Sex Work and Human Rights

“A self-inflicted lack of information” – My response to Rhoda Grant’s consultation process

Yesterday, on December 14th, 2012, the consultation process for the “Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill (2)” came to an end.

Scottish Parliament ConsultationRhoda Grant, the sponsor of this proposed bill, is a member of the Scottish Parliament. In her view,”prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanising” and the “demand creates a market where vulnerable individuals are compelled and/or forced into a cycle of exploitation that places them, and their families, at risk”. Ms Grant also believes that “the majority of those who are involved in prostitution are unwilling participants”. That is why she proposed a law that would, much like the Swedish Sex Purchase Act, criminalise the clients of sex workers, but not “further criminalise prostitutes”. Ms Grant believes that as a result, the demand to buy sex and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation would gradually be reduced. (You can read her full consultation document here.)

I was asked by some of those that Ms Grant described as “victims of prostitution” to respond to her consultation document to help stop this proposed legislation and avoid the harm it would cause to sex workers in Scotland. The consultation was open to everyone, regardless of nationality or place of residence, and so I gladly obliged. The following paragraphs are excerpts from my letter to Ms Grant. Click here to view the entire document.

Introductory Remarks (Excerpt)

 “Criminalization is criminalization and criminalized environments are criminalized environments.” – Esther Shannon [3]

 Regardless if one agrees with the views you formulated in your proposal, I concur with Esther Shannon and believe that to reduce problems that do exist in the sex industry, the criminalisation of buyers of sexual services leaves sex workers no choice but to operate in criminalised environments, resulting in negative outcomes despite your declared aim not to criminalise sex workers themselves.

Outline of key shortcomings (Excerpt)

1. Exclusion of sex workers’ voices

“I strongly believe that no human being should be reduced down to a commodity, to be bought and sold.” [4]

To portray consensual sexual acts in exchange for payment between adults in this fashion is misleading, because with the exception of human trafficking for the purpose of organ trading, even where forced prostitution occurs, no bodies are on sale, but the sexual exploitation of human beings. Even in the case of rape, it is offensive to refer to the rape victim as a commodity and adds to the dehumanising act committed by the perpetrator.

On the other hand, where consensual sexual acts in exchange for payment between adults occur, neither human beings nor sexual exploitation are being sold but sexual services. [5] To suggest otherwise is unhelpful. One may object to the purchase of sexual services on the grounds of moral, ethical, religious or otherwise subjective reasons, but the creation of laws should not be based on subjective beliefs but on evidence that suggests that their implementation can be expected to remedy the problems they are supposed to address. [6] […]

Throughout your proposal, you provided no evidence to support your argument that the provision of sexual services amounts to the buying and selling of human beings and that prostitution is “inherently harmful and dehumanising”. [8] Where the evidence presented by you included the voices of sex workers, you limited your sources to victims of abuse and exploitation, which is the same as if one were to form an opinion about marriage based on consulting clients of divorce lawyers.

In my view, your deliberate exclusion of the voices of sex workers who disagree with your views is the root cause of your failure to form a proposal that would address the problems that do exist in the sex industry.

2. Gender Bias and Flawed Evidence

While you state that “the gender of the participants [in the purchase of sexual activities] is irrelevant to determining whether an offence has been committed”, [10] you introduce your proposal by stating that the “buying of sexual activity is sexual exploitation and is recognised as violence against women” [emphasis added]. [11]

While I acknowledge that the majority of people working in the sex industry are female, I find that you fail to acknowledge violence against male and transgender people. The single source given on the page ‘Objective of the proposed Bill’ refers to research about “Men Who Bought Women in Prostitution”. [12] Among the authors of said research is Melissa Farley, whose credibility Judge Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice assessed as follows.

“Although Dr. Farley has conducted a great deal of research on prostitution, her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence. … Dr. Farley’s choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. … Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including, ‘that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her.’ Accordingly, for these reasons, I assign less weight to Dr. Farley’s evidence.” [13]

The credibility of Melissa Farley’s work has also been called into question by others, including Dr Callum Bennachie who found Farley to be in breach of the American Psychology Association’s Code of Ethics [14] as well as Dr Ronald Weitzer. […]

Due to the limitations of the evidence presented, I challenge the terminology and definitions used in your proposal and find them as not satisfying the test of reasonableness. Your proposal reveals a gender bias and uses evidence from a source that has been called into question by experts in the field and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

3. Conflation of Sex Work and Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation

Under the heading ‘Objective of the proposed Bill’ you state that human trafficking “is not the focus of this proposed legislation” but that “by tackling demand for the purpose of prostitution, these activities will be disrupted” [18] since, you state later, “the sex industry and human trafficking are ‘fundamentally linked’”. [19] […]

By doing so, you disregard consensual sexual acts in exchange for payment between adults and instead equate all sexual acts in exchange for payment with violence, which, as Ron Weitzer put it, represents a “transparently slanted” strategy. […]

In the 2011 report into Human Trafficking in Scotland by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Baroness Kennedy QC stated that the elements of “[c]oercion and deception are central to the UN’s definition of trafficking in the Palermo Protocol and central to the Inquiry’s recommendations.” [21] You, however, fail to acknowledge the difference between consensual sexual acts and coerced prostitution and you also fail to explain why “[p]rostitution acts as a serious barrier to equality and dignity”.

Baroness Kennedy QC also stated that banning prostitution “was both unworkable in law and in practice.” [22] Besides being unworkable, laws that conflate sex work and trafficking negatively affect actual victims of human trafficking and sex workers, both of whom require appropriate assistance instead of measures that fight violence and exploitation in name only.

“The End Demand movement makes assumptions about sex buyers, characterizing them as deviants and the root of the trafficking problem. Legal frameworks and programs designed to punish and shame these buyers divert what scarce resources exist into unproven methods. Despite a lack of reduction in either trafficking or sex work, abolitionists have continued to push End Demand strategies, leading to changes in federal and state law which will continue to at best maintain the status quo and at worst harm sex workers by making their conditions worse.” [23]

4. Soundness of Consultation Process

Finally, before I will reply to the questions laid out in your proposal, I would like to state that I cannot help but to find your consultation process deeply unconvincing. You state that the views and opinions expressed “are important to this consultation process”, [24] and the outlined questions ask whether or not one supports the “general aim of the proposed Bill”.

However, you also state that you do not seek “views on the decriminalisation of those involved in prostitution” as you already concluded that this course of action is not one you wish to advocate. [25] Together with the fact that you previously attempted to lodge a proposal where you deemed that “further consultation was unnecessary”, this process appears as one in which opposition is being disqualified from the onset.

Considering that you spent additional months to prepare this consultation, it doesn’t bode well that you failed to include important research published in 2012 that contains crucial information, which I will provide in my replies below, and instead cited sources such as the report by Macleod, Farley, Anderson & Goulding, which was already rejected during the consultation process on Trish Godman’s proposal, as documented on your own website. [26]

I felt compelled to not even bother responding to your proposal, but it is my sincere belief that if your bill were to be adopted, victims of human trafficking as well as sex workers would be negatively affected. Thus, I urge you, even if you are not inclined to listen to me, to listen to them.


(Click here for the entire document.)

Conclusion (Excerpt)

I find your proposal to be based on a stereotypical understanding of the sex industry, resulting from a self-inflicted lack of information, as you excluded relevant research and the voices of sex workers in a transparent attempt to bolster the biased and escapist perception you aim to instil on the legislator and the public.

I agree that a societal change in attitude and perception of sex work is necessary and I find your proposal unfit to bring about that change. Instead, you perpetuate stereotypes about sex work, rendering you complicit in the stigmatisation and discrimination of sex workers, which reports from various agencies of the United Nations and even the UN Secretary General himself described as harmful to the health and safety of sex workers.

In addition, there is sufficient evidence available, which indicates that your proposed bill would seriously hamper efforts to curb human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, rather than disrupting such criminal activity, as you suggested. […]

Violent abuse or cases of human trafficking do occur in the sex industry, just as they do in any other industry. [41] Sex workers have a genuine interest to fight crime and reduce harm in their work environments. Due to the severe shortcomings in your proposal, I cannot help but to doubt the sincerity of your intentions.

I find your proposal to bear the hallmarks of the misguided policies I frequently encounter through my research. Based on my academic expertise and the evidence presented in this letter, I reject your proposal and expect the honourable members of the Scottish Parliament to come to the same conclusion.

Best Regards,

Matthias Lehmann
Berlin, December 10th, 2012

Footnotes (Excerpt)

[3] Esther Shannon is a feminist activist who has worked with community-based feminist organizations on a wide variety of women’s issues and as a feminist journalist and researcher and as a communications specialist. She is a founding member of FIRST, a national coalition of feminists advocating for the decriminalization of sex work and for sex worker human and labour rights. This quote was taken from a public comment by Ms Shannon left on my website. URL: (Accessed: November 30, 2012)

[4] Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill (2), A proposal for a Bill to make it an offence to purchase sex, Consultation by Rhoda Grant MSP [herafter: Proposal] p. 3, URL: (Accessed: November 30th, 2012)

[5] “When politicians, social service providers and celebrity philanthropists insist that sex workers are selling ourselves, they engage in the same kind of dehumanisation that they claim johns do to us. When they claim that men can buy us, they rob us of our power and our choices.” Melissa Gira Grant in “’Men buy girls, not sex’ and other myths of anti-prostitution moralists” The Guardian, Friday 23 September 2011, URL: (Accessed: November 30, 2012)

[6] Ronald Weitzer “Sex Trafficking and the Sex Industry – The Need for Evidence-Based Theory and Legislation” The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, Vol. 101, No. 4 pp. 1368-1369

[8] Proposal p. 8

[10] Proposal p. 21

[11] Proposal p. 8

[12] Proposal p. 8

[13] Ontario Superior Court of Justice “Bedford v. Canada, 2010 ONSC 4264 (CanLII)” URL: (Accessed: November 30, 2012)

[14] Callum Bennachie “Complaint to the American Psychology Association (APA) lodged against Melissa Farley” URL: (Accessed: November 30, 2012)

[21] Inquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland. Report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. URL: (Accessed: November 30, 2012)

[22] Ibid.

[23] Stephanie M. Berger “No End in Sight: Why the ‘End Demand’ Movement is the Wrong Focus for Efforts to Eliminate Human Trafficking” Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Vol. 35, 2012. URL: (Accessed: November 30, 2012)

[24] Proposal p. 3

[25] Proposal pp. 7-8

[26] “This document, if such it can be called, is comprehensively demolished by “A Commentary on ‘Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution in Scotland…” prepared by Dr Teela’ Sanders of the University of Leeds and 17 distinguished collaborators.” Letter from Richard Spencer, URL: (Accessed: December 9th, 2012) [Sanders et al’s critique can be accessed at]

[41] “Of the total number of 20.9 million forced labourers, 18.7 million (90%) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises. Out of these, 4.5 million (22%) are victims of forced sexual exploitation, and 14.2 million (68%) are victims of forced labour exploitation in economic activities, such as agriculture, construction, domestic work or manufacturing. The remaining 2.2 million (10%) are in state-imposed forms of forced labour, for example in prisons, or in work imposed by the state military or by rebel armed forces.”

International Labour Organisation “2012 Global estimate of forced labour. Executive summary.” URL:–en/index.htm (Accessed: November 30, 2012)

7 responses

  1. Pingback: Responses to proposals for the “The Criminalisation of the purchase of Sex”, presented by Rhoda Grant SMP to the Scottish Parliament. «

  2. Frans van Rossum

    Perfect! Not just as a rebuttal of the proposal, but especially as a systematic, objective manner of arguing with legislatures and law enforcement agencies anywhere who legalize/regulate/enforce prostitution. Thank you!

    May 30, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    • Thanks ever so much, Frans. I am glad you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.

      May 30, 2013 at 7:45 pm

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  5. Pingback: Criminalising the payment for sexual services | Research Project Korea

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