Question anyone who claims to represent workers. You may hear (today or whenever discussing this issue) confident claims that “sex workers think x” or “sex workers want y.” You may hear that the thing they want is for men to have more freedom and less restrictions to buy them. That the main thing they want (because they all speak with one voice and the experts, like the ones today, speak for them all) is to defeat Clause 13 of the Policing and Crime bill currently being read (which makes punters responsible for asking whether a woman or child or man they want sex off has been coerced). You might hear that the main thing children and women who sell sex want, is a bigger, free-er, less regulated industry. That there is no problem with managers. That, unlike all other workers, they are happy to not get paid, just work for tips (like they have to in lap dancing clubs around here) That there is no exploitation in the sex industry. That harm is minimal. There is no pressure. No coercion. No grooming. No history of abuse. No poverty. That sex work is intentional. Chosen. Better paid than other crappy jobs, even when just working for tips. That millions of children all around the world grow up aspiring to ‘be sex workers’ and that the ‘sex workers’ on the panel today can tell you, with authority, what they want.
Challenge the Bosses AND Challenge the Union
Challenge claims that unlike people trafficking for agricultural, domestic and sweatshop purposes (which even the Guardian accepts exists!), that unlike other forms of pressured migration, trafficking for sexual purposes doesn’t exist. That it is a myth, a moral panic, ‘victim feminist’ bleating on the part of women who just don’t seem to get how that the neoliberal sex industry has empowered children and women. Query claims that ‘sex workers’ are mostly or 50% male; that the global sex industry is not driven by men wanting to buy women and girls. Challenge claims that the industry is not as murderously exploitative as other big business. Challenge any union that uses the underground nature of the industry to hide figures, hide the ratio of managers to ground-level workers in its membership. Challenge any union or ‘prostitutes group’ which doesn’t fight managers. Which doesn’t campaign against exploitation or fight for proper wages. Which doesn’t challenge workplace structure. Which never ever threatens to withdraw labour. Which never mentions industrial action because (unlike everywhere else) there’s no problem with bosses, only with regulation. Which informs you about the internal injuries you’re going to get, but doesn’t suggest getting out.
Dig deep into yourself and ask yourself why you don’t work in a brothel. If ‘sex work’ is so ok, and those millions of women and children and men choose it, why don’t you? Jobcentres have started advertising for female phone sex line operators, web-cam performers and lap dancers. Should young women be made to take those jobs? No? What if demand outstrips supply? Should there ever be restriction on global male sexual entitlement or should men just be able to get what they want, how they want, when they want it?
Talk to the People, Let the People talk to you
Don’t believe me. Don’t believe the IUSW. Don’t believe the ECP. Even, don’t believe the Poppy project! Don’t just believe educated, relatively privileged people talking shit at bookfairs. Before you slope off to the pub tonight, why not do your own research? Why not chat to the women working the Mile End Road – about their lives, the conditions of their work, whether they chose it, whether they like it. How they define sex. Whether they have orgasms. What THEY identify as the real issues which affect their work. Get a translator — Lithuanian, Bantu, Bengali, Uzbek — talk to them!
Imagine A World Not Based on Male Sexual Entitlement
Think about sex. Be honest about your experience, whether you’re male or female. Some people define sex as experience/s and processes pleasurable to any/all concerned. Some people query whether men paying to get serviced is, actually, ‘sex’ and therefore whether the term ‘sex work’ might be bullshit. Some people query whether women and children actually get off on servicing men as much as popularly portrayed on tv or porn. Try to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Question whether internet porn (which increasingly drives what men demand) really serves women and children (and also men) sexually. And FINALLY If you are going to speculate about a libertarian utopia where all transactional sex is fine, why not imagine a reversal of power relations. Like, art, architecture, popular culture, based on genuine self-defined female sexualities. Imagine cunt shaped cavernous buildings with indoor waterfalls and sheelagh na gigs everywhere. Imagine everything based on representations of clitorises and wombs and contractions and aspects of women’s real bodies. Imagine everyone was based around females being served and serviced. I’m not even saying this is a good thing! But it is a thought. Have fun speculating, But try to remember real power relations in the real world, here and now.
I began by challenging the final point of the previous speaker who said that until we lived in a utopian society “transactional sex will be necessary”. I said,
We have to challenge the notion that men are entitled to sex. That it’s their right and women should just ‘do their duty’ and supply it. Sex isn’t a human ‘need’—you don’t die without it. If you see it as necessary; see male sexual demand as paramount, then what happens when demand exceeds supply? Do you encourage women into the industry? Force them? What happens when men want under 16s? Under 13s? Are men sexually entitled to anything they want? Should young women or men have their benefits withdrawn if they don’t want to do the lap dance jobs that are beginning to be advertised in jobcentres?
You can’t look at either sex work or the sex industry outside the context of extreme global inequality based on gender, class, race and capitalism. That the facts around who services who, are connected to the WHO gender demographics (which they have been compiling since 1975) indicating that males own/control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, land, water, food, access to health care, means of production and means of reproduction in the world. Which means that females suffer huge inequality. In other words, globally, women do the work and men get the profit. It is in this context that people, women and children end up servicing sometimes violent, not very nice, ill-smelling strangers.
‘Sex workers rights’ professionals tend to claim to speak for ‘sex workers’. Their literature categories everyone—from a shop assistant in a sex shop, to owners of chains of escort agencies, to African woman working off debt bondage in a European brothel—equally as a ‘sex worker’. Recently ‘sex workers rights’ professionals have focused almost solely on defeating Clause 14 of the Policing and Crime Bill now being read by the Lords, a clause which seeks to regulate demand by requiring punters to ascertain that the person they are buying sex off has not been coerced. ‘Sex workers rights’ professionals tell us that ‘sex workers’ main aim is to defeat this and other regulatory legislation; that worldwide, ‘sex workers’ want only total legalisation so as to be free to ply their trade in a deregulated industry.
Problems with this approach include:
1. People throughout the global sex industry (which is massive and up there with Big Oil, Big Construction, Big Pharma and Agriculture/Biotech) have different agendas. Managers and bosses have different agendas than on the ground workers.
2. ‘Sex work’ is not a consciously chosen profession that young people aspire to enter and want to remain in and want to promote as a profession. Even when not actively forced it is for many women an incidental default occupation.
3. ‘Sex work’ is not gender neutral, with equal numbers of men doing it or women demanding. It is driven by male demand for women and girls and boys.
4. ‘Experts’ speaking for workers is particularly dangerous in such a profitable industry as this. It is imperative for people to do their own research, talk to people (and not just white men) ON THE GROUND who sell sex and find out what the conditions of their lives and work are.
4. If you are not a ‘sex worker’, why not? Imagine (whatever age or gender you are) having young children and no assets/savings/support, needing money immediately. Which would you rather do, be a cleaner or service the middle aged men who are the demographic purchasers. Obvious — ‘Sex work’ is so much more glamorous and better paid, right? And you only need to see a few punters a week, right? Ok, do it for six months. Then evaluate.
5. The physical realities for women selling sex are frequently ignored by libertarians and ‘sex work’ experts. Physical violence aside, they include: the constant pressure to not use condoms, the demand for more extreme sex like DP TP DA etc. driven by porn. STDs. Chronic internal injury. Anorgasmia (the chronic inability to come) from the combination of numbness and over stimulation of the pelvic area. Compromised immunity. And the psychological waste. Which there is no point in denying exists until you have actually done your own, grassroots research with people (again, including people who aren’t white middle class college students doing it for a few months). Why not get out there and get the full picture?
The desire to protect ‘sex work’ (‘sex’ in quotes because it isn’t real sex for the person doing the servicing) stems from a desire on the part of the white middle class imperialist elite to continue to have an underclass of workers, some but not all migrants, servicing their lives and deflating the cost of their commodities. (Workers who want nothing but to service this the elite for slave or no wages). Cheap veg, cheap clothes, cheap domestic labour, cheap sex. ( For example, workers in east London lap dancing clubs work for no wages, just tips, but don’t seem to get a mention in any of the ‘sex worker’ rights organisations’ literature.)
Hence unionising; eg a union for ‘sex workers’. Indeed maybe such a union would be viable IF it tackled (lack of) wages, just working for tips, an end to rip off £300/day walk up flats, violent punters, organising to limit numbers of clients, industrial relations, problem managers, organising to withdraw labour when necessary, and provide exit strategies.
The intensity of the desire to be cheaply serviced means that even people who claim to have an anti capitalist analysis, and support other health and safely legislation and precautionary regulations in other industries, totally roll over re. the sex industry when it demands more freedom, normalisation and expansion. Ultimately for all the discourse about ‘rights’ and authoritative claims about ‘what sex workers want’ the ‘rights’ lobby’s hostility to regulation is based on an extreme neoliberal freemarket ideology.
I’d say, bring it back to the women, the children on the street. Talk to them. Listen. Then decide.