In early February, Nick Coupe contacted us to ask whether we could provide a representative to speak on a BBC podcast:
“The show is ‘Jacob Hawley: On Love’. Jacob is a comedian and we made a series for BBC Sounds last year about the UK Drugs scene, trying to look at the world from a non-patronising or lofty BBC documentary style stance… Here’s the series – its currently going out on Radio 1.
The new series is all about love, sex and intimacy. We’re making an episode about sex work, and would love to hear why you think the Nordic Model is the best thing for the UK at the moment?”
Nick, the producer of the show, said they wanted to “get different opinions across, and open the debate to our listeners” and that they were also talking on the podcast to the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and the TLC Trust.
We have encountered the ECP on numerous occasions and are well aware of their tactics. They are not transparent about the background of their speakers. In spite of their name, their membership is not restricted to prostituted people although you would not know that from listening to their speakers, and their key focus is lobbying for the full decriminalisation of the entire sex trade, including pimps and brothel keepers.
The TLC Trust specialises in providing “responsible sexual services for disabled people.” In other words, it’s an agency that procures prostituted people for people with disabilities – the majority men.
We are always a conflicted about whether to participate in interviews like this. It is hard to get the nuanced and complex reality across in a short time slot and there is no knowing how they will edit it. But we worry that if we don’t participate, the audience might never hear the feminist analysis of prostitution.
Two Nordic Model Now! members, Ali Morris and Ygerne Price-Davies, listened to a previous episode that included an interview with Gail Dines about the harms of porn, and decided to accept the invitation. The interview was recorded in advance and they both felt that it went well.
Nick promised to let them know when the show was ready to be aired. But in fact he didn’t. The first we knew was on 3 March when Jacob Hawley tweeted announcing the show with the following statement:
“Chatting sex work. Big debate going on around changing the laws on sex work atm. Politicians, activists, busy bodies all sticking their oar in. Mostly well meaning but often at the expense of people who live this stuff.
LISTEN TO SEX WORKERS”
This didn’t look promising. Was he calling us busy bodies? It looked like it. Our fears were confirmed when we listened to the show. It was about 35 minutes long, with Ali and Ygerne having only a couple of very short slots.
Most of the show was split between Niki Adams of the ECP, a representative of the TLC Trust waxing lyrical about how many male clients, many “non-verbal”, they have helped have a sex life, and Georgina who described herself as a “sex worker.” All spoke passionately about how full decriminalisation, as in New Zealand, was the legislative model they wanted and were campaigning for.
Niki Adams said several things that weren’t just biased but also misleading and factually incorrect. For example, she said the New Zealand model has been a “resounding success” that puts “sex workers’ health and safety at its core” and that it has not led to an increase in prostitution. All of this contradicts what we hear from our contacts in New Zealand and recent academic research, which found evidence of widespread sex trafficking of children and vulnerable women, mostly of Maori and Pacific Islander heritage, and a large increase in the numbers of women involved in prostitution. They also found that the industry is not monitored or inspected in practice, even though this is required by the legislation, which means there is no solid basis for most of Niki Adams’s claims.
Given the title of the series, it was bizarre that there was no consideration of the fact that prostitution has nothing to do with love and everything to do with male entitlement and women’s inequality and economic marginalisation, nor of its impact on young people (the target audience) and society as a whole.
Ygerne and Ali decided to write to Nick and Jacob. This is what they said:
Dear Nick and Jacob,
We wanted to raise our concerns with you about the recently released podcast.
When we agreed to take part in the podcast, you told us that ‘it’s not our intention to ridicule either side or present any ‘gotcha’ moments!’. Having listened to the podcast and the way we were presented this was clearly not the case.
We of course understand that there was always going to be a debate between different sides, yet the whole structure of the podcast was indisputably set up to discredit us. We were clearly interviewed as the ‘token’ pro-Nordic model academics/activists with an opinion on something which doesn’t concern us – which you could use to fit into your narrative about how we were removed from the actual realities of sex work.
Jacob Hawley’s tweet accompanying the podcast referring to us as ‘busy bodies all sticking our oars in’ ‘at the expense of people who actually live this stuff’ is incredibly hurtful and reductive of the hundreds of women with experience of working in the sex trade who form a part of our organisation and political movement. Women with experience of the sex trade (‘sex workers’) from within our organisation have spoken to us about how they were particularly offended by this podcast and its presentation.
When you asked us for participants for the podcast, none of our members with direct experience of ‘sex work’ wanted to take part, which is understandable considering their exhaustion and trauma. Yet that does not mean that the opinions we shared with you are purely ‘academic’ and ‘removed’ from sex workers lives. We form part of a collective organisation, where women with direct experience of ‘sex work’ share their opinions and we work together to formulate our ideas. Ali Morris has continuously worked directly with women involved in the sex trade for over 20 years. Hers is not an academic opinion, but fact relayed to her from the hundreds of women she supports.
Our views are not being imposed on those in sex work, but are rather produced by women with direct experience of sex work, whose opinions we shared with you. Throughout the interview, we repeatedly quoted these women’s voices, and yet were still presented as ‘sticking our oars in’.
The podcast’s attempt at journalism was shockingly badly researched and lacking in its consideration of this and there was no attempt to engage with this fact – that there are many women in sex work who support the Nordic Model.
Please refer to the many stories shared with women from the sex trade on our website.
Or here to listen to Black women (with experience of working in the sex trade) against the sex trade.
Or here to listen to Swedish sex workers (many still working) against the sex trade.
Or here to listen to Maori women and women from New Zealand (with experience of the sex trade).
Or here to listen to German women with experience of the sex trade (many still in it) against the sex trade.
It is unrepresentative and reductive of the diverse range of opinions held by women in the sex trade that you chose to only interview sex workers who were pro-decriminalisation – the pretence of this being a ‘non-patronising’ format where you wanted to neutrally present ‘different opinions and open the debate to our listeners’ is contradictory to this biased selection of participants. You chose not to listen to these women who had different opinions.
We find it particularly revealing that you chose not to share the release of the podcast with us as you had originally agreed, adding more secrecy to the whole process.
We feel deceived and hurt about how you have treated us. Yet again the opinions of women are being silenced by men, and the testimonies of women who have endured violence through direct experiences of the sex trade are being dismissed.
Ali Morris, Ygerne Price-Davies and the Nordic Model Now Activists.
Within a couple of hours, Nick replied:
Dear Ygerne and Ali
I’m so sorry that’s how its come across – it was definitely not our intention to discredit you, and we were really pleased to speak to you and get your perspective, and put it across – I think the work you’re doing to try to solve the issues here is really important. We were really keen to express particularly Ali’s lifelong involvement with trying to improve women’s lives, and to include the fact that you have sex workers on your committee who are integral to your work. Personally, I found Ali hugely inspirational as someone dedicating her life to making a change.
Jacob has deleted that tweet – but please be assured that ‘busybodies’ didn’t refer to you – it was a poorly worded tweet about academics and politicians, ie people trying to get involved who aren’t involved in the world – he didn’t mean that to refer to anyone we spoke to in the episode, but I can completely see how that could be interpreted and am very sorry for that.
Again, my apologies that the podcast felt one sided – I was really keen to express some of the complexities of the debate and really didn’t want to crowd any voices out.
While Nick’s response provides some consolation, it does not exonerate him and Jacob from responsibility for creating such a biased and misleading programme.