About a year ago, we were asked to provide a speaker for a Labour Party constituency meeting that was having a debate about prostitution policy. Survivor activist, Rebecca Mott, agreed to speak and I went along to support her. Her speech was powerful and clearly made some people see prostitution differently. Here is a tiny excerpt of what she said:
“I only did indoors prostitution – the mythical safe way to be prostituted. I found out the hard way it was never safe, just on occasions less bad. To be inside indoors prostitution, is to be placed in a room with a string of entitled strangers. These punters hold all the freedom of choice. He can choose to be as violent as he desires, or to pretend he is the nice guy. The punter knows his violence will be of no consequence, and there will no outside interference.”
After the debate, constituency members were asked to vote on a motion calling for support for the Nordic Model. Voting was by a show of hands. I was sitting in the front and turned round and was confronted by row upon row of men, every single one of them with his hand up, voting against the motion. I felt a kind of rage. How could they ignore what Rebecca had said about the terrible impact of prostitution on her life? And the wisdom of the other women who spoke for the motion?
And how could they fall for the easy answers and misinformation put forward by those speaking against the motion, all of whom were calling for the full decriminalisation of the entire sex trade, including pimps, brothel keepers and punters? Did the men with their hands up really believe that decriminalising pimps would make the women safer? Did they stop to wonder how it would make the women safer? No one explained that. They never do. Because actual studies in countries that have gone down that road have not found the women to suddenly and miraculously be safe.
Ever since that evening, I’ve been speaking to those men in my head. Recently I thought it was time to get it out of my head and down on paper. Or rather on the Internet.
So this is my message to those men. And to all the other left-wing men – whether you’re in the Labour Party, or the Greens or Libdems, or you’re part of the Extinction Rebellion, CND, or something else. Whatever you’re part of, I imagine it’s because you care about the kind of world we live in. You’re sick of wars and the arms trade. You may be a socialist. You want things to be organised more fairly. You want the environment and the natural world to be cared for and preserved for future generations.
I want you to think about where in that world does prostitution fit?
In Victorian England, the system was so skewed against women, that for many, perhaps most, of those who weren’t married or in domestic service, there was no realistic option but prostitution to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Do you think those women would have chosen that otherwise? Really? Please don’t fool yourself.
The unions and the labour movement fought for a better deal. For a shorter working day, holidays, safety standards, a family wage. And eventually better pay and opportunities for women too. That’s the heritage, the victory of the labour movement in the UK.
But if we decriminalise the sex trade, Victorian England is where women will end up. Because decriminalising the sex trade is saying that prostitution is just another job. And if it’s just another job, poor women will end up having no option but to take it. That’s how it works and if you think otherwise, you’re deluding yourself.
So what is prostitution for anyway?
They say ‘sex work’ is just a job. That it’s no different from all the other crap jobs poor people have to do. But think about that. Those jobs contribute something useful, something that society actually needs, even if it’s only a coffee or delivering a parcel. And those jobs don’t require women to take off their clothes so men can grope and ram their dicks into them.
But prostitution – what does it create for society? What social need does it fulfil?
I think you all know it’s not about orgasms for men – because you know you can do that for yourself. No, it’s about ego and flattery for men, and men being able to get their own way, sometimes in really brutal ways. In other words, it’s about male entitlement, feeding male entitlement.
And what’s male entitlement associated with?
It’s associated with male violence, over-valuing men’s contributions and under-valuing women’s, wars, extreme capitalist extraction of natural resources, and so on. Pretty much everything you probably say you’re concerned about.
Is this what you really want to encourage? Is consigning women to be sexually used and abused while flattering the very men who are using them going to help create a better world? Really?
Think about it.
Full decriminalisation of the sex trade is capitulation to all that is worst in humanity. It doesn’t keep women safe.
If we want a better world, men, you need to face the truth. Male entitlement, male sexual entitlement, male dominance, are not compatible with a human, equitable, environmentally secure world.
If we want a more egalitarian and fair world, we must change the law so it no longer enshrines men’s ‘right’ to buy sexual access to women and girls.
We need to make it clear that buying sexual access is beyond the pale. And we need to provide much better options for women and girls.
That’s what the Nordic Model is all about. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.