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APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade Report “Shifting the Burden” Increases Violence Against Women

This article was first published on The Huffington Post – 7 April 2014

APPG Prostitution and Global Sex Trade - Shifting the Burden 2014With politicians’ infamy for ‘shifting the burden’, this was not the best title for an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report. Chosen to reflect their recommendation of shifting the burden of criminalisation from the seller of sex to the buyer, in practice this fails as badly as when politicians endeavour a cover up – like why was this group funded by a religious anti-gay charity!?

Just like our politicians here, even in the face of evidence, Sweden remains adamant not to admit their mistake. Their National Police Board reports nearly 3 times as many Thai massage parlours (which are known to operate as brothels) in Stockholm and vicinity from 2009-2011/12 (from 90 to 250) but still they claim their sex purchase ban is a success. By the way, for anyone who is not aware of this, the aim of the sex purchase ban is not to increase prostitution or to push it indoors; the aim is to end sex work and sex trafficking. There is no proof of any decrease in either. And worse, there is an increase in danger, most especially for women working on-street.

I won’t be shifting burden as has been done in this report, unfairly with the use of a couple of my quotes out of context, as well as Professor Phil Hubbard’s and the English Collective of Prostitutes’ (ECP), in addition to quotes being attributed to the ECP which were in fact said by an NHS Outreach Worker.

As I have stated previously, without the criminalisation of clients, the government here should still invest in exiting routes for people seeking to leave the sex trade. Investment for such services is recommended in this report. However, whether or not the government will invest remains to be seen and these services will only work if they are non-judgemental, non-religious and not enforced.

The APPG has taken on board my recommendation for the policing approach operating in Merseyside. However, I did say at the launch of the report last month that the Merseyside model relies on good relationships between the police and people in prostitution, and this is impossible under the Swedish model.

It is extremely disappointing the report suggests anti-social behaviour orders for women working on-street. Is it really anti-social when a woman is doing what she can to make sure her children eat, her house is warm, her rent is paid? Because that is the reality for most women in prostitution. Most of the 80,000 people in prostitution in the UK are in poverty, and 70% are single mothers.

The APPG seems to have no idea of the effect of criminalising clients when stating people selling sex will be decriminalised. By criminalising the buyer, the person selling sex becomes the protector of their potential clients. Those working on-street have to place themselves in more out of the way and dangerous areas so the buyer is not caught. And so he is not caught, she doesn’t have time to negotiate before getting into his car, check there’s no one else hiding in the back of the car, or by talking with him seeing if he is slurring his words indicating he might be drunk. There are many dangers to this. I have been driven to the middle of nowhere and raped and didn’t expect to get out alive, and in the UK where police crackdowns on street prostitution have been instigated they have resulted in murder.

At the time of providing my written evidence last year to the APPG, I was a supporter of the Swedish model as I did believe it was in the best interests of people in the sex trade. It seemed to make sense that women, men, trans men and women and non-binary people selling sex would be decriminalised and exiting routes would be invested in and established. Clients would be criminalised to ensure a reduction in demand for sexual services, and with statistics that I had read of 9 out of 10 people in prostitution wanting to leave the sex trade if they could, the model sounded like an ideal solution.

However, the “end demand” model has failed in Sweden, a wealthy country with a small population and a small number of people engaged in selling sex. If it cannot work there, it has no chance of working in the UK.

The decriminalisation of people selling sex is a misnomer as other laws are used against them: migrants face being deported and potentially returned to dangerous countries, landlords are forced to evict if they are informed a sex worker resides in their premises and mothers face losing custody of their children purely because by selling sex they are deemed unfit parents. These issues mean when a sex worker is the victim of crime, they cannot report to police.

By the time I gave my verbal evidence, I had begun to have doubts about the Swedish model. However, I was unaware of so many issues: that it has failed to achieve its aims of reducing sex trafficking and sex work and that it creates danger and increases stigma. But my fear at the time was that exiting routes would not magically appear overnight. With 80,000 people in prostitution in the UK, who are mostly in poverty and 70% of those single mothers, where would the money come from to invest in such services, which must be complex, as well as lifting them out of poverty? So although I did not recommend the criminalisation of clients, I did not know all the facts I do now, so my reason is not the reason I would have today nor did I have the conviction I do now to fight the Swedish model.

Without that knowledge, on the day of my verbal evidence I could not report the dangers let alone the failure of the Swedish model. Though I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak at the meeting launching the ‘Shifting the Burden’ report last month where I covered nearly every point from my article condemning the European Parliament’s vote in favour of Mary Honeyball’s report recommending the criminalisation of the purchase of sex.

I believe the Swedish model is social cleansing of the poorest and most vulnerable women. This is something Sweden has a history of undertaking – forced sterilisations were taking place up until quite recently.

Women in the sex trade who are injecting drug users are the worst hit by their sex purchase ban. No harm reduction (condoms, lubrication etc.) for sex workers or drug users (needle exchanges) is provided in Sweden as it is erroneously believed to encourage sex work and drug use. That was me, an intravenous drug user who sold sex, and I am the same person I was back then and I am the same as other women selling sex and shooting up their drugs, and I will fight for those women. They matter to me, and they should matter to every person who cares about human rights and every person who claims they want to end violence against women. And if you don’t care about the women in the sex trade like me who shoot up drugs, if you care at all about human rights and are against violence against women, then you should be against the Swedish model, which is violence against women.

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About Ruth Jacobs (297 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.

14 Comments on APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade Report “Shifting the Burden” Increases Violence Against Women

  1. Another excellent article. It is astonishing how so many of the anti-sex work campaigners appear to have taken the Swedish governments claims about the ‘success’ of it’s model at face value, without any further analysis. Maybe they just got so giddy with excitement about the notion of a model that could achieve their intended goal of eliminating the sex trade they didn’t stop to consider any potential downside. They even provide guided tours to showcase how ‘successful’ their model is for naive campaigners like Joan Smith, who go away ecstatic with glee that they’ve found their weapon which they can abolish the evil trade.

    One thing I wonder is, considering that there are thought to be in the region of 80,000 sex workers in the UK as you state in your piece, the vast majority of that takes place indoors, just how the hell could adopting the Swedish model possibly be effectively enforced? Do the British police really have the manpower and resources to monitor that many?? I note that the governments of Norway and France appear to be having doubts about the effectiveness of the model following it’s implementation; Norway is due to vote on repealing it this summer, and the bill passed amid much outcry in the Lower House in French Parliament last November appears to be permanently parked in the Upper House where it will likely die a quiet death. Perhaps they came to realise belatedly that the model advocated by the Swedes is in reality pretty much unworkable and counter-productive.

    Of course Sweden has much to lose by backtracking after they made such a song and dance about how theirs was a system that governments worldwide can aspire to. To publicly admit it hasn’t worked would be an embarrassing admission of failure and egg on their face.

    • Thank you Jamie, it’s ludicrous. Police resources are already seriously stretched here and this could well lead to the police going for low-hanging fruit of clients of women consensually engaged in selling sex instead of going after sex traffickers and freeing victims, which is much harder.

      • Jamie Rush // April 18, 2014 at 8:24 pm // Reply

        In all honestly, were the law to be implemented here (which I’m rather sceptical that it would actually, given the impracticalities I mentioned before and the potential for it to majorly backfire), I suspect it would be a handful of arrests of kerb crawlers and raids of massage parlours, primarily for PR purposes, ASBOS and slap on the wrist fines handed out, then pretty much business as usual. Given that there is little evidence of public support on this country for such a model, you have to ask what really would any UK government stand to gain from it? It’s already had a rough ride getting approval in France and it looks as though they’re going to quietly abandon it altogether. I think it would be a major hard sell for any political party here to the public, if anything I think British society for the most part broadly tolerates people selling sex of their own accord, provided it’s done discreetly.

        There does appear to be a growing backlash against the Swedish model, given that it’s limitations are readily becoming more evident. I suspect the sex work laws in this country will for the forseeable future remain what they are now – a bugger’s muddle

        • We do need changes in the law here as currently all steps a person selling sex can take to increase their safety are illegal, so it’s legal to sell sex as long as it’s done in the most dangerous ways! It should be decriminalised that a few women, men, trans men and women and nonbinary people selling sex can do so from premises together and for there to be safe, well-lit areas on-street for people selling sex to work together. I also strongly believe we need the Merseyside model policing approach to be law, which treats crimes against sex workers as hate crimes and involves working with sex work projects and building trusting relationships with people in the sex trade. More crimes are reported, astonishing high conviction rates for rapists and other violent criminals are achieved, which means all of society is safer, and for those in the sex trade who are being exploited or trafficked, they know the police are safe to turn to and will not treat them like criminals.

          • Jamie Rush // April 18, 2014 at 9:01 pm // Reply

            Oh I agree with you entirely, the trouble is with the complexities and the polarising nature of the issue it’s very rare for the lawmakers to reach a general concensus, hence the muddled and often contradictory laws we currently have.

            The Merseyside model does look like the way to go, a non-judgemental approach is likely to be far more effective in the long run, plus does not infringe on human rights or civil liberties the way that the Swedish model would. I read an article recently questioning whether the Swedish law as it stands now could be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, as happened in Canada fairly recently. Would be interesting to see.

            • I would imagine that it could be, but it’s insane the European Parliament have just voted in favour of the model.

            • Jamie Rush // April 18, 2014 at 9:41 pm //

              They are 2 separate entities are they not? I don’t think the ECHR is bound by what the European Parliament endorses

  2. First I still don’t understand why sex work gets lumped with sex trafficking. I see the forced prostitution as an entirely different entity.

    I agree that the only real law that has worked is the Merseyside model. Along with that, resources are sorely lacking. 80,000 people will not find shelter, food, education, medical care and child care awaiting them, even if they all decided to leave tomorrow.

    I am a feminist. One who cares deeply about violence against women. ALL women!!! This is the passage that summed it up for me: “That was me, an intravenous drug user who sold sex, and I am the same person I was back then and I am the same as other women selling sex and shooting up their drugs, and I will fight for those women. They matter to me, and they should matter to every person who cares about human rights and every person who claims they want to end violence against women. And if you don’t care about the women in the sex trade like me who shoot up drugs, if you care at all about human rights and are against violence against women, then you should be against the Swedish model, which is violence against women.”

    No one is disposable. They do matter to me. Each and everyone of them!!!

    • Thank you so much Bridget, it is heartbreaking what they are proposing and with the evidence that criminal laws increase danger and stigma and no evidence the Swedish law reduces sex trafficking or sex work. I feel so strongly that sex trafficking victims deserve laws that will protect them and sex workers deserve laws that will ensure their human and labour rights. There is some work that could be done between the anti-sex trafficking and sex workers’ rights movements as they are both concerned with the human rights of people in the same industry and sex workers are well placed to assist sex trafficking victims, and good relationships with the police and further training could aid this. These two groups do need different laws to protect them but the movements could work together – I wrote about this recently with two interviews from amazing women, Lori Adorable and Meg Munoz.

      • The only trouble is a lot of the anti-sex work activists seem to be more ideologically driven than anything, subscribing to the notion that prostitution is violence against women and they determine therefore that it must be eradicated at all costs.

    • Jamie Rush // April 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm // Reply

      Resources are indeed lacking, and I honestly don’t see the Swedish model being enacted here because in real terms it is almost totally unenforceable, and could as you infer potentially have huge impact on service providers that are already pretty much stretched to breaking point.

  3. Alan Green // April 23, 2014 at 5:19 pm // Reply

    Another well written article, Ruth. What I find truly appalling is that if you read the APPG’s remit ‘to develop proposals for government action with a focus on tackling demand in the sex trade’ they have set themselves up in advance to find in support of the Swedish model. Looking at the composition of the APPG (radical feminists and evangelical Christians) and their backing by CARE we can see why. Who sets up these APPGs in the first place?

    In addition, I find the media’s reporting of the report to be sloppy – typically along the lines of ‘MPs are backing the criminalisation of the purchase of sex’ without reporting the make-up of this small group, it’s backing, and essentially presenting adoption of the Swedish model as a ‘done deal’.

    Maybe those of us who strongly oppose the Swedish model should ‘keep our powder dry’, for the fight when legislation is brought forward. Perhaps we can hope for a more balanced look at the issue before legislation is drafted. I say ‘hope’ without actually having very much.

    • Thank you Alan, I hope the government won’t go ahead with the Swedish model as it helps no one and only makes lives worse and more dangerous. The report clearly states a commitment for the Merseyside model policing approach to be standard and that is what’s needed. It won’t work with criminalisation though. It is very worrying an anti-gay charity can have influence in this way and I agree with media reporting, they should state the funding of the group and their remit, which was always going to be the Swedish model. It’s a shame they didn’t go through the same learning curve I did when researching and realising not only has it failed in Sweden, even if it did work there, it would not be transferable here.

  4. Jamie Rush // May 8, 2014 at 6:34 pm // Reply

    There was a fairly decent article in the Independent last week implicitly criticising the Nordic model, with the heading that it is making sex workers feel less safe. It acknowledged that sex trafficking in Sweden has actually increased since the introduction of the ban, and that Norway are to vote on repealing it. I think it’s encouraging that articles like this are starting to appear in the national press, to counter the propaganda promoted in favour of the Swedish model. It occurs to me that anyone supporting said model either is not in possession of the full facts, or simply wishes to promote a radical agenda regardless of the human cost.

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  1. The Sex Trade: Lies, the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ and Other Silencing Tactics | Soul Destruction
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