Nordic Model Now! member Janice Williams reports from NAWO‘s talk on the topic of “Europe Free of Prostitution”.
In the unlikely location of the Bahai Centre in plush Kensington yesterday the European Woman’s Lobby (EWL) and Women @ the Well (who work directly with women in prostitution) talked about their work. Both work to end prostitution and see it as violence against women, paid-for sexual abuse, and exploitation of the vulnerable who at best have extremely limited choices. ‘Survival sex’, ie sex to keep body and soul together, or a roof over one’s head, are common. Levels of rape, violence, restraint and coercion are high, as are police harassment and the inappropriate use of ASBOs which bar women from their home area.
It was all a familiar picture of violence and abuse as painted by researchers Kathleen Barry, Janice Raymond and Melissa Farley and prostitution survivors, such as Rachel Moran, Fiona Broadfoot, Rebecca Mott .
The audience included representatives of the new grass-roots group, Nordic Model Now, End Demand, FIND network and Older Feminist Network, as well as the White Ribbon Campaign. The only person from a political party was the Lib Dems’ deputy head of policy.
Interestingly some young ‘sex workers’ from the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) came along and put the arguments for decriminalisation of the whole industry. As they ran through the arguments it was moving to hear that one had been raped while a child and gone into prostitution unwillingly because she was homeless. Her choice had been prostitution, a ‘sugar daddy’ (i.e. another form of prostitution) – or drug dealing. Another young woman said she had been raped many times and found the police to be worse than the pimps. One had been repeatedly sexually abused as a child by a policeman ‘friend of the family’. One had found working in strip clubs to be even more exploitative than prostitution, and one spoke of brothels run by police.
It was heart-breaking to hear a young woman my daughter’s age say that she found paid-for sex gave her confidence compared with the unpaid sex which had been forced upon her as a child, and that she needed the money to pay for her therapy. They were visibly agitated as they spoke and patted each other calmingly in mutual support. Although our views differed, their testimony was living, breathing proof of the truth about prostitution as described by the EWL and Women @ the Well.
These young women had a distorted idea of the Nordic model and I was able to correct some of their misconceptions by quoting from Nordic Model Now’s excellent new leaflet on the topic.
Two things which everyone in the room agreed on were that women’s poverty and inequality lay at the root of prostitution and that women working in prostitution should not be criminalised. Most of us also believed that male violence and systemic abuse of women are key factors also.
Women will never be equal while you can rent their bodies for a quick orgasm. In working for the abolition of prostitution we will destroy a key obstacle to our ongoing inequality. We want the Nordic Model and we want it now!