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Not so long ago the French would shrug and sigh about prudish societies where sex could still provoke scandal, scoffing at melodramas acted out in the USA by politicians caught doing something opposed to so-called family values. Dominique Strauss-Kahn used this tradition with his claim to be engaging in ‘libertine activity’ when he paid for sex at parties. Now this is changing, not only because of Strauss-Kahn’s continuing saga but because the French parliament is set to pass a law against buying sex that was previously associated with countries to the north.

A couple of years ago I wrote Europe’s anti-prostitution initiatives multiply, discussing France in the context of the European Women’s Lobby campaign for a Europe Free from Prostitution. UN Women National Committee Sweden recently called this ‘an issue that divides the world, and where the Northern European and the global women’s movement fight for recognition of fundamentally different values.’ Perhaps now France will feel more northern than southern Europe.

In networks of activism for sex workers’ rights and better commercial-sex laws, the bill set to pass in France has been a focus of campaigning for some time. Many unfamiliar with the subject cannot believe their ears when told about the contradictory law known as the Swedish or Nordic model, which prohibits the buying of sex while allowing it to be sold. In Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores I said:

Yes, it’s illogical. But the contradiction is not pointless; it is there because the goal of the law is to make prostitution disappear, by debilitating the market through absurd ignorance of how sex businesses work.

Although a lot of activism now takes place via social-media websites, sometimes an email is better. Thierry Schaffauser sent the following ideas in a message about the current situation in France to an activist list. I have added links he provided and edited so that outsiders to these conversations may understand. The full text of the proposed French law can be read here: Proposition de loi renforçant la lutte contre le système prostitutionnel.

Dear all,

I think what we fear is going to happen.

The Socialist party introduced the bill, which was co-signed by all other parties affiliated to the Socialists as well as the Communist and Left parties, so there is already a majority in favour of the law. The right wing might vote with them as well. Even MPs who are against the law will probably vote for it, out of party discipline and to avoid being labelled as sexist, pro-pimp and pro-prosti-killers by feminists (prosti-tueurs is the new name they give to men who buy sex).

In parliamentary hearings two former prostitutes were invited to speak, both affirming the shame, degradation and self-destruction of prostitution. Current sex workers were not asked to testify; one of us spoke along with the health organisations. We have held many demonstrations and shown all the evidence, but we are ignored. The sponsors use flawed evidence and anonymous testimonies; they don’t care about NGOs or research.

Sponsors of the bill claim all the time that 90% of prostitutes are victims of trafficking. This percentage may be their estimate for non-French sex workers, not trafficking victims, but abolitionists don’t distinguish between the two. No source is given for the figure. All migrants are defined as trafficked.

Sex workers who oppose the bill are accused of being a non-representative and privileged minority, so selfish that we defend our own interest and those of pimps and willing to sacrifice the majority of poor victims of trafficking and rape. They insist they will not pass a law on behalf of sex workers who claim to consent to prostitution. They say that our consent is flawed due to poverty and other constraints, and believe that if we were to leave prostitution and go into therapy we would recognise that we had lied to ourselves and that prostitution is, in fact, harmful.

Migrant sex workers from all parts of the world increasingly join the sexworker union STRASS, but they don’t participate in public debates because of the language barrier and the stigma. During our last demonstration there were many migrants, but they were ignored by mainstream media. The bill would make it possible for migrant sex workers to get a six months’ residence permit on condition they agree to stop prostitution.

Sponsors of the law don’t care that only 22% of the French population are in favour of fining clients 1500€, because they say in Sweden the law succeeded in changing people’s minds about prostitution. They share the same goal to educate people in France. The bill would mandate school programming to teach that buying sex is like rape and that prostitution is degrading.

The bill says street soliciting will be permitted, but local by-laws can be passed to maintain public order, so sex workers would not even be decriminalised.

The bill would instruct Internet Service Providers to alert authorities and give power to block access to websites suspected of profiting from prostitution, which means even escort advertising could be targeted. One MP said it would be possible for police to use our phone numbers, which we fear means they could listen to conversations in order to identify and arrest clients and lead to forced entry into our homes and workplaces.

Sponsors of the bill don’t even listen to police, who say criminalising clients would be too difficult to implement and would divert efforts to combat trafficking.

A few days ago a group of reactionary right-wing men started defending the right to buy sex in a very sexist manner. They are being widely reported in the media, and sex workers who oppose the bill are made to look as if we side with them, which is terrible for us.

I don’t know what to do now.

See La pénalisation contre-productive for more on the bill from Thierry Schaffauser.

Many of Thierry’s comments illustrate how certain social actors are disqualified from participating in debates, including when their own welfare is at stake. The most peculiar idea pushed by abolitionism is that there must be a single interpretation for the act of selling sex, that all who do it must agree about the experience. In the case of sex workers who do not want their clients penalised, crusaders give a range of excuses for why their opinions are not relevant, appropriate, serious or believable, allowing their exclusion from debate. Somehow prostitution has come to be a subject where disqualification and discrediting are major tactics for winning political campaigns, where crusaders aggressively dismiss women, men and transgender people from attempting to tell their experiences. The most extreme disqualification goes to the voice of anyone currently selling sex:

Aucune personne prostituée pendant qu’elle exerce la prostitution ne dira jamais qu’elle est contrainte, jamais. Tout le monde effectivement dit que ‘je le fais volontairement’. Ce n’est qu’au moment où la prostitution s’arrête que les personnes disent en fait ce n’était pas ce je disais. – Danielle Bosquet

This authoritarian trump card permits anyone claiming autonomy in selling sex to be dismissed on non-provable ‘brainwashing’ grounds. See Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores for more on how disqualification works.

The turning of all migrants who sell sex into victims of trafficking is what drove me into reading and research in the late 1990s. Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry is the result of that research, along with articles in academic journals that opened the door to a new field of study. Moral entrepreneurs disqualify this work, too, as exceptional and irrelevant.

The French legislation is highly repressive in many ways. That it is sold as morally righteous confirms my feeling that we have moved into a period of Social Purity, the name given to a movement in Anglo countries in the late 19th century, in which the pursuit of prostitutes and their clients was a principle activity. The difference now can be seen in clauses to the French bill that would increase police power by allowing more surveillance of telephones and possible blocking of Internet sites where sex is offered for sale. The Rescue Industry now propose to save us from even the sight of advertisements considered to foment prostitution; we are all to be re-educated and rehabilitated for our own good.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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The idea of a government outlawing activities accomplishes only one thing clearly: It tells citizens that government has decided something is Wrong and now outlaws doing it. Sending A Message is the principle act behind the Swedish state’s promotion of its law against buying sex, and it is the principle act behind all the other politicians and would-be policymakers who want the law for their countries. Everyone wants to be seen to be Taking a Stand against immoral behaviour. Try bringing evidence into the conversation and you will quickly learn how irrelevant it is; you can find Swedish promoters themselves saying things like We know it doesn’t work but we want to be in the forefront of Gender Justice. This is about standing up for how you think society should be and doing it publicly, and trying to save people from their own immoral selves by outlawing bad things that attract them.

Any other claim about what prohibitionist laws achieve when they outlaw social activities like sex, drinking and drugs is not supported by evidence. That’s because, after the law is passed and the message is sent, individuals deal with prohibition deviously. That is, social pressure is strong to go along with the moral stand taken, but on the private level folks don’t intend or aren’t able to stop taking their own pleasures. So buyers and sellers of drugs, alcohol and sex become creative, some of them maintaining a disapproving stance in public at the same time.

The main claim made by prohibitionism is its deterrent effect, which holds that people will be put off breaking the law a) simply because it is illegal; b) because they are afraid of being put in prison; c) because they do not want to be publicly shamed and lose social status, whether they go to prison or not. In Foucauldian terms a punishment has to be threatened that can rob the crime of all attraction, so the potential perpetrator stops. Shaming is thus proposed by those who would prohibit buying sex (names and photos published on a website, for instance). Heart-rending pictures of victims are distributed to add to the shame at wanting to participate. When those don’t seem to work, or when perpetrators go ahead and pay fines when they are caught instead of resisting charges, prohibitionists propose the ante be upped to obligatory jail sentences.

I wrote about deterrence early on in Sex Workers and Violence Against Women: Utopic Visions or Battle of the Sexes? The theory of deterrence sounds as though it might work to put people off getting punished, but people are not very logical or sensible when it comes to their bodily pleasures – eating, smoking, drinking, drug-taking, sex. I hope someone is documenting the techniques being used as part of a criminology project somewhere – let me know if you are! [Other uses of deterrence are more complicated, see Deterrence in Criminal Justice.] I do wish Foucault were here to talk with me about this.

The prohibition of alcohol in the USA provides insights, though we shouldn’t generalise about everything and everywhere on the basis of them. I only bring it up because Slate just published these elegant cards patrons could carry and show at the door of drinking clubs in midtown New York between 1920 and 1933, the years when making and selling alcohol was prohibited. Calling it a club didn’t make drinking there legal, but if drinkers belonged to insider networks they would get a card, and doormen felt safer letting them inside the venues (the theory being that police and their informants wouldn’t manage to get a card).

Slate says

These cards represent clubs both famous and obscure. The card on the upper right would have admitted a partygoer to the glamorous Stork Club in its second home, which it moved into after it had been “raided out” of its first on West 58th Street. . . All of these cards are for establishments located on roughly the same latitude in midtown Manhattan. In the Prohibition years, according to Irving L. Allen, the blocks between 40th and 60th streets in Manhattan were rife with speakeasies.

The cards show how deviance develops when a market exists for an outlawed activity. Buyers and sellers find each other, including in upper social registers where patrons obviously must include some of the very people who have Taken a Stand and voted in a prohibitionist law. The cards also show how little deterred alcohol-drinkers were.

Then, of course, and far more convincing: all kinds of buying and selling sex are prohibited by criminal law all over the US, except in those few rural counties of Nevada where brothels are allowed. How in the world anyone could propose prohibiting the buying of sex as a deterrent is beyond me.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Toulouse-Lautrec, AloneNordic model is a new tag on this website, and it doesn’t refer to leggy blondes. People contact me ever oftener asking for what I’ve written on prostitution laws in the Nordic countries, so I have now tagged everything I could find. This is a sub-set of the Sweden tag, which includes other sorts of issues related to gender equality. Norway’s law is even more stringent than Sweden’s. Iceland is the third country that has passed the law, but many others are considering it.

What you will not find are quantitative, definitive, bottom-line debunkings of abolitionist and anti-prostitutionist claims. Those don’t exist, they cannot exist, and anyone who says they can is spinning a line. There’s widespread disagreement about how to define trafficking and who is a victim of it, so when you see numbers you should immediately be skeptical. Sometimes ideology is at the bottom of large figures for victims. Other times the issue is that different countries and organisations use non-comparable categories for counting people. Where sex businesses operate in the informal sector there are no formal lists of employees. Where sex workers are supposed to register with the state (as prostitutes) many do not. Undocumented migrants are not eligible to register anywhere as workers and are not counted at the border. Everyone estimates all these numbers; the words research and evidence are tossed about wantonly. The most egregious example I know of ideologically based, subjective, sloppy counting is Siddharth Kara’s. There are other grotesque examples I describe as Garbage In, Garbage Out.

When someone asks for ‘the most reliable statistics on the effect of the Swedish Model of prostitution criminalisation’, they are assuming those exist somewhere. To understand why they do not exist, look at critiques of the government evaluation of its law. They were unable to evaluate it, they didn’t know how, I wouldn’t know how either, so no conclusions can be drawn from the evaluation. There are only claims. Go to the nordic-model tag and find things like

Moral entrepreneurs go on pretending large numbers prove their points. People say the Nordic model – laws that prohibit the purchase of sex and punish purchasers – is effective in reducing prostitution and trafficking. As for reducing prostitution, the only thing that possibly has been reduced is the number of people selling in the street, but those were tiny numbers to begin with and already shrinking. The Swedish evaluators anyway used famously wrong Danish numbers for street prostitution to make their claim and never issued a correction after being informed of their error. On any other kind of commercial sex, they had no numbers at all because they did not know how to do that research (and they admitted it).

As for claims about trafficking, you cannot know you have ‘reduced’ something for which you had no baseline numbers in the first place. All you have are police officials’ impressions and claims. The ‘effect’ of the law is unmeasurable.

I’ve begun tweeting, by the way, and realise I am starting to reach people who don’t know why anti-trafficking campaigns are so conflicted and unsuccessful. Do come join me (@LauraAgustin) in the challenge to make incredibly complex subjects lucid in under 140 characters.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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ANTI-MALE RUBBISH! PROS & CALLGIRLS ARE MORE HONEST. POLICE SHOULD GET REAL CRIME.

Click twice on the photo to read the protest message stuck to a poster I wrote about last week as One London borough wants to End Demand: Clients of sex workers beware. I wonder how many posters got a sticker? This one’s on the tube escalator, surrounded by ads for musical shows and acne cures.

Thanks to Furry Girl and DrPizza for this photo.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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A friend took these photos of a parked van while having a drink in Brixton, in the London borough of Lambeth (where Waterloo Station is). Buy Sex – Pay the Price is the message, with a man’s silhouette as a sort of parody of the cliché prostitute silhouette. At first I thought this bad boy was smoking, but on closer inspection I see he is looking at a phone.

According to the sign, the consequences of getting caught buying sex are:

- be arrested
- be convicted
- receive an anti-social behaviour order
- lose your job

- lose respect from family and friends

However: No borough can unilaterally criminalise something just because they want to; they have to follow official law. Several laws prohibit particular client behaviours in the UK: paying for sex with someone found to be controlled for another person’s gainkerb-crawling and soliciting women for (sex) business. Perhaps the campaign means Lambeth police will be more aggressive in pursuing these laws. I wrote about the more drastic version of the legislation about gain when it was being considered, but all my arguments still apply to the watered-down version.

But the way the advert is worded does imply that End Demand has been imposed in a single London borough – and presumably some people will believe it, or feel too worried to do something they want to that is not actually illegal - pay for sex with an independent worker, for example, or tip a stripper or lap-dancer. This is what social-purity campaigns do: make at least some people feel worried and guilty so that they repress themselves. The advertisements were funded by Lambeth council’s Violence Against Women campaign, described in this press release.

Social Purity campaigns were linked to gender equality a hundred years ago, too – with a good deal more cause: women didn’t have the vote. That social purity as an ideal should be back in crude form in cosmopolitan Lambeth might derive from the abolitionist presence of Eaves Housing for Women, where the Poppy Project is sheltered, in the borough. Or will this idea spread to other boroughs?

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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beach boys sex touristsBeach boys and women sex tourists: every journalist’s dream topic. A Swiss television reporter interviewed me about a documentary he was making, incorporating footage from Cowboys in Paradise, a film about Kuta Beach in Bali. I happened to be in Basel, nearly missing Catherine MacKinnon when the reporter contacted me, so he came into the room where I was giving a talk and interviewed me afterwards. Some bits of those are cut into this 11-minute television clip, and although most of the English and Indonesian are overlaid with German, the pictures are good and you can follow the narrative easily. Note especially the testimonies of two women: one is the young wife of a beach boy who feels okay about how he makes his money and the other is a young Swede who asks why she shouldn’t have whatever sex she wants.

Reporters want to know if the boys are ‘really’ prostitutes and why the girls are paying; they have trouble figuring out who is exploiting whom. It’s a bias, of course, to insist someone has to be exploiting since money and sex are involved, rather than seeing these as ordinary relationships, the kind that travelling people have been having since human life began. Some want to believe that women are morally better than men and therefore won’t pay for sex just because they have the money and freedom to allow them to fly to places like Bali and do it. I don’t think women have any moral traits as a class, and the fact that some like these breezy holiday situations the same way men do doesn’t surprise me. (That’s why I end up laughing during interviews like this – because to me what I am saying is just common sense not requiring any professorial analysis.) There’s a theory that women are more keen to be romanced than men, which I consider pretty silly since plenty of male tourists have stars in their eyes and are wound around the little fingers of those poorer women they are said to be exploiting.

Then some want to see these largely white-skinned women as racist, an interpretation I also don’t share, for the same reason: travellers like to meet others who seem interesting and different; they like to talk, drink, eat, dance, tour and have sex with them. That’s banal. In such situations, travellers often can and are willing to pay for their fun, and since I don’t see having sex as different from those other activities I’d have to condemn travel itself if I am going to condemn the sex. Unless people are wanting a condemnation of global economic inequalities that mean the beach boys don’t have lots of other great ways to make money: well, fine, I condemn that. But please note that the boys interviewed here find pleasuring tourists a lot easier and more fun than other jobs. And that they don’t see themselves as sex workers or as prostitutes; no professional identity need attach to ambiguous relationships. Is this all the erotic side of imperialism? I guess so. But we are all caught up in it; there is no perfectly clean place to stand; telling people to stay home is no solution, whether they are tourists or migrants.

Other stories about sex tourism here.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Aquí no hay puticlub: There’s no sex club here. This sign was erected by a British landowner along a rural route in Spain where customers in search of a commercial sex venue apparently drive in error. There are many sex clubs, bars and brothels of all shapes and sizes in Spain, where selling sex is not illegal, but key activities surrounding it are. I wrote about the different types of venues years ago when arguing for a cultural study of commercial sex.

I wonder if future historians will track how misinformation about migration and sex work was so willfully reproduced during the present period, how news publications with a reputation for actual investigation began to copy chunks of pseudo news and paste them together, were satisfied to quote only society’s most predictable, official and reductionist sources and failed to admit that the police force of any country is not the place to find out about complex social problems.

Any authentic interest in the topic at hand could not be titled In Spain, Women Enslaved by a Boom in Brothel Tourism – a cartoon-like story full of the most superficial sensationalist cliches, mostly derived from police sources and a few abolitionist advocates. Yet this is the story The New York Times published on its front page the other day, complete with a ludicrous photo of a young woman in high red boots worthy of the cheapest rag. As the story claimed to be about brothels (indoor venues), why did they illustrate the story with a picture of street prostitution – again, on the front page? I know of no serious research that talks about brothel tourism, by the way. On the other hand, men who live in places where no venues are available have always been known to cross borders or travel distances to get to them. There is no news about that.

The issue is failure to investigate and report dysfunctional migration policy and how growing economic inequalities promote the taking of unregulated, unprotected jobs in in underground economies, including in the sex industry. If this article had appeared in the New York Daily News or Britain’s Daily Mail, I wouldn’t even bother to comment, and it would take too long and be too annoying for me to critique the entire article, but here are a few of the most misleading simplifications:

* Young Men Flocking to Spain for Sex With Trafficked Prostitutes: title to a banal set of photos, some taken at a big sex club on the Spanish border near France. Border crossings for all sorts of reasons, sex, wine and rambling among them, have been going on forever in that area not only pottery and leather goods as the article says. How old can these reporters be that they seem to be describing naive tourists from the US in the 1950s?

* Sob story implying migrants’ families are heartless:

The police came across one case in which Colombian traffickers were paying one family $650 a month for their daughter. She managed to escape, he said. But when she contacted her family, they told her to go back or they would send her sister as a replacement.

One police case plucked out of thousands to imply how awful other places are, because there could never be a cruel or desperate family in the US, right? And no mention of the many more family projects that do not involve such melodrama.

* Pretense that something new and different is happening:

…experts say that prostitution — almost all of it involving the ruthless trafficking of foreign women — is booming, exploding into public view in small towns and big cities.

When selling sex is not illegal it may occur anywhere without people hiding, if that’s what they mean by public view – that is hardly surprising news.

* The report says one migrant still owed them more than $2,500, as though it were an egregious amount. In fact, that much can often be paid back in a fairly short time – one, two months – by someone working in a busy sex club. And as I have written many times, migrants pay for a series of valuable services, so without knowing a lot more about this particular story we do not know what this sum means.

* Attempt to cause moral panic about the young.

In the past, most customers were middle-aged men. But the boom here, experts say, is powered in large part by the desires of young men — many of them traveling in packs for the weekend — taking advantage of Europe’s cheap and nearly seamless travel. “The young used to go to discos,” said Francina Vila i Valls, Barcelona’s councilor for women and civil rights. “But now they go to brothels. It’s just another form of entertainment to them.”

All research for a long time has suggested that young men in groups habitually drop into clubs and drive through streets with sex workers as part of nights out. The same evening easily includes both discos and sex clubs. The word packs makes the men sound predatory, of course.

* Then they try to make it a problem of growing demand for sex services from younger tourists, so ignorant about travel outside the US they don’t know that people in neighbouring countries here rarely refer to each other as tourists. In Europe, everyone moves around all the time, the Schengen agreement meaning no border checks. This is not news. And to claim that Spain has also become a go-to destination for sex services is laughable. Spain has been a major tourist destination for decades. Holidays may always include sex, paid or not, and there is definitely a market for men visiting numerous European cities to enjoy stag parties. Spain is not particularly famous for these, but trends may change.

* Ignorance about migration:

Thirty years ago, virtually all the prostitutes in Spain were Spanish. Now, almost none are. Advocates and police officials say that most of the women are controlled by illegal networks — they are modern-day slaves.

Women from Latin America travelling to Spain to work in domestic service or sell sex is indeed a decades-long phenomenon, so that different generations in the same family are involved and networks are mature. Networks are illegal because migrants are undocumented, not because they are sinister. This is just yellow-press exaggeration.

I have to stop here; there is just too much irresponsible rubbish in this article. Toward the end a few interesting facts slip in that indicate the subject is far more complex than the cheesy reporting has so far let on – the reporters must not have realised. I also could provide numerous links to my own writings, many based fundamentally on my own years of living and researching in Spain, but the New York Times will never be interested.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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x:talk, a workers’ collective in London, is calling for a stop to all arrests of sex workers as a way to reduce the harm associated with police handling of ‘trafficking’ associated (erroneously) with large sporting events. London is another place where selling sex is legal but surrounded by many vaguely defined activities that can cause arrest, notably the prohibition on working alongside someone else (even if they serve as your receptionist or security guard). Adverts like these in public phone boxes are also prohibited but continue to proliferate. Just about every prohibition is now justified as a way to stop trafficking, when most of the offences date back to efforts to limit the nuisance caused by prostitution.

Note the call is for a cessation of arrests of workers, not clients. Criminalisation of purchasing sex (an anti-client law) exists in a diluted form here that makes it an offence to pay for sex with a person controlled for another person’s gain, which clients may be charged for whether they knew about the control or not (what’s known as a strict liability clause). Yes, it’s a very vague idea and difficult to prosecute.

x:talk will be sending a letter to the Mayor of London requesting the moratorium. Get in touch if you are willing to be a signatory to the letter or if there is any other way you can support the campaign: moratorium2012 [at] gmail.com.

Sex Work and the Olympics: The Case for a Moratorium

1. x:talk and its supporters are calling for a moratorium on arrests of sex workers in London with immediate effect until the end of the Olympic Games.

2. Governments, charity organisations and campaign groups have argued that large sporting events lead to an increase in trafficking for prostitution. These claims, often repeated by the media, are usually based on misinformation, poor data and a tendency to sensationalise. There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution.[1]

3. These claims can lead to anti-trafficking policies and policing practices that target sex workers. In London, anti-trafficking practices have resulted in raids on brothels, closures and arbitrary arrests of people working in the sex industry. This creates a climate of fear among workers, leaving them less likely to report crimes against them and more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.[2] This is an inadequate response to sex work and to trafficking.

4. x:talk is aware of “clean-up efforts” already underway in London, particularly east London, in the run up to the Olympics. These include multiple raids and closure of premises. We anticipate that until the end of the Olympic games there will be a continued rise in the numbers of raids, arrests and level of harassment of sex workers.

5. A series of violent robberies on brothels by a gang in December in Barking & Dagenham demonstrates the effect that this climate of fear can have on the safety of sex workers. The effect of raids on brothels and closures in the area had eroded relations between sex workers and the Police with the result that the sex workers targeted by the gang were unwilling to report the attacks for fear of arrest. The gang were able to attack at least three venues in December 2011.[3]

6. In light of this, x:talk and its supporters are calling on the Mayor of London and London Metropolitan Police to suspend arrests and convictions of sex workers under the criminal laws laid out in Appendix 1.

APPENDIX 1: OFFENCES TO BE INCLUDED UNDER MORATORIUM

Suspension of offences that refer directly to sex workers:

-  Soliciting (this should include soliciting penalties: rehabilitation orders and Anti-Social Behavioural Orders), s.1 (1) Street Offences Act, s.16, s.17 Policing and Crime Act 2009, s.1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

-  Keeping a brothel, where the person deemed to be “keeping a brothel” is one or more of the people selling sexual services. Effectively, this means we are calling for a suspension of any arrests of sex workers who work collectively.

Soliciting

 

S. 1 (1) of the Street Offences Act 1959 makes loitering or soliciting for purposes of prostitution an offence. Section 16 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 amended s.1 of the Street Offences Act 1959 inserting the requirement that soliciting be “persistent”, defined as occurring twice within a three-month period.

A logical corollary of the suspension of laws relating to persistent soliciting would be the suspension of any new rehabilitation orders, as defined by s.17 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, and Anti-Social Behavioural Orders, as defined by s.1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, that may follow breach of a rehabilitation order.

Keeping a brothel

 

S.33A of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, as inserted by s. 55(1) and (2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, creates an offence of keeping, managing, acting or assisting in the management of a brothel to which people resort for practices involving prostitution (whether or not also for other practices). Prostitution is defined by section 51(2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as follows: a person (A) who, on at least one occasion and whether or not compelled to do so, offers or provides sexual services to another person in return for payment or a promise of payment to A or a third person.

S.33A therefore covers premises where two or more people provide sexual services at the same time. Where one or more person (who may or may not be offering sexual services) are found to be keeping, managing, acting or assisting in the management of that brothel they will be charged under s.33A. The required level of control over brothel activities varies but will be satisfied where there is evidence of a person seeing customers onto the premises, handling payments from customers, paying bills, placing advertisements in local papers (R v Alexsander Sochaki (2010) EWCA Crim 2708). However, we draw attention to the recent case of Claire Finch, who was unanimously acquitted of brothel keeping. Finch had accepted that she worked collectively from her own home providing sexual services and gave evidence it would be too dangerous for her to work alone. Finch’s barrister, relying on evidence that there had been numerous serious violent attacks on solitary street sex workers in Bedfordshire in recent years. successfully argued that Finch was entitled to rely on the defence of necessity.

Suspension of arrests of sex workers, administrative detainment and / or removal, during the enforcement of offences relating to third parties:

-  Sections 52-53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 make it an offence to cause, incite or control a prostitute for gain. Section 54 defines gain as ‘any financial advantage, including the discharge of an obligation to pay or the provision of goods or services (including sexual services) gratuitously or at a discount, or the goodwill of any person which is or appears likely, in time, to bring financial advantage.’

Causing, inciting, controlling for gain

These offences, particularly s.53 controlling a prostitute for gain, are often the basis of raids[4] and will be accompanied by the arrest of sex workers for immigration offences.

During the enforcement of these offences we are calling for a suspension of all arrests of sex workers, including arrests and deportation procedures for immigration offences.

Suspension of the closure of premises:

 

-  S.21 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which allows the closure of premises for up to three months where the police have reasonable suspicion that prostitution related offences (as defined by ss.52-53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) are being committed.

-  Brothel keeping charges make it an offence keep, manage or assist in the management of a brothel and for a landlord or tenant to let or permit their premises for the purposes of prostitution: s.33A-36 Sexual Offences Act 1956. Those keeping a brothel, landlords and tenants might be informed that if the behaviour does not desist, and the premises close, they will be liable for prosecution.[5]

Closure Notices and Orders

A Freedom of Information request issued by x:talk to the MET has revealed that in four of the five London Olympic boroughs only one closure order and notice has been applied for pursuant to s.21 of the Policing and Crime Act. However, the FOI states that “this response does not mean that no premises were closed, instead it confirms that no premises were closed in these four boroughs as a result of a notice issued under Section 21, Schedule 2 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 … premises usually respond to requests from Police to close and often other legitimate means of closing them are adopted, such as consultation with the landlord & follow through action resulting from that. Barriers to use of closure notices include civil court fees and consultation process.”

We therefore call for a suspension of police efforts to serve notices and close premises where they suspect prostitution offences are being carried out, whether in the pursuance of a closure order / notice under s.21 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, ss.33A-36 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, or any other legal measure. However, it is important to note that our call for suspension does not apply to premises where child related prostitution or pornography offences are suspected (ss.47-50 Sexual Offences Act 2003). Our call relates solely to premises where prostitution offences under s.52-53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 are suspected.


[1] Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), (2011) What’s the Cost of a Rumour? A Guide to Sorting Out the Myths and Facts about Sporting Events and Trafficking. http://www.gaatw.org/publications/What’s_the_Cost_of_a_Rumour-GAATW2011.pdf

[2] x:talk (2010), Human rights, Sex Work and the Challenge of Trafficking

[3] Owen Bowcott, “Call for change in law to protect prostitutes from violent crime”, Guardian 6/01/12, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/jan/16/change-law-prostitutes-crime-violent

[4] Crown Prosecution Service guidance for enforcement of s.53: “In investigating cases of controlling prostitution, the police may raid and disrupt brothels where local police policy previously had been one of toleration of off street prostitution.” http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/prostitution_and_exploitation_of_prostitution/

[5] Ibid 3, Owen Bancroft, Guardian 6/01/12

Quote from Metropolitan Police: “a notice has been served to the registered owner of the venue in Victoria Road under the auspices of section 33a of the Sexual Offences Act 1956. The notice formally notified the recipient that they were liable to prosecution should the premises in Victoria Road remain in use as a brothel.”

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Pictures like this can cause ranting about Sex Tourism solely because an older white man is seen walking with a younger less-white woman. Their physical characteristics are presumed to determine fixed identities, by which I mean we are supposed to know who they are, fundamentally, simply because of how they look. I have always been very uncomfortable with such blanket categorisation, which reminds me of systems of racial segregation. Or if race is not the crux then age would seem to be, since according to today’s romantic narratives, proper relationships only occur between people of the same age. Anti-sex tourism campaigners who claim only to be concerned about the tourists’ financial power fail to account for the special repulsion they exhibit at age and ethnic/racial differences in these couples, a prejudice that blocks any curiosity about the people involved as people.

Soi Cowboy Photo by Matt Greenfield

Some of the men under scrutiny are tourists, while others call themselves ex-pats, but they all stand accused of having travelled for the purpose of using their money to buy sexual relationships. I bring this fraught topic up because a number of Christian Rescue Industry groups have identified places of sex tourism as a target of their mission, hoping to rescue women who sell sex and stop men who buy it: a species of End Demand project. The testimony below comes from The World Race: This unique mission trip is a challenging adventure for young adults to abandon worldly possessions and a traditional lifestyle in exchange for an understanding that it’s not about you; it’s about the Kingdom. The following are excerpts from a single participant’s description of one experience.

Bill and his 300 women, Laura Meyers, 28 December 2010

. . . One of the most dreadful days of my life was in Pattaya, Thailand. . . I was there on the human trafficking exploratory trip and Michelle and I had spent the day interviewing men and families on why they were in Pattaya. . . Bill was sitting around the table with some other western men. . . Bill was originally from Canada but had moved to Thailand a few years back. . . for “SEX” . . . he had BOUGHT OVER 300 women! Although somewhere in my gut I knew that response was coming, I sat shocked and horrified. . . He had no shame or inkling that what he was doing was wrong. It had never crossed his mind that the women and children that he was buying for sex were being held captive. It had never crossed his mind that . . these girls were . . . being forced to perform for him by their “owner”.

After this beginning, familiar from other Rescue narratives, there is a change.

The more I talked with Bill I heard his heart. . . He told me story after story of how he continually felt rejected . . . from his family, rejected from his friends, rejected from his old way of life, so he came to the one place where “love” is “guaranteed.” The truth was, Bill was not being satisfied and after years of chasing love and looking in all the wrong places he was becoming restless. Bill was hurting. Bill was alone. Bill was searching. . . . that dreadful night in Pattaya, Thailand, although it was brief, I was able just to shed some light on Bill’s life and tell him that there was more to the life that he was living. I was able to share HOPE and extend GRACE. If for no other reason, I may have been in Pattaya, Thailand, the nastiest place I have ever been, for Bill. It’s easy for me to walk into situations like the one with Bill and my heart immediately goes into conviction mode. Where all I see is this sin in Bill’s life, where I see where he is hurting people over and over again and the righteous justice rises within me and I get angry. But more often than not these days, my heart rises for justice for Bill; he is hurting. Obviously, I want the exploitation and abuse to end for the women and children, that’s my heart. But my deepest desire is for Bill’s life to be restored so he can be the end to the exploitation of women and children. If we can get to his heart than there would be no need to have prevention plans and recovery centers for women and children. If we could get to his heart there would be no Red Light District in Pattaya, Thailand.

The idea that commercial sex could disappear through ending demand for it is terribly naive, especially where it is economically and socially significant, as in Pattaya, as I discussed in a review of Sex Trafficking by Siddharth Kara. This Christian narrative of salvation and reform does improve on the usual secular and purely punitive proposal to put all men who buy sex in prison or on sex-offender lists. Otherwise, these missions of naive young Americans to other countries to interfere on religious grounds is just more colonialism, related to Reality Tourism - excuses to travel the world convinced that one’s own culture is best, that one knows how everyone else should live, that one has the right to barge in, judge and then feel good about it.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Men at the higher end of the evolutionary scale: That is how one man has described men who want to save sex slaves, seeking to differentiate themselves from less civilised, bad men – the ones that buy sex. In this idea, being a Good Man is achieved not by concern for world peace, equal opportunity, racism, the end of poverty or war but rather by concern for sex slaves.

Recently I published a sober academic review of a book that is not academic at all, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. Afterwards, I republished the review in Counterpunch, with a snappy introduction for the occasion:

FEBRUARY 27, 2012

Not Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
Sex Trafficking

by LAURA AGUSTÍN

It is good luck for Good Men that sex slavery has been identified as a terrible new phenomenon requiring extraordinary actions. In the chivalric tradition, to rescue a damsel in distress ranked high as a way knights errant could prove themselves, along with slaying dragons and giants. Nowadays, Nicholas Kristof is only one of a growing number of men seeking attention and praise through the rescue of a new kind of distressed damsel – poorer women called sex slaves. In this noble quest, women who prefer to sell sex to their other limited options are not consulted but must be saved, and human rights are the new grail. The association with Christianity is not casual. Siddharth Kara, another man seeking saintliness, uses lite economics – another trendy way to get noticed these days.

The original review follows. The publisher of Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn, has forwarded me a letter from the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation objecting to the piece, calling me a journalist, which I am not. He also doesn’t seem to have read past that introductory paragraph to the review of the book, where he might have found real issues to think about.

In Laura Agustin’s cynical worldview, men who hold the opinion that prostituting women is wrong and endeavor to do something about it are, in fact, misguided crusaders in the tradition of Don Quixote lost in chivalric fantasy on a mortal quest to feed their own egos by saving damsels in distress. In her article, Not Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, Sex Trafficking, Agustin specifically targets two men amongst what she portrays as a growing parade of attention-seeking phony heroes (cue the paparazzi) – Nicholas Kristof and Siddharth Kara.

Unsettling as it is for Agustin to accept the presence of men at the higher end of the evolutionary scale, Kristof and Kara are helping to shed light on a culture of gender exploitation that has survived only because of spin and lies. Where the rest of us see two men of intelligence and compassion, Agustin sees ulterior motive. In my experience, ones own ill intent makes one suspicious of ill intent in others. What is Agustin’s motive in attacking those working hard to end the exploitation of women? More spin and lies I suspect.

Robert J. Benz
Founder & Executive Vice President
Frederick Douglass Family Foundation

A culture of gender exploitation has only survived because of spin and lies? What? No interest in poverty or cultures of gender inequality from this crusader! Cynicism is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Note that Benz clearly places his kind of man on the high end of evolution, in that overtly colonialistic move in which white men save brown women from brown men. I don’t even understand the last sentence: how can a motive be spin? The guy should have looked me up first and come up with a better attack. And got a copyeditor.

But there is something else interesting here: the notion that Kara has been insulted by being placed in the chivalric tradition, which is generally assumed to represent something noble. Benz’s reference to Don Quixote shows he probably never studied chivalry himself. On the contrary, I imagine both Kara and Kristof would be chuffed to be associated with it. To critique knights in shining armour, as I do, you need to be not only interested in solving social problems but also interested in ending patriarchy, and knighthood is an elitist, male, hierarchical tradition in which white European men proved themselves to other men through treating women as objects, and women were supposed to be grateful, because they couldn’t possibly have gotten themselves out of their predicament unassisted, or figured out how to deal with life themselves in the first place. Note also my reference to human rights as the new grail.

In the contemporary example, men proving themselves through virtuous acts are using police and paternalism to rescue damsels – acts more than legitimate to criticise.

If you got this far and you tweet or post anywhere else, I’d appreciate this getting around. Maybe even Benz will see it!

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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