. But surely even those wanting to criminalise all clients can see these ‘exiting routes’ need to be in place first. Even if countries had the money and were willing to invest, these services and the volume required are not going to pop up overnight, or in a month, or even a year.

I am not the sex trade lobby and I am not pro-prostitution, but I am pro-every-person-in-prostitution, both sex workers and victims of sex trafficking. It is possible to care about both equally and it is possible to realise different laws are needed to protect both groups of people. And as someone who has sold sex, who knows that for her and for most of the women she knows who are out of that life that it is traumatic, even with that knowledge and the repercussions of trauma that I live with daily, as a mother I would still choose to sell sex to keep my home warm, to feed my children, to pay my rent arrears, if those were my circumstances. I am fortunate that right now, they are not, but perhaps because I am able to envisage that and imagine myself in other women’s shoes whether in the UK or India or anywhere else, I respect them for what they do to survive, which is the reality for most people in the sex trade. I am no different from those women just because I don’t sell sex any more, and I and them are no different from any other woman who has never sold sex.

No woman deserves to be raped or the victim of other violence or murder. It is never right to blame the clothes she was wearing, that she was drunk or on drugs, that she was out late at night, or that she was selling sex.

End Violence Against Sex Workers