The following is a letter to the editor of the Guardian in response to an article published on 21 February entitled ‘Criminalise the sex buyers, not the prostitutes‘ by Catherine Bennett.
We were appalled by Catherine Bennett’s recent article “Criminalise the sex buyers, not the prostitutes” (21/02/2016) which was so laden with moral objection and clouded by ideological fervour that it completely disregards the overwhelming evidence that criminalising any aspect of consensual sex work between adults impacts on the safety and human rights of sex workers. The article is littered with inaccuracies and attempts to wilfully misrepresent reality.
The description of the ‘managed-area’ in Leeds as a “pimps’ paradise” exemplifies how the author uses incendiary language to distort the truth. Since the policy changes in Leeds the number of people selling sex has not significantly increased but sex workers are now far more likely to report to the police when they’re targeted by offenders. This has led to the imprisonment of a number of sex offenders. Due to the changes in Leeds, the proportion of sex workers reporting incidents to National Ugly Mugs (NUM) willing to report to West Yorkshire Police increased from 15% in 2013 to one of the highest in the UK at over 52% in 2015.
We were astonished that Nottinghamshire and Suffolk, two of the areas in the UK where sex workers are least likely to report to the police when they’re targeted by offenders, were used as examples of good practice. Only 4% of sex workers in Nottinghamshire and not a single one of the handful of sex workers in Suffolk, reporting crimes to NUM, were willing to speak to the police.
NUM recently carried out a survey of 220 sex workers and more than 50 organisations providing frontline support to sex workers. More than 80% said that criminalising the purchase of sex would negatively impact on sex worker safety. 96% of sex workers also said that that people should not be criminalised for buying sex.
What the author refers to as a “forceful lobby” opposed to the sex-buyer law includes the overwhelming majority of sex workers, frontline support services, academics and organisations like UN AIDS, Human Rights Watch, Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, The Lancet and Amnesty International. As the Head of Sweden’s anti trafficking unit, one of the architects of the Swedish Model, said: “of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect we want to achieve with the law”. If only its advocates here in the UK were as honest about their indifference to the safety of sex workers.
Alex Feis-Bryce, National Ugly Mugs
Laura Watson, English Collective of Prostitutes
International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE)
Sex Worker Open University
Umbrella Lane Sex Work Support Services, Scotland
Dr Mary Laing, Northumbria University
Rosie Campbell OBE, University of Leeds
Luca Stevenson, Coordinator ICRSE
Professor Jane Scoular, University of Strathclyde
Professor Phil Hubbard, University of Kent
Professor Maggie O’Neill, University of Durham
Professor Teela Sanders, University of Leeds
Raven R. Bowen, University of Durham
Laura Graham, University of Durham
Michelle Stoops, Safe Place Merseyside
Prof Nick Mai, Kingston University
Dr Kate Brown, University of York
Scarlett Redman, University of Leeds
Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Birkbeck, University of London
Assoc. Prof. Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia
Emily Cooper, Northumbria University
Debbie Jones, Swansea University
Dr Sarah Kingston, Lancaster University
Dr Nicola Smith, University of Birmingham
Pippa Grenfell, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Gaynor Trueman, Specialist ISVA, Arch North East
Dr Anna Carline, University of Leicester
Dr Mark McCormack, Durham University
Dr Natalie Hammond, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr Tracey Sagar, Swansea University
Professor Clarissa Smith, University of Sunderland
Dr Graham Ellison, Queen’s University, Belfast
Stewart Cunningham, University of Strathclyde
Rachel Stuart, University of Kent
Dr Billie Lister, Leeds Beckett University