Archives for posts with tag: #EndProstitutionNow

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This article was written for The National Saturday 29 August 2015

I was delighted, and genuinely surprised, to be announced the winner of the inaugural Write to End Violence Against Women Awards in 2013.

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Since then, Scotland has witnessed a dramatic shift in its political landscape which included some devastating critiques of mainstream media and its messages. Civic Scotland brushed off its ideas, flexed its debating muscles as the independence referendum campaign warmed up and new voices began to emerge.  Among those who  ‘dared to dream’ that ‘another Scotland was possible’ were women ready to challenge a deeply macho culture once described as ‘cold and hostile to women’s lives and values’.  Bloggers, freelance journalists, writers, artists and commentators created a new estate of citizen journalism.  The bandwidth broadened, women’s space for debate and critique opened up and all of a sudden it was open season on Scotland’s gender architecture.  What the referendum started now stubbornly refuses to go away and the momentum has not diminished one jot.

Groups like Women for Independence offer online and village hall platforms for women’s concerns and safe places to discuss them. What most Scottish women have known for years is now part of the national conversation: women are still not equal, get paid less than men, do most of the caring and have less political and economic power than men. There is now growing public concern that children are growing up in a culture full of inequality, everyday sexism and all forms of violence against women.  The scandal of high reported rates of these forms of violence has now entered public debate, is a focus for Government action and placing new demands on print and online media to bring their news values into the twenty first century. The Write to End Violence Against Women Awards cleverly caught the zeitgeist in 2013 when they demanded the media raise the bar in its coverage of violence against women.

Now in 2015 there is a growing public appetite for debate on these issues and the old dismissals no longer wash.  People are joining the dots between women’s persistent inequality and the many forms of violence against women such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, child sexual abuse, prostitution and pornography.  The prevalence of these crimes is a national scandal with no place in modern Scotland.  Their roots lie in laws only repealed in the nineteenth century whereby wives and children were the property of husbands or fathers who had the right to ‘chastise’ them.   While these laws were eventually repealed, unfortunately the attitudes to women which went along with them display remarkable longevity.   None more visible than those in much of our popular culture which continues to demean women, treat them as sex objects in ways which subliminally reinforce women’s second class status.

The good news is that some surprising heavy hitters are now joining the fight back.  A recent controversial media campaign against rape #WeCanStopIt had Rape Crisis Scotland and Police Scotland joining forces to get the message out. #EndProstitutionNow, a campaigning coalition which aims to do what it says on the tin is fronted by a fully on-message Glasgow City Councillor.   Clever PR is now unleashing these issues on an utterly changed Scottish media landscape.  Two years down the line gender is on the national agenda and violence against women is emerging from behind those closed doors to where it should be – right up front in the public eye.

Conversation piece image-20150608-8700-1qedfba

This article was first published on The Conversation 9 June 2015.

Here’s the link:

http://theconversation.com/pressure-growing-for-scotland-to-join-other-nations-in-ban-on-sex-trade-42972

A form of violence against women or a legitimate career choice? That’s roughly where the two sides stand on the debate over what we should do about prostitution. Voices from the violence camp have just become louder in Scotland thanks to the launch of the End Prostitution Now campaign, which is backed by various civic organisations.

It is pushing for the buying of sex to be banned north of the border, along with decriminalising prostitution and introducing support services to help people leave the trade behind. The campaign argues that sexual exploitation cannot be addressed without challenging the root causes: gender inequality and men’s demand to buy sexual access to women.

Among its supporters is Rhoda Grant, the Labour MSP for the Scottish Highlands and Islands, who is pushing for an amendment banning the buying of sex to be added to the human trafficking bill currently making its way through the Scottish parliament. Grant recently spoke at an event in Belfast to mark the passing of a similar law in Northern Ireland. She praised Northern Ireland for joining the countries, “sending out a clear message that people should not be bought. Prostitution is a form of violence against women which should not be tolerated”.

Regulation or removal?

There are two distinct approaches to prostitution internationally. There are those who wish to challenge, criminalise and eventually eliminate “demand” and those who support safe and continuing “supply”. In countries persuaded by the latter camp, prostitution is legal or has limited legality, including Germany, New Zealand, Spain and some counties in Nevada in the United States (where otherwise it is illegal).

Advocates for this approach say that prostitution is happening anyway, it is a legitimate career choice for women who enjoy sex and should be classified as “work”, with trade unions to protect the interests of its “workers”. Individual prostitutes and owners and managers of brothels are regulated in the countries that have gone down this route. Health and safety checks are made on the women and the establishments and business often booms.

The new Scottish campaign makes the opposite argument, arguing that for the safety of those involved and women in general, there is no room for libertarianism – and no truth in “realist” arguments that it will keep happening regardless. Since Sweden became the first country in the world in 1999 to criminalise buying sex, it has been followed not only by Northern Ireland but also by Norway (2008), Iceland (2009) and France (2013). We are also seeing a growing volume of debate in the likes of England, Wales and Ireland for a similar direction.

There is evidence of positive results. Sweden has reportedthere has been a shift in attitudes for the better, a decline in the number of men buying sex and a reduced market for traffickers. There are also positive reports from Norway, though Iceland admittedly appears mixed and you can read a more critical summary of the Swedish experience here.

Harm not work

When people refer to the “oldest profession”, I would more accurately describe it as one of the world’s oldest cultural practices. It exploits women in a marketplace for access to their bodies and maintains their second-class status. Most women involved in prostitution are among the poorest and most vulnerable in any community. Substance misuse is commonand many have previously experienced childhood, sexual or domestic abuse. The United Nations and Council of Europeboth say that prostitution, as a form of violence against women, is a function of gender inequality.

The single most harmful aspect is to have to repeatedly endure unwanted sex. In a recent Channel 4 programme Strippers, about women working in lap dancing and pole dancing clubs in Scotland, many commented on having to shut off emotionally to get through their evening and some remarked that it had changed their personality altogether. This can create long-term psychological damage and lead to drug and alcohol abuse in order for sex workers to be able to detach emotionally. Substance use often rapidly escalates Calling prostitution “work” doesn’t make it any less harmful.

Harm by any other name

The attitudes of the “punters” rating the performances of prostitutes on websites often display deeply disturbing attitudes towards them, as last year’s Invisible Men exhibition in Glasgow revealed. Little wonder that sex workers regularly experience extreme physical and sexual violence. And from the back streets of Victorian London to the modern streets of Norwich and Glasgow, many have been murdered.

Working in prostitution also often starts early. A Glasgow study in 2000 showed that 24.5% of the women surveyed had entered prostitution before age 18, with 8.2% starting at age 16 or under. Much of the industrial-scale grooming and sexual exploitation of children exposed in places like Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford in England has shown that prostitution sometimes involves the trafficking of young people. The long-lasting emotional damage of early and continued involvement in prostitution can only be imagined.

For these reasons, I am much more inclined to the argument that we should seek to eradicate prostitution altogether. Reframing the debate as an issue of human rights and gender equality, while focusing on harms, may allow people to ask the right questions: is it ok to buy or rent women’s bodies for sex in the 21st century? Certainly not in my view.

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