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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
Kindly republished on A Room of Our Own: A Feminist Network.

About Ruth Jacobs (284 Articles)
Ruth Jacobs is the author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a drug addicted call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from her own life. In addition to fiction writing, Ruth is also involved in journalism and broadcasting, primarily for human rights campaigning in the areas of sex workers' rights, anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking.

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

  1. Reblogged this on The Feminist Rag and commented:
    In the fight to end the male violence against men and women in the sex trade/prostitution, there are many issues and controversies, including power & popularity games between feminist allies and survivor-activists, and questions (and disagreements) among survivor activists themselves, around how to best eradicate male violence in the sex trade among survivors themselves, such as around the Swedish/Nordic model, which many survivor activists are pushing, but which Ruth Jacobs, survivor-activist, writer, broadcaster and campaigner, says is the wrong approach. Read her article to understand why. We need to be having more and deeper conversations about the sex trade other than just “abolish it now” because it’s not being abolished now, and the forces that keep it raging on need to be tackled head on before we can dream for a truly free, just and equal world for ALL.

  2. Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

  3. Reblog!! Special, important day!!

  4. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    A day …. to not forget!!!

  5. d0nnanavarr0 // December 18, 2013 at 6:49 am // Reply

    Brilliant article Ruth, brilliantly argued. I wish more people would take notice of the Merseyside model. No one ever deserves to be raped.

  6. Thank you for your article Ruth. Love. J

  7. aformersexworker // December 18, 2013 at 5:24 pm // Reply

    Reblogged this on The Sex Work Brief and commented:
    I love Ruth, she reminds me of me, when I was younger and thinner…we have lived such similar lives in a way, but it takes very special courage to change your mind in public.

  8. I’ve been off and on my blog (hiatus) so I didn’t see this originally. I didn’t know Dec 17th was International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, otherwise I would have come of hiatus to blog a bit. But now I won’t forget, thank-you.

  9. Ruth, you’ve listed many reasons why women may enter prostitution. I haven’t see you discuss women who enter with severe self-hate and are prostituting as a way to act out trauma. This group does exist. Do you also defend their “right” to remain in prostitution? I’m curious.

    • From my own experience, the many women I know and have known who have been in prostitution and the limited research I did in the late 1990s I believe for the majority other factors would also be present such as poverty or homelessness or it could be social associations and/or other circumstances. It should absolutely not be assumed someone who is “prostituting as a way to act out trauma” as you have called it has “severe self hate”. Equally someone suffering “severe self hate” who is in prostitution may well not be “acting out trauma”.

      I would say part of the reason I ended up selling sex was because I had suffered trauma and most of the women I know who are out of that life suffered past trauma, but I cannot think of one of us who did not also have other circumstances or situations that led to prostitution.

      Whatever reason we were they for, or women are there for now, which for the most is financially driven, though past trauma can impact a woman to make that choice that many are not able to consider, nor need to, is irrelevant to the fact that every woman deserves to be safe. You ask if I “defend their right to remain in prostitution” but I defend their right as women to make their own choices as to how they make money and their right to be respected as adults, their right not to be judged, their right for the protection of the police and recourse to justice when they’ve been the victim of a crime, and their right not to be made easy targets for criminals by bad laws, their right to harm reduction services – which save lives – their right to have no criminal record for selling sex and past criminal records of prostitution charges to be wiped, their right to have access to non-judgemental, non-religious and non-enforced services that will help them leave the sex trade when and if they choose to. And their right to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve which is no less than any other woman. And their right not be to stigmatised and othered, their right to be heard and not silenced and not told they are “damaged” most often by other women purporting to care for them.

  10. “It should absolutely not be assumed someone who is “prostituting as a way to act out trauma” as you have called it has “severe self hate”. Equally someone
    suffering “severe self hate” who is in prostitution may well not be “acting out trauma”. ”

    I am well aware of this.

    I am not convinced that money is the only reason that women stay in prostitution. Many of us could have done something else, but felt whoring was the only thing we were good at. Who would want to hire a “whore” at a square job, anyway?

    ” I defend their right as women to make their own choices as to how they make money and their right to be respected as adults, their right not to be judged, their right for the protection of the police and recourse to justice when they’ve been the victim of a crime, and their right not to be made easy targets for criminals by bad laws, their right to harm reduction services – which save lives – their right to have no criminal record for selling sex and past criminal records of prostitution charges to be wiped, their right to have access to non-judgemental, non-religious and non-enforced services that will help them leave the sex trade when and if they choose to. And their right to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve which is no less than any other woman.”

    I completely agree with all of this.

    With the Mereyside Model, people in the sex trade have to feel they have the right not to be violated. For women who feel worthless, what is the likelihood they will come forward to the police? and what about people in prostitution who experience every paid fuck as rape? (I know exited women who refer to the sex trade as “the paid rape industry”).

    This should go without saying, but I’m not trying to irritate you; I’m genuinely interested in your answers.

    Oh, and I have never told ANY woman she is “damaged.” If you choose to reply, I would appreciate you not condescend to me and treat me like I know nothing about prostitution (don’t I wish).

    • “I am not convinced that money is the only reason that women stay in prostitution. Many of us could have done something else, but felt whoring was the only thing we were good at. Who would want to hire a “whore” at a square job, anyway?”

      When I entered the corporate world after selling sex for a few years, I had negative voices in my head telling me I was just a “junky whore” and didn’t belong in that world, that I wasn’t good enough, and that I was “damaged goods”. The stigma of prostitution makes exiting even harder, not just in terms of finding other work, but in all aspects of life. If there was no stigma to selling or having sold sex then it would make seeking other employment easier. There are also changes needed to our benefits system so that people who can work ad-hoc and part-time but not continuously perhaps due to mental or physical ill-health or being a single parent for example, can do that and not lose their benefits. I do not know and have never known any person who has sold sex and their reason not been financial.

      As you “completely agree” with my statement: ”I defend their right as women to make their own choices as to how they make money and their right to be respected as adults, their right not to be judged, their right for the protection of the police and recourse to justice when they’ve been the victim of a crime, and their right not to be made easy targets for criminals by bad laws, their right to harm reduction services – which save lives – their right to have no criminal record for selling sex and past criminal records of prostitution charges to be wiped, their right to have access to non-judgemental, non-religious and non-enforced services that will help them leave the sex trade when and if they choose to. And their right to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve which is no less than any other woman.” that would mean you support decriminalisation, though looking at your website I got the impression you supported the Swedish model, but much of the above is not possible for women under that system.

      “With the Merseyside Model, people in the sex trade have to feel they have the right not to be violated. For women who feel worthless, what is the likelihood they will come forward to the police?”

      I cannot speak for every person in the sex trade but I can say the current policing of the sex trade certainly is a cause of/adds to feelings of worthlessness. When the police dismiss you for trying to report being raped, tell you it’s what to expect, and in some instances, sexually exploit women in the sex trade, then there will be far less reporting. The Merseyside model has proven to massively increase reporting rates as well as increasing conviction rates. Relationships are developed with the police and the sex work projects and the women, and in doing that trust is built for reporting crimes against them. This will certainly help women who have feelings of worthlessness. And with this policing model it gives the women and all of society a strong message that people in prostitution do have “the right not to be violated”.

      “and what about people in prostitution who experience every paid fuck as rape? (I know exited women who refer to the sex trade as “the paid rape industry”).”

      I too know some women who feel that way and having suffered rape more than once, I cannot imagine how horrific that must have been for them. With the Merseyside approach, they would have the opportunity to build relationships with the sex work projects and police and this model has helped numerous women exit the sex trade. It’s the relationships built via the harm reduction approach that then enable women to trust and reach out for help when and if they want to leave the sex trade. Since the Merseyside model has been operating numbers of women working on-street have halved.

14 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Cry for the Merseyside Model: Crimes Against People in Prostitution/Sex Workers Must Be Treated As Hate Crimes UK Wide | Ruth Jacobs
  2. The Merseyside Model Saves Lives – so why is it not being rolled out nationally? | Ruth Jacobs
  3. Staying Safe: The Merseyside Model – Ruth Jacobs interviewed on Policing Today (Part 1) | Ruth Jacobs
  4. My most in depth article arguing for the Merseyside model to be made UK wide – The F-Word | Ruth Jacobs
  5. Victim-centred: The Merseyside Model – Ruth Jacobs interviewed on Policing Today (Part 2) | Ruth Jacobs
  6. BBC1 Inside Out: The Merseyside Hate Crime Model of Policing Prostitution – Monday 21 Oct, 7.30pm | Ruth Jacobs
  7. | Every sex worker deserves safety
  8. NWC2013: write-up & some opinions
  9. Rt Hon Mrs Theresa May MP: Make the Merseyside hate crime model of policing prostitution law UK wide | Ruth Jacobs
  10. Rt Hon Mrs Theresa May MP: Make the Merseyside hate crime model of policing prostitution law UK wide | Soul Destruction
  11. APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade Report “Shifting the Burden” Increases Violence Against Women | Ruth Jacobs
  12. APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade Report “Shifting the Burden” Increases Violence Against Women | Soul Destruction
  13. The Sex Trade: Lies, the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ and Other Silencing Tactics | Soul Destruction
  14. The Sex Trade: Lies, the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ and Other Silencing Tactics | Ruth Jacobs

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