Last week Rhoda Grant MSP and Lord Morrow were invited to speak about their respective proposals to criminalise the purchase of sex in Scotland and Northern Ireland at an event in the House of Commons tellingly entitled ‘Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation: Tackling Demand in the UK’.
These proposals represent a radical change to the criminal law in this area and, if passed, would have severe consequences for sex workers. They are not supported by public opinion, academic evidence, sex workers themselves or by the majority of those delivering front-line support to sex workers.
Both Rhoda Grant and Lord Morrow made the claim that their intentions were to improve the safety of sex workers and save them from what they repeatedly called “exploitation” and by that they meant being paid for sex. Their proposals are built not on a solid evidence-based foundation, as all legislation should be, but on the narrow ideological belief that consenting sex between two adults is wrong if an exchange of money is involved and that all sex work is in and of itself an act of violence against women.
In seeing sex work through this narrow, gender-stereotyped prism the proposals lack any understanding of the gender complexities of prostitution and the male and transgender, as well as female sex work sectors. This gender bias means that these proposals completely overlook the hundreds of male and transgender sex workers seen by many projects who will justly feel bewildered on hearing the implication that prostitution is by nature ‘violence against women’ when on many occasions there are, in fact, no women involved.