Women Beware Women Revisited

I wrote about proposals to criminalise the purchase of sex and why they are a bad thing nine months ago: https://theviewfromlightwoodspark.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/women-beware-women/

There is good news on this issue. Rhoda Grant failed to get the cross party support she needed to proceed with her Bill to criminalise the clients of sex workers which I discussed last September. She has, unfortunately, learnt nothing from the experience and continues to lash out at opponents of her proposals who are, apparently, members of ‘the sex industry lobby.’

The consultation in the proposals closed in December and the responses were published at the end of May together with a summary report. The consultation was marred by a series of highly questionable assumptions underlying the loaded questions, the main ones being a conflation of sexwork and trafficking and  a view that all sex workers were in some way coerced.  Nearly 1,000 responses were received.

In presenting her report Rhoda Grant claimed that 80% of respondents supported her proposals. This was true on one level but ignored the evidence that evangelical Christian groups had mounted a concerted campaign to back the Bill. The number of cut and paste responses from churches was evidence of this, all of them quoting the same methodologically flawed research that Grant relied on. I have difficulty in believing that, for example, the good people of Bearsden Baptist Church have read the work of Melissa Farley. I do not question their sincerity and  have no doubt that they genuinely believe prostitution to be a moral evil. But that is the difficulty. Their viewpoint is ideological, as is that of the radical feminists who see prostitution as violence against women, stretching the word violence to a point where it is emptied of meaning. Ideology is not a good basis for making public policy.

On a more practical level, the responses from sexworkers setting out their experiences and those from several outreach groups who work with sexworkers on matters like sexual health and physical safety, were largely ignored.

This was Rhoda’s problem. The more people who knew more than she did told her she  was wrong, the more stubbornly she clung to her beliefs. In the end she failed to get the support she needed because she could not convince enough MSPs to back her. It is her arguments that are at fault, not the machinations of a mythical sex industry lobby.

Most serious academic studies show that paid sex is, in most cases, consensual. Where it is not there are already laws to deal with it, laws that have been used in a number of recent cases to put traffickers behind bars for a very long time. Whether you approve of sex work or not, it is surely not the business of the state to police sexual activity between consenting adults. Fortunately most MSPs see it that way too. The battle now moves to Ireland, North and South. The recently published proposals in the Irish Republic are seriously nasty .as they include provision to confiscate sex workers’ mobile phones, a proposal which gives the lie to the claim that clients and not sex workers are being criminalised.


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