Sex in London: tonight’s special offer

Hookers, cops, abolitionists, health workers — we’ll be getting hot and heavy tonight at a debate on the sex trade. More specifically, a discussion of how best to tackle the small but vicious portion of the industry that consits of women (and men and transgenders? though we don’t seem to think of them as “victims” in the same way) who are trafficked or coerced into selling sex.

Taking the floor will be Laura Agustin, whose book, Sex at the Margins gives one of the most nuanced accounts of the whos and whys of professional sex, together with the always compelling Catherine Stephens. Catherine is a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth pre-Raphaelite dominatrix who moonlights as an arts critic when she’s neither doing her day job nor persuading the government that sex professionals have voices, too. John Birch of the Metropolitan Police’s Vice Squad will be giving the cop’s perspective, and Georgina Perry will describe how her clients, East End sex workers mostly, cope in an increasingly criminalised environment.

Conspicuously absent from the line up (though certainly not from the audience) are the front-line abolitionists, the Poppy Project et al. This does mean that the debate will probably be less of a “No I’m not, Yes you are” slagging match than usual. But their exclusion does make me a wee bit uncomfortable. I have no time for the “every sex worker is a victim” approach, and I know that those who are anti prostitution, full stop, often try to keep sex professionals from making themselves heard. But two wrongs don’t make a right. I know it is boring to hear people trot out their misery anecdotes as if it were science, to tout ideology as if it were fact. But if we believe (as I do) that the evidence is strongly stacked against criminalisation and abolition of commercial sex, and in favour of better support services and health and safety conditions for people who choose to work in the profession, then we have nothing to fear in allowing those who believe otherwise to have their little rants.

I’ve been shouted down on this front before (eg when I tried to invite the High Priestess of abolitionists Donna Hughes (aka Dumpy Donna) to defend her position at the Bangkok AIDS Conference in 2004). I know it is hard to fight ideology with fact. But I still feel we should have the courage of our convictions, and should be prepared to defend them in debate with just about anyone.

I think it will be a lively evening — I urge any readers in the London area to join the fun. It starts at 7.00, and there’s more info here

This post was published on 11/03/09 in The sex trade.

Send this post to a friend Send this post to a friend


You can follow the comments on this post via this RSS feed.

Tags: , , , , , .

  1. Comment by David Hackney, 11/03/09, 04:34:

    Is anyone filming the discussion for web posting or podcast? I’m sure there are many of us who can’t get to London but would welcome the opportunity to see the debate.

  2. Comment by Aimee Barnes, 12/03/09, 02:57:

    I’m with David. Will there be a possibility to view the debate via podcast?

  3. Comment by elizabeth, 12/03/09, 12:38:

    Unfortunately, unspecified members of the panel asked that the discussion not be taped, so it won’t be available for viewing/listening.

    A nano-summary:
    There was a certain homogeonaeity of views on the panel, for the reasons given in my post. When a member of the audience tried to raise this, they were roundly slapped down.
    The panelists described the difficulty of getting accurate data on trafficking in sex work but all of them, including John Birch of the police’s vice unit, felt that it was a small minority. They all believed that criminalising the majority was not the most effective way to help that minority. They also believed that criminalising clients (which the UK is currently considering) would make matters worse. John Birch described walking a tightrope between a duty to uphold the law (which criminalises sex workers unless they are working in complete, and often dangerous, isolation) and a duty to protect citizens (because let’s not forget, people who take cash for sex are as much citizens as people who have sex after being taken out to a nice dinner or to the altar).

    Yet again, we heard that the sex industry does indeed include trafficking, exploitation and violence. Just like the construction industry, and the meat-packing industry. Yet again, we heard that the solution to these issues is to tackle them in their own right, rather than to ban the sale of sex, or the building of offices, or the eating of meat. Yet again, the discussion will probably have no impact at all on a government driven by moral conviction rather than common sense.

  4. Comment by Paul, 12/03/09, 04:14:

    Has anyone factored in to the equation the current economic downturn? That long term viable industries need to be restructured?
    Perhaps a solution that achieves many ends will be required.
    I am advocating a Sumerian model that will regulate and legitimise the sex industry while generating significant cash flow to the community. There should be a national call for teenage girls to volunteer a couple of years of their life to public service. Very public service. I mean after all, in times of war there have been calls for young men to lay their bodies on the line for their country, and now is the time for girls. I believe this could turn the economy around.
    As in the Sumerian system the girls could be managed by the churches which already have a proven track record of selling ecstasy and salvation. Only after a period of ‘service’ would a girl be eligable for marriage, by which time she would have considerable skills to bring to the relationship.
    I believe the revenue generated would be significant, and may be the salvation to our economic woes.

Comments are closed at this time.