Thursday, March 20, 2014

the prostitution debate on Woman's Hour

On the BBC Radio 4 programme Woman's Hour recently (03/03/14) Gavin Shuker MP talked about the results of the cross party committee report he chaired on reforming prostitution laws. He is a former Evangelical Christian (Pentecostal) pastor and he talks the language of radical feminists. It's a clear example of how religious groups and radical feminists are 'singing from the same hymn sheet'.

Here's what he had to say "There's always going to be a small group of people for whom it's a choice that they've made actively, but for the vast majority of women involved in prostitution it's a choice that's been made for them or a choice they're trapped in."

To which presenter Jane Garvey replied "And surely - you would imagine - that the vast majority of men who choose to pay for sex will know that the women who are doing it don't want to be there or there are a string of reasons why they find themselves in that position." No pun intended I'm sure.

The point is that the vast majority of men who choose to pay for sex are well aware of what all the research shows - that in Britain coercion is very rare. Neither is there any credible research to show that women are trapped in prostitution.

He goes on to say "The challenge is to men's attitudes of buying sex and in countries where they've successfully changed the law and made a difference to the prevalence of selling sex that's what they've done. They've tackled it head on and said it's unacceptable to purchase sex and our law's going to back that up rather than the other way around."

He's obviously referring to Sweden and some other Nordic countries. It's generally agreed that the law criminalizing the purchasers of sex in Sweden has had no effect at all on the majority of sex workers apart from making their lives more difficult. It has had some effect in reducing on-street sex work but that has always been a small part of the sex work industry and in Britain we have done much better through the use of ASBOs.

He also says "Prostitution is a form of violence against women and girls." This is just radical feminist propaganda and there is no evidence for it whatsoever.

He's obviously swallowed the radical feminist creed hook, line and sinker. He's just propagating radical feminist lies that have no foundation in reality. He continued "What you're confronted by though when you go into this with a genuinely open mind and you take more than 400 different submissions is you're confronted by alarmingly similar and consistent reports of the nature in which women have come into that trade. Many of which have come in under the age of 18 before they are able to even legally consent, with alarming numbers of care leavers, people that have been sexually exploited as a child, people that have been sexually exploited for money under the age of 18. Now if we're not going to take a serious look at our law in light of that ... then I think we need our heads looking at."

I have been trying to find out where is the research that shows that many prostitutes started before the age of 18. On the AVA site they state 'According to evidence submitted to the UK Government between 50-75% of women entered prostitution before they were 18, with 15 years being the average age of entry. [Home Office (2004). Paying the Price.]' However, when you look on the Home Office document Paying the Price: a consultation paper on prostitution July 2004 you can't find where it says that. On page 97 under Annex C (Age of first involvement in prostitution) the only place it mentions 15 years of age is where it mentions 3 studies, the largest of which was of 48 women and the most recent was 1998. Nowhere does it say that 15 years is the average age of entry. Just the opposite. The Home Office document does not make it clear what type of prostitutes these are; it seems that they are talking about street prostitutes who have always been a small minority among prostitutes and who hardly exist in Britain today because of ASBOs.

So when Gavin Shuker says on national radio "Now if we're not going to take a serious look at our law in light of that ... then I think we need our heads looking at" he is seriously misrepresenting the facts. Let him state where he gets his information from, because I can't find it. You can still listen to the programme here.

Rachel Moran
The next week on Woman's Hour (10/03/14) Jane Garvey talked to Rachel Moran and Ana. Rachel Moran said that she used to be a street girl and Ana said she was trafficked. However, blogger Maggie McNeill has good reasons to believe that Rachel Moran is not telling the truth. Another blogger, Laura Lee, believes the same thing. It seems that religion has reared it's ugly head again, only this time it's not Evangelicals like Gavin Shuker but Roman Catholics.

Ruhama is a Catholic organization connected with two orders of nuns. These nuns, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters, used to run the Magdalene laundries in Ireland where large numbers of young women were imprisoned without trial. A wide range of innocent women and girls were sent to Magdalene asylums because someone in authority felt they were sexually active or might become so.

Presenter Jane Garvey asked Rachel Moran "If the punters are criminalized, won’t this drive them and the prostitutes to even more risky circumstances?" To which Rachel replied "Well you only have to look at the difference between Sweden and Holland to get your answer to that. There’s been 127 women murdered in Dutch prostitution in the last 15 years. Now in Sweden there’s only been one prostituted woman murdered."

I have been unable to find this statistic anywhere on the web, although I did find on this page that 127 have been killed in the last 30 years. Prostitution in the Netherlands was not fully decriminalized until about 15 years ago so it's important to get the facts right. Were these women killed before or after decriminalization? Whatever the facts it seems that religious extremists, whether Evangelical or Catholic, are quite happy to say things that aren't true to further their cause.

As for Ana, the woman who said that she was kidnapped and taken to Ireland, I'm wondering why they had to go to Ireland to find a case of trafficking. I believe that trafficking does exist but that it is at a low level in countries like Britain. Could this perhaps be Ruhama again saying things that aren't true? You can still listen to the programme here.

Valerie Lempereur
It would not be the first time that someone pretending to have been a prostitute wrote a book and had an effect on the debate about changing the law. Dutch journalist Valerie Lempereur wrote the book Behind a Window in the Wallen (Achter het raam op de Wallen) under the name Patricia Perquin. People believed what she said and it had the effect of changing the law for the worse.

Maggie McNeill has written about this in a post on her blog, and in the same post she gives information about the situation in the Netherlands. In September of 2007 Amsterdam commissioned a study which was published in 2010; it’s 232 pages long and available only in Dutch. Maggie has put the conclusion and summary in English on her site. I've had a quick look at it and done a couple of searches using keywords but as far as I can see there is nothing about prostitutes getting murdered.

So I can only conclude that the authors of the study did not see murder as a problem for sex workers in Amsterdam because it doesn't happen. It looks as if Rachel Moran's statistic about 127 of them being killed in the last 15 years is totally wrong. This study also shows that underage prostitution is essentially nonexistent in Amsterdam. It looks as if Gavin Shuker's statistic about there being lots of underage prostitutes is also totally wrong.

One thing that I disliked in the Woman's Hour discussion of prostitution is when presenter Jane Garvey said that you can use statistics to prove anything. People can try to use statistics to prove anything but bad statistics can be challenged. I don't think the BBC should just allow false statistics to be broadcast if they can't be backed up. The BBC Radio 4 programme More or Less is very good at debunking incorrect statistics.

Dr Brooke Magnanti's book The Sex Myth debunks many of the statistics used by people who want to ban pornography, erotic dancing and prostitution. I especially like the chapter in her book about the belief that the presence of lap dancing clubs in Camden has increased the incidence of rape. Dr Magnanti - who is a trained statistician and a former sex worker - shows that this belief is false.

So statistics are important because they support the cause of decriminalizing sex work and not criminalizing the clients of sex workers. I can't accept the idea that statistics can prove anything and we just have to go with our gut feelings. Are most sex workers in Britain coerced or aren't they? It's not that difficult to get to the truth. The debate is hotting up, and the consequences could be that the lives of sex workers are made more difficult and dangerous if the law is changed on the basis of the falsehood of religious extremists and radical feminists.

UPDATE: I've just found out that Croydon Community Against Trafficking are screening a film about trafficking at the New Life Christian Centre in Croydon. "Our fellowship is in the evangelical and Pentecostal/charismatic traditions that lay emphasis on Bible based faith and an ongoing experience of the Holy Spirit." The same type of Christian are causing trouble for gays in Africa.

As it says in this Independent article 'Roger Ross Williams, the director of God Loves Uganda, a documentary about the influence of conservative US Christians in the East African nation, said, “The anti-homosexuality bill would never have come about without the involvement of American fundamentalist evangelicals.”' I'm sure that they would like to cause trouble for gay men and lesbian women in this country but public opinion won't allow it, but they can make trouble for sex workers by confusing people about the true nature of sex work.

I have been looking at the document produced by Evangelical/Pentecostal Gavin Shuker and his all party parliamentary group. There is very little in the way of facts and figures, it doesn't seem to refer to research, but there is a lot of opinion and some anecdotal evidence. They don't have any information to back up their assertions.

I've found out more about the 127 statistic. Laura Lee on this page states:-
"Given his obsession with this 127 statistic, I'd like to clarify: the statistic relates to 118 murders that occurred between 1985 and 2012 being investigated by a police cold case team in the Netherlands. In 25 of the cases, the victims were not sex workers, or it is not known if they were sex workers or not. Most of the sex worker victims were working illegally and outdoors, not indoors. Eighty-six of the murders took place before October 1, 2000 (i.e. before prostitution was legalised in the Netherlands)."

I don't know if Rachel Moran was ever really a sex worker and I don't know what her association with Ruhama is, but we can be sure her '127 women murdered in Dutch prostitution in the last 15 years' statistic is false. If she was really concerned about the deaths of prostitutes then she would try to get her facts straight.