Number crunch

Nicki Smith


So, to quote Kath Browne, I’ve sold my queer soul and gone statistical. With Sarah Kingston from Lancaster Uni, I’ve compiled a report on key statistics on the UK sex industry. This report consists of a whole ton of numbers, and – yes – they are presented as ‘facts’. 

“Why in the blazes are you doing this??” I hear myself cry. Such numbers are the devil’s work! Or, worse, they do the work of neoliberal capitalism for it. To reduce actual people to numbers is exactly what Foucault warned us about! (And he was right).

But, like it or not, numbers frame sex work debates. Whole regimes are created – and lives impacted upon – off the back of numbers. And many of those numbers are simply made up. Debates about sex work continue to feed on dodgy numbers, while I noisily seethe about the stupidity & violence of ‘the’ stats. And then I thought: numbers are powerful beasts, and it’s no good just shutting the curtains while they rage outside. The absence of counter-numbers is actually a presence – it’s a space that just gets filled with other numbers. So, Sarah and I – we’ve decided to fight numbers with numbers.

We’re doing this as a counter-discourse – the numbers are tiny narratives that we’re trying to put out there, in the hope that some might wiggle through the gaps, like little worms, and sit there growing fatter. It’s a risk: we don’t know quite what they’ll grow into. But we thought that it was at least worth a try.

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