The decision by Unison to follow other trade unions in abandoning support for the Nordic Model coincided with the announcement, in the same week that Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced while the men for whom she procured young women remain untouched, that the UK taxpayer now has a stake in a company, Killing Kittens, which organises “sex parties”.
The “exclusivity” of Killing Kittens parties is news to me. I was regularly asked by sex buyers to attend these parties with them. As is often also the case with swingers’ events, male members could only gain entry to Killing Kittens parties as part of a “couple”, so they would call women like me on commercial sex websites and seek to pay us to attend with them.
This is because the number of women who, in the absence of financial or other reward, will agree to attend events to enhance the status of the male who brought them by performing sexual acts in public, often with other strangers, is extremely small. So small in fact that it would be very likely that any woman doing so would in turn be offered a financial reward for publicly performing these acts by someone else attending.
This type of grooming is a very common means through which women and girls enter the sex trade. It is how, through my involvement with BDSM, I entered the sex trade myself – after being groomed by an apparently highly successful glamour model who introduced me to the commercial sex website through which she gained most of her income. She was also on the books of an “escort agency” whose owner kept the women on her books compliant even when they were beaten by clients, through her connections with the tabloid press and the police.
It is a misrepresentation to claim that women like me at these parties who have sex are “in control” when they are performing under the direction of others who have paid for “control of sex” with them.
I regarded the presence of large numbers of attendees who remained fully clothed in designer clothes throughout the party as a security hazard, along with the fact that, being a members’ club, the security staff did not search people entering, and cocaine was being consumed in the bathrooms every time I entered them.
Several of the women in designer clothes spoke Russian to each other. I had previously come across women from Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe who had been booked for group events by clients, but to whom the nature of what they were being paid to do had been entirely misrepresented by the people who ran the “escort agencies” who booked them for buyers, or the people who wrote their profiles on commercial sex websites.
The security staff also persuaded a group of highly intoxicated and vulnerable women walking along the street to come into the premises.
The presence at the Killing Kittens party I attended of other women who recognised me from the same commercial website they were on meant that it constituted a brothel, but I have never seen reports of their events being raided by the Metropolitan Police or immigration officials from the Home Office.
Brazilian women I knew attended other regular sex parties in London, from where they were detained and deported after they refused to pay a “tax” demanded by the caretaker. The organiser escaped prosecution altogether, despite running what was also legally a brothel in premises in which everyone involved in the organisation and in managing the premises was profiting from sexual exploitation.
The publicity given by the Home Office to raids on brothels and traffickers where the perpetrators are from South-eastern Europe creates the false impression that sexual exploitation mainly originates outside the UK.
Some swingers’ clubs have been closed through enforcement activity by councils and others after it was discovered that women were paid to attend to fulfil the expectation that group sex could be secured by payment of the entrance or membership fee. This enforcement is clearly not universally applied. Are the social class and connections of the organisers a factor?
At the same time the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs continue to defend retaining for 100 years the convictions of three women for soliciting and loitering, convictions under the Street Offences Act 1959 which are more than 20 years old. These convictions would be disclosable should any of these women apply for positions requiring the “utmost integrity”, such as the police and the judiciary.
Men who hire women involved in prostitution to attend “elite” or other similar events do not do so only to gain access as part of a couple.
Any attempt to organise group sex between strangers in real life, as opposed to a porn fantasy for which actresses were only paid if they signed a consent form afterwards, runs up against the likelihood that different members of the group will not be attracted to each other, or will not enjoy what happens, and the probability that this will happen increases exponentially the more people you add to the group.
This is obvious to anyone with a basic grasp of maths.
Paying women in the sex industry to override any disgust they may have and dissociate while performing what is an illusion for financial reward is less risky for a male buyer and a safer bet for the organiser as, if you have been paid, it is even less likely that you will report any sexual assaults committed against you than it would be for an unpaid attendee who would be asked what they were doing at a “sex party” in the first place. It should surprise no one that few assaults are reported. You may be rewarded in other ways for your silence.
Women who attend these events without being paid to are unlikely to realise the basis on which others are attending. “Cool girls” advocating activities they aren’t prepared to perform themselves as gateways to social advantages they themselves have possessed since birth are likely to add to peer pressure on others to over-ride their boundaries. It is not enough for organisers to claim that they emphasise nominal consent, particularly if they themselves are “present, but not involved”.
The Treasury has co-opted the taxpayer into this scenario.
“Group sex” encounters are also often used by men to initiate other men into a group, whether as a social network, a bonding ritual or as part of a criminal enterprise. The need to be seen to perform in these situations can also over-ride boundaries a man might have observed outside the group. I was involved in group situations where younger men attended but feared humiliation if they took part or if they chose not to or feared being “outed” as gay.
The Office of National Statistics’ evidence to the Home Affairs select committee for the committee’s report on prostitution in 2016 estimated that the Treasury gained a gross annual income from sex work of £5.09 billion. It followed this with a calculation that net income, after costs, was £1.23 billion, or 24.2% of gross. “Costs” to those performing sexual services for payment take 75.8% of gross income.
This gap goes some way to explaining the appeal of the sex industry to the Treasury, at least where access and profit-taking by fellow members of privately-educated elites are concerned.
The ESRC-funded “Student sex-worker” toolkit, characterised as a “harm reduction” project, failed to include links to the underfunded organisations supporting exited women, or women seeking to leave, but you would be unlikely to find, for example, a harm reduction project related to alcohol or substance misuse which omitted links to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous for those who might need them.
Why are companies connected with the sex industry in the UK regarded as a safe investment by American investors? Would these companies attract more attention from the FBI if they were registered in the USA?
In the BBC drama Sherwood about the miner’s strike in 1984-85, the NUM lawyer and activist Jennifer Hale, played by Lindsay Duncan, says:
“They wanted to change the political landscape of this country away from collectivism towards deregulation market forces.”
The same neoliberal viewpoint lies behind the sex industry’s construction of “choice” and “empowerment” narratives to deflect attention from systemic sexual exploitation, the huge profit margins made by the companies and individuals who facilitate the industry and control others, and the inequality and discrimination which, since the imposition of austerity budgets, has driven increasing numbers of women towards an ever-diminishing return.
It is a “there is no such thing as society” construction in which issues of personal responsibility and blame are directed solely at individual women involved in the sex trade. Unlike the buyers who make up the demand and require the provision of ever more extreme “services” and the companies, organised crime networks and supportive politicians who rush to facilitate response to the market forces created by online porn, they are portrayed as having only themselves to blame for their predicament.
I’m very familiar with what senior employees in global human rights organisations know about the sex industry and what they think about members of their own families being involved in it, as I owe my exit to being related to one.
Free healthcare, being able to obtain housing and employment dismantled the “sex worker identity” I had brandished as a form of self-protection against anyone who questioned my “choices” and didn’t have the kind of institutional power my relatives had.
The significant costs of trying to recover the mental and physical health of women who have been involved in prostitution are mainly borne by the taxpayer through the NHS and other services which have suffered serious funding cuts in recent years. Who is measuring these wider costs?
If Unison is advocating full decriminalisation of the global sex industry, how can it oppose an equally neoliberal venture from the Government? Who will?