This flyer was written for ‘afem2014’

One of the workshops today will challenge so-called ‘sex positive’ thinking, the idea that all sex that isn’t obviously coerced is good, that ‘sexual liberation’ can only mean saying yes to any and all sexual activity. I ask you to take that critical thinking and apply it to the sex industry.

To be truly positive about sex is to say that sex actually matters, that being forced, directly or indirectly, into sexual activity you don’t want is wrong and is abuse, that the right to be able to say no to sex is just as important as the right to be able to say yes.

Prostitution is, fundamentally, submitting to unwanted sex in exchange for money or some other material return. There is a physical and psychological reality to submitting to unwanted sex, this is something sex industry advocates refuse to acknowledge. This is the classic bait-and-switch of sex industry advocates; ‘sex work is work’ so we can’t talk about what it is like to submit to unwanted sex ten times a day, but, at the same time, ‘sex work’ is sex, and to say anything critical about it makes you an anti-sex prude.

There is a tiny global minority of women and men in the sex industry who get to pick and choose, have a great time, and make a load of money, and that’s absolutely great for them, as individuals, in isolation. But, for the vast majority of women and children and men engaging in transactional sex, it represents a lack of choice.

I also ask you to challenge the liberal idea that any choice made without a gun to your head is a free choice. The ‘choice’ of prostitution is to give up the right to say no to unwanted sex. Those who aren’t coerced directly into prostitution and pornography through violence are coerced through poverty; to say that all work under capitalism is coercive is a cop-out; yes, there is harassment and abuse in all kinds of work, but prostitution and pornography are the only ‘jobs’ where the harassment and abuse are the ‘work’.

To say that poor women ‘need’ prostitution for economic reasons is the same as saying that poor women aren’t good for anything other than prostitution. The girls as young as 11 who were groomed, abused, and pimped in Rochdale, Rotherham and elsewhere were dismissed by police and social workers as having made a ‘lifestyle choice’ to be ‘child prostitutes’, because those working class girls were seen as having no other possible value [1].

Sex industry advocates used to argue that decriminalising the sex industry would decrease child prostitution, in 2012 the New Zealand PM admitted that child prostitution had not decreased after decriminalisation [2]. Now, academic sex industry advocates write about the ‘agency’ of ‘juvenile sex workers’ and call the ‘sex’ of a homeless child engaging in survival prostitution a part of that child’s ‘sexuality’ and ‘sex life’ [3].

The reality of decriminalising the sex industry is Germany’s entirely legal, flat-rate brothels, where groups of men can purchase ‘gang bang’ packages; German women do not work in these brothels, women from Eastern Europe do. There has been an increase in trafficking, no significant improvements in the working conditions of prostitutes, and little use of new labour laws [4]. Why else would sex industry advocates try to distance themselves from the German reality by dishonestly calling it “state-run legalised prostitution”? [5]

Of course, getting the police off prostitutes’ backs is important, but the abolitionist model (also called the Swedish or Nordic model), which criminalises the john while decriminalising the prostitute her or himself, achieves that as well. This is something sex industry advocates deliberately and cynically ignore, or outright lie about, by claiming that abolitionists want to criminalise prostitutes.

If you want to find out about the reality of prostitution, you can hear about it from the johns themselves, through the ‘Invisible Men’ project [6]. Sex industry advocates tried to get an exhibition of this work censored, what are they trying to hide? [7]


[1] “Rochdale Council was criticised for missing opportunities to help victims of a child sex ring after nine of the ringleaders were jailed in May. An independent review found staff who failed to act had said the girls were making “lifestyle choices”.”

“One father called Children’s Social Care (CSC) up to 50 times, reporting his daughter’s “uncontrollable drinking, running away and difficult behaviour”. Social workers told him she was “a child prostitute”, and he accepted this “because he did not know that it was wrong”, the review said.”


[3] Laura Agustin wrote on her blog: “The issue of young people on the street who have a home somewhere they don’t want to live in – runaways – is always charged because of a widespread refusal to accept that everyone has a sexuality – babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, old people.” Later in the comments thread she denied that she had called prostitution a sexuality, but there is no other way to interpret that paragraph.

An LSE blog post talks about the commercial sexual exploitation of children like this: “We argue that the precondition for such research is setting aside ideological positions about sex work and seeking a deeper, broader, and more dynamic understanding of the experiences of young people in commercial sex markets, rather than focusing obsessively on their sex lives.”


[5] On 25th April ’14, the Guardian published a letter from Niki Adams of the ‘English Collective of Prostitutes’, in which she described Germany’s decriminalised sex industry as “state-run legalised prostitution”. The Spiegel article listed above disproves this: “In 2007, then-Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), wanted to make brothels subject to government approval, and fellow CDU member Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was interior minister of the state of Saarland at the time (and who is now governor of the state), supported her. But the two politicians failed to secure a majority within their party and nothing happened.”



The invisible men projects reproduce the ‘reviews’ written by johns, and reveal a reality of prostitution that sex industry advocates would rather we did not see. The blog post describes the project as ‘hate speech’, but this is what johns say about prostitutes on ‘review’ forums, this is what johns really think about the prostitutes they use.