THERE ARE NO BAD WOMEN, JUST BAD LAWS

“I finished late last night and I had to shower a lot when I got home – it was a day of… special requests, so I had to wash everything. I am tired. I want to talk to you though, it is important.”

Erika is a sex worker and one of the 80,000 in the UK who work in unnecessary danger. She would be safer if the government decriminalised prostitution.

At the moment, selling sex is legal. Advertising yourself or soliciting on the street is not, neither is working in a brothel or working with anyone else, including a security guard.

Landlords can be prosecuted for knowingly renting out a brothel, and a person organising shifts for sex workers can be charged with brothel-keeping or coercion, otherwise known as trafficking. These brothel laws are what makes sex work more dangerous.

Erika was caught up in the infamous Soho raids, when she was dragged out of her room in her underwear by police officers. The officers questioned her for two hours, asking her if she was a ‘gypsy’, if she had a ‘boyfriend’, if she was a ‘beggar’. One of the officers asked her how much she charged, with a leer. She told him, “You will never be able to afford me.”

Sex workers
Sex workers in Thailand hide their faces from jouranlists after a police raid

Erika’s flat was raided because she works with a ‘maid’ in the next room. Maids are actually security and are usually retired prostitutes. They knock when time is up, keep an ear out for any shouting and act as a barrier between dangerous clients and the sex worker.

However, because there are then two people working in the flat, it is classed as a brothel.

Consequently, sex workers are forced to work alone. If they decide to have a maid for security, they rarely call the police because they think they’ll be arrested. The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) has evidence of police ignoring attackers and arresting the women who called them for help instead. Would you call?

If prostitution was decriminalised, the women wouldn’t have to be scared of calling for help. If someone attacked them, they could expect support from the police – just like you or I would. At the very least, they could expect the officers to turn up.

A few months before the raids, Erika was attacked by a client. He broke her jaw and hit her with a bottle of lubricant. He broke a tooth and strangled her but when the maid called the police, they didn’t arrive.

“The police have proved to me over and over again that I am worthless to them. I’m not going to call them again. I know they won’t come.”

At the moment, sex workers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. In the eyes of English law, they are, by and large, both criminals and victims. They are criminals because they work with a security guard, meaning they are running a brothel. They are victims because those security guards are seen as pimps and traffickers, forcing them to work.

That makes life hard, and expensive, for the police as well. In 2011, a specialist anti-trafficking force called the UKHTC (UK Human Trafficking Centre) was given half-a-million pounds to find people who had been trafficked into the sex industry. They now have to run raids on flats like Erika’s to see if they can find the trafficking victims.

If prostitution was decriminalised, sex workers would register with the police who would then check on them regularly and run inspections on premises.

Sex workers Rally
The English Collective of Prostitutes protesting in Soho against police evictions in 2013, which they believe force women to work on the streets

The sex workers have to have weekly STD checks and pay tax but they also have a much closer relationship with the police. Not only does that make it safer for them, it makes it easier to spot actual trafficking victims.

New Zealand decriminalised sex work in 2003. Since then, there has been no increase in sex workers, HIV and gonorrhoea rates have dropped and the women say they feel much safer.

According to research by the University of Otago, 90% of sex workers “were aware that they had increased employment and legal rights”. Those rights include protection from violent attacks and having more power to refuse a client if they want to go condom-less.

Parliament is having a fairly polarised argument about decriminalisation at the moment. Some, for example Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, want decriminalisation, while others want a model adopted by Norway and Sweden called the Nordic Model. Politicians like Fiona MacTaggart are pushing for the latter, where the men who buy sex are the ones who get arrested instead of the women selling it.

This sounds great but in reality, it makes sex work more dangerous. It unwittingly gives the client more power. If the client is the one taking the risk, the client is the one who can make demands. In Norway, where the Nordic model has been put in place, There aren’t statistics on the number of attacks on prostitutes since the change but considering this law is supposed to protect them, sex workers saying it makes them unsafe speaks volumes.

MacTaggart and her fellow campaigners seem to believe that prostitution can be stopped but, like it or not, they just don’t have that power. By making it more illegal, this law does nothing but increase policing costs unnecessarily, increase the stigma surrounding sex workers and drive them all further out of the public eye.

Sex work is not going to go away. By accepting that fact and decriminalising the profession, politicians can then focus on what drives people to the industry in the first place. In 2008, MacTaggart bandied around the idea that 80% of sex workers were trafficked. That was completely wrong. What workers do say, however, is that prostitution is often the best choice of a bad lot and that is something the government can legislate on.

Cycles of poverty drive people to prostitution. Harsh immigration laws that intensify racist attitudes and make it difficult to work drive people to prostitution. Welfare cuts leaving 600,000 children in poverty will drive people to prostitution.

The government cannot stop people selling sex with a law but it can make it safer. It can make policing more effective and it can give sex workers reasons to trust its officers. Perhaps then, politicians could focus on the laws that push people into the business in the first place.

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The Budget 2015 – for children

I write political news for primary school children on behalf of The Economist Educational Foundation. On Monday, I will be discussing the new budget with 260 of them at the Southbank Centre. Here are the two case studies I have made up to explain the various effects of them however I worry that they are either biased or not illuminating enough. Would appreciate feedback!

THE BUDGET

A woman called Jill goes to work every day. She hasn’t taken a sick day all year and has three young children to look after. Her husband is a cook and she is a builder, which she really likes. She likes that she can build stable, solid things but she didn’t used to earn very much. It meant she couldn’t afford the nice things she wanted for her children. In the Conservative’s new budget, Jill will earn more because she doesn’t have to pay as much tax. That means she can spend more on her children and her house. By spending that money, she is helping shops, restaurants and other things to stay open. That means that everyone is making more money.

Down the road, her neighbour Jack is stuck in his house. He has a disease called arthritis which means that often, he can’t walk. Sometimes he is in too much pain to get out of bed. That means it is hard for him to get a job. His family used to use the benefits that the government gave him to make sure Jack and his family were okay. Now, because of the Conservative’s new budget, they are getting less money from the government to pay for food and care. The community centre Jack used to go to during the day is going to have to close. Jack and his family are worse off and he feels like a burden to those around him.

My first relationship, by Michaela Carroll aged 21, 11 months

Recently (really bloody recently… alright, it was four days ago), I was broken up with for the first time ever. That isn’t because I am so fantastic that no one would ever break up with me, that is because I, like many 15 year olds, (I realise that I am 21) have never had a relationship.

Despite having ‘seen’ a lot of people (I am a prolific see-er. Some call me a commitment-phobe, I call myself ‘a champion of diversity’), I have never had a proper relationship. You couldn’t even call what I was doing as dating but my mum reads this blog so let’s call it… daliancing with. It was rare for me to see the guy I was ‘daliancing with’ more than twice a week and if I did, I would usually get very needy or very cold and distant if I did. This, however, was different.

For whatever reason, Spaceman (that is what we are calling him, even though he said I could call him a c*nt on social media) didn’t get relegated to a series of increasingly more distant dates on my part where I would begin to hate him. Through sheer and persistent affection, he made it through the ice-wall to the other side. It was fucking terrifying. It was how I imagine hiding from bears in a big cave only for them to burst through the wall of moss you had built over a series of foraging trips would feel.

Many times, I questioned whether I had the emotional capacity to do a relationship and whether I could deal with the fall-out if it didn’t work out. I used to have some mental health issues and the thought of them coming back was far worse than any relationship could over-power. However Spaceman, it turns out, has been one of the funnest life-lessons I have had to date. Apparently, I LIKE being affectionate! Who knew? Apparently, I will NOT try and wrestle every man out of my house if he is there for more than two days! Shock! Apparently, I can even get neurotic at times which considering I have happily assisted hookups between guys I am seeing and girls in bars, is genuinely a shocker. All of this sounds sarcastic, or common sense, but it is impossible to over-estimate the degree of my emotional fuckery before this.

And so, what everyone else learned when they were 16, I have learned in 2015, aged 21 and 11 months (yes, it is my birthday this week. Yes, I do expect bouquets of flowers and bottles of rum from you all in replacement for Spaceman). Relationships are fun and hard and weird and ultimately make you very vulnerable but they are definitely something to try. And now, because I am a person who is very happy with her independence, I will take this knowledge with me in life. Perhaps the next victim who falls into my trap of red hair and propensity to hum ’76 Trombones’ at foghorn volume at 7am will not be subjected to weeks of on/off texting, a blizzard of exciting, colourful dates and then a big fat sea of silence. Maybe. For now, I am happy in the knowledge that I am not emotionally stunted and I will think about this while I go back to listening to Disney soundtracks in the morning and drinking glittery rum at night.

People I have met: George Montagu, a young composer

This is George Montagu’s composition called Yuan the Adventurer. I’m hoping to start a feature on him very soon but until then, listen to this. I almost guarantee you will want to go on a mountain adventure afterwards. George is a young composer who I met at the Edinburgh Fringe festival and you will hopefully know a lot more about him soon but this is just to whet your appetites.

COME AND HELP US PROTEST FOR SEX WORKER’S RIGHTS TODAY

So this really fun journalist called Julie Bindel is publishing a guide for journalists on reporting sex work.

She is ardently against the unionising of sex workers (think about that for a second). She seems to believe the strange, made-up and now disproved ‘fact’ that 80% of sex workers are trafficked. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t been a sex worker.

So, we’re going down to her book launch to protest. When I say ‘we’, I mean myself, the English Collective of Prostitutes and the sex workers who the book talks about. The ones who would probably know better than anyone just how they should be represented in the media.

Really importantly, the book argues against decriminalisation, or the New Zealand model. That model has improved the lives of countless sex workers and the relationship between them and the police.

Come and join us if you want, it is at 4.30 at Europe House, 32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU.

(if you can’t come but want to help out, it would be great if you could share this)

People I Have Met – The ‘Pick Up Artist’ who couldn’t ‘pick me up’.

Last night, I got to act out a scene I have imagined for years but never thought I would actually get to say.

A pick-up ‘artist’ tried to pick me up.

I was young when I read The Game. If you haven’t heard of it, it is Neil Strauss’ expose of the Californian pick-up scene. I read it and decided that if anyone tried to ‘neg’ me, ‘peacock’ for me or use any of the other tricks Strauss describes, I would crush them like a worm.

I have never been into aggression, however. I am more of a quiet, cold crushing kind of girl. A bit like a snake. Or a deadly goldfish.

So, Mr Pick-Up ‘Artist’ (PU’A’) approaches. “You didn’t say bye to your friend then.”

“Yes, I did.”

He is wearing steam-punk style suit, black eyeliner and electrocuted hair. He has a strange accent and a confident stare. If it wasn’t for the smarmy leer, I would probably fancy him. As it is, he is just creepy. I walk away.

About five minutes later, he comes over to our group. I have been seeing a show with my new flat-mates. I have no interest in flirting with anyone. Regardless, I don’t like being rude so I turn to talk to him when he starts a conversation.

“We’ve met before,” he says.

“No, we haven’t.”

“Yes we have.”

I meet a lot of people and although I usually recognise a face, there is a chance he is telling the truth. “Where?”

“In the bathroom. You are a French mix.”

I am fairly sure he is bullshitting but the bar is quite loud.
“Did you say Micks?”
I am dressed in a stripey Breton top and a beret. The idea that someone I know would say, “You are French, Micks,” isn’t out of the question.

He is now stuck. He has no idea why my face is suddenly not so hostile.
“Erm…”

So that was just a crap ploy and a coincidence. “My name is Mickey. I thought you knew me,” I explained. I go to turn away again.

“Mickey, Donald Duck, I don’t care what your name is, I care about you.”

This corny, embarrassing try at deep loses any remaining interest I have in talking to him. Now I am just bored and wondering the most polite way to get rid of him when he produces a daffodil.

“My flower has been crying all day trying to find someone as special as her to be with. Are you that special?”

“Probably not,” I reply. I can hear myself becoming rude but I am tired, I want to talk to my new flatmates and his eyeliner is wonky and it is pissing me off.

“You aren’t that special?”

“No.”

I know this part. If I say yes, he will ask me to prove it. I would have to list my attributes and then he has the power.

“You should be more confident!” He says, a grin on his face.

“I am confident.” My voice is icy and I am staring him down. It makes him falter. I love it.

“Are you a lesbian?”

“Nope.”

“Oh…”

I assume that was a terrible attempt at a ‘neg’, something designed to knock the confidence of the woman being picked up. I’m supposed to want to “chase the PUA and win his approval”. However, instead of knocking my confidence, the poor little sausage appears to have knocked his own.

“Do you love me?”
“Nope.”

This continues for about a minute. I am a little bit ashamed to admit I made up a fictional boyfriend as the quickest way to get out of the situation but that only served to increase the challenge for him.

(I do not believe that having a boyfriend should be a reason why a woman can’t be hit on if she doesn’t want to be, it was just the first thing that came to my head. It is the bit I regret about our exchange.)

He tells me that he is a “Pick Up Artist and a fashion designer!” There is a second of him looking hopeful about what reaction this might bring. I suddenly feel quite sorry for him and say,
“That is very cool.” After that I looked around, a bit bored and said nothing else but at least I didn’t hurt the poor man’s feelings.

Then, in a last ditch attempt, he did a silly, silly thing.

He took the daffodil and poked me in the boob with it. The actual boob.

We all know my thoughts on sexual harassment but I remained very calm. I remembered something about this from The Game. He wants to draw a reaction. A slap, a shout, a gasp, anything he can work with.

However, the poor PU’A’ doesn’t realise that I have two older brothers and am well versed in not giving the reaction people want, just to annoy them. In this situation, a strong reaction would mean I had lost. I hate to lose.

“No.”
I am using the voice I use when kids are being naughty and my eyebrow is arched in the most “who is this arse-wipe?” manner. It is a firm voice and very final.
“That is not okay.”

“What?” His smarmy leer is back and he is twirling the daffodil.
“No. That is not okay. You do not go near someone’s boobs.” I pause while he tries to decide how to react to being spoken to like a five year old.
Before he has time to decide, I am done. I have absolutely no interest in talking to this boring little man any longer and it is high time he knew it.

“I am going to talk to my friends now. Goodbye.”

I give him the dismissive once up and down, another arched eyebrow and turn my back on him. I don’t give him the satisfaction of turning back to see if he was still there.

About ten minutes later, he is sat at the bar on his own looking fairly pathetic and deflated. Soon after, he is gone.

I finally got to shoot down a pick up ‘artist’. Strangely, I now just pity the poor little man.