It’s an exciting day in the UK. While you’d be forgiven for thinking that all MPs worry about is their expenses, they’ll in fact spend this afternoon debating the policing and crime bill, which deals with airport security, public drunkenness. Oh, and prostitution. It seems that home secretart Jaqui Smith has been listening to sex workers, and has introduced some sense into the bill at the last minute.
I’ve fretted before about the bill, which criminalises men who buy sex. But a fantastic lobbying effort by UK sex workers (notably the International Union of Sex Workers and the English Collective of Prositutes) has meant that the version of the bill which gets its third reading today is a VAST improvement on earlier versions. Most importantly, only men who buy sex from women who have been “subjected to force, deception or threats” can be nicked. While it’s still a wide net, it’s not one most people in the indsutry object to — no sex worker wants to work alongside colleagues who have been trafficked or forced into the business. The wording is certainly a damned sight better than earlier versions, which made it illegal to buy sex from people who are “controlled for gain”. That includes anyone who gives an agent a cut of their fees for finding clients (or for finding a publisher, a gig at Wembley, a part in the new Stephen Spielberg movie… No, let’s not go down that route).
There are other proposed ammendments worth supporting too. Catherine Stephens, one of IUSW’s most energetic and dedicated campaigners, draws attention to the following:
• new clause 4 which decriminalises anyone under 18 who is selling sex
• new clause 37 which defines a brothel as more than two people selling sex plus a maid
• new clause 38 which decriminalises “associated workers” (e.g., maids) in brothels
• amendment 6 to clause 15 which defines persistently for street sex workers as “twice a week” rather than the current “twice in three months”
• amendment 7, which removes clause 16 (compulsory rehabilitation for street sex workers as a substitute for fines or jail time)
• new clauses 25 and 26, which, like the government amendments, require that the person selling sex has been coerced and that the client knows this.
Of course the abolitionists are yelping about the changes. If you’re a voter in the UK, you’ve got til 2pm to call your MP and ask them to support the changes, which will make sex work safer and more rewarding for people who want to do it, while helping to protect people who don’t. You can call your MP on +44 20 7219 3000 (and find out who to badger here).
Congratulations to those sex workers who have shown that reasoned, evidence-based engagement in the political process is worthwhile. You’ve brought some wisdom to parliamentarians. Of course one could be forgived for expecting a sympathetic ear from our elected representatives; they know a thing or two about selling themselves to the highest bidder…