A sex worker sent us a copy of her letter to her MP against the criminalization of sex work in the Modern Slavery bill. We found it to be a moving plea to be heard, and are reproducing it with permission here.
Content note for rape and child abuse.
I am writing to you as a constituent to ask you to oppose the amendment to the modern slavery bill which would criminalize paying consenting adults for sexual services. I am a sex worker, what you might call a prostitute. I prefer the term sex worker because this is my job, one that as a disabled single parent I chose, and which I can do far better than other jobs which have left me either too sick to work, or unable to parent.
The idea that sex workers are victims is one that is common with those who oppose the idea of sex work, they tend to use terms like “prostituted women” to deny we can ever consent to sell sex. I know a lot about consent. As a child I was sexually abused by a family member from the age of three, he never cared about my consent. As an adult I was gang raped by a group of men, hour after hour they ignored my consent. So the very idea that somehow now I don’t know that I am being exploited, or abused, well you can imagine how I feel about that.
Of course some would argue that my life experiences make me damaged goods, that a survivor of rape and childhood sexual abuse is somehow unable to make rational decisions. I hope you see how insulting that is to every survivor, I chose sex work as a rational choice based on the options I have. The fact it is a time and content limited form of sex has actually been very good for my mental health as a survivor of abuse. Clients negotiate what they want, use condoms, respect my boundaries. Learning to assert my boundaries and that they would be respected has been exceptionally powerful and healing.
Of course this is not just about me, or my experience of sex work. In Sweden, where clients have already been criminalized there has been a marked increase in stigma. Sex workers feel less safe and outreach organisations are afraid to even give sex workers condoms for fear of being seen to encourage criminality.
That;s what happens if you criminalize sex work, it does not disappear, after all America is proof of that, where both the buying and selling of sex are illegal, but still exist. What does happen is that you force me to associate with criminals (clients). Instead of being open with health services about what I do I will have to conceal it, after all I will become a target for the police looking to arrest clients. It has also been shown in Sweden that the time taken for assessment is cut, and sex workers meet with people they would have previously avoided, because they no longer have the time to make risk assessments. Right now my risk assessments start with the initial phone call, is the person overly nervous, will they give me a name, contact number etc. Pretty basic safety measures, all of which become impossible with criminalization since the client will be concerned with police stings and arrest.
There is lots of research I could link in here, but I want you to hear me, just an ordinary woman, who does a job many don’t understand, or look down on, but which works for me. I am not a victim or a happy hooker, and if you passed me on the street you would never know what my job was. I do not need rescue, and I do not want to be forced into criminality, which would be the result of criminalizing those men and women who pay me for sex.
So please speak against this amendment, speak for individuals who have nothing to do with trafficking, who are not forced, who currently break no law, and do not want to be pushed further underground and alienated from those services, including the police we can currently turn to for help, if we chose too.
I will include some links to facts and figures, but I hope you see me as a person, a person who does not want others to decide when she can, or cannot consent to sex. Sadly due to stigma I am afraid to add my real name or address, but if you wanted to talk about this more I can provide a phone number to call me on.
The Lancet called for decriminalization of sex work as a vital step in improving health and epidemiological outcomes worldwide
Independent study on the impact of the swedish model
Criminalization of sex work harms trafficking victims
The reality of the Swedish Model, by a swedish sex worker.