Brooke Magnanti and Paris Lees Appear at Parliamentary Sex Work Inquiry

An inquiry is currently under-way in the British Parliament into the laws governing prostitution, and last week Dr Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) and Paris Lees – both former sex workers – gave evidence.

There are two broad forms that a change in the law might take: either towards full decriminalisation – as has been the case in New Zealand since 2003 – or towards the criminalisation of clients (the so-called Nordic model). While the vast majority of sex workers favour decriminalisation (96% according to a recent survey), the inquiry made clear from the start that it is inclined towards the Nordic model:

“The Home Affairs Committee is looking at the way prostitution is treated in legislation. In particular, the inquiry will assess whether the balance in the burden of criminality should shift to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.”

So from the outset, the inquiry appears to be slanted towards a legislative model that is opposed by sex workers: an approach that signals moralistic goals, rather than a desire to reduce harm.

Judging by The Mirror’s account, the discussion was somewhat surreal. Labour MP Keith Vaz, who seems to have a particular, long-term issue with sex work, appeared reluctant to believe the accounts of women who had actually been sex workers:

“Mr Vaz expressed disbelief at when Ms Lees said she’d never met anyone who had felt pressured into becoming a sex worker.”

It is well-known that prohibitionists claim to have met countless women who have been forced into prostitution, but these victims tend to remain invisible, and are apparently never able to speak for themselves. As Lees responded:

“It seems to me you’ve had people at this inquiry who’ve got absolutely no business talking about sex work. Whose only qualification seems to be that they write for the Observer.”

This experience is very similar to my own when debating against anti-porn campaigners. As I wrote in my open letter to the anti-sex Object some months ago:

“It has long troubled me that Object are prepared to make endless claims of rape and sexual abuse against the sex entertainment industries; and yet, to my knowledge, you have filed no police reports.”

Those interested in the issue should carefully watch the inquiry unfold in Parliament. Any truly open-minded exercise would doubtless come to the same conclusion as Amnesty International did last year: full decriminalisation is the only way forward that is backed by evidence. But, I suspect, this is not the recommendation that this particular inquiry will reach.

 

Podcast #6 – Interview With Lady Andromeda

This week’s podcast is an wide-ranging interview with black London dominatrix Lady Andromeda, a sex worker for over decade, who is out and proud about what she does. We talk sex work, slut-shaming and politics. She is on Twitter as @LadyAndromedaUK

The Slut-Shaming of a Sex Worker on Facebook

This story is hardly an unusual one. Sex workers experience slut-shaming and other abuse as standard if they dare have a public presence. I have a number of Facebook friends who are prostitutes, pornstars, webcam girls and strippers, and I’m all too aware how often they are attacked online. I’m sharing these images with permission from sex worker and activist Laura Renvoize, who was the subject of the abuse, and chose to share them on Facebook.

The comments reveal how a pseudo-left, pseudo-feminist narrative is often adopted by middle-class women who feel the need to intellectualise their slut-shaming. These days, since it’s become fashionable to be left-wing (or at least, to sound left-wing), attacks on sex workers tend to be veiled in pseudo-left language. It is fascinating that the old left issues of sexism, racism and capitalism have now become excuses for anti-sex work and other forms of bigotry.

Unfortunately, this is indicative of the intellectual rot on the new left. Simply shouting CAPITALISM has become a substitute for reasoned argument. Note the claim that Laura is ‘a disgrace to women and girls’: in this version of feminism, no woman can be liberated, since every woman is (we’re told) answerable to all other women for their behaviour.

Note also the argument-hopping: Laura is told that her chosen work is violence against women (one would think she would have been the first to notice that) and is then blamed for breaking up nice families by sleeping with attached men and other crimes. Prostitution is said to be a “sick industry that promotes everything wrong with the world”. Entertainingly, prostitutes are often (as here) that told they don’t “value themselves” – a strange accusation to throw at some of the highest paid people in society.

 

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Podcast #5 Vikki Dark Interview

For this week’s episode, I interviewed Vikki Dark, an author and academic as well as ex-pornstar and escort. Vikki has a negative view of the sex industries, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about porn, prostitution, slut-shaming and prejudice in academia. With thanks again to Red Roxy Studios for their support.

France’s Prostitution Ban – and Other Signals of Fascism

France’s prostitution ban is a sign of a deep historical shift in French politics

Yesterday, France adopted the “Nordic Model” for attacking the sex trade, making it illegal to buy sex. As ever, supporters of the attack denied that prostitution was being outlawed – for example, in response to my tweet on the news, I received this:

But it takes a truly Orwellian mindset to believe that one can outlaw the buying of a service without hurting those who sell it. This is, of course, designed to hurt sex workers. The bigotry of the anti-prostitution movement is there for all to see. Sex workers are not divided on this: they are clear, whenever they are listened to, that sex work must be entirely decriminalised. Impartial observers – such as Amnesty International, who recently adopted a policy of decriminalisation – have not found this a tricky, two-sided argument. It is well known that criminalising any aspect of the trade clearly harms sex workers.

So let us not treat prohibitionists as misguided people who care, any more than we should waste breath over whether it is right or wrong to lynch black people or gas Jews. Anti-prostitution campaigners are bigots, plain and simple. They seek to attack what they hate and fear. And this bigotry born of fear and loathing, that is rising in France, is part of a far bigger historical shift. France is sinking back into fascism.

What is disconcerting is that, unlike last time around, the driving force of French fascism is the the political left. A few days ago, for example, French Socialist government minister Laurence Rossignol said that women who wore veils were like “negroes who supported slavery”. The anti-veil law was presented with a thin progressive veneer, using ‘secularism’ as an excuse. But France’s secularism is not the religious freedom of the Enlightenment. It is an opportunity to viciously abuse minorities.

And as the sex work commentator Laura Agustín wrote on Facebook yesterday, this anti-prostitution law, too, is rooted in France’s deep racism: “In France where more than half those who sell sex are migrants the law is overtly anti-migration. The message is if you want to do this – Leave.” France has always been one of the worst places in Europe to be an immigrant. Now the French war on immigrants is getting vicious, and the left is at the forefront of it. The job of far-right leader Marine Le Pen is done: who needs the far-right when fascism is just as comfortably at home on the left?

The collapse of the progressive left is not just a French thing. It is no coincidence that, in the UK, a Labour-led parliamentary inquiry is also trying to ban prostitution. Open anti-sex attitudes, and veiled racist attitudes are now commonplace on the political left everywhere: the recent attack on a student wearing dreadlocks – simply because the student was white – shows the rot is there on the American left too.

As someone who once felt at home on the left, this change in the political landscape is disconcerting. The left’s shift towards fascist attitudes forms the heart of my new book, Porn Panic! Liberal values of equality, liberty and reason are collapsing across the political spectrum. France’s prostitution ban, and that of the veil represent dark clouds rising over the western world.

Podcast #4: Response to Government Consultation

There’s no interview this week. Instead, our response to a government consultation on “protecting children”, which is, we believe, an attempt to push more power to Ofcom to be able to censor online content. The consultation closes on 12th April.

Response to the Government’s Anti-Porn Consultation

Response to government consultation: “Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography”

This is a response to the consultation titled “Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography” dated February 2016. I am the founder of the Sex & Censorship campaign, and author of the book Porn Panic! (to be published on 26th August) which explores how recent moral panics over sex have become excuses for censorship.

Summary of Issues

There are numerous problems with the consultation document, which can be grouped into six areas:

  1. The chosen definition of “children” includes sexually-active young adults under 18.
  2. The document skilfully hides the fact that no other EU country is following the UK’s “lead” into censorship.
  3. The solution proposed would have no significant effect on the availability of sexual imagery.
  4. The evidence of harm presented is weak, cherry-picked, and ignores the strongest research, including the British government’s own research.
  5. Adequate tools for protecting small children already exist.
  6. The proposed solution would unnecessarily increase Ofcom’s censorship controls over the Internet. This is not how democratic governments are supposed to behave – especially those that lecture other nations on free expression.

Detailed Response

1 Definition of “Children”

It is customary to refer to those in the 13-17 year age group as young adults, not children. However, the government, and government regulators such as Ofcom, insist on referring to this age group as children. So the document, for example, provides the almost meaningless statement that “13% of children aged 6-14 visited an adult site in May 2015”. To talk about the behaviours of 6 year olds along with those of 14 year olds is deeply misleading: we suspect deliberately so.

We suggest that data combining small children with young adults is unsuitable for making important policy decisions and should be rejected.

2 The UK is Alone

This is far from the first UK government exercise in “protecting children from online adult content”. The UK has introduced a series of measures over more than a decade, including mobile content filters and home broadband filters. The age verification measures mentioned in this document have actually been part of UK regulation since ATVOD was established in 2010. Although we have often been told that other European countries are set to follow us, this has never happened. These measures have not been replicated anywhere else in the world. In other words, no other country sees fit to “protect its children” by introducing multiple layers of censorship.

The consultation document masks this fact, stating “It is clearly important that other nations have also been considering their own approaches to how best to protect children from potentially harmful content on the internet. However, we want to continue to lead the way.”

This statement is inaccurate. We cannot lead when no other nation is following. Going it alone is not leading. This misleading narrative hides the simple fact that no other democratic nation sees the necessity to implement expensive and draconian controls on adult content: indeed, many of the measures introduced in the UK would be unconstitutional in the United States under the first amendment, which protects free speech.

3 The Proposed Solution Would Have Little Effect

While it may succeed in changing the policies of some large, commercial content providers, the solution proposed will clearly have little to no impact on the availability of sexual material to UK consumers. As the consultation document itself points out, there are around five million adult sites in the world. Ofcom would need a huge and very expensive army of enforcers to make any dent on the availability of this material. Is this how the government intends to re-employ the estimated 40,000 people to made redundant by the collapse of the steel industry?

Alternatively, and more likely, Ofcom will come back to government in a year to point out that millions of sites are still ignoring UK law, and request further powers to block transgressors. This slippery slope of censorship is well known. Perhaps it would be better to abandon this exercise now, save time and money, and perhaps instead invest the savings in improved sex education.

4 The Evidence Offered is Weak and Cherry-Picked

The consultation document appears designed to mislead by presenting pornography as potentially harmful. In fact, not only does the growing body of research not back these claims of harm, but it in fact suggests that porn availability plays a role in reducing sexual violence. This applies especially in the case of teenagers: the very group to which the consultation aims to restrict access to sexual imagery.

The document instead cherry-picks and misrepresents the research available. Perhaps the strangest example is the following:

“There is also a question about the effect of pornography on ‘unwanted sex’ – for instance more young people are engaging in anal intercourse than ever before despite research which suggests that it is often not seen as a pleasurable activity for young women”

This is curious at several levels. The fact that some people report having anal sex, and other people report not enjoying anal sex is not evidence that anyone is being forced into anal sex as a result of pornography. Does the government really consider it its role to stop young people having anal sex? We would point out that anti-sodomy laws were removed from the British statute half a century ago and seem unlikely to return.

Most surprisingly, the document ignores the research into pornography carried out by Ofcom on behalf of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. To remedy this omission, here are key phrases from the government’s own research.

  • “There seems to be no relationship between the availability of pornography and an increase in sex crimes in other countries; in comparison there is more evidence for the opposite effect.”
  • “Research with adults indicates no relationship between the commission of sex crimes and use of pornography at an early age. Again in comparison there is evidence for the opposite effect.”

To put this simply: the government’s own research suggests that restricting sexual imagery to teenagers may result in a rise in sexual violence among that age group. We call on the government to abandon these plans until strong evidence can be presented that they will not increase harm.

5 Adequate Tools for Protecting Children Already Exist

Parental controls for child access to the Internet have existed for over two decades. They are mature and effective: so much so that tablets are safely marketed for children by family brands such as Tesco. Regulators have repeatedly ignored this fact when lobbying for more Internet censorship controls.

But specialists believe that the most effective child protection tool of all is comprehensive sex education for all age groups. We therefore call on the government to broaden sex education, rather than attempt to keep teenagers ignorant of sexual matters until they are 18.

6 Take a Stand Against Censorship

The British government takes a strong stance against censorship in states like Iran and China. We agree with this position, and believe that free expression should be defended without compromise by the British government, in the absence of clear evidence of harm. It is unsurprising that Ofcom seeks to extend its already significant censorship powers; we expect our elected representatives to stand against a power grab by unelected regulators, and in favour of a free and open Internet for British citizens. We cannot lecture other countries on free expression while allowing ours to be continually eroded under the pretext of protecting children.

Jerry Barnett
Sex & Censorship

jerry@sexandcensorship.org

Podcast #3: Stripper Edie Lamort – the Canary in the Coalmine

Edie Lamort is a stripper and political activist. When anti-sex groups began organising in east London to close down strip clubs, she and other dancers joined unions and organised to keep their workplaces open. This interview was recorded almost 5 years ago. Edie predicted that the strippers were just the first of many targets, so referred to herself as the canary in the coalmine. She is founder member of the East London Strippers Collective.

Poppers to be Spared UK Ban

The British government has announced that poppers – a recreational drug – will be exempt from the coming clampdown on “legal highs”, to be introduced next month.

Poppers are popular for use during sex, and are especially widely used by gay men. In a recent debate on the bans, gay Tory MP Crispin Blunt outed himself as a poppers user. The government reversal comes following an intervention by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which advised that poppers may not be a drug under the definition used in the new law.

It is to be celebrated that at least one drug will be spared the ban, but the exception only serves to highlight the ludicrous nature of the law. At a stroke, thousands of diverse substances will be made illegal to supply. The law is not drafted to deal with harmful substances, but all psychoactive substances, regardless of whether they are harmful or not – this makes a mockery of government claims that the bans are an attempt at harm reduction.

In fact, such bans tend to increase, rather than reduce drug harm, by criminalising the supply chain and reducing government ability to regulate drugs. Users often substitute one drug for another – so for example, cocaine usage fell when mephedrone was legally available. This fact didn’t stop the then Labour government from banning mephedrone (against the advice of the ACMD), no doubt to the relief of the cocaine trade.

British governments have a long history of pointless – and often dangerous – drug bans. Questionable decisions in recent years include the bans on magic mushrooms and khat – neither considered to be dangerous. But they have never, until now, tried to ban so many substances at a stroke. The repercussions are impossible to predict; but one can guess that again, the cocaine trade will benefit.

We can be relieved that some common sense was seen in the poppers exemption. But common sense and government drug policy are rarely found in each other’s company. At a time when cannabis is being legalised in a number of countries, Britain feels increasingly backward.

The Sex Worker and the Man with the Bionic Penis

When he was six, Mohammed Abad (“Mo”), lost his penis in a road accident. It is hard to imagine how an accident like this might blight a person’s life: what the effects on his self-confidence and his adult life might have been. Years later, modern medicine provided him with a “bionic penis” and he could finally think about having sex for the first time.

Mo’s Eight-Inch Bionic Penis

This week, now aged 44, Mo lost his virginity; this was met with an accompanying fanfare of media coverage. The story is a touching, feel-good one, but with hidden depths. It’s also a story of triumph for our National Health Service, which equipped Mo with a new, “bionic” 8-inch penis (Eight inches? One suspects the NHS will be bombarded with demands for the things from men who have perfectly functioning, but average willies).

But the part of the story that most piqued media interest was that Mo’s first sexual experience was with sex worker Charlotte Rose. Charlotte is Britain’s best-known prostitute, and has won multiple awards for her campaigning work. The story of the man with the bionic penis is a reminder of something that is so often overlooked in the debates over sex work: sex workers don’t just provide hedonistic pleasure. They are often the only option for men – and sometimes women – who, for a wide variety of reasons may not be able to find sexual partners.

Many sex workers, including Charlotte, provide services to disabled men with few other realistic options. Sex workers can provide a caring, non-judgemental service to people like Mohammed, who may understandably be terrified about how their unusual bodies might be received by a less experienced sexual partner.

I would challenge those people who seek to ban sex work to meet with people like Charlotte and Mo; to explain to them why people like him should not have the right to pay for sex, when sex is such an vital part of a happy and healthy life for everyone. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the confidence, ability, charm or social network to find regular sexual partners. Why should such people be denied the right to a sex life?

The UK is sleepwalking into censorship

  • Thousands of websites blocked by filters
  • Porn is just the starting point
  • Free expression is under threat!

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