Friday, 28 May 2010

What came first, the women or the sex work?

A thoughtful and balanced blog from my boss, Frances Crook, the Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform. She comments on the recent media coverage of the trial of Stephen Griffiths, accused of mudering three women in Bradford, in particular the choice of language. She hypotheses that it is not the fact that the victims were sex workers that caused them to be targets, but the fact that sex workers are more vulnerable to such attacks. I would recommend you read it.

The debate around sex work is perhaps the only area of feminist debate that I honestly do not know where I stand on. I do, however, know the following:

1. No little girl dreams of growing up to work in the sex industry.
2. Sex work is one of the oldest professions in the world, indeed some concubines at Chinese courts were held in esteem.
3. The relationship between the women who enter sex work and social deprivation has been well proven.
4. The relationship between sex work and drug and/or alcohol dependency is also well proven.
5. There are some women who choose to enter sex work and control the relationships and power. I can't for a second imagine that they constitute more than a tiny majority of those in the industry.
6. There are supply side factors which influence the number of women recruited to work. The number of women and girls who are recruited against their will far outnumbers those who have made a choice. Shifts towards criminalising those who pay for sex is something that have worked in other countries, particularly in Scandinavia.
7. The buying and selling of human beings is an abomination, and the fact we allow it to continue is a blight on our collective conscience. Concerns about the rise in human trafficking around the World Cup and Olympics have sparked campaigns - make sure you have a look.
8. If buying and selling human beings is deplorable, isn't there an argument that exchanging the most personal connection you can make with another human, for a sum of money is equally as deplorable?
9. The promotion of the PlayBoy brand to children encourages little girls to aspire to material and shallow perceptions of adulthood. Why aren't we encouraging our daughters to be astronauts or writers or politicians?
10. We have to find a way to help those women who want to leave the sex industry to do so, without judging or criminalising them. This has to include drug and alcohol treatment, education and training, both medical and pschological treatment, free childcare, a feeling of safety. These have to be our starting point. We have to regulate and make it safe for the women who do want to work in the industry. We have to insist on contraception and regular testing. We have to be better at preventing the sale of young girls from around the world and allowing them to be repeatedly raped, introduced to smack and held against their will.


  1. Hey Mcfaull, I'm bored so here goes. 1. you say no little girl dreams of being a sex worker. Not arguing just seems a bit absolute. Also I'm sure 'no' little girl dreams of working in a morgue but women do and its legitimate. Just don't understand the point of the statement. Also why does it matter if its an old profession, so was being a slave but we got rid of that.

    Secondly the relationship between sex work, drugs, crime and social deprivation is not exactly well proven. Before you shout, what I mean is there is an obvious strong correlation between all these things but its not as black and white as 'hookers' are 'druggies'. There is a big difference between an established correlation and a relationship.

    Talking of proof, imagining isn't proof you should refer to. Especially in a list of 'points that support my argument'. Google scholar it and at least cite someone who did a survey.

    fourthly, Scandinavia is not a country. 'Progressives' should stop referring to it as such. Where are we talking about? Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Faraoe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden? In the blog she refers to Sweden not Scandinavia.

    Finally, the distinction between the sale of humans and the sale of sex is that one is a commodity and one is a service. That is not to say that either is morally acceptable/ deplorable etc but just to say that drawing a comparison is sticky and some might argue confusing who you just showed the same sympathy to her as a girl who is kidnapped but at the same time put her on a par with human traffickers.

    You do sound confused. Give me numbers though and I think you would be half way there.

    In addition why don't you just give all the things in the last paragraph to all women. Free universal childcare would do a great deal in tackling a number of problems both social and economic.

    Love you. TEMERY

  2. Whilst I very rarely agree with Hannah, i'm inclined to agree on the majority of this. I sit on the other side of the political fence, but on this issue, I too am undecided.

    Temery, I feel that many of your arguments come from a classically academic background in that they seem to miss the point and favour being a bit pedantic. I don't mean that to sound offensive (and I hope you are not) but your point about Scandinavia really misses the main issue in my humble opinion.

    Regarding some proof, Young et al (2000) stated,

    "Women who were prostituting, in
    contrast to those who were not, were found to be more severely addicted to
    drugs and more likely to use drugs as a means for coping with various
    intrapersonal and interpersonal experiences commonly associated with
    prostitution. Specifically, we found that the women who were prostituting were
    more likely to report using drugs to increase their feelings of confidence, sense
    of control, and feelings of closeness to others and to decrease their feelings of
    guilt and sexual distress."

    There are many others (Elwood et al 1997, Baseman et al 1999, probably some newer ones also) who would concur with a link.

    The point about the link between slavery and prostitution is really good though. It is a awkward analogy full of complications which I would avoid.

    Overall though, I just don't know about this issue. I was interested to hear how Ipswich had cleared itself of women on the streets in the way it had since the Steve Wright murders and wondered if it could be used as a blueprint for other places.


  3. Am loving the discussion - that is what this was supposed to be about.

    Temery, there are exceptions to every rule and I think one of the problems that we have when we discuss sex work is that someone always has a (true and valid) anecdote that confuses the issues. I was at a conference recently when a panelist raised an example of a young man who had paid for sex because he wanted to experience company and intimacy which he felt his disability prevented him from experiencing - the sex itself was irrelevant.
    I would be more than happy to provide more references, however this blog is intended to be the arguments as I see them. The reference just to Sweden in the article I felt didn't accurately convey the wide array of measures and approaches that have been tried by other states in the area. I will endevour to find a better reference which encompasses them all.

    And of course I believe in free childcare for all, along with universal healthcare, investment in infrastructure etc., however my work at the Howard League has shown me that women who offend, including those in the sex industry, have a harder time accessing some of these services where they do exist - which is why I use every available opportunity to make the argument for them. Look at the Together Women Project in Leeds for proof it works.

    FInally, as an academic, I'd be worried if you didn't want to see the numbers. As a campaigner, I want them to back up my argument, not form it. That's what I have people like you for...

  4. Talking about the selling of human beings, here is a funny quote from James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia:

    Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

  5. Ben,

    That quote is not proof that is exactly what I said it was; a correlation. There is a very big difference between saying there is a relationship between two things and that there is correlation. It can be said that rates of drug abuse are higher amongst prostitutes but inversely rates of prostitution are higher amongst drug abusers than the wider population. Essentially to note that a correlation is not to actually infer anything about the relationship that drug taking and prostitution have with each other. There is also a correlation between full moons and manias in manic depressives but it doesn't mean the two are causing each other. There could be a common underlying cause of both. My point is that it says nothing in the context of addressing an issue like prostitution unless you explore these interdependencies deeper than simply eyeballing a graph.

    Also it is not missing the point and being pedantic (though I take being pedantic as a compliment) to suggest that 'progressives' throw the word Scandinavia (and Sweden for that matter) around like the american south reference the book of revelations. Sweden in particular is a relatively small and homogenous country that has a unique political, cultural and economic history. People refer to it in a manner that is quasi-religious. That comment wasn't actually related to the points about prostitution (though prostitution in Sweden is different from prostitution in the UK).

    In response to Hannah, I would suggest you have it back to front. Its up to the numbers to form the argument and up to you to articulate it. IF (hypothetically) I showed you numbers that the prison system in the US was the most effective for rehabilitation using there current (though insane) methods are you saying that you would discard the evidence and not take it into account?

  6. But that's because you and I work in very different ways. This isn't an academic paper, and if I were to provide references and proof of every point, this blog would have been a lot longer. That's a future thesis somewhere. The numbers to back up my arguments exist, and I would suggest that it's bad referencing on my part, as opposed to not letting the argument be dictated by numbers (and with regards to your example, the numbers prove it's not, so that's a moot point)

  7. 'statistics are like a lamp post to a blind man, more for leaning on than illumination'. The misuse of numbers leads me to think that their use is often an irrelevence anyway!

    I understand the difference between correlation and relationship, and accept that some of that quote would indicate a correlation. However it does point out that women would use drugs to decrease their feelings of guilt and sexual distress, which suggests one affecting the other. And you asked for proof, but now state we should look beyond the graph, which does confuse me!

    I'm glad you see being pedantic as a compliment, i'm a pedant myself (I once spoilt a ballot paper in protest, on the basis that all the candidate's leaflets had spelling and/or grammatical errors!)

    However, whilst Hannah was incorrect to infer that Scandinavia is a country, I understood it to mean she was referring to the various work done in the regions of scandinavia rather than one particular scheme (for want of a better word)in the area as a whole.


  8. Your quote (or at least the work behind them) is indeed a proof but only of correlation. Hannah said she was confused and I think if she wants to understand the problem of street prostitution and come to a position then I think that would be the place to look. We all know that their are links between these problems but understanding how they manifest themselves is where I feel she should start.

    Stats are often manipulated and misused but as a rule of thumb you should never believe a reference to a statistic unless the person using it can actually explain where the statistic has come from and how it was constructed. If someone can't explain what a statistic represents and how it was collected then it means nothing.

    I like the quote though but would say that if that's the case why doesn't the blind man just get a zimmer frame (i.e. why use statistics at all). I would suggest that the reference to asking prostitutes why they use drugs is however flawed. Do you know if they were comparing prostitutes to non prostitutes. It would be interesting to know the reasons given by non prostitutes who use drugs. I would anticipate that those reasons are fairly similar to the reasons given by any drug user.

    I don't object to referring to a region or a country and there is a 'scandinavian way' in many respects. My point was, though admittedly it wasn't obvious, that progressives use 'Scandinavia' and 'Sweden' as a rhetorical tool. Actually its not just 'progressives' Cameron often notes that 'frees schools' work great in Sweden. The only reason he does that is to calm the left. Here Hannah has inherited the reference to Sweden from the debate so its not exactly her choice but I wouldn't want Hannah copying the practices of Mr Cameron! In short Scandinavian states aren't role model countries because we are very different species of country.

    As for Hannah, I didn't expect references but a little less imagining maybe. You said you were confused but then listed preheld conceptions. In short I think you only need to make one change to many of the points listed and that is to swap the full stop for a question mark.

    Finally if you are a campaigner who is unsure of their position surely you stop being a campaigner and become part of the audience. In which case I think you should look not just at the evidence but at the debate more generally from a critical perspective (oh and a hypothetical can't be moot).

  9. I absolutely agree - why use statistics at all?! As you can tell my research preference is for qualitative data. And yes, the origin of the problems is always the best start towards establishing a long term solution.

    Just because we are 'very different species' I wouldn't say we cannot learn something. However, I really don't know enough about Sweden, Scandinavia or their schooling system.

    I completely disagree with having a little less imagination, and this is my massive issue with academia; its barrier to free thinking in favour of the standing on the shoulders of giants approach is, in my opinion, cumbersome and restrictive.

    Hannah, I say be as imaginative as possible, even if you are wrong. Sometimes the most leftfield ideas provide the best solutions (like the late Paul Hunter having sex in the interval of a Masters snooker final, transforming his fortunes). Everything in academia is about building on previous work, yet it can all still be completely disproved. Sometimes it's better to take a risk be a bit different. I shall end it there before I sound even more like a episode of Glee.


  10. Ben,
    I think you are right to distrust statistics for the sake of statistics after all, ridiculous adverts for skincare products featuring bland statements answered positively by a minute majority in a statistically insignificant sample are one of my main gripes with TV.

    However I think you do the science, (and as it is mathematics it is one) and Temery a disservice by dismissing it out of hand and misrepresenting his last statement.

    Quantitative analysis used fairly, with proper scientific principles of hypothesis, and peer review can be very revealing and can often reveal patterns and truths obscured to those at 'ground level'

    As you like them, imperfect as they are, here's an anecdote for you.

    A village know a monster is damaging there crops at night and threatens their village, the village decides they should send their three wisest elders. Unfortunately they are all blind, however as the beast strikes in the dark of night it will make little difference.

    They find the animal and reach out to touch it and investigate. One, feeling a long flexible member declares, 'it's a giant snake!'. Another, feeling a long thin tail declares, 'it's a giant horse!' the last feeling thick, knarled, ancient feet declares 'a giant tortoise!'

    Finally, the Elephant gets pissed off and crushes them all.

    Balance and an open mind will serve the enquirer best, not pedantry.

  11. Hannah

    Good post, shame I missed it over the weekend. A couple of points:

    "Shifts towards criminalising those who pay for sex is something that have worked in other countries" - I'm not sure how you define 'working'. I find it hard to think of a definition which could justify criminalising a transaction between two consenting adults, and I don't believe it is justifiable to expect a punter to know if the woman is not consenting - if the police force are unable to identify trafficked women and help them, it is reasonable to assume that Joe Bloggs will in all good faith be unaware. On top of which, you link it to an article which says "A key issue for the government to consider if it does go down the road of criminalising men who pay for sex is that it does not appear to work"...

    "If buying and selling human beings is deplorable, isn't there an argument that exchanging the most personal connection you can make with another human, for a sum of money is equally as deplorable?" For one thing I'm glad you make the distinction between selling a human being and selling a service, a distinction far too often ignored by those on one side of the debate! I think "equally as deplorable" is a bit of journalistic exaggeration [I'll let you off on the tautology ;)] but yes, probably the huge majority of people believe that sex is the most personal connection etc and therefore above commercialisation. However, this is a personal decision for any individual, and a significant minority make the decision that it isn't. How far these choices are informed by free will and how far by coercion is an important one, but no-one should assume that the very act of selling sex is inherently immoral.

    "The promotion of the PlayBoy brand to children encourages little girls to aspire to material and shallow perceptions of adulthood. Why aren't we encouraging our daughters to be astronauts or writers or politicians?" Two issues I have with this - firstly, it deviates from the subject of sex work (there is arguably a link between the two but you don't make the argument). Secondly I'm afraid I'm going to have to play the "what about the menz??" card...encouragement to "aspire to material and shallow perceptions of adulthood" is in no way limited to girls (watch a hip-hop video and a car advert to see what boys are being encouraged to aspire to, for example...). I appreciate this post is about women specifically, but to me you seem to imply it is a female-specific issue, falsely.