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by on August 4, 2009

THE ANTI-SEX WORK STALWARTS of the Poppy/Eaves/Lilith brigade are on the march again, this time with a number 10 petition aiming to criminalise all clients of sex workers.

Making her case, Ruth Breslin, Eaves Housing’s Research and Development Officer, informs potential signatories that: 

Studies indicate that the majority of women enter prostitution under the age of 18 and that childhood abuse, poverty, drug dependency and homelessness are key triggers into prostitution. Once in prostitution, sexual and physical assault is common and 9 out of 10 surveyed women say they would exit prostitution if they could.

But what “studies,” where? Ms Breslin is interestingly silent on the issue, especially for a “research” officer. Meanwhile two new academic works have joined the pile suggesting the direct opposite is closer to the truth.

First was a study by Dr Nick Mai, of London Metropolitan University, whose team interviewed 100 migrant sex workers, mostly in London but also in Sheffield and Liverpool.

Among its key findings are:

  • The majority of the migrant workers are not forced or trafficked

  • Working in the sex industry is often a way for those interviewed to avoid the unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs

  • By working in the sex industry, many interviewees are able to maintain dignified living standards while dramatically improving the living conditions of their families in the country of origin.

  • The stigmatisation of sex work is the main problem interviewees experienced while working in the sex industry and this impacted negatively on both their private and professional lives

  • The combination of the stigmatisation and lack of legal immigration documentation makes interviewees more vulnerable to violence and abuse

  • Relations between sex workers and clients are generally characterised by mutual consent and respect, although some reported problematic clients who were disrespectful, aggressive or abusive

  • Most interviewees feel that the criminalisation of clients will not stop the sex industry and that it would be pushed underground, making it more difficult for migrants working in the UK sex industry to assert their rights in relation to both clients and employers

  • All interviewees thought that legalising sex work and the people involved and making it easier for all migrants to become and remain documented would improve their living and working conditions and enable them to exercise their rights more fully

The second study won Keele University’s Suzanne Jenkins a doctorate. It aimed to probe exploitation in sex work, and involved surveying 483 female, male and transgendered sex workers.

The Jenkins study was of international sex workers, though over half were from the UK, and nearly all the remainder from English speaking countries and Western Europe. It appears to be of the large group of escorts and indoor sex workers as distinct from the small but more troubled street sector, generally regarded as only 10-15% of the prostitute population.

Among its conclusions are that 93.4 percent of female escorts liked escorting for the money; but also more than three-quarters for the flexible working hours; nearly three-quarters for the independence; and more than two-thirds for the opportunity of meeting people. Out of 298 female sex workers interviewed, only nine planned to give up within three months, while over a hundred (35 percent) had no plans to stop.

  • Less than 16 percent of the females needed sex work to avoid poverty. About half female sex workers liked the sex, along with about three-quarters of the male sex workers.

  • In terms of exploitation, over half the female sex workers (54.6%) reported they always took control in an escort encounter, and nearly a quarter (24.1%), said they “usually” took control. While 22.3% said it varied greatly, less than one percent said their clients took control.

  • More than 86% of female escorts never or only rarely felt exploited by clients, but more than a quarter of them felt that they were exploiting their clients: “…the most frequently reported explanation, by far, was that participants were aware, and concerned, that some clients could not afford their services or that they were taking advantage of people’s loneliness.”

  • More than three-quarters of female sex workers (77%) felt that their clients generally treated them respectfully, and the same percentage felt respect for their clients.

  • More than 72% felt escorting had boosted their self-confidence, with less than 10% feeling it had had a negative effect.

  • As for ‘pimps’, over 62% of escorts said they had never felt exploited by third parties and over 30% only rarely.

Suzanne Jenkins concludes:

Further criminalisation, either of clients or of sex industry organisers, would not only make sex-workers more directly vulnerable to exploitation, but would also add to the ambiguity as to what exactly constitutes legal behaviour within sex-work.

In other words, even if further punitive measures were not directed at sex-workers themselves, the effect would be to add to an already complex set of laws that surround their work. If sex-workers are to be protected then the law should be clarified and simplified, and any legislation that is retained or introduced should focus only on identifiable exploitative behaviours rather than assumptions about the relationships between sex-workers and other people.

© Stephen Paterson and An Anthology of English Pros, 2008-2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephen Paterson and An Anthology of English Pros with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
  1. Douglas fox permalink

    It amazes me that all the collected factual data of which this study is just another one (although important one) can be ignored by this government which instead produces proposed legislation that is based on stereotype and simple prejudice.

    But then can we really expect anything else from a Labour party that is now suggesting that British citizenship should be point based. Part of that point system is to be based on a test of suitability which effectively means that engaging in democratic protest is a negative. Read labour read Stalinism read erosion of freedom which for some of us used to epitomise being British.


  2. drew permalink

    Feminist fundies reminds me much of the religious fundies since both groups are against sexual freedoms which is the only thing they have in common. They always tend to ignore the facts and will do anything they can to get rid of things they are against even resorting to making up facts themselves. One of the best ways to combat these people will be to educate people and show them the facts and expose the lies that they come up with.

    They will push on with their campaigns no matter who is in power, it is bad enough with Labour but I wouldn’t be surprised that the Tories will also give in to these groups as well. Sexual Freedom is in danger whether Labour is in power or the Conservatives. I am not sure what the Lib Dems policy on sexual freedoms is however.

    I hope that we will have a Sexual Freedom political party here in the UK similar to the one that has formed last year in Australia.

  3. drew – The LibDems have certainly shown the most insight into the issues over the Policing and Crime Bill, and made very relevant points over safety throughout. They are still making those points in the Lords, where I am hopeful that at the very least the strict liability aspect of the criminalising clients clause will be overturned (as such a move would seem also to have the backing of the Tories). Plaid Cymru also have better insight than the Home Office into the realities of the situation. Alas, the gains may well be reversed when the legislation returns to the Commons. Much will depend on timing.

    I think the point should be made that the Eaves/Poppy position is not by any means supported by all ‘radical’ feminists, many of which take the opposite stance.

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