Posted at 21:23 on 6 Jun 2017 by Pandora Blake
It's two days until the UK general election, and the English Collective of Prostitutes have organised a drive to write to MPs and party candidates urging them to support the decriminalisation of sex work. Austerity, benefit sanctions and rising poverty are forcing more people into prostitution, particularly women and mothers. The UK's prostitution laws make it harder for sex workers to stay safe. People who lack other options shouldn't be penalised for making the best choices they can to survive and feed their families. When our government is letting down people with disabilities and mental health problems, defunding and selling off the NHS, cutting welfare and funding to public services, more of those people are likely to turn to sex work as a last resort - and the UK's deeply unjust prostitution laws make it illegal for sex workers to support each other to stay out of harm's way. I've just filled out the form to email my candidates, it's a model letter and only takes a minute or two.
It's too late for them to write back before the election, but it's not too late to take the opportunity to make candidates aware of this issue - and put pressure on whichever of them gets elected to support the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee to decriminalise prostitution. If you have any time today or tomorrow, please take a second to contact your candidates and put sex work decriminalisation on their agenda.
The ECP have also finally released the evidence report from their parliamentary symposium on sex work law at the House of Commons, which took place in November 2015. I was there; it was an amazing day that brought together academics, activists and sex workers from all over the world to to give evidence on the social and health impact of prostitution laws. It delves into the real world consequences of the criminalisation of clients (the Nordic model), full criminalisation as in the US, and full decriminalisation (the New Zealand model). It's an amazing resource which is available in the parliamentary archives for MPs to access - if you email your MP using their lobbying tool the link is included to encourage them to have a read. Do take a look and educate yourself, there's a lot of misinformation about sex work but once you look at the evidence it's really clear.
In other sex work activism news, the Sex Worker's Open University has renamed itself to SWARM, which stands for the Sex Worker's Activist and Resistance Movement. SWARM is a collective of sex workers who believe in self-determination, solidarity and co-operation. They campaign for the rights and safety of everyone who sells sexual services, and organise skill-shares and support meet-ups for sex workers, as well as public events. The new name launched on May Day, and their statement about the political priorities of their resistance movement and the reason behind the name change is well worth reading.
Back to the subject of the election and party politics, the co-leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, very recently came out publicly in support of decriminalising sex work. Green Party policy has included support for decriminalisation for years - see the section on "Prostitution and the sex industry" here. However the Green Party has no rule that MPs have to tow the party line, and for a long time Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP, has not supported party policy on this issue. Instead she has supported the Nordic model, which makes sex workers more vulnerable to violence and abuse from clients and police. After extensive conversations with sex worker activists from the ECP and SWARM Caroline Lucas has finally accepted the evidence that decriminalisation is the best way to reduce harm, improve health and safety, and help people who want to leave the sex industry to do so. This change of heart is extremely welcome, and we can only hope that other MPs will look at the evidence and follow in Caroline's footsteps. Have a listen to the interview with Caroline Lucas on Woman's Hour - the relevant section is 9 minutes in.
If you're in the UK and can vote on Thursday, please do so, particularly if you are under 30 - this election is incredibly important with so much at stake. I've written at length in this blog about sex work decriminalisation, freedom of speech, civil liberties and obscenity law, but many more rights and freedoms are up for grabs in this election - including welfare, housing, public services and the NHS. In recent years increasing number of people have given up on electoral politics and stayed home, but the choices of candidates aren't all the same - particularly not this time. I'll be voting Labour for the first time in my life (I'm a Green party member and have previously voted for them), because in my constituency that's the best chance of keeping the Tories out and reducing Theresa May's majority. Please vote, and vote wisely.
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