One London borough wants to End Demand: Clients of sex workers beware

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

11 thoughts on “One London borough wants to End Demand: Clients of sex workers beware

  1. Amy

    This is interesting – I noticed some very new-looking stickers bearing a similar message festooning lamp-posts, pelican crossing buttons and other street ‘fixtures’ around Kings Cross/Euston Road in NW London yesterday morning (Friday 4th), although they were not of the same design and I wonder if there’s any link?

    The legislation (mentioned in the 2008 Guardian article linked above) proposing to criminalise punters using the services of any prostitute ‘controlled for gain’ (which would have included willing and consenting brothel and agency workers) was never passed, and the eventual addition of Section 53A to the Sexual Offences Act now refers specifically to those subjected to force, coercion, deception or other exploitative conduct.

    The S53A offence is a strict liability one conferring automatic guilt, and as far as I know the only other offences with this proviso outside motoring relate to the possession of a firearm. Punters can therefore be prosecuted for and convicted of an offence that they not only don’t know they are committing, but have no possible way of knowing they are committing – I can’t find any figures for convictions since April 1st 2010 when this law came into force, and I’d be interested to know if anyone has them.

    (I’ve worked regularly in Waterloo for quite a while, but I’ll keep an eye out for that bloke. He looks shifty.)

  2. laura agustin Post author

    Next time try to take a picture of the stickers! There is a general wave of production of campaign materials at the moment.

    Thanks for pointing out the typo – the link is fixed now for ‘controlled for another’s gain’. I wrote the Guardian piece when the more drastic law was being discussed, though all my arguments still apply to the watered-down version that passed. In any case ‘control’ is very hard to prove and there have been very few convictions as a result. I consider most of this symbolic legislation.

    I have frequently written about the strict liability clause, etc: is an example.

    The shifty bloke also reminds me of the classic James Bond silhouettes – so rather sexy, which I don’t think they intended.

  3. Sergio Meira

    It is interesting how social purity campaigns come and go, but apparently never disappear. I suppose this shows that people, even people who are sufficiently open-minded to understand why the previous social purity campaign (say, Prohibition) was wrong or misguided, may actually end up endorsing the next purity campaign, curiously oblivious to the similarities.

    There apparently is always a new social cause which people empathize with, which is based on some real problems, and for which people adopt some sort of ‘pure’ interpretation — be it prostitutes always being victims, or capitalists always being exploiters, or the Russians all being communist enemies who want to destroy us… Once the ‘pure’ interpretation is adopted, those who don’t ‘get it’ become part of the problem, because they don’t have the empathy with the ‘victims’ that those who do get it have.

    It becomes a question of emotions, of love, empathy. Aren’t you sad for the poor girls trafficked into sexual slavery? Aren’t you sad for the poor workers that capitalists always relentlessly exploit? Aren’t you afraid of the horrible things our Russian enemies are developing in secrecy to use against the West? (That there actually are bad cases and real reasons for concern in all those topics only makes it more difficult to judge the issue. Except for those who embrace the ‘pure’ vision, to whom it is all very simple…)

    Apparently people enjoy simple explanations. Even those who are open-minded enough to appreciate the complexity of some topics will usually also simplify or be close-minded about some other topic. We’re never open-minded about everything. Which is why apparently social purity campaigns are probably not going to disappear soon, if ever at all. Even if sex work becomes a less emotion-laden topic and is some day handled rationally, something else will capture the fancy of sufficiently many people to become the next social purity topic. Alas.

    1. Laura Agustín

      Yes, after following this cause for so many years now I do feel it’s clear that everyone who isn’t specially interested or who isn’t a real insider wants a simple depiction of the problem. Countering arguments about diversity and variety and the dangers of generalising cut no ice at all – it feels futile to even make them.

      It feels as if society does have a need for a quotient of sex panic at all times and that the target moves around a little but stays close to well-worn paths. I don’t expect this to go away. You point out that non-sexual phenomena can evoke the same response and what these all have in common is the possibility to be rendered really frightening if dealt with reductionistically and irrationally. Maybe it happens to bring people together in an easy way.

      1. Sergio Meira

        My gut feeling about this is that it ultimately comes from fear. Living in a world in which ‘things happen’ in our society that we can’t control, with some visible effects — be it too many foreign workers, Moslems, Jews, prostitutes on the streets, anti-cop rappers in the Black ghetto, Neo-Nazis, whatever it is that makes us feel unsafe and afraid — we yearn for a way to ‘do something’, to ‘make a difference’. We don’t want to be told these problems are so complicated that it’s not immediately clear what it is we should do — we’d rather be told it’s simple. And that the government is already doing it with our taxes, or then some charity, or then an NGO.

        We see a problem and we like to think we know what the solution is. We don’t deal well with not knowing. So we’ll do simple things that seem to address the problem — invade Iraq, take the prostitues off the streets and/or persecute johns, adopt restrictive immigration policies, prohibit certain styles of clothes or kinds of music or… Because then we at least have the feeling that something is being done to address the problems that, for whatever reason, make us feel nervous and unsafe.

        1. laura agustin Post author

          I agree with you, especially about the desire to be Doing Something, to stave off the feeling of powerlessness, to feel one is part of an important movement to change things. I find it possible to tolerate ambiguity, unclearness, partial solutions, but I know that most people find those qualities appalling.


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