There have been some BIG rumblings in the world of sex work recently. In fact, in the whole time I have been involved in this industry, both as a sex worker and as an agency owner, right now seems to be a time of potential change – people are sitting up and taking notice. Why? What’s happening? Let me explain.
In June last year, Northern Ireland made the purchase of sex a criminal offence, something at odds with the rest of the UK. The lawmakers in NI decided that this would shift the burden of criminality from sex workers to their clients. Their hope was that by making the customer the criminal, demand would be reduced.
This new law, which paid no attention to the viewpoints of sex workers themselves, has turned out to be ill-thought and dangerous. By criminalising the buyers, the law makers in Northern Ireland have made it much harder for sex workers to keep themselves safe, while not significantly reducing the demand for their services. Customers who would previously have handed over their personal information to facilitate security checks, will no longer do so. Customers who used traceable mobile phones, will no longer do so. They will not use email or bookings forms. Customers no longer feel safe using Adultwork – a website that allows them to gain reviews, so sex workers know they have behaved respectably with their colleagues. Men understandably no longer want to risk being traced, and so the law is driving the industry underground.
These men still come for sex, but the providers now have no idea who they are dealing with. They are opening their doors completely blind to what awaits them. Worse still, it’s a law that the PSNI do not have the resources to actually Police, meaning very few arrests have been made anyway. It is a thoroughly dangerous waste of time.
I guess we mustn’t forget that these are the same law makers who would rather Irish women haemorrhage away their unwanted pregnancy in the toilet of an easy-jet plane from Liverpool to Belfast, than give them access to safe and legal abortion services in their own country. Bearing that in mind, it should come as no surprise that they have passed a law which sits well with their religious zealotry, while putting women in physical danger. Anyway, I digress.
Northern Ireland isn’t the only country to adopt the ‘Sex Buyer Law’, otherwise known as the Nordic Model. This law can also be seen in Sweden, Norway, Iceland and very recently, France. The women trying to make ends meet as sex workers in all these countries are in my thoughts frequently – it must be a terrifying.
Back to Britain, and campaigners are now trying to get the same law passed here. The so called ‘End Demand’ campaigners and their prohibitionist supporters (antis) are a funny bunch: viewing the industry as entirely exploitative, referring to customers as rapists, and vastly inflating trafficking and forced prostitution statistics. They cite research based predominantly on street based prostitution, an unquestionably dangerous yet small part of the industry in the UK, in an effort to criminalize all buyers of sex.
Despite an overwhelming number of sex workers telling the antis that they work consensually and that their clients are generally nice guys, sex workers are being ignored, silenced, ridiculed or accused of ulterior motives. The antis trot out cherry-picked testimonies from supposed former prostitutes speaking of the horrors they encountered that, for anyone working within the industry, seem one-sided and in some cases, downright lies. It’s quite astonishing and needs highlighting: prohibitionist campaigners, many of whom claim to be feminists, speak over and not for sex workers. Frankly, the whole campaign is bizarre and if it succeeds, will endanger far more women than it protects.
So what is the legal situation over here? Firstly and most importantly, the selling and buying of sex is NOT illegal in Britain, unless it is done on the street or in a public place. It only becomes illegal if the person selling sex is under 18 or is forced into doing so. The law in this regard is good and proper and right. Under-age or forced prostitution is rape and should always be punished. If a customer has any doubts whether a girl is over 18 or working consensually, he should leave and make a report to the Police.
The above notwithstanding, some activities relating to sex work are illegal in Britain. Brothel-keeping is the obvious one. It is illegal, in Britain, for two or more women to work together in a house or flat. If they do, they can be arrested and charged. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of current British legislation. Incalls – where the customer visits the sex worker – are already a high risk encounter, so the law makers insisting a sex worker MUST open her door to that customer on her own, and have no one else is the premises as a backup, is thoroughly damaging and has resulted in many women being subjected to a violent and terrifying end. It is a law that needs urgent review and decriminalisation.
What about Elite and other escort agencies? Technically, because I run an agency I could be arrested, charged and find myself in crown court, falling foul of the same laws that are there to protect the trafficked and coerced women referred to earlier from violent, abusive and manipulative pimps. According to the CPS website, my prison sentence could range from 26 weeks to 2 years.
The ladies I represent, who range in age from their twenties to their fifties, come from all sorts of backgrounds. Many are mothers seeking to supplement their income by seeing a few customers a week. I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog: I have represented nurses, teachers, soldiers, PAs, accountants and anything and everything in between. The women I represent are hard-working entrepreneurs. Sex is a commodity they are happy to sell, and for the most part they enjoy their job, just as I do. Sure there’s the odd stinky bastard that gets you questioning the work, and sometimes all you really want to do is cancel your booking, stay in, put your feet up and watch X Factor, but you get on with it just like any other job. Every year all us Elite ladies get together and have a Christmas party, just like you do in your job. We eat, drink far too much wine, talk bollocks and make fools of ourselves on the dance floor. We all have a good little thing going on at Elite and many of the ladies have been with me, entirely consensually, for years. Since Elite started trading in 2007, the company has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds into the Crown’s coffers in corporation tax and VAT.
I want to stress this point: while there are undoubtedly women who find this industry tough and do the job out of sheer desperation, there are many more of us that don’t give a second thought about having sex with strangers for cash. We don’t see our job as any different to how you see your job. It’s a means to an end and it doesn’t damage us. Being told by people who have no understanding of us or our work that we are being raped and exploited sits somewhere between laughable and thoroughly insulting. Not only that, it’s damaging to women who really are experiencing those things. Our customers are, on the whole, pleasant, kind and respectful. Contrary to the harm figures peddled by the antis, in 10 years and thousands upon thousands of bookings, I have never ever had a lady abused (verbally or physically), assaulted or raped by a customer. The reason for this, I am certain, is because I am able to vet our customers. Customers who mean my ladies no harm can hand over their personal details and proof of ID to me without fear of prosecution. If you take away my ability to vet potential customers, you take away my ability to keep the ladies safe.
Despite the fact that the government’s refusal to decriminalise escort agencies works in my favour by keeping competition low and poor quality, I would love to see the law changed. Why? Well, while there are other well-run agencies like mine out there, there are of course bad agencies too. The bad, often male, agency bosses who like to ‘try out the goods’, ferry girls to and from bookings through the night and encourage them to take drugs. If you want to weed these fuckers out, the ones who really do exploit women, decriminalise the industry. No amount of criminalisation will get rid of them. They are, after all, criminals.
It’s really tough for sex workers to speak out in favour of the industry that feeds us, clothes us and pays our bills. To go public, we risk shame and stigma. And what about our children in the school playground? Generally, we keep quiet and keep our heads down. A few brave ladies are speaking out though, and one of particular note is sex worker Laura Lee who, quite incredibly, is battling the Irish law makers in the high court. Laura is funding this action herself, and I would urge all sex workers and their clients to consider donating to her cause: https://www.gofundme.com/3rikpo. I have not donated, as I have noted that the anti campaigners are constantly and rather slanderously accusing Laura of being funded by pimps. We’ve already established that the antis are a bunch of fucking idiots, and while I don’t see myself as a pimp, they will, so I cannot donate to Laura and give them further ammunition.
Another very important thing to do is to email your MP and register your support for the full decriminalisation of sex work: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/. Prostitution laws are being discussed by a home affairs select committee right now, and we must make our voices heard. We must make them understand that no amount of criminalisation will stop the sex industry, and that all they will succeed in doing by passing the Sex Buyer Law is sending more of us to an early grave. Please please send your MP an email.
If you’ve stumbled across this blog and you’re not involved in the sex industry as a worker or customer, I urge you to support this cause anyway: donate to Laura and email your MP. There’s a very good chance someone you know and love is a sex worker. We are everywhere, and we are incredibly good at hiding what we do from everyone around us. Please help us to stay safe.