The sex industry is highjacking the left. Lobbyists for the sex industry have been given a platform at the anti-capitalist, pro-development events taking place around the G20 Summit in London, this is our response:
Fellow Workers: Do we accept the control of others’ sexuality as ‘work like any other’? Do we want to embrace escort agency owners, brothel managers and lap dancing entrepreneurs as comrades?
The IUSW (‘International Union of Sex Workers’) along with other sex industry advocate groups is working with the Lap Dancing Association, Escort Agency owners and punters to deregulate the sex industry. Claiming to speak for all sex workers, they are fighting for more Lap Dancing Venues, continued ‘café style’ licensing for sex establishments, and more widespread sex work ads in Jobcentres.
The IUSW does not distinguish between workers and managers. It identifies owners, controllers and punters equally as sex workers and encourages their membership. It does not promote collective or worker-owned brothels, simply denying any conflict of interest or inequality, between those who ‘sell sex’ and those who ultimately profit from its sale. They deny all research on the incidence of trafficking, maintaining it is rare and that forced prostitution is a myth.
Their recent campaign is focused on stopping the Policing and Crime Bill currently in session. In relation to the sex industry, it aims to: create a new offence of paying for sex with someone who is controlled for gain and introduce new powers to close brothels, modify the law on soliciting, and tighten up the regulation of lap-dancing clubs by reclassifying them as ‘sex encounter establishments’ rather than ‘entertainment’ venues. Although minimal, symbolic and largely unenforceable, it is at least a notional recognition of the harm of pimping and trafficking.
The claim that prostitution is ‘work like any other’ ignores the physical and psychological harm involved. Accepting it as ‘work like any other’ eradicates women’s sexual agency, and reduces sex, for women, to just another piece of drudgework women (or the underclass of prostituted women necessary to fulfil the imperatives of male demand) must undertake to survive, no different to scrubbing a toilet. If sex, for women, is no different to scrubbing a toilet, then rape can’t be that big a deal either. Our culture already sees rape as trivial, the normalisation of prostitution as ‘work like any other’ is gradually helping to cement that attitude.
There is nothing radical about the sex industry. There is nothing transgressive. It is fundamentally a part of the status quo. The sex industry is capitalism in its purest essence, reducing whole people to commodities. The sex industry is also patriarchy in its purest essence, the hierarchy between men and women reified. Patriarchy has always required a class of prostituted women, and has tacitly condoned the sexual abuse of girl children to create this class.
We are feminists and trade unionists. We call for our brothers in the union movement to fight for a fundamental gender equality, which includes fighting the presumption of unlimited access to female bodies through the sex industry. People are NOT FOR SALE.
Increasingly, the media promotes the myth that prostitution is a free, empowering choice. We don’t hear about the boredom, the pelvic inflammatory disease, the sexual dysfunction occasioned by numbing repetitive penetration, the STDs, the pressure to not wear a condom, the 12-hour shifts and the exhaustion, the reality of not being particularly liked or respected by punters. The voices of women harmed in the sex industry are ignored, dismissed as one-offs who made ‘bad choices.’
Prostitution itself is not illegal. But the argument to legalise brothels and further expand all areas of the industry lest it be ‘driven underground into the hands of criminals’ applies equally to child prostitution. Should we legalise child prostitution to keep it ‘out of the hands of criminals’ and to allow frequent health checks and free condoms for prostituted children?
Accepting prostitution as inevitable is to accept that women’s poverty is inevitable, that men’s sexual violence is inevitable. The sex industry is an institution, it creates a demand for women and children that can only be met through poverty and coercion, poor women deserve better choices than between prostitution and poverty.
If prostitution is the ‘only’ available way out of poverty for large numbers of women and children, as claimed by sex industry advocates, should western aid workers, businessmen and soldiers working in the developing world be encouraged to ‘help’ women and children survive by buying them? Should we turn the developing world into one giant brothel to service the west? Or should we fight for real change, and real routes out of poverty?
Should we change society to suit the globally tiny minority of people who claim to actively want to engage in prostitution? Should we accept any industry just because some people want to work in it? How about the arms industry, or the oil industry? What other industries have benefited from deregulation?
Far from promoting freedom and empowerment, the IUSW and other sex industry advocates are exploiting the economic crisis to try to push through their laissez-faire agenda. They are trying to apply the same kind of ‘shock tactics’ used in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Iraq after the US invasion, and Sri Lanka after the Tsunami, to push through what is ultimately a neo-liberal, ultra-capitalist agenda.