Stephen Morris, sources opinions from inside the industry.
WARNING – This article contains links to some very adult websites – WARNING
This year could be very important for the Sex-Industry. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade is calling for evidence in order that it may fulfill its function, which is to:
“raise awareness of the impact of the sale of sexual services on those involved and to develop proposals for government action to tackle individuals who create demand for sexual services as well as those who control prostitutes; to protect prostituted women by helping them to exit prostitution and to prevent girls from entering prostitution.”
The APPG’s mission statement holds that the ‘impact on those involved’ in the sex-industry is necessarily negative and that the demand for sexual services needs to be ‘tackled’. The APPG assumes that those who demand and supply these services are operating in a different way to other vendors and buyers, but we know that in the marketplace both parties benefit from the sale and purchase of goods and services, no matter what kind of goods and services they are.
“But what about the vulnerable and those who are trafficked for sex?” you may ask. The answer is to ask you; “Would it not be better, if we are to tackle anything, to tackle the issue of vulnerability and trafficking, rather than criminalising large numbers of otherwise law-abiding, peaceful and enterprising citizens?”
A regular ‘punter’ named Zipless (voiced in italics), whom I met on an internet message board, agrees:
“What they need to do is to tackle the traffickers, not the service providers and their clients. Women from the EU can get in just by
waving their passport and are very unlikely to be trafficked. I used to see a lovely Czech girl who was working part-time who I thought may have been trafficked, but when I asked if she was she nearly fell off her chair laughing. Those who are most likely to be are those that need a sponsor to get in; even that’s not certain. But prohibiting anything doesn’t actually tackle the problem. Trafficking will probably happen, sadly, whether prostitution is legal or not. The problem with trafficking is that nobody knows the true figures. For various reasons people won’t come forward and some of the research done before 2009 was extremely dubious.”
The research to which Zipless refers was published by The Poppy Project and co-authored by “anti-prostitution campaigner and journalist Julie Bindel”. The project has since lost it’s funding.
The various members of the APPG and our moral superiors have taken the view that most women are forced into prostitution. An anonymous sex-worker, who we shall call Angela (voiced in bold italics), and Zipless say that this just isn’t borne out by their experience, but neither is complacent that it never happens.
“I’ve heard stories and read about trafficked women but I’ve never actually seen or met anyone in that position. I want people to realise that this industry is not about drugs and pimps. There are lots of women who are working happily and voluntarily. It might be difficult for some people to understand that we can enjoy this work, but we do. I don’t want to stand-up and say everything is fine; obviously there are problems, but those problems should be the focus, not the industry as a whole”
“The situation now is that you have agencies which are websites, which put up an escort’s details and they expect a cut of the earnings. For example, The London Escort Guide is a compendium with all the agencies listed on it. If you see a girl you like, you ring the agency and arrange the meeting. £150 for the first hour is a realistic benchmark, although much higher prices can be seen, with £100 for subsequent hours. The agency would then expect a percentage for advertising and for providing a cut-out between the escort and the public. Many ladies are with several agencies so they are independent to that extent; they are just paying someone to take the strain of bookings, the downside is that they can pay 30% or more of their takings. When the lady I see on a regular basis first came to England she worked in an old people’s home for a week, she then joined a brothel in Kent somewhere. She had an arrangement but basically had to see the clients that were wheeled in. She soon got bored of this and left without any ill-will, I’m not saying there aren’t places where the women might be pressured into staying, but she just left.”
It is right that none of us should be complacent about criminal activity which targets vulnerable people. Two recent high-profile cases, one in Rochdale and one in Oxford, of adult men grooming young women and forcing them into lives of drugs, alcohol and rape are timely reminders that we have a lot to be concerned about, but they also give the lie to the ‘antis’ campaign. The criminals involved in these two cases aren’t related to the sex-industry, in the same way that aeroplane hijackers are not related to the airline industry. Angela is pleased that these trials are taking place:
“It’s great that these cases are being taken to court, it shows that we have the laws necessary to deal with trafficking and other abuses, but it’s not great if this is going to be promoted as an image of the sex-industry because those opposed to prostitution will simply use these examples of what is wrong, but in reality it’s just not like that for many women”.
It is this image that is most harmful to men like Zipless. Those who would like to see further criminalisation would describe him as something akin to a predator, shamelessly and selfishly fulfilling his desires with little regard for his ‘victim’, but what does he think?
“Sex is one of the most fundamental appetites, I think one of the problems that the ‘antis’ have, and this is just speculation, I suspect that they are a bit disassociated from their own physicality and sexuality, and probably find sex in itself distasteful. The idea that people would want to pay for sex, and that others would want to provide it… they can’t get their heads around it.”
“I see people who range in age from 18 to 80 from a range of backgrounds and professions, for a variety of reasons. Some have issues with self-confidence, while others just can’t be bothered with the whole dating scene. I see attractive men who would rather pay for sex than go on the pull in a club or use dating sites; they want sex rather than a relationship”
Although most of us are able to see through the media reinforced stereotype, the sex-industry would appear to be at best, a den-of-vice; doesn’t Zipless have any fear of robbery, arrest or worse?
“I’ve never felt unsafe while paying for sex and I think in London at the moment, these may be famous last words but the police have got more important things like terrorism and crime to worry about. To be honest I haven’t looked into what the new Police and Crime Commissioners are up to but as far as I’m concerned it’s still legal for me to pay for sex with a woman who operates on her own and on her own premises as long as she hasn’t been coerced. I’m prepared to take my chances that I can discern whether someone has been coerced or not. If they did make paying for sex totally illegal, I wouldn’t stop doing it and nor would a lot of other people.”
Angela is similarly unfazed by the issues of legality and feels confident enough to work alone:
“My local police force is very sympathetic, in fact I was once told off for working alone. There are some areas where no parlours exist, but on the whole from what I know, it will take political force or a determined Chief Constable to make the police take action against prostitutes and brothels.”
With the APPG currently consulting on proposals for new legislation, is there anything our industry insiders would like to see emerge from the process? Perhaps they would prefer to see prostitutes plying their trade outside of schools and homes, as queues of cars drive slowly past?
“My local police force is very sympathetic, in fact I was once told off for working alone.”
“I don’t think it’s right to allow street-walkers because I don’t think it’s fair on people who live in the area. I think it’s fair enough not to allow people to kerb-crawl or street-walk, I don’t want anyone standing outside my house offering anything whether it’s sex, CD’s or vegetables and while it’s tough on those girls who can’t afford premises, you can’t expect the public to put up with it. I think otherwise it should be decriminalised; it is no business of the state what consenting adults do to each other. Sex in itself is legal and it’s very unfair that it’s only legal for a woman to work if she’s on her own, it would be helpful for women to work together if they want to, a) for their own safety and b) to share costs, which can be considerable and which mean that some women have to street-walk. There should be no problem with men paying for sex, that should stay as it is.”
“Although I’m happy working for and by myself, I do see the benefit of women working together if they want to. This is where the law needs to change: To make it safer for women and to give them the confidence to go to the police when things go wrong. I believe crimes go unreported because criminals may target brothels which they know full well they are unlikely to call the police if they are robbed and if the law changes so that paying for sex is criminalised, that will result in the industry being moved further underground. If a bill was to be passed to criminalise paying for sex would it really put off the kind of men who are dangerous towards women?”
We’ve seen from previous attempts at prohibition (the results of which are Al Capone and Al-Qaeda), just how poorly those good intentions can work out on the ground and we shouldn’t forget that Angela is just trying to earn a living:
“What criminalisation will do is deter the kind, law abiding clients that all sex workers wish to see. Business would be reduced for many women leaving them financially vulnerable. It could potentially force women to take more risks on the clients they see or offer services that they may not be entirely comfortable with. Why should women have to leave a job they enjoy because someone else believes they are not enjoying it?
“What the police need to be able to do is tackle those who are forced into prostitution. If the women out there who are abused and trafficked have not been rescued yet then that is a huge failing and where resources need to be focused. The law that prevents women working together in the same location needs reviewing. If the wellbeing and safety of sex workers is a concern of yours then you have to actually listen to sex workers, find out what would make our already stigmatised jobs safer and focus on those who are forced and abused. This is what those in power should be focused on, not the criminalisation of the innocent.”
“What the police need to be able to do is tackle those who are forced into prostitution.”
According to the insider’s view of the current state of legislation, there are two main problems. The criminalisation of ‘brothels’ means that women who are unable to bare the considerable costs of home ownership and single tenancy are forced to walk the streets to ply their trade, leaving themselves, their clients and the public open to the dangers of criminal and police activity. The second problem is the criminalisation of ‘controlling prostitutes for gain’. This law prevents workers from employing secretaries, housekeepers or security and forces them to use ‘agencies’ whose charges can be considerable, strengthening the type of businesses which the laws are trying to prevent!
Angela and Zipless are just two voices out of many which have remained largely quiet, or at least unpublicised, as the habits of tens of thousands have come under increasing pressure from righteous campaigners and governments, but the problem we face in Britain is not that Zipless is willing to pay or that Angela is willing to accept payment for sex, it is that there is a vocal and influential minority amongst us which is of the opinion that these actions are morally reprehensible and should therefore be outlawed. In an era when the wars on Drugs and Terror are rightly being questioned, is it right that our government should be spending our money investigating the most effective ways of turning more of us into outlaws?
On the bright side perhaps, any further moves to criminalise this industry are likely to have little of their intended effect. Indeed, when Harriet Harman was Equalities Minister she pleaded for Arnold Schwarzenegger to shut down PunterNet.com (it is based in California). The result was priceless, with traffic to the site jumping by hundreds of %.
For those of us with no link to this industry there is little incentive to air our opinions. That is fine, we do not have to campaign on someone else’s behalf. But it is worth remembering that it may be just a matter of time before ‘they’ turn their attention to one of our own less morally defendable habits – https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/prostitutioninquiry
For more information on the current state of the campaign to prevent further criminalisation of British citizens, it is worth heading over to the various sites linked in this article. There are many more voices waiting to be heard.