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

Discussing the Advantages of the Sex Workers’ Rights and Anti-Sex Trafficking Movements Working Together

Meg Munoz

Photo credit: Hiron Ju

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 forcing me to work and turn all of my cash over to him whenever he saw fit. It was a nightmare. I didn’t tell anyone for years, primarily because I felt so much shame over the abuse and stigma attached to the sex work I’d been hiding. It’s really quite ironic because it wasn’t until I started pursuing my own healing and working with sex workers/trafficking survivors that I started putting my own puzzle together. Activism should never replace healing, but sometimes it can be a great catalyst for it. It was really quite liberating to be able to more fully understand my own story, continue healing, and re-frame my time in the industry. It allowed me to embrace the time I’d spent in the industry and realize I’d been blaming the entire industry for the few horrible things that happened to me along the way. Once I was able to separate out and deal with the peripheral trauma (abusive relationships, addiction, childhood issues), everything changed for me. I was able to think more critically about my experiences and come to the table without the pain and trauma distorting my experiences in the ways they once had.

You are also concerned in your activism with sex workers’ rights. What do you think needs to happen so the two movements are more aligned?

Oh, wow, not sure where to start and I may not win any popularity contests, but here goes nothing. I’ll limit myself to a few thoughts… First, I’m done with bad research studies. Poorly conducted, bias, limited research needs to stop being used as the foundation for fundraising, education, and awareness. The damage that’s being done is immeasurable and harmful for entertainers, sex workers, and trafficking survivors alike. We could talk for DAYS about this, but I’ll stop there. Long story short, we need to learn to be more responsible consumers and critical of what we’re reading.

Second, for years you’ve had the majority of sex workers and adult entertainers – a majority in the sex work spectrum demographic – going unrepresented by anyone other than themselves. The refusal to have sex work acknowledged as real work based on moral objections has all but halted any civil discourse and allowed old perspectives and limited understanding to dictate policy. We’ve experienced an incredible amount of social rejection, judgment, legal bias, and isolation. From where we’ve sat, it looks and often feels as if there’s no room for the sex worker’s voice unless you’ve experienced enslavement/exploitation and are willing to support abolition AND oppose sex work. We’ve been told we have to pick sides. That, in and of itself, is very disturbing. That has been deeply felt by the sex worker community and has left people feeling justifiably angry, invalidated, and hurt.

Here’s the thing, though: in saying that, I’m quite aware there’s this huge glitch in that process that needs to be addressed. There has to be safe space for people on both sides of this to come to the table and talk because I think a lot of healing needs to happen. I always encourage those with the most publicly identifiable power, privilege or voice to initiate. In many cases that usually means reps of larger entities such as anti-trafficking orgs, religious leaders, or government agencies. I think a lot of burned bridges need to be re-built. We may never agree on everything, but we do need to respect each other and listen.

Why do you feel it’s important for the anti-human trafficking movement and the sex workers’ rights movement to work together?

Like I implied, I don’t think we have to pick sides. Whether you’ve chosen sex work or had it chosen for you, neither side benefits from trying to silence or disregard the other. This matters because sex work and trafficking are both part of the same industry, but very different in both concept and execution. Sex work will always be around. Erotic service providers will always exist. Trafficking will never be fully eradicated. We have so much to learn from and teach each other, but it can’t start until we find a few people we trust on both sides to come to the table and talk. Believe me, I’m not naïve – I know there are obstacles, but there’s too much to lose if we don’t find a way. Too many human rights abuses are happening, too many opportunities being lost, and too many freedoms being denied. All of this goes for both sides. When you have those being trafficked being criminalized, we’ve got a problem. When you have sex workers being denied the full opportunity to engage, participate, and provide for themselves, something’s horribly wrong. You can’t make decisions for an entire group of people and leave them out of the conversation and that’s what been happening to sex workers and survivors alike since the beginning of time. Allowing moral biases to dictate policy is dangerous for those who are there by choice and force.

What legal improvements or changes would help abolish sex trafficking and sexual exploitation and ensure sex workers’ rights? Can these two groups be ensured their human rights and the protection of the law simultaneously?

I’m not sure I’m the most qualified person to speak into this, but in short, yes. I always like to defer to those currently working in the industry as their perspective is more well rounded and current. Personally, I feel that decriminalization makes the most sense and offers more protections for both sex workers and trafficking survivors alike. Until sex workers are allowed to come to the table, protected, respected, represented, and heard, survivors will suffer as well. But, honestly, why would sex workers come forward and put themselves at horrible risk in so many ways when society makes it so hard by punishing, blaming, and demonizing them in general? The sex work community is our greatest asset and ally against trafficking AND they really care about it. As a person of faith that’s supportive of sex worker rights AND abolition, I’m often criticized for this within certain circles, but I feel strongly that justice is for everyone. And this is where you generally cue the hate mail…

For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?

First, you can’t trash an entire industry, and demonize those working in it, then offer them mascara, a cupcake, a Bible or diversion and expect them to trust or come to you when they hit a snag in the road. You’ve already established you have an agenda and shown yourself to be fundamentally unsafe. That may speak to a few people, but it does nothing to serve the majority within the industry who aren’t planning their exit.

I’m a firm believer in knowing the people you care about and want to serve/support, as well as those you disagree with. Think that all prostitution is paid rape? Hang out with sex workers who’ve chosen and love sex work. Think that trafficking is a myth? Listen to and get to know survivors. Challenge your own biases and be willing to learn, grow, and change as a result of stepping outside your theological or philosophical comfort zone. Ask how you can be the kind of ally and advocate that supports the people you care about in ways that matter to them. And above all, check your motives. Nothing is more offensive than being told you aren’t smart enough to understand your own experiences or choices and need rescuing. That’s infantilizing, disempowering, and offensive.

What are your plans for the future?

That’s always a good question. I’m fortunate enough to get to do what I love with people I think the world of… I’m beyond fortunate. I’m a planner by nature, but I’ve also tried to balance making things happen with allowing things to happen organically. I know it sounds cheesy, but I just want to keep it pure. I love the SW and survivor communities and want to support and serve them in the most relevant, holistic ways possible. We continue our commitment to learning from and partnering with the industry so that we can continue to become better allies, advocates, providers, and connectors. Perhaps it’s just life behind the conservative Orange Curtain here, but we need more representation for the local sex work community BY the local sex work community. I’d really LOVE to see that take shape here. And we always need better resources, services, and support for our survivors and for the SW community, especially our LGBTQI friends and survivors.

Recommended websites/further reading:

I’d much rather hear from others about who they think I should be learning from! Seriously – I love that! I’m a big fan of RedUp in NYProse and Lore offers sex workers across the spectrum a forum to express their voices and tell their stories. I LOVE hearing others’ stories! Tits and Sass, SWOP, Melissa Gira Grant, the list is endless. That’s why Twitter is so great – I can follow great conversations, link up to fabulous reads, and of course laugh…I’m always learning something new.

Where can you be found online?

I’m on Facebook and on Twitter I’m @megmunoz and for Abeni, allies and advocates offering safe, confidential care, and personal support for those working within the OC adult entertainment industry at @abenioc. Abeni’s website is

Related Content:
About Ruth Jacobs (296 Articles)
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 my own life. In addition to fiction writing, I am 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.

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

  1. Reblogged this on Soul Destruction and commented:

    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.

    • This easily the most balanced & thoughtful commentary on these issues I’ve seen. This is what’s needed to be publicized, this sort of rational analysis. I’ve tried to follow blogs & twitter feeds of sex workers & allys for a while. It’s frustrating to see such emotional or one-sided arguments & information. I try to pass along information, debunk stereotypes, & say my piece, that both sex worker’s rights need to be legitimized, as well as having a rational approach to sex trafficking & coercion. Seems no one wants to hear it unless you join in whichever echo chamber. Why can’t people understand these sort of things & see them as basic human concerns? What good does it do to vilify or join a bandwagon that can’t do it’s homework? The truth is never black & white, from any perspective. But people can suffer horribly from the effects of such sensationalizing & overreacting. Calm don & try to find some common sense, uggh. Thanks for a great piece. I’ll do my best to publicize this today, Sex Worker Rights Day.

  2. Jueseppi B. // March 2, 2014 at 2:55 pm // Reply

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

  3. Well written article. I really like this like Meg says – “Nothing is more offensive than being told you aren’t smart enough to understand your own experiences or choices and need rescuing. That’s infantilizing, disempowering, and offensive.”

    Interestingly enough our organization has two arms – one which is a voice for those caught in trafficking and the other is to offer encouragement to ladies who choose the sex industry. A few have told me I can’t keep them separate, but I understand the difference between the two and the need to respect both sides. It’s been a balancing act, but we are honored to come up besides ladies in the industry. I truly appreciate this article. Nobody is allowed on my team whose ulterior motive is tell a lady in the industry she has to leave. We are there to encourage and offer support only if they want it. We give them free gift bags each month with make up & jewelry. Our goal with the ladies in the industry has always been to respect, build bridges and let them know they are valued and worthy regardless of the stigma society has placed on them. How moving it is when a young girl in a full nudity strip club looks us in the eye and thanks us for not calling her a whore!

    Again, thank you.

  4. As a survivor of sexual predation and survival prostitution, I can’t agree that there is much in common with voluntary, chosen prostitution. I didn’t choose it. I didn’t want it. Even when the guys were nice, I only fucked them to avoid another night on the street, yet more rapes, exposure to the police, who were just as likely to rape as any other man. We did have a mobile free clinic that treated us for venereal diseases, gave out pamphlets, that kind of stuff. They acknowledged that the street people were also real people, and that was something we didn’t get anywhere else. So in the end I really can’t agree that trafficking and survival prostitution survivors can be served by the same measures as voluntary prostitutes.

    • Laura, thanks for chiming in 🙂 It sounds like you had some really rough experiences. I read a bit of your blog and was really moved. I was wondering if you could unpack that last sentence for me a bit.

      • I think what I was trying to say is that there is a socioeconomic/culteral class difference between the two groups, for one thing; and for the other, one class does it voluntarily and enjoys her job, another class works the streets to feed her kids and a drug habit, and many classes in between. I think tailoring services to fit the diversity in prostitution would be a challenge, and one that I would certainly want to see. Did that clear things up, or just make them more muddy?

        • Hi Laura, I hope you’re well. From my experience when I was a ‘call girl’ myself and my friends who were too didn’t enjoy what we did for money. We liked the money and it was financially driven, not because we liked the work. I think though there are a great number of privileges, so that even though it was a traumatic experience for me, I didn’t need to see nearly as many clients due to the money being good and I could always afford to turn clients down (apart from when I was raped, and when through fear of being raped and sometimes for my life, I did what they wanted even when I wanted to run, which is still rape but I didn’t know that back then, it was my strategy at the time to avoid rape).

          It’s complicated and people’s experiences are different. Even though I didn’t like it no one could have told me to stop and I wouldn’t have and didn’t stop until I was ready. But services such as those offered by the sex work project in London where I went helped and they were the same services offered to all women, men, trans men and women and nonbinary people in the sex trade whether working on-street or five-star hotels. The counselling, sexual health screening, free condoms etc. are useful to everyone. I can’t remember if I got needles there or not, but I am sure I could have if I wanted. I got to see a psychologist there regularly, weekly if I remember correctly, and she was amazing (that’s who Dr Fielding is based on in my book). The same with referrals to treatment centres for alcohol and addiction issues and psychiatric care, though I didn’t get that through them. When I was a in psych hospital not far from St Mary’s hospital where the sex work project was based in, I ended up in back in St Mary’s but probably in A&E then maybe intensive care as I’d taken a huge overdose of 200 or 250 tablets and it was too late to pump my stomach. They told me I had a minor stroke, but never really knew if that was true or if they said that as they’d thought it might make me stop taking drugs and/or stop trying to take my life. It didn’t work, and I was back working and shooting up.

          There are other services though I think for people who are in poverty and/or have spent quite a bit of time in the sex trade will need additionally when seeking to leave the industry such as help getting out of poverty and debt if they have debts, so money-management advice and financial advice, also further education, or just help retraining to do something they’d like to do, career advice and also help getting their children back from the care system if they’ve lost them, and very importantly, help with housing if they require that. Life-skills training I think many of us who’ve been immersed in that world need – I didn’t even know when to put the kettle on, but it was my NA sponsor who gave me the help with that of kind stuff. No wonder though, in the end my life was filled only with using, getting money to use, thinking of using, thinking of how to get money to use… oh and getting clean needles, citric and always making sure I had a spoon xxxx

          • Sounds like a life any upwardly mobile person might choose (irony font here). You have a lot of services in the UK that are not widely available in the US, and then only in progressive cities where the political climate is conducive to inclusion, support, and rehabilitation. I worked in a comprehensive services organization that provided everything from health care to education/job training, but we were limited to serving people aged 12-24. That was in Rochester, NY and we were actually an outreach charity sponsored by the University. Still no needle exchange, but at least condoms. But that kind of program is very rare, and we were constantly in danger of losing our grant and/or being shut down by the neighbors. Great that the UK has comprehensive services like you do!

            • The UK as a whole doesn’t have such services extensively and in some areas they are completely lacking. It’s because I was in London, though this was a long time ago – mid-late ’90s. I mainly bought my needles in chemists (obviously not saying what they were for) or nicked them out of hospitals when I found myself in there, which wasn’t a regular occurrence until the end. But I do think there were needle exchanges in other parts of London but nowhere I could have got to easily that would have fitted in with my drug taking 🙂 I might have even been able to get a referral from the doctor, but wouldn’t have wanted them to know what I was doing, and things are such a blur, perhaps I did also get needles from the sex work project in St Mary’s.

              London is still excellent for sex work projects (they even have some ISVAs here – I know Open Doors do, and they are lovely. We did filming with them for Merseyside model documentaries for BBC) and drug services are good in London too, but getting into treatment or detox is harder as there’s lack of funding. I know recently in Kent it’s been dire for sex workers and worse for those who are intravenous users. Did you see my write up of the BBC1 documentary on that – I will try to get you a vimeo link as it only aired over here and now it’s off the BBC iPlayer. This is the article. So things over here still have far to go, and police interference with crackdowns makes things even worse, alienating the women from harm reduction services.

              The services I mentioned in the last paragraph are things I think we need, not services that are widely available, if at all, though I hope some areas are providing these. The issue is that sometimes services are not what they seem, as we discovered in Kent. I know when people come out of rehab over here they don’t always have anywhere to go, and when they come out of prison I think they get less than £50 or something like that, it’s been a while since I’ve had an update, but seriously, what do they expect people to do – you go back to what you know if you have nowhere to live and no money.

            • Exactly so. If there’s no way to support oneself and maybe kids too, why you just have to go back to what you know, and the cycle starts all over again. BTW I don’t think I’ve told you how proud of you I am, with all of the amazing things you’re doing. You are a mover and shaker, Ruth. You have overcome so much and now you’re being a public voice for people who otherwise have no voice of their own.

            • Thank you so much Laura ❤ There are a lot of other people speaking up too, the problem is so few people are willing to listen and they'd rather say that they are the voice of the voiceless, but the 'voiceless' are often voiceless because no one is allowing them to speak or listening to them when they do.

            • That is so totally dead on. “The Voiceless” are so much more “attractive” when they remain an object of pity and/or inferiority, so that others can cluck and shake their heads over them, while preserving their disenfranchised status.

            • Yes, and now I don’t support the Swedish model people are trying to make me voiceless and use my writing to promote their campaigning for the Swedish model, even though when you look at Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, it doesn’t work in favour of that model, but of the Merseyside model and decriminalisation. I never even knew of the Swedish model when I wrote it nor the Merseyside model by the way. And worse, vulnerable women who don’t have platforms at all are being used by feminists to argue for the Swedish model when they want decriminalisation themselves! On Twitter during #QuestionsforAmnesty feminists were posting pictures from Chris Arnade’s Faces of Addiction, when he and the addicts in the sex trade who are his subjects and his friends want decriminalisation – and they didn’t stop using those pictures or removing their tweets once I made them aware of this! It’s power and control and abuse – that is not feminism.

            • Right on, Sista. Your voice rings strong and clear xoxox

  5. I am very inspired my Meg’s interview, so thank you for this, Ruth.

    I meditate often on how two divergent branches can come together. But, on a related note, I want to remind people that the anti-trafficking movement itself represents these two views. Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women has led an enormous effort to address trafficking. They worked with other groups (and sex workers) to develop a framework that would address all forced labor in all industries, which has given us our contemporary definitions of trafficking. is their website. They have done crucial work on the impact of anti-trafficking policies on sex workers, migrants and others:

    For something more accessible, this video is by another anti-trafficking activist, Marjan Wjers, involved pivotally since the 90s working with a number of Human Rights Groups. But, alas, governments suppress these perspectives and promote carceral and military approaches to trafficking.

    Additional recent material by her is here from a plenary speech at trafficking conference at USC.

    Because of Ruth, Jes Richardson, Meg and others, I really think a basis for getting divergent sides together is in the works.

    But I think we all need to learn more as we move forward. The work of a service provider is not necessary rooted in the academic and political discourse that forms the basis for the work one does. The struggle to obtain resources is so consuming, but I would encourage activists and service providers to look at links below. It’s complicated.

    I don’t say that ‘trafficking is complicated’ because the definition of trafficking is completely amorphous, varies extremely, and is used as an umbrella to discuss widely different circumstances. I do say that “the trafficking framework and discourse is complicated” and I encourage people to read about the history, laws AND ENFORCEMENT around the world, and see if we can develop a path together to stop abuse as effectively as we can and support common, labor and human rights.

    Useful links:

    Click to access From-Bleeding-Hearts-to-Critical-Thinking.pdf

    • Thanks so much Carol, I’ll look into those links and watch the video later. Much appreciated, and wonderful to know you. By the way, I’ve just written an article incorporating Lori Adorable and Meg’s interviews about the benefits of the anti-sex trafficking and sex workers’ rights movements being more aligned and working together. I’ve sent it to an online feminist magazine in the US today and waiting to hear back – fingers crossed xx

  6. Bronwyn Williams // July 22, 2014 at 4:24 am // Reply

    I’ve been doing some informal research into models of legislation for the sex industry, and came across this posting via Google. Prostitution is the ultimate in vexed issues, with everyone – religious groups, feminists, politicians both liberal and conservative, and sex-worker lobby groups putting forward their views. I belong to none of those categories, and it seems that everything I read fails to address one glaringly obvious FACT about most prostitution activity worldwide, whether forced or by choice – men are paying women to use their bodies for sexual gratification, and you can’t tell me that the majority of those women (unless they are truly nymphomaniac) are physically getting anything from it besides a sore vagina. Rather than arguing the finer points of choice and the wide range of ‘autonomy’ – from none to some – expressed by women in prostitution, why don’t we focus on why men have a right to sex, and a right to pay for it, and a right to earn a living from the ‘work’ of women providing it? How many prostitutes, for example, see anything like the millions earned by male brothel owners and operators, particularly in countries where prostitution is either legalised or decriminalised?

    Like it or not, the prostitution of women is a gender issue, and at least the Swedes have TRIED to address it.

    • Sweden has failed – prostitution has been pushed indoors and quite possibly increased according to their Police Board report – this article provides more information on that and the increase in danger for people in the sex trade too.

      Also the sex trade is mainly driven by people needing money, poverty. Out of the 80,000 people in prostitution in the UK most are in poverty and 70% are single mothers. It’s our social services and benefits that need reformed and poverty needs to be addressed. Focusing on the men who are paying for sex doesn’t help the women, men, trans men and women and nonbinary people who are selling sex.

    • I think we might be able to whittle it down to merely a gender issue (and to some extent, it is) if all sex workers were female … But they’re not. And by failing to recognize that economic, socio-economic, and variety of other factors (like Ruth pointed out) are involved and intersect when it comes to sex work, you’ve just reduced me and others to a nympho or ‘sore vagina.’ I get where you’re coming from, but it’s a complex and nuanced topic that requires more study and consideration than what’s being offered.
      Charlie Glickman recently wrote a great piece ( on the End Demand Movement which has some great stuff to consider. If all we’re leaning on are moral or ethical objections to sex work to support our disdain for it (which your nympho justification/ ‘sore vagina’ comment indicates), we’re missing a whole bunch of people and the real needs that drive them and their involvement in sex work. I hope you’ll take the time to really connect and listen to those who’ve chosen SW, as well as had it chosen for them … We have so much to learn. Best to you.

  7. And I apologize for including a great, but incorrect link – Here’s the link to Charlie’s piece 🙂

  8. Bronwyn Williams // July 23, 2014 at 4:10 am // Reply

    Ruth, I completely agree with the need to address social services and benefits and provide more financial, educational and social support for disadvantaged young people. I won’t say ‘young women’ because I also fully understand that not ALL prostitutes are female – however, it is undeniable that a substantial majority are women and girls, and a even greater majority of the clients of prostitutes are men.

    You argue that ‘(f)ocusing on the men who are paying for sex doesn’t help the women, men, trans men and women and nonbinary people who are selling sex’, but, to my mind that argument is essentially an admission that the purchasing of sex by men is somehow a societal given. Something we must be accept as inevitable, and the harmful effects of which we can only hope to minimise, not eliminate entirely.

    I am a mother and a grandmother and I grew up in the era of Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem – I make no apology for the fact that I will not accept women’s ongoing subjugation to men. Male demand for the paid sexual services of women MUST be addressed – the Swedish model may not be perfect, but the underlying philosophy of gender equality is a step in the right direction.

    Meg, I also understand that prostitution is a ‘complex and nuanced topic’, but do YOU understand that those who wish to see a society where no person – man, woman or child – is sexually exploited also have motives beyond ‘moral and ethical objections’. You have labelled my position thus – incorrectly, and without apparent justification – and it is disheartening to have genuine concern for other women dismissed as motivated either by religious fundamentalism or radical man-hating feminism. Supporters of the decriminalisation of prostitution use such simplistic rhetoric to negate the voices of their opponents, so accusing them of lacking an appreciation of the nuances of prostitution is somewhat perverse.

    Some of us are prepared to think about the nuts and bolts of prostitution – the penis in vagina or anus stuff, and how physically irritating and emotionally distressing it is to have a series of men with whom you have no emotional connection touching you and, literally, invading your person. Please tell me if I am wrong about this – do the millions of women working in prostitution worldwide enjoy sex up to ten times a day? Do they have constant satisfying orgasms? Do they enjoy the never-ending variety of sexual partners? Do they like a bit of rough stuff occasionally?

    If it is accepted that men are entitled to sexual autonomy – entitled to have sex when and how they want it – why are you prepared to live in a world where women don’t have exactly the same rights? It might be a long way off, but nothing will change as long as we tolerate the purchase of sex by men, and their ever-increasing, pornography-fuelled demands for unsafe sexual activities. Harm minimisation might seem like a good idea in the short term, but, in the end, nothing really changes for those in prostitution.

    I don’t dislike men – I have a husband and four sons who are good, decent partners and fathers – but I abhor what society lets some of them get away with. It’s high time for a change.

  9. Bronwyn, first and foremost I want to thank you for taking the time to respond. I know this is an emotionally charged subject, especially for those of us who have first-hand lived, worked, experienced, and breathed it in for a great many of our years. I often look forward to dialoguing with people for a variety of reasons and while I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts, I struggle continuing a conversation when it feels as if I’m being talked down to, having my words twisted, and getting lectured for having different views on things. My guess is your probably didn’t mean to do this, so no harm, no foul. For that reason, I’m going to thank you for your time and step out of the conversation. I really do want to thank you … I know it’s never easy engaging with someone we don’t know, so thanks for reaching out 🙂

  10. Bronwyn Williams // July 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm // Reply

    Meg, prostitution is indeed an emotionally charged subject, but perhaps more people need to reign in their emotional responses and view the issue more pragmatically. Prostitution harms the prostituted, and most of them are women. I have worked with women who were victims of the most vile domestic violence, both physical and psychological. I have counselled and supported women with addictive drug issues – women who have had children removed from their care because of their dangerous, unstable lifestyle. I suspect that some of them turned to prostitution to support themselves and their habits, although they never disclosed this to me specifically. Many of them kept me awake at night with worry. I was angry and frustrated – that they didn’t leave their abusive partners, or accept the support available to deal with their drug issues. But most of all I was angry at the men who abused them and the life circumstances that had eaten away at their self esteem.

    I have no wish to talk down to or lecture anyone, but you should know that women who have not experienced prostitution first-hand can still do their best to understand what it means. It is sadly discouraging to have any effort to express that understanding rejected by prostitutes and survivors of prostitution as misinformed and disempowering. Everyone sympathises with war victims but no-one is accused of infantilising those victims – the sympathy is accepted as genuine concern rather than an attempt to marginalise the victims and question their understanding of their situation.

    I firmly believe that every single one of us has the best chance of understanding our own motives and actions, but I also believe that all women deserve respect from, and true equality with, men. Allowing prostitution to flourish in an unregulated environment while tinkering at the edges of the harm done to women in the sex industry will not achieve that goal.

    Thank you for your time. I appreciate the engagement, but it seems you have chosen to reject my efforts and ideas. I will however, continue to speak plainly on this subject.

    • Bronwyn Williams // July 25, 2014 at 5:48 am // Reply

      Okay, Meg, that looks but convincing, but what about this?

      Governments, and societies, have been dealing with prostitution for centuries, and have tried numerous approaches, most of which have been spectacularly unsuccessful. In more recent times, legalisation and decriminalisation have been promoted as the answer, but it seems the German experience does not support that view. Additionally, the city of Amsterdam is now acting to contain the explosion of prostitution brought about by legalisation.

      There will always be reports and studies and figures that appear to favour one policy approach over others, but when we’re speaking about prostitution, their validity can never be anything other than dubious. Solid, reliable data on prostitution is impossible to obtain, because of its very nature – even decriminalisation advocates like Jay Levy, who appears in another of Ruth’s interviews, admits that ‘It’s incredibly difficult to make generalisations about a group that’s so clandestine’ (at 11.10 if you want to check).

      Given the lack of any rigorous scientific methodology in studies of prostitution, it is wisest to regard any ‘studies’ with circumspection. The evidence they present is mostly anecdotal, and standard research techniques, even some as basic as random sampling, cannot be used because of the ‘clandestine’ nature of the activity being investigated. They are clearly open to manipulation by interest groups.

      What does stand apart from all the murky ‘data’, however, is the incontrovertible fact that prostitution almost always involves a man purchasing the use of a woman’s body for sex. Many of those women are unwilling participants in the sex industry, and violence against women in prostitution is perpetrated at levels that would not be tolerated amongst the general population in a modern, Western society.

      The Swedish policy model is the first in modern times to focus on gender equality and the need to address the inequity in men’s purchase of women’s bodies. It’s covering new ground, and to label it a complete failure after a few short years is short-sighted and unnecessarily reactive.

      And it doesn’t need any ‘studies’ to observe that legalisation in Germany has primarily benefitted the brothel owners. They find an easy way around any employment regulations by not directly employing prostitutes – they rent them rooms in the brothels for a fee. They are clients of the brothels, just like the johns, but they’re lining the pockets of the owners to the tune of millions every year. How is that empowering?

      You say that ‘(s)ex work will always be around. Erotic service providers will always exist. Trafficking will never be fully eradicated’, but does that mean we just give in and let men continue to make use of, and money from, our bodies? There may be some women who truly enjoy prostitution, and that’s fine, but they are in the minority. Why should they speak for everyone? Have you asked yourself why sex work lobby groups have so much political influence? Have you investigated their connections to the sex industry? Have you heard of UK escort agency owner/sex work activist Douglas Fox – And you probably know that prominent Swedish sex work activist and former prostitute, Pye Jakobsson, also serves on the board of a strip club.

      It sounds as though your experience of prostitution was something you’re happy to put behind you, but telling women still in the game, and suffering the same abuse, that everything will be better if prostitution is legal is not fair, and not right.

      Something MUST be done about men’s assumption that they can buy sex from a woman, knowing full well that the woman is likely to be desperate, or drug-addicted or under-age. If they want to pay to put their dick in a hole, why can’t they go out and get a blow-up doll?

      • You say the Swedish model focuses on “gender equality and the need to address the inequity in men’s purchase of women’s bodies”. Men who purchase sexual services purchase those services and not bodies. It is not possible to sell something more than once, and that rhetoric is degrading to women in the sex trade. I wonder if you are aware that your words show how un-human you view me and others who do/have worked in the sex trade. In addition, “gender equality” is addressed in theory by the Swedish model but not in practice, as shown in the last link I provided. And addressing the poverty that affects women and drives them into the sex trade is never going to be achieved by laws criminalising the purchase of their services.

        For most women who sell sex, it is not about whether they “enjoy prostitution” but about being able to pay their rent, keep their hot water and heating, put food on the table for their families. Previously, I too erroneously viewed prostitution from the same perspective as you – enjoyment and empowerment – but this is nonsensical. If every way people earned money was measured by their enjoyment of doing so and criminalisation of the purchase of their services based on their enjoyment of labour, I expect the world would be quite different, with no clothes or food available for a start. Human rights are for everyone, not only those who enjoy what they do to earn money, and criminalising the purchase of services from those who do not enjoy their labour denies those rights.

        You also state there is no reliable data on prostitution policies, however this is incorrect, for example, the Merseyside model, which has reliable data from police backing up its success. This approach focuses on protection of people in the sex trade as opposed to enforcement of the law, and has achieved greater than a 10 x higher conviction rate for those who rape sex trade workers compared to the UK’s national average conviction rate for rape (of 6.5%). Although not focussed on ‘exiting’, this approach has led to numbers of women working on-street being reduced by half, due to the trusting relationships developed in this joined-up approach between sex work projects and the police. Fewer people working on-street is not a success when they are unaccounted for.

        Meg is not saying to people in prostitution who are “suffering the same abuse, that everything will be better if prostitution is legal.” There is a difference between decriminalisation and legalisation. And she believes as I do, that investment must be made in services that are non-judgemental and non-religious to assist people who want to leave the sex trade, but that such services should not be forced.

        There are also anti-human trafficking charities that do not support the Swedish approach, such as The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), La Strada International and Anti-Slavery International because the Swedish model cannot show it has reduced sex trafficking. That organisations and people do not support this approach and/or support sex workers’ rights does not mean they support exploitation as you seek to imply, especially with your attempt to discredit Pye Jakobsson. Pye is a dedicated human rights activist for sex workers, HIV-prevention and people who use drugs. Not long ago I wrote two articles on her activism in these areas for the Huffington Post and Bitch magazine. I also undertook an interview with her about the benefits of the sex workers’ rights movement working in alignment with the anti-sex trafficking movement. I believe this is the way to ensure human rights of both sex workers and sex trafficking victims.

      • Dr Jay Levy // July 26, 2014 at 9:09 am // Reply

        In response to your comment, there are numerous academic studies on sex work and sex work legislation, many of which are methodologically transparent and sound. You note that generalisations cannot be made about sex work, and I would indeed agree that one must be enormously cautious in terms of making any sweeping statements about groups of people, nevermind groups who are hidden and clandestine due to repressive legislation, policy, stigma, and so forth. You do note this, having watched Ruth’s interview of me.

        Unfortunately, you then go on to make several generalisations and sweeping statements! For example “is the incontrovertible fact that prostitution almost always involves a man purchasing the use of a woman’s body for sex.” In Sweden (and the Nordic area generally) all recent surveys have highlighted that the majority of people selling sex may be young men. So your statement falls down at the first hurdle (and is additionally fairly reductive).

        As you know, my research was undertaken over many years in Sweden, and I interviewed politicians, police, service and healthcare providers, and sex workers, and built up a broad picture of sex work in Sweden. For you to say the Swedish model is a new law when it has been around for a decade and a half seems odd, and its focus on ‘gender equaity’ negates the fact that the law is not applied in a gender neutral way, is used to target and displace street-based sex workers, as well as migrant sex workers (migrant sex workers are deported from Sweden, and Swedish police informed me that victims of trafficking are also deported; surely that doesn’t sound like a sympathetic piece of legislation that has sex workers’ rights and welfare in mind?).

        Many key elements of my research were derived from numerous respondents and sources. The law has resulted in more harm, danger, and stigma. The 2010 evaluation of the law, which is biassed towards the law as it is mandated not to criticise it but only to assert how it can be more effective, concedes that all of these issues have been exacerbated by the law. It also says that this needs to be regarded as positive, as it will hopefully convince people to stop selling sex!

        I suppose my point is: whatever your opinion of sex work is, surely you cannot be in favour of a law that is demonstrated to be so damaging, where even proponents of the law admit that it has been detrimental? I would be happy to point you in the direction of some of my published work, either academic or more accessible. I hope the above has been of some help.

        All best,


  11. Bronwyn Williams // July 26, 2014 at 4:33 am // Reply

    I always thought I spoke and wrote quite plainly, with my meanings and intentions as transparent as they could possibly be, but it seems that everything I have said has been viewed through the filter of your distaste for the Swedish model of prostitution policy.

    First, you say that, ‘(m)en who purchase sexual services purchase those services and not bodies. It is not possible to sell something more than once, and that rhetoric is degrading to women in the sex trade. I wonder if you are aware that your words show how un-human you view me and others who do/have worked in the sex trade’. ‘Sexual services’ usually involve some sort of bodily penetration of the service provider by the client. It is not the same as making a cup of coffee or fixing a leaking tap, and no amount of politically correct language will make it so. Prostitutes endure this assault on their most intimate physical person every working day – you know this better than me because you’ve been there. Perhaps you were able to dissociate from the reality of prostitution, but when I acknowledge and speak of the unvarnished truth of prostitution, the thought most firmly in my mind is the humanity of the person involved. If I thought of prostitutes as un-human, I would have the same attitudes as the thousands of men who post obscene, degrading comments on prostitute rating websites – which, by the way, make me almost physically ill – and I wouldn’t be engaging in this debate with you. I cannot help the fact that I have not been a prostitute, but I am a woman with normal breasts and a vagina – I can imagine what constant sex with unknown, unpredictable men must be like, and it’s not enjoyable.

    Second, you say that ‘addressing the poverty that affects women and drives them into the sex trade is never going to be achieved by laws criminalising the purchase of their services’. I fully agree that the poverty and disadvantage that drives people into the sex trade must be addressed – all instances of poverty and disadvantage in society should be a priority for legislators and policy makers. But there’s a much bigger social picture in prostitution and it’s the gender inequality of the sex trade. If tackling the demand for the sexual services of women isn’t going to provide a long-term solution, what is? Logically, allowing the trade to continue with a veneer of legality won’t be successful either.

    Perhaps I should ask if you recognise the gender inequity in most acts of prostitution, or am I wasting my time talking about it? I now have a grand-daughter – a beautiful, innocent little girl – and I want her to grow up in a world where women are not forced by circumstances to sell access to their most intimate selves to survive. Maybe that’s unrealistic, but the attitudinal shift in societies that consider the prostitution of women acceptable has to start somewhere. Women need to stand up for themselves, and men need to be taught respect.

    Third, you say that ‘(p)reviously, I too erroneously viewed prostitution from the same perspective as you – enjoyment and empowerment – but this is nonsensical’. I’m not sure I understand what you mean here. I don’t view prostitution from the perspective of ‘enjoyment and empowerment’. I know that many workers dislike their work. Everyone has had a job they don’t like. I used to be a lawyer, and it sucked – shitty clients, long hours, and tedious matters. Nowhere near as glamorous as it looks on the television, but I was a single mother with three kids to support, so I hauled myself into the office every day and got on with it. And before you react, I’m the first to admit that I had the advantage of a nice middle class upbringing and a good solid education. But I worked hard, and I can’t apologise for the fact that I wasn’t forced to consider prostitution to survive.

    And, besides, even though the work was unbearably dreary, I didn’t have to invite the clients into my body. No-one should have to do that.

    Fourth, you say that ‘(t)here is a difference between decriminalisation and legalisation’. I understand the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation. Decriminalisation removes prostitution from the legislative framework, apart from the regulations normally applying to businesses (planning approvals etc) being applied to brothels – prostitutes working independently are not regulated. Legalisation means specific regulation of the sex industry, enabling it to operate legally under certain defined conditions. In practice, the difference is almost non-existent. Both approaches have seen an exponential increase in the growth of the illegal sex trade – brothels, for example, operating outside both local governments regulations (in decriminalised jurisdictions) and the relevant governing legislation (in legalised jurisdictions).

    Fifth, you say that ‘investment must be made in services that are non-judgemental and non-religious to assist people who want to leave the sex trade, but that such services should not be forced’. I agree, investment in services that assist people to exit the sex industry is essential, but why do you have a problem with religious organisations? Do you assume they are judgmental? You accuse me of thinking all prostitutes are inhuman, but you seem ready to ascribe a judgmental attitude to all religious service providers. One of the most vocal, hard-working supporters of a better life for women in prostitution that I know – a person who is totally non-judgmental – is a devout Catholic woman in her seventies, but you would probably reject her ideas and support on the basis of her religion alone.

    And, I also agree that support and exit services should not be forced. I mentioned before that I have worked with many women in domestic violence situations – I KNOW that support cannot be forced and to do so is extremely counter-productive.

    Finally, thank you for the various links, which I will follow up, including the information on the Merseyside Model. All things considered, however, I still believe something needs to be done about the demand for the sexual services of women by men. I understand that the Swedish model has problems – pretty much anything that a vote-chasing government is involved in will be less than ideal – but the motivation is the right one.

    Decriminalisation is a gold-plated gift for those profiting from prostitution, and the women in prostitution do not seem to be significantly better off. In the long term, women will still be exploited. Prostitutes should have rights, but, as women, their greatest right is not be prostituted.

    And, as far as Pye Jakobsson is concerned, she’s done a fair job of discrediting herself with her strip club board membership.

  12. Bronwyn Williams // July 26, 2014 at 6:45 pm // Reply

    Jay, I would be pleased if you could directly refer me to the ‘numerous academic studies on sex work and sex work legislation’ that are methodologically transparent and sound. I’m more than happy to check them out.

    You say that ‘(i)n Sweden (and the Nordic area generally) all recent surveys have highlighted that the majority of people selling sex may be young men’. Could you direct me to these surveys? The only one I can find online is a 2012 survey by the Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs which reported the responses of 2 254 young Swedish persons between the ages of 16 and 25 (a relatively limited group, and not representative of the entire population. Were they randomly selected?). Of that group, 2.1 per cent of males, and 0.8 per cent of females reported they had prostituted themselves in the previous year. The board spokeswoman noted, ‘We have a hard time understanding why guys outnumber girls’, and it IS surprising. Since you have chided me for making ‘generalisations’ and ‘sweeping statements’, I hope you won’t be extrapolating the results of this study to the population of prostitutes worldwide.

    I know intractable arguments often resort to cherry-picking data, but to even suggest that men outnumber women in prostitution is patently ridiculous. German mega-brothels, for example, are full of women parading around, mostly nude, for the benefit of the male buyers – not the other way around. Even your 2011 paper, ‘Impacts of the Swedish Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex on Sex Workers’, features interview grabs from two prostitutes, Lisa and Anna. I assume they were women – but perhaps you should revisit your research and focus on male prostitutes, if, as you seem to imply, they are greater in number than women.

    Further, in the centuries-old scheme of societies’ attempts to deal with prostitution, a model of legislation that has only been around for 15 years is still ‘new’. Perhaps the Swedes aren’t getting it exactly right, but the notion of gender equality is one that can be built on with the right popular support. Decriminalising prostitution only truly favours those who benefit most from the sex industry – the pimps and the brothel owners. Can you present a good argument against this reality? Do you buy into the ‘prostitution is inevitable’ rhetoric, and believe harm reduction is the best prostitutes can hope for?

    You say that ‘(t)he 2010 evaluation of the [Swedish] law, which is biassed towards the law as it is mandated not to criticise it but only to assert how it can be more effective, concedes that all of these issues have been exacerbated by the law. It also says that this needs to be regarded as positive, as it will hopefully convince people to stop selling sex!’. Can you also direct me to the relevant sections of the report – those that concede ‘harm, danger and stigma’ have increased as a result of the law. I have the limited English translation, and the full Swedish version (plus a co-worker who speaks Swedish).

    Your statement that the report ‘also says that this (the increased harm, danger and stigma) needs to be regarded as positive, as it will hopefully convince people to stop selling sex’ is something I have investigated further. I assume you are referring to a statement made at page 130 of the full Swedish language report. If so, it might be worthwhile to reproduce the entire section (from the English translation), for the purpose of balance –

    ‘4.6.4 The view of exploited individuals with regard to criminalization
    It is clear, and appears to be logical, that those who have escaped from prostitution are positive to the criminalization, while those who are still being exploited in prostitution are against the ban. This pattern is reflected in many reports and is also confirmed by the contacts this inquiry has had with the members of PRIS and the Rose Alliance.

    People who are currently being exploited in prostitution state that the criminalization has intensified the social stigma of selling sex. They describe having chosen to prostitute themselves and do not consider themselves to be unwilling victims of anything. Even if it is not forbidden to sell sex, they feel they are hunted by the police. They feel that they are being treated as incapacitated persons because their actions are tolerated but their wishes and choices are not respected. Moreover, they state that there is a difference between voluntary and forced prostitution.

    Those who have left prostitution say that the criminalisation of the buyer’s actions has made them stronger. They were able to stop blaming themselves and to feel instead that it is the buyers who are in the wrong and who are responsible for the emotional scars and painful memories they must deal with for the rest of their lives. This is why people who managed to escape prostitution are consistently positive to the ban. In particular, they point out that the buyers are the ones who entice young people into prostitution, and that there is no voluntary prostitution, the buyer always has the power and the people selling their bodies are always being exploited; however, no one wants to see it that way as long as they are still being exploited.

    For people who are still being exploited in prostitution, the above negative effects of the ban that they describe must be viewed as positive from the perspective that the purpose of the law is indeed to combat prostitution.’

    The final sentence is not entirely without ambiguity – my co-worker, and a translating program came up with slightly different interpretations, both of which read the passage as those still working in prostitution ATTRIBUTING such a view to the legislators, rather than the legislators expressing that view. It seems that much has been made of this particular sentence, in a huge 250 plus page report. I take your point that the implementation of the legislation may have issues, but raising this very minor part of the report in support of your arguments against it seems more like opportunistic nit-picking than rigorous evidence-based research.

    You hope your reply has been of some help to me, but I’m sorry. It has done nothing more than recycle the same arguments we’ve all heard many times before – except the one about men outnumbering women in prostitution. That IS new.

    I’m trying really hard to understand why the gender equality issue in prostitution is so easily dismissed by advocates of decriminalisation. Do you not understand that the sex industry worldwide is a multi-billion dollar earner, thanks to the exploitation of prostitutes, who are mostly women? Do you not understand that, worldwide, the majority of women in prostitution do NOT want to be there? Do you not understand that most buyers of sex are men, and they think it’s their inalienable right to purchase sexual services from women?

    What are you achieving by relentlessly denigrating a policy that has the intention of promoting women’s equality with men? Why not offer suggestions for its refinement and better legislative expression and administration? What will decriminalisation of prostitution achieve other than an ever-expanding sex trade, both legal and illegal, and a proliferation of shiny new super brothels?

    • Dear Bronwyn, twice I’ve written you an expansive reply to your comments here and both times my browser has deleted them. Perhaps it’s a sign I am wasting my time, who knows? So instead, I would like to direct you to the numerous links to articles on this page which describe the benefits of decriminalisation and the serious issues with the Swedish model.

  13. Bronwyn Williams // August 10, 2014 at 3:54 pm // Reply

    Ruth, I have read most of the articles and other material on the list you recommended – not all, because some of it is repetitive, and it is a LONG list.

    I have some comments and questions – most references are to material suggested by you.

    1. The Merseyside Model

    You say you support this model of police response to crimes such as the rape and sexual assault of prostitutes – that such crimes are treated as ‘hate crimes’ and prosecuted accordingly. At, you report that ‘(i)n the UK the conviction rate for rape is an alarmingly low 6.5%. However, a 90% conviction rate was achieved in Liverpool in 2009 for those who raped people in one particular social group, and in Merseyside in 2010 the equivalent conviction rate was 67%.’

    First, is anyone concerned about the ‘alarmingly low’ rate of rape convictions in the UK in general? Are you lobbying for the introduction of the Merseyside model in the investigation of ALL rapes, or are sex workers more deserving than other women when they have been sexually assaulted?

    Second, given your opposition to the criminalisation of those buying sexual services – that it will decrease the number of clients available to prostitutes, and hence their income – have you considered that the enormous increase in successful prosecutions of those responsible for the rape and assault of sex workers could have the same effect? Could potential clients not be deterred by the possibility that they might be accused of rape or assault and successfully prosecuted?

    In the same article you say that ‘(t)he people within this group [prostitutes] are stigmatised and often excluded from mainstream society and so are at a far higher risk of rape and other violence than the population as a whole. 70% of these women have suffered being raped multiple times; 75% have suffered physical and sexual abuse in childhood and 67% meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Their mortality rate is far higher than the rest of the population – in London these women’s mortality rate is twelve times the national average. And these people, who face this high risk of rape and violence, are the least likely to report crimes committed against them to the police.’

    First, you appear to acknowledge that most people working in prostitution are women or girls. Is this not somewhat at odds with many of the pro-decriminalisation lobby, who constantly remind us of the men, boys and transgender people involved in prostitution, as a counter to the gender inequity approach of the Nordic model? Sex work activist, Pye Jakobsson, may declare that prostitution is ‘gender neutral’ (A Swedish Sex Worker on the Criminalisation of Clients) but most studies of the sex industry acknowledge that the large majority of prostitutes are female (excluding of course the studies referred to by Dr Levy that indicate a preponderance of young men in prostitution). Even the proponent of the much acclaimed New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act 2003 – the go-to decriminalisation model – Tim Barnett MP, acknowledged in his 2007 review of the legislation that 90 per cent of prostitutes in New Zealand are women or girls.

    Second, whilst you acknowledge that prostitutes are at significantly higher risk of being raped or sexually assaulted than the general population, and have suffered more physical and sexual abuse as children, and have a mortality rate several times the national average, not once do you mention that the perpetrators of these crimes are nearly always men. You’re happy they are being prosecuted appropriately in the Merseyside area, and no doubt you would support policies that sought out and punished male child abusers and male perpetrators of domestic violence. Why do you then oppose the criminalisation of those who purchase sexual services? Your own data suggest that many of them will commit rapes or assaults, and despite the Merseyside police approach, many offences will still go unreported because the woman involved is not aware that what has happened to her constitutes a rape or sexual assault. Also, how capable is a trafficked non-English speaking woman of understanding her legal rights, let alone reporting any transgressions?

    If the abusers are almost always men – the male percentage of clients of prostitutes is even higher than the female percentage of people working in prostitution – how can the issues of rape and sexual assault in prostitution be addressed WITHOUT addressing the male demand for sexual services?

    2. Improvements in social supports for those in prostitution, those at risk of entry into the sex industry and those seeking to exit the industry

    As noted previously, I completely agree that much more needs to be done to alleviate the social and structural disadvantage that sees many women enter prostitution. I also agree that well-considered and funded exit programs should be available to those wishing to leave the sex industry. This is not rocket science.

    But how can you rationalise a call for social supports to keep women out of prostitution, and exit prostitution, if it’s just a regular job? What other job is expected to provide exit programs – even jobs that sex industry lobbyists try to compare to prostitution, like domestic workers, labourers etc. You can’t have it both ways – prostitution cannot at the same time be a freely chosen job, as pro-decriminalisation sex work lobbyists proclaim, and an activity that women (and men) should be assisted to keep away from, or exit.

    Like the rape statistics noted above with reference to the Merseyside model, are prostitutes somehow entitled to more government consideration than other workers? And if they are, why is this the case? Is it because they are being exploited in a way that no other type of work requires? Is it because there is some tacit acknowledgement that prostitution offends the personal integrity of the prostituted person in a way that no other job can?

    And how can this be addressed WITHOUT addressing the predominantly male demand for sexual services?

    3. Exploitation of Children in Prostitution

    Everyone, including those who argue for the decriminalisation of prostitution, agrees that the sexual exploitation of children in prostitution must ALWAYS be opposed with the full force of the law. But this uncompromising opposition makes a complete absurdity of the ‘adult consensual sexual rights’ argument put forward by those favouring decriminalisation. A person up to the age of 18 is being exploited in prostitution, but the day after their 18th birthday they become a consenting adult freely choosing sex work? How is that logically possible?

    4. Survivors of Prostitution and Decriminalisation

    Your references include some thoughtful and well-written pieces by current and former sex workers. They consider themselves to be sex worker activists, and support decriminalisation of prostitution, but they are not entirely complimentary of the organised sex work lobby.

    For example, former Canadian sex worker and well-known activist, Wendy Babcock wrote the following shortly before her death by suicide in August 2011 –

    ‘Yet our voices are not heard in the sex worker rights movement, as it is universally falsely believed that current or former sex workers who dislike their previous or current occupation have no place in the sex worker rights movement.

    I remember when I first got involved in sex worker rights and was a naively impressionable young woman. I did a talk show for AM 680 (the Bob Oakley Show) and when I mentioned that I didn’t like sex work myself I was chastised by fellow activists. “How will anyone understand why decriminalization is important if you keep telling interviewers that you don’t like sex work?” “Don’t tell people you don’t like sex work, if you want to do that you have no business speaking for sex worker rights” and “You are discounting everything other sex worker rights activists are saying!”

    Stunned and not wanting to upset anyone as I felt really passionate about the need to decriminalize sex work I kept my mouth shut about my true feelings and instead pretended that sex work was this revolutionary way for me to reach my true sexual potential.’

    Another supporter of decriminalisation, Lori Adorable, also acknowledges that some prostitutes feel ‘trapped’ in their work ‘to varying degrees’. She says –

    ‘Any solution to my dilemma and to the dilemmas of so many sex workers who feel trapped in our work to varying degrees will be far more complex than eliminating our clients. It will need to be systemic and holistic. It will need to attack multiple issues at once, and it will need to be spearheaded by sex workers.’

    Ms Adorable also outlines a number of ways that ‘antis’ can help sex workers leave the industry, most of which are very sensible, but still beg the question – if it’s a regular job, just like any other, as sex work lobby groups claim, why do its workers NEED exit programs?

    And why is it okay for those who oppose the exploitation of women in prostitution to be lumped under the pejorative title of ‘Antis’ – if prostitutes want appreciation of the many nuances of their occupation, why are they happy to negatively stereotype others?

    Sex work lobby groups are doing prostitutes no favours with their ‘sex work is just work, sexual automony, freely chosen’ rhetoric. They are doing nothing more than normalising sex work, for the benefit of pimps and brothel operators.

    And what sort of sex workers need to spearhead the solution? I’m not sure the ‘happy hooker’ brigade is the best choice. Further, there are plenty of non-judgmental support organisations out there, and some of them are church based – why are they mostly rejected out of hand – stigmatised and stereotyped in exactly the same way the sex workers claim they are stigmatised and stereotyped?

    Finally, what’s wrong with tackling the demand for sexual services, along with the programs Ms Adorable suggests? As long as men feel they are entitled to freely, and anonymously, pay for whatever sexual services they require, the sex industry will be a revolving door – if there’s money to be made from prostitution, the pimps and brothel owners will quickly replace those who leave with new recruits.

    5. The UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work 2009

    The Guidance Note you have referenced contains a clear enunciation of the issues associated with prostitution as follows –

    ‘Similarly, in many countries, official policies principally focus on reducing or punishing the suppliers while ignoring the consistent demand for paid sex. The demand for sex work may be affected by social and cultural norms and individual circumstances, including
    work-related mobility and spousal separation; social isolation and loneliness; access to disposable income; and attitudes based on harmful gender norms, including a desire for sexual dominance and sense of entitlement, which may manifest in sexual and economic
    exploitation and violence against sex workers. When addressing HIV in the context of sex work, policies and programmes should not only focus on the needs of sex workers themselves but also address factors that contribute to the demand for paid sex.

    A number of complex factors may also contribute to entry into sex work. For sex workers, these factors range along a continuum that extends from free choice to forced sex work and trafficking. Trafficking, which represents the denial of virtually all human rights, involves “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, or fraud, of deception, of abuse of power…or the giving or receiving of payment or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purposes
    of exploitation.” Women and girls are the primary victims of trafficking for sex work, although a smaller number of men and boys are also trafficked into sex work. Trafficking into sex work is a profound human rights violation that demands effective and comprehensive international action. Some individuals freely choose to engage in sex work. Others enter into sex work as a result of conditions that, while deplorable, do not involve direct coercion and/or deceit by another; such conditions include poverty, gender inequality, indebtedness, low levels of education, lack of employment opportunities, family breakdown and abuse, dependent drug use, humanitarian emergencies and post conflict situations.

    This Guidance Note affirms the right of any sex worker to leave sex work if she/he so wishes and to have meaningful access to options for employment other than sex work. Every effort should be made by governments, the private sector, civil society, sex worker organizations, donors and the United Nations to support sex workers to acquire the skills, education, and employment opportunities that will assist them to exercise free choice, consistent with the full enjoyment of their human rights. Regardless of the legal status of sex work, a human rights based approach must always be applied.’

    The need to address the demand for sexual services is clearly noted. How can this happen if there is absolutely NO scrutiny of the buyers? Certainly, in the fight against HIV, it makes sense to consider both the buyers and the sellers, since both are engaging in an activity that has the potential to spread the disease. Why are sex work lobby groups so adamant that the clients of prostitutes not be subjected to any attention? Why should they be allowed to remain anonymous?

    6. What Decriminalisation Means

    In a decriminalised environment, regulation of prostitution is left to local government authorities. Say, for example, a brothel is set up close to a school – closer, perhaps, than allowed by planning rules. Neighbours complain, and the school’s parent body complains, but who are they complaining about? Who is stigmatised as engaging in an activity that offends them? It’s the prostitutes, and they don’t care about their human rights. The procession of male clients is just a minor irritation, when it should be the focus of people’s concerns.

    Decriminalisation encourages the expansion of sex work in suburban areas and far from minimising the stigmatisation of prostitutes, it only serves to increase public opposition to their activities. You can argue that the complainers are nothing more than morally rigid ‘antis’ who are too backward to understand the sexual autonomy of prostitutes, and they may indeed have unsympathetic, stereotyped views of prostitution. But the fact is that they will criticise the prostitutes, not the men who pay for their services, and that’s not fair.

    I’ll ask again, why are you content to let men get away with the various ignominies they visit on prostitutes – things you are only too aware of yourself – for the sake of a fantasy that only really serves the interests of those profiting from prostitution?

    The following are items not referenced in your list of articles –

    7. Brooke Magnanti – Belle de Jour

    Have you interviewed Dr Magnanti, and/or co-opted her to your cause? I came across a 2012 HARDtalk television segment with Dr Magnanti while viewing your recommended interview with Pye Jakobsson. She is clearly a supporter of the decriminalisation of prostitution, and speaks very eloquently on the subject, although perhaps not from the same altruistic perspective as you. At one point she remarked that, ‘The trade should be kept open for people like me who entered sex work by choice’. And it seems that her partner at the time she claims she was working as a London call girl insists her time in the sex industry, and the associated, much celebrated Belle de Jour blog, were a fabrication. There have been legal proceedings, I understand, and they are still on foot. It’s a shame because the sex work lobby could have made good use of her glib facility with the decriminalisation argument.

    Do you have any opinion of Dr Magnanti?

    8. Granny Escorts – Channel 4

    A documentary was aired recently titled Granny Escorts. The reporter, Charlie Russell, interviewed three mature age escorts for the documentary – two aged around 60 and one aged 85. I would be interested in your views on one aspect of the report. One of the younger women described a client who asked that she collect semen from her customers in condoms for about two weeks and refrigerate them. When he visited, he emptied all but three of the condoms into a glass, and she was required to urinate in the same glass. The client smeared the contents of the three saved condoms onto her breasts and drank the contents of the glass before positioning himself on the end of the bed with his legs in the air, where he masturbated and ejaculated into his own mouth. The woman described this as a ‘specialised service’. Her normal charges were $50 for a half hour and $90 for an hour.

    Apart from the obvious health issues inherent in this activity – I cannot imagine that consuming the semen of other men, even if it is refrigerated, is a good idea – the first question that comes to my mind is: Why does this man feel entitled to pay a relatively modest sum of money to have a woman observe and participate in his sexual perversions?

    Shouldn’t we be asking why men do these things, rather than championing a system where local authorities struggle to contain the continued expansion of the sex industry, especially the illegal sex industry?

  14. My goodness. When I finally dragged myself out of the sex industry (but not out of the resulting trauma and dysfunction) at age 18, I thought I was the only one who had survived. My best friend, the one who taught me to turn tricks as a way of getting money for food and not getting raped, or rather, cooperating with getting raped in the hopes I would be given a dollar or two afterward, so I could buy a taco–she killed herself when her boyfriend-pimp left her. She was 16. I think survivors of predation were older in the ’70s than they tend to be now. Runaways/throwaways/kidnapped girls tend to be around 13. I don’t know if there are studies on at what age these kids manage to exit; or what proportion end up stuck in the drugs/jail/drugs/jail cycle. I did have another friend who had been stuck in that cycle and managed to get out, sort of. Like me, she worked as a nude artist’s model–we never seem to talk about nude models, do we?–both for a legitimate art school and for–shudder–a private art club populated by horny old disgusting men, who liked the fact that a model on a one-hour pose is not permitted to move or speak–not if she wants to get paid. Eventually I decided I’d rather eat out of dumpsters than do that degrading thing, so I did.

    And Bronwynn–I think the semen in the condoms would have tipped me off. There’s weird, and then there’s, like TOO weird, ya know? If you wanna survive as a prostitute, you’ve gotta have a good radar, or else you’ll come to a bad end. Or at least find yourself in a tight spot you can’t get out of–which is why to this day (44 years later) the first thing I do when entering a public place, restaurant, or bar, is to make sure I know where the exits are, in case I have to silently disappear.

10 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Week In Links—March 8
  2. Sunday links, 3/9/14 | Tutus And Tiny Hats
  3. That Was the Week That Was (#411) | The Honest Courtesan
  4. In the Booth with Ruth – Pye Jakobsson, Sex Workers’ Rights Activist from Sweden | Ruth Jacobs
  5. In the Booth with Ruth – Jes Richardson, Sex Trafficking Survivor, Former Sex Worker and Anti-Sex Trafficking & Sex Workers’ Rights Activist | Ruth Jacobs
  6. In the Booth with Ruth – Jemima, Sex Worker, Writer and Student | Ruth Jacobs
  7. In the Booth with Ruth – Tara Burns, Survivor of Labor Trafficking in the Sex Industry, Sex Worker and Sex Workers’ Rights Activist | Ruth Jacobs
  8. ‘Listen to survivors’ and the fetishisation of experience | genders, bodies, politics
  9. ‘Lyssna på överlevare’ och fetischiseringen av erfarenhet | Den Queerfeministiska Oasen
  10. ‘You’re not representative’: Identity politics in sex industry debates | genders, bodies, politics

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