Sex Work and Human Rights

Guest Post

SWERFs discover Amnesty supports decriminalising sex work

#pledgedecrim - Photo by English Collective of Prostitutes#pledgedecrim (© English Collective of Prostitutes. Used with kind permission.)

Preface: Long live the humour!

“First and foremost, humour is a means to counter the seriousness of life and at best, to cope with it. The more serious the situation, the more important humour becomes. Humour creates a distance to depressing events, it allows to speak improperly about matters which are properly unbearable [and] for a moment, it disarms the seriousness. And that might well be the reason why fanatics despise humour. They contend a dead serious, eternal truth, and jokes – however clever or funny they may be – threaten this truth. Long live the humour. The clever one. The silly one. Anyone who finds enough people who laugh about it. And for all those who don’t like it, it should apply now more than ever: tolerate it or ignore it. You won’t be able to control humour!” – Tim Wolff, Chief Editor of German satire magazine TITANIC (Translated excerpt from his article “You won’t be able to control humour!”. Published with kind permission.)

Introduction

As the Twitter battle between supporters and opponents of Amnesty’s draft policy to decriminalise sex work heated up, a current sex worker from the UK published a Downfall meme titled “SWERFs discover Amnesty are supporting decrim”. (SWERF is an acronym for sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists.)

“The Downfall meme, also known as “Hitler Finds Out…” or “Hitler Reacts To…”, is a series of parody-subtitled videos based on a pinnacle scene from Der Untergang (2004), a German WWII drama revisiting the last ten days of Adolf Hitler’s life and eventual suicide in his Berlin underground bunker.”

The subtitles are excellent as they are not only funny but also list a number of figures from both sides of the divide. But while I agree with Tim Wolff‘s words above, Nazi analogies are problematic depending on one’s respective cultural context, which is why I requested the permission to publish the subtitles as text-only version along with links to the cited sources. The different characters in the video are listed as PAPA SWERF, BRAINY SWERF, and SWERFETTE.

“Laughing in the face of the awful”

[The following paragraphs were composed by the sex worker who created the video.]

What is humour? On one level it is always something that transgresses, in order to be funny, a rule somewhere, even if it is a rule of grammar, must be broken. As children, our first comedy is that of bodily functions, as we explore the taboos society insists we must comply to. Indeed, there is probably a good essay somewhere, or waiting to be written, on how all types of humour fit into Freud’s stages of development, from the scatalogical to the cerebral.

In a particular British context, the taboo has so often been one of class and status. The Lord of Misrule, the Fool, the Wife of Bath mocking the Knight – our comedy is rooted in laughing at those with power and authority over us. This tradition carried on through the prints of Hogarth and the pages of Punch. In recent years this has been described as punching up, not punching down.

It is a delicate line between offending power and simply being offensive. Does the Downfall meme cross this line? I think in fact it is the archetype writ large, by mocking someone so terrible, with so much power we are following on from Hogarth, from the fool. We are asserting our power, that the power to show tyranny for what it is still remains. Sometimes laughter is the only power we have, and sometimes laughing in the face of the awful is, in itself, a radical act.

SWERFs discover Amnesty supports decriminalising sex work

BRAINY SWERF: “It’s true. Meghan Murphy has just called. Amnesty is supporting sex workers. Apparently, they travelled around the world actually speaking to sex workers.”

PAPA SWERF: “But I wrote at least four editorials. How can this be happening?”

BRAINY SWERF: “The Lancet has produced its own editorial supporting Amnesty.”

PAPA SWERF: “We can still win this. Get me Woman’s Hour on the phone.”

BRAINY SWERF:Woman’s Hour…they say if this is debated, a current sex worker has to be on the show. Even the Guardian printed a column by a current sex worker.”

PAPA SWERF: “Anyone who has read ‘Playing the Whore’ leave the room now. … How the f*** has this happened?! We called them pimps, we called them privileged, we outed them! The World Health Organisation I could understand. UNAIDS – who cares. But Amnesty? They’re supposed to be our kind of liberals. What the f*** are they doing collecting evidence? Get me Lena Dunham now. I need people who refuse listening to scientific research. Get me some Hollywood anti-vaxers. What is the point of feminism if people go around listening to oppressed women! Has no one read Germaine Greer? What’s the point in Julie Burchill threatening to shoot prostitutes if they aren’t scared into silence?”

BRAINY SWERF: “Don’t you mean prostituted women?”

PAPA SWERF: “I know what I mean. F***ing whores! Put lipstick on a pig and it’s still a pig. What happened to blaming the pimp lobby?”

BRAINY SWERF: “No one believes in the pimp lobby anymore.”

PAPA SWERF: “I told Bindel this. I f***ing told her! But no, she wanted to crowdfund her latest book. If people start listening to sex workers, who will publish us? I have tenure. Do you know how hard it is out there for an academic? Do you expect me to find a new professorship at my age? Get me Melissa Farley! … Distorted study after distorted study, for what? For Amnesty to commission their own! We have Sweden, Canada and Northern Ireland. We managed to convince Christian bigots to stand with us. Do you know how many anti-abortion fundraisers I had to go to? I even sat through a Christian rock concert. And for what? For people to collect their own f***ing evidence! … Do you know what Christian soft rock is like? But I did it, because with the fundamentalists we could make sure no one ever listened to the whores. And Amnesty went out and did their own research! The whole point was that no one was meant to ask sex workers what they wanted. Now they have gone and asked people who live under the Swedish Model how it harms them. No one is meant to know about that! We hid that by publishing it in Swedish and no one cares enough to translate Swedish. You can’t just go and ask the Rose Alliance how it harms them! What next? Will they ask migrant sex workers what they want? Next thing we know they will ask trans* sex workers what would protect them from abuse!

SWERFETTE: “It’s okay. The public hates trans people more than sex workers, even if they do ask.”

PAPA SWERF: “You know how this happened? What started this? F***ing Twitter! People started following sex workers, discovered they were human, had feelings, thoughts, opinions. They talked to sex workers and listened. Even some feminists followed sex work accounts. We called them orifices, pointed out that all penetrative intercourse is rape, mocked them for sucking dick, showed our disgust at every turn. For some reason, this made people think we are the bad guys. All we have left is the New Statesman. God have mercy on our souls.”


Over 10,000 people signed the petition to Amnesty by the Global Network for Sex Work Projects. The vote about the draft policy at Amnesty’s International Council Meeting in Dublin is scheduled for August 11th, 2015. As soon as the result will be known, this post will be updated.

+++ Update: Amnesty International delegates from around the world voted to adopt policy to protect human rights of sex workers | Click here for Amnesty’s official statement +++

I would like to thank Jane Doe for her permission to publish the text-only version of her video, for adding the paragraphs above, and for collaborating to publish this post.

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Sex workers in the Netherlands are making history

Sex worker protest in Amsterdam on April 9, 2015 © PROUD

Sex worker protest in Amsterdam on April 9, 2015 © PROUD

Guest post by Frans van Rossum [1]

Summary

As sex workers fight back against the Mayor of Amsterdam’s attempt to “legalise” violating their privacy rights, they receive some unexpected and unprecedented support from Magda Berndsen-Jansen, a member of parliament for left-centrist party D66. Her parliamentary enquiry, which demands answers to the very questions raised by newly founded sex worker organisation PROUD, proves that sex workers are finally being heard, and that in just over three months since its founding, PROUD has made itself a power to be reckoned with.

“Legalising” the violation of sex workers’ privacy rights? 

On February 23, 2015, Amsterdam’s mayor Eberhard van der Laan wrote a letter to Ivo Opstelten, then still in office as Dutch Minister of Security and Justice. [2] In essence, the mayor asked him to create a legal instrument that would allow city administrations nationwide to collect and, if needed, share personal data about sex workers, which the Dutch Privacy Protection Law explicitly prohibits to be collected and shared. The mayor argued the need for this exemption with two policy goals: firstly, “to combat human trafficking effectively” and secondly, “to promote the self-reliance of prostitutes.” [Click here for an English translation of van der Laan’s letter or here for the Dutch original] [3]

When this letter surfaced, Mariska Majoor, chairwoman of PROUD Nederland, the newly founded Dutch Union for Sex Workers, wrote a scathing response to the mayor on behalf of the sex workers’ collective, protesting the attempt to encourage legislation against the current law exclusively with regard to sex workers, and accusing him of using double standards. In public, he pretended to be in open conversation with sex workers, while behind their backs, he discriminated them by “advocating the violation of sex workers’ right to privacy.” Indeed, if this were to happen, all sex workers could consider themselves de facto outlaws despite the fact that sex work as such has been legal in the Netherlands since 1811, and still is. [4] Majoor also sent a copy of this letter to all parliament members. [Click here for an English translation of Mariska Majoor’s letter or here for the Dutch original] 

Sex workers speak and lawmakers listen

Consequently, on April 25, 2015, Magda Berndsen-Jansen, member of the lower house of the Dutch parliament for left-centrist party D66, submitted a parliamentary enquiry, listing eleven questions to Ard van der Steur, the newly appointed Minister of Security and Justice. [5] Berndsen-Jansen’s questions reiterate all points of protest from Majoor’s letter to the mayor, asking the minister to formulate and share with parliament his opinion on each of them. [Click here for an English translation of her enquiry or here for the Dutch original] 

In recent Dutch parliamentary history, it is unique that a parliament member, a 65-year old woman to boot, is so openly-supportive of sex workers’ rights, and in such detailed words. Berndsen-Jansen’s lingo is parliamentary but she is calling a spade a spade and demands no less than that sex workers are being treated equally under the law, just as anyone else.  

In my view, this represents a watershed moment in the history of the struggle for sex workers’ rights in the Netherlands – the moment that the voices and opinions of sex workers are finally being heard. A member of parliament uses a heavy parliamentary instrument not because advocates but sex workers themselves collectively stand up to Amsterdam’s mayor for their rights, social status and livelihood. 

And then the Saints went marching in…

This development came right after the events of April 9, when some 230 of them, together with hundreds of supporters, walked in protest to Amsterdam’s city hall and handed the mayor a well-formulated petition with nine demands for normalising sex work and the consultation process between the city and sex workers [Click here for an English translation of the petition or here for the Dutch original]. 

On behalf of them all, Felicia Anna, a Romanian migrant sex worker and activist working in the very red light district under siege, addressed the mayor in public, and the mayor returned the honour, said a few words, and shook hands with her. All this happened under the relentless eyes of cameras, phone cameras and the international press. 

[Click here to view an impressive list of media reports by the Dutch and international press, compiled on Felicia Anna’s English-language blog.]

For three impressive galleries with photos
from the protest please click here, here and here.

It was only in mid-February of this year, that PROUD, the Dutch Union for Sex Workers, was founded and introduced to press and public during a festivity in Amsterdam’s brothel-museum Yab Yum. Now, a mere three months later, the organisation has established itself as a power to be reckoned with. This means that after 15 very tough years, since organised prostitution became legal in the Netherlands, formally enabling sex workers to leave the shadowy underbelly of society, sex workers as a social entity have now undeniably risen to a status where society at large cannot overlook or neglect them any longer. [Click here for a video clip from the event by Dutch TV station SBS6. It might not play depending on your location.]

The gloves are now off and the fight can begin for real. The city is moving forward with its Project 1012, which dates back to 2006. [6] For sex workers, this has been a disastrous development. At the moment, the final stage of Project 1012 remains underfunded by € 40m, and on top of that, it is increasingly unpopular with the city council as well as with investors. [7] Without letting sex workers and prostitution business operators have a say, the project has already diminished the red light district and will continue to diminish this historic part of downtown Amsterdam under the hypocritical pretence of beautifying and gentrifying it.

Occupy Brothel Initiative on May 1 , 2015 © Felicia Anna

Occupy Brothel Initiative on May 1 , 2015 © Felicia Anna

Occupy Brothel Initiative

On Labour Day 2015, the city, in a move as ironical as symptomatic for its disregard for sex workers’ rights, closed another 18 windows in the red light district, assumedly temporarily, with another 76 set to follow. Cashing in on their civil rights, the affected sex workers responded by taking the city to court, another stunning first in the history of the sex workers’ movement here, and for twelve hours, they occupied one of the closed brothels to draw attention to their court case, giving the city a taste of its own medicine, which deservedly received nationwide media coverage. [Click here for an English translation of an article titled “Prostitutes at De Wallen demand their windows back” by Dutch daily Het Parool or click here for the Dutch original]

The winners of the long-term gentrification Project 1012 will be real estate developers and anti-prostitution activists who will be able to claim a symbolic victory, whereas sex workers, on the other hand, will lose safe work places, and nothing will change for actual victims of sexual exploitation. It is not five but one minute before twelve for red light districts in Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands, and for sex work as a legal profession itself. Hopefully, the gloves will have come off just in time.

“This is the stuff that history is made of.”

Equality may still be far away; social stigmatisation and intolerance are not at all things of the past; social recognition of sex work and sex workers still remains fragile; some faith-based prostitution prohibitionists and NGOs are still powerful; the media at large still favour producing sensationalist over objective reports; some parliamentarians still deliver condescending do-good speeches and pushing for moralising policies – based on unfounded facts – to rescue society from the so-called abomination of this legal profession; do-gooders still long to rescue whom they perceive as pitiful victims from their imagined harsh and cruel fate; but fact is that sex workers as a group have now taken the issue into their own hands, under the auspices and protection of the law and with the help of proper experts who are fully on their side. Together, they now fight to right the many old wrongs that society, government and authorities continue to use against sex workers with ever new tactics and methods, blatantly violating existing law, if not human rights, in the process. This is the stuff that history is made of. 


Footnotes

[1] Frans van Rossum is a life-long sex worker ally from the Netherlands who provides free practical assistance to migrant sex workers and other migrants. 

[2] During his tenure as Minister of Security and Justice, Opstelten was the driving force behind the closure of the majority of the Netherlands’ coffeeshops and growshops, effectively ending the successfully instituted experiment of the 1970s, where soft drugs were tolerated and separated from the market for hard drugs. Affiliated with the traditional conservative liberal establishment party VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), Opstelten introduced the bill in 2009 to regulate prostitution via the registration of all sex workers . [see 3] Opstelten is also responsible for the strict barrier programme for immigrants, quasi a sibling of the prostitution barrier programme in Amsterdam, specifically designed to minimize the influx of foreigners intending to work as sex workers there. This barrier programme is part of the city’s draconic anti-prostitution programme, Project 1012, whose architect is Lodewijk Asscher, formerly Alderman of Amsterdam, currently Minister of Social Affairs and Employment. (Together with the mayor, an alderman forms a municipality’s executive council with the power to implement policies.) In March, Opstelten and his deputy Fred Teeven resigned for having misinformed parliament with regard to recent revelations about a 4.7 million guilder payment by the government to a convicted drugs baron in 2001. 

Source: Dutch News “Dutch justice minister, deputy resign over drugs dealer cash deal” (English)

[3] A bill that would among others provide an instrument for the nationwide mandated registration of sex workers was introduced by the Minister of Justice in 2009. It failed to pass the legislature in November 2013 after both the State Council and the Privacy Protection Council had advised against the registration measure for not being in accordance with existing law. In April 2014, the justice minister introduced an amended proposal to regulate prostitution without mandating registration, but a year later, the procedure remains stalled. However, in August 2013, the City of Amsterdam had already implemented a city ordinance which ordered prostitution business operators – under penalty of losing their license – to collect protected sensitive data from sex workers and to share them with the city administration. After a few months, this measure was quietly put on hold when the city’s attorneys realized its ‘flaw’. The city then tried to negotiate with the Privacy Protection Council to reach a conditional exemption, but the council refused to even consider this. Therefore, the mayor then sent his letter to the justice minister as a last resort to receive the necessary legal instrument to “legalise” an illegal violation of the law, to be applied for sex workers only.

[4] Some 600 years ago, the Netherlands encompassed many provinces that did not yet form a political nation with a centralized government under a head of state. Provinces were autonomous, and so were many cities. From the early 1400s, there were municipal ordinances regulating sex work in ‘zoned’ areas, effectively giving cities the monopoly on running brothels. In fact, the brothels were run by the police, and in turn, the revenues, a cut of the sex workers’ fees plus liquor taxes, generated substantial funds for the city’s police force. In the 1570s, when the North of the Netherlands became predominantly Protestant to add more weight to their war against the Spanish (Catholic) occupation, the cities formally outlawed sex work. However, it remained tolerated in certain venues, behind more or less closed doors. This situation stayed in effect until the French occupation made the country a kingdom under Napoleon’s younger brother and French law ruled. Between 1809 and 1811, the French re-legalised sex work under comparatively strict brothel regulations, which were rigorously enforced in most places.

Statute passed by the town council in 1413 - Image by Stadsarchief Amsterdam

This Amsterdam ‘keurboek’ (law book) dating from 1413
records a measure enacted to regulate prostitution in the city.
Image by Amsterdam City Archive (click to enlarge)

After the Netherlands had regained autonomy in 1813, legalisation remained in effect but the nationwide regulations under previous French law were dropped. For about a century, each city had the autonomy to regulate sex work in its own jurisdiction. From about 1880, faith-based political parties and the ever growing women’s movement worked towards the adoption of a new law, eventually passed in 1911, which prohibited any and all organised sex work enterprises (also known as the “brothel ban”). Sex work itself, however, remained legal. The law was never adequately enforced and authorities continued to look the other way. As brothels were widely tolerated, their number proliferated from the 1970s onwards. Subsequently, first attempts were made in the early 1980s to lift the brothel ban, but they only came to fruition in 2000. In good Dutch tradition, the central government passed on the task to regulate organised sex work to the individual municipalities, which could take measures as they saw fit.

To remedy the resulting chaos, a bill to regulate organised sex work as such on a national level was introduced in 2011, so far without success, and the continued legal vacuum serves as fertile soil for efforts such as those by Eberhard van der Laan.

[5] Van der Steur, only in office since March 15, wants to continue with the amended law proposal to implement nationwide rules for prostitution businesses. The registration for sex workers, as first proposed by his predecessor, Opstelten, has been taken out of the proposal at the explicit request of the Senate. The minister thinks that unified regulation will lead to prostitution businesses being treated equal in every city. According to van der Steur, controlling them would be easier, and thus more attention could be given to eradicate illegal practices. Van der Steur does not favour a “pimp ban” as he believes existing law already offers sufficient means to punish anyone coercing others to sell sex. For the time being, his position with regard to sex work as such remains unclear, in particular whether he still formally supports the idea that prostitution equals human trafficking, as he did as a member of parliament in 2011. At the time, Dutch Protestant Trouw daily recorded him as having said, “An estimated 50 to 70% [of sex workers] don’t work voluntarily in prostitution. This touches my Liberal heart. But the idea that politicians don’t know what is going on isn’t right. Last week, I was on the road with a trafficking team. We are really well informed; we know what the problems are. […] And what with the obligated registration that will be in the [new] law? Normally I wouldn’t support it as a VVD-party man. But now it is needed.’”

Sources: Dutch daily Het Parool “Number of brothels in Holland cut in half in past 8 years” (Dutch + English translation by Mark van der Beer); Dutch Protestant daily Trouw “VVD: Illiberal measures against prostitution are needed” (Dutch)

[6] Amsterdam’s Project 1012 is both a development and zoning plan, initiated in 2006 and scheduled to be completed in 2017. The name refers to the entire postcode 1012 area, the historic centre of the city, including but not limited to the Wallen (that in turn includes the red light district). The zoning plan names explicitly all existing sex work premises that should be re-zoned for non-sex work businesses only or residential use. The purpose of Project 1012 is to replace so-called “low-end” with upscale commerce and attract upscale residents (“gentrification”). It zones only a small section of Oudezijds Achterburgwal and some side alleys for sex work, and re-zones the entire traditional (and most intimate) sex work quarter around the Old Church for other use. (See also 7)

[7] At the last city council elections in March 2014, the party that began Project 1012 in 2006 lost its majority and isn’t even part of the ruling coalition anymore. Ever since, the mayor has remained as single champion of the project, but the coalition has made heavy cuts to its funding and decided that the city will not buy up all scheduled window properties. In addition, the mayor’s plan has stalled for a commercial company ‘1012, Inc’ to be created with private investors.

See also Laurens Buijs and Linda Duits article Amsterdam’s plan to save prostitutes is a billion euro gentrification project. Buijs and Duits are social scientists, affiliated with the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University respectively.


Note from the author

“I would like to thank Matthias Lehmann for the invitation to report on the recent important advances of Amsterdam’s sex workers in the ongoing battle to improve their legal position. I would also like to thank him for the many suggestions to clarify for foreign readers the peculiarities of the local and national situation that sex workers in Amsterdam are up against (via additional documents, links and footnotes). Last but not least, I would like to thank him for the time-consuming efforts to edit this text as well as the English translations of all Dutch documents. In addition, I would like to thank PROUD’s chairwoman Mariska Majoor for the permission to publish her letter to Mayor Eberhard van der Laan.” – Frans van Rossum


Prostitution abolitionists violate our rights!

Real Woman Support Sex Worker Rights. Photo by Zoccole Dure, All Rights Reserved.Photo by Zoccole Dure. All Rights Reserved.

Italian feminist blogger Eretica Whitebread recounts her conversation with an Italian sex worker living and working in Germany.

Originally posted on Research Project Germany

Clicca qui per la versione italiana di “Le abolizioniste della prostituzione violano i nostri diritti!”. Please note that the copyright for this article lies with Abbatto i Muri and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.

By Eretica Whitebread

I wrote this article after a conversation I had with F., an Italian sex worker living in Germany. She works at a place that is perfectly legal and pays taxes. She has a son from a previous relationship and her current partner is a woman. A few years ago, she moved away from Italy, where she had been charged with abetting ‘exploitative prostitution’. At the time, she was sharing an apartment with another sex worker. They had intended to help each other in order to work more safely. But under Italian laws, merely living with a sex worker can put you in trouble and see you charged with ‘exploiting the prostitution of others’.

After she served her sentence, F. chose to relocate to Germany, but currently, she feels quite unsettled there. Having already suffered due to the unfair legal charge in Italy, which made her the victim of a law that criminalised her without reason, a law not intended to support her in any way, she now learnt from the news that fanatic feminists want to make sex work illegal, thus driving sex workers underground. F. is afraid that she might again face a law that will criminalise her job.

View original 729 more words


Why do abolitionists have to lie or fantasise?

Mock version of the Feminist Current logoMock version of the Feminist Current’s “dandelying” logo

Guest post by Dr Calum Bennachie in response to Samantha Berg’s article “From Norway to New Zealand, pro-prostitution research is its own worst enemy” on Feminist Current, a Canadian blog created by Meghan Murphy.


In her article, Berg claims the number of street-based sex workers in Auckland had increased following the decriminalisation of sex work. In the following, I respond to her claims.

Berg, like Melissa Farley and others, deliberately read the information out of context. In her introduction, she cites Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf:

“For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”

Yet, this is exactly what she is doing. Or perhaps it’s because she did not know how to read a report. The report clearly states:

2.3.2 2007 Re-estimation

A second estimate of the size of the sex industry in the five locations was carried out in 2007. For most centres, the same techniques as those used in 2006 were again employed. However, as noted above, in 2006 Auckland outreach workers did not include street-based workers known to be working but not seen on the nights counts were done. In 2007, the count in Auckland was conducted in the same manner as the Wellington and Christchurch counts in 2006 (and again in 2007).

Table 3 - Re-estimation of Numbers of Sex Workers in Five Areas of New Zealand in June to October 2007

2.3.3 Auckland Results

The increase in numbers of street-based workers in Auckland in 2007 can be partially explained by the different methodologies used to estimate numbers of street-based workers in 2006 and 2007. However, the CSOM study also notes that the Auckland outreach workers had seen an increase in the number of sex workers on the street in the six to eight months prior to June 2007. The Auckland NGO ‘Streetreach’ report an increase in street-based sex workers in Auckland between August and November 2007 (Streetreach, 2007).

In the 2006 count, outreach workers in Auckland only included those who were working on the street during that period. In the 2007 count, they included all people who had worked on the streets in the preceding 12 months. Furthermore, the Committee continually asked Streetreach to provide evidence of their claims of an increase, yet they could not.

Perhaps she should also have read the following.

2.6.4 Claims that Numbers Have Increased

The Committee is aware of reports claiming the numbers of sex workers, and in particular street-based sex workers, have increased as a result of decriminalisation. Addressing these claims forms a substantial part of this chapter. Often, the increases have been reported in general terms, based on impressions, rather than citing actual numbers. One exception is the claim that the numbers of street-based sex workers in Auckland increased by 400% as a result of decriminalisation. This claim cannot be substantiated, and was not based on systematic or robust research.

The figure of a 400% increase has been re-reported several times, demonstrating the ease with which opinion can be perceived as ‘fact’. In his speech to the House during the second reading of the Manukau City Council (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill, Gordon Copeland MP attributed the report of a 400% increase to the Maori Wardens’ submission on the Bill in 2006. The Maori Wardens may have been influenced by an article in the NZ Herald in 2005 in which Mama Tere Strickland was reported to say, ‘Numbers have quadrupled since that Bill [Prostitution Reform Act]’ (New Zealand Herald, 2005).

A 400% increase in the numbers of sex workers was predicted prior to the passage of the PRA, and was also claimed in relation to the law reform in New South Wales. This may be the original source of the idea that numbers of sex workers will, or have, increased by such a margin as a result of law reform. Officials advising the Select Committee were unable to find any statistical evidence to support the claim. In addition, the Select Committee noted that ‘there may appear to be a growth in the industry because it becomes less hidden in nature’ (Select Committee, 2002).

In the Committee’s first report, the number of street-based sex workers in Auckland was estimated to be 360 (PLRC, 2005). An increase of 400% would mean there would now be 1,440 sex workers on Auckland’s streets. The Committee considers that the research undertaken by the CSOM conclusively refutes an increase of this magnitude, with the 2007 figures estimating the number of Auckland street-based sex workers at 230.

The figure of 360 for central Auckland that was published in the 2005 report comes from police records and counts, not merely arrests or anecdotal evidence. There were also 150 recorded in South Auckland, in the Counties Manukau policing District. That gives a total of 510 street based sex workers in the Auckland region prior to decriminalisation in 2003. Sometimes abolitionists say that the drop from 360 to 230 is an impossible reduction in street based sex work (let alone a drop from 510 to 230). Firstly, as the report admits, the police figures were cumulative, and so included people who may have moved to another city, or who may have left sex work (yet somehow the police deemed it necessary to continue to keep their name and link it with sex work). Secondly, with decriminalisation, the register the police insisted on keeping was no longer required, and as a result, a large number of street based sex workers began to work indoors as there was no fear that the police would be holding their details.

There does appear to have been a trend of movement from the managed sector to the private sector post-decriminalisation. In 1999, the managed sector comprised 62 per cent of the sex worker population in Christchurch and the private sector 10 per cent. The proportions in 2006 were 51 per cent and 23 per cent respectively. These differences were significant, with workers in Christchurch less likely to be working in the managed sector in 2006 (RR: 0.82; 95 per cent CI: 0.72–0.93) and more likely to be working in the private sector (RR: 2.36; 95 per cent CI: 1.64–3.38) than in 1999. (Abel, Fitzgerald & Brunton, 2009: 524).

There are claims that the Committee was biased because of who was on it. While it did contain three nominees from NZPC – one of who was a noted criminologist from Victoria University of Wellington – and two representative of operators, the Chair was a former Police Commissioner who had worked on the vice squad, and other members included representatives from ECPAT and Streetreach, a Catholic nun working with the homeless and vulnerable, as well as members from the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Local Government who were not necessarily supportive of decriminalisation. Yet abolitionists fantasise that all members supported decriminalisation, and specifically tailored the report to reflect this. This is clearly not true. What is true is that some of the committee members, after reviewing the fact based evidence changed their opinions from being against decriminalisation to being in favour of decriminalisation.

But of course, whatever is said to prove them wrong, the abolitionists, who never talk with sex workers on a daily basis, don’t know their lives, don’t know why they work, or why they work in a particular area of sex work, who don’t accept that for some people sex work is a stabilising influence on what may be an unsettled and chaotic life, will point a finger and go “Ahah! but the report must be wrong because …”, and prefer to continue their own fantasy rather than be struck in the face by reality.

So I ask Samantha Berg, why do anti-sex work campaigners have to lie? Why do they ignore evidence based research, and instead have to fantasise about non-existent issues or make things up that just don’t exist? And how did the abolitionists come up with the often repeated figure “40,000 people trafficked” to **[name of sporting event]**? What evidence do they have to back up their claims? Where is the evidence to support the claims of the abolitionists?


References

Abel, G., (2010). Decriminalisation: A harm minimisation and human rights approach to regulating sex work. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. Christchurch: Author.

Abel, G., Fitzgerald, L., & Brunton, C., (2007). The Impact of the Prostitution Reform Act on the Health and Safety Practices of Sex Workers: Report to the Prostitution Law Review Committee. Christchurch: Christchurch School of Medicine.

Abel, G., Fitzgerald, L., & Brunton, C., (2009). The Impact of Decriminalisation on the Number of Sex Workers in New Zealand, Journal of Social Policy, 38, 3, 515–531.

Prostitution Law Review Committee, (2005). The Nature and Extent of the Sex industry in New Zealand: An Estimation. Wellington: Ministry of Justice.

Prostitution Law Review Committee, (2008). Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. Wellington: Ministry of Justice.


Dr Calum Bennachie is the Coordinator of PUMP (Pride and Unity among Male Prostitutes), the male sex worker project of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collectives.