Sex Work and Human Rights

Open Letter to the Modern Slavery Bill Committee

Palace of Westminster (Source Wikipedia)Palace of Westminster, London (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In response to a call by the English Collective of Prostitutes, I sent the following letter to the chair and all members of the Modern Slavery Bill Committee at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

+++ SEE UPDATE BELOW +++

Dear Mr Field, Dear Mr McDonnell,
and Dear Members of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill,

Without a doubt, you will receive plenty of emails containing objections to clauses of the Modern Slavery Bill, and I’m afraid this is another one. I am a German doctoral researcher at Queen’s University Belfast, where my focus lies on prostitution regulation in my native Germany. Over the last years, I have conducted research into measures to prevent human trafficking in the Mekong Sub-region and human rights abuses against sex workers in South Korea, resulting from Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law.

Recently, I had to observe how the majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly blatantly disregarded scientific evidence (as well as sex workers’ testimony) against Clause 6 of Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill. As you will well be aware, MLAs voted to criminalise the purchase of sexual services a mere three days after the Department of Justice published its first-ever comprehensive research report into prostitution in Northern Ireland, conducted by senior colleagues at Queen’s University. As your colleague, Justice Minister David Ford, stated, he saw no evidence to suggest that criminalising the purchase of sexual services would reduce the incidence of trafficking. However, he added that “the report contains evidence to suggest that criminalising the purchasing of sex … may create further risk and hardship for those individuals, particularly women involved in prostitution.”

Earlier this year, the EU adopted a report by Mary Honeyball, MEP, as a resolution to endorse criminalising the purchase of sexual services in EU countries, despite evidence provided to counter her claims signed by numerous experts in the field and a statement by hundreds of organisations. Regardless of one’s personal opinion on the matter, Ms Honeyball’s report was deeply flawed by any standards, and I must ask you: how is it that a sound research report as the one by the researchers at Queen’s can be dismissed so easily while a clearly biased report such as Ms Honeyball’s can be adopted as a EU resolution? The answer is simple: it just isn’t very easy for politicians such as yourselves to vote against human trafficking bills or bills to criminalise sex workers’ clients, because you must certainly be worried that the public might perceive it as promoting either a crime – human trafficking – or what some people may still consider as immoral – selling and buying sexual services.

Although I have submitted evidence to Rhoda Grant’s consultation in Scotland and, much the same, to Lord Morrow’s consultation in Northern Ireland, which you are certainly invited to explore, I would like to ask you to first look at the detailed evidence submitted by the English Collective of Prostitutes, titled Briefing against clauses to the Modern Slavery Bill to prohibit the purchase of sexual services.

Key points include:

  • Support for the amendment which would remove the offence of loitering and soliciting for sex workers
  • Strong opposition to the clauses criminalising clients, on the basis of sex workers’ safety
  • Evidence to counter the claim that the Swedish anti-prostitution law has allegedly resulted in a reduction of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation or a reduction of prostitution
  • Evidence that the treatment of sex workers in Sweden has worsened since the adoption of the Swedish Model
  • The fact that once again, like in Northern Ireland, the evidence submitted by sex workers is being ignored

You do not have to agree with people’s choices to sell or buy sexual services, but you need to accept these choices and must refrain from introducing laws that endanger people selling sex, even more so if there is no sufficient evidence that the measure would yield any success with regards to the declared aim to reduce human trafficking.

I therefore ask you to be show courage and represent sex workers in the same way you represent your other constituents. If you really want to protect sex workers, don’t give in to misguided bill proposals based on morality. As Justice Minister David Ford pointed out ahead of the vote in the assembly: “It’s not about morals. It’s about how to best address the issues.”

Best Regards,

Matthias Lehmann

ps. My native Germany has taken a different approach to prostitution legislation, which is frequently misrepresented in the media and by anti-prostitution activists. Therefore, I would like to point you at a short article of mine looking at the Lies & Truths about the German Prostitution Act – An Introduction for the Uninitiated.

+++ UPDATE: The amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill put forward by Fiona Mactaggart MP, which would have criminalised sex workers’ clients, was dropped without even going to a vote. Another amendment put forward by Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary, calling for a “review of the links between prostitution and human trafficking and sexual exploitation”, which was put forward as an alternative to Fiona Mactaggart’s, was defeated by 283 votes to 229. Please listen to the excellent speech by John McDonnell MP. Alternatively you can view the video or read the full transcript included in a statement by the English Collective of Prostitutes. +++

3 responses

  1. Reblogged this on The World of C.C. and commented:
    We all know that sex work can’t be stopped, no matter how the law tried to stop over the years. So instead of more mistakes on policies being made, we should think again over the decisions on the policies.

    November 1, 2014 at 1:20 am

  2. Craig

    Nice.

    November 1, 2014 at 2:33 pm

  3. Pingback: #NoClause6 | Sex workers protest in Northern Ireland | Research Project Korea

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