Standing up for all women by WAPOW

I was not involved in the writing or research of this post. I am cross-posting it on my blog because I support the questions asked in this document.

Standing up for All Women:

Statement in response to London Young Labour Summer Conference

Motion 8

1. This statement has been written by a group of feminist women – including academics, activists and practitioners working directly with women who experience male sexual violence. We share an understanding that inequality between men and women is more than a matter of women needing “choices” – a profoundly conservative approach – but is instead about power; specifically the deep and structural power imbalance women face in a society still dominated by regressive notions of gender. In other words, we believe feminism should be as radical as socialism in seeking to end this imbalance, instead of treating women’s inequality, and some men’s exploitation of it, as inevitable.

2. We support the decriminalisation of those who sell sex; we recognise the variety of reasons why people, overwhelmingly women, would do this. By contrast, however, we do not support the decriminalisation of those, overwhelmingly men, who buy. Their entirely different motivations and attitudes, and crucially the risk that they pose to the women, manifestly mean that their role in the sex industry must be treated separately. We consider moves to conflate the two and decriminalise both to be an effort to legitimise the sex industry, instead of acknowledging that it is both a cause and a symptom of deeply-rooted, systemic normalisation of men’s sexual entitlement.

3. For this reason, although we support the decriminalisation of women who sell sex, we do not support this motion. Despite the title’s claim to be about the decriminalisation of selling sex, in reality the focus is much more on opposing the criminalisation of buying (also known as the Nordic model). We believe that committing London Young Labour to oppose the Nordic model, and thus to support the legitimacy of men buying sex, is the true intent of the motion, and that it is misleading and disingenuous.

4. We further believe there are significant flaws in the logic and evidence used to support this end, and we draw attention to these below.

5. Clause 1: “Sex work refers to escorting, lap dancing, stripping, pole dancing, pornography, webcaming, adult modelling, phone sex, and selling sex (on and off the street).”

6. It should be noted that despite this opening, the rest of the resolution refers, and brings evidence that pertains only to, prostitution – i.e. the so called “full service”, or full access to women’s bodies for the purposes of men’s sexual gratification. Women who sell sex in person are also the group most at risk of men’s violence, and the documented physical and mental health risks that ensue. It is disingenuous to have such a wide definition yet in fact only discuss one aspect of it.

7. Clause 2: In Clause 2, the motion concedes that “Selling sex is not illegal in the UK”. However, it continues: “but it is criminalised. Almost everything that sex workers do to stay safe is illegal.”

8. Firstly, this is a hyperbolic and generalised statement. As in all other prostitution regimes, it is local implementation that matters, and this varies depending on the prostitution politics in cities and regions. Furthermore, there is no country where there is no regulation, nor where there are no local variations in practices of police and other agencies.

9. The footnote to this statement reads: “Similar laws operate in Scotland, Wales & England. Prostitution (the exchange of sexual services for money) is not illegal, but associated activities (soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, operating a brothel) are. The main laws around sex work in the UK are: the Vagrancy Act of 1824; the Sexual Offences Act of 1956 and the Street Offences Act of 1959 (England and Wales); the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act of 1892 and the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act of 1976, Sexual Offences Act 2003, Policing and Crime Act 2009, Crime and Disorder Act 1998, Anti Social Behaviour Act 2002, Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.”

10. It is unclear from the text of the motion which specific provisions of this long list of legislation are to be repealed in order to achieve decriminalisation. A brief review of some of these laws reveals that:

The Vagrancy Act 1824 is almost entirely repealed and it is not clear which remaining clauses are meant.

The Sexual Offences Act 1956 criminalises abduction, incest, “unnatural acts” (repealed), living off the proceeds of prostitution and causing or encouraging prostitution of mentally disabled persons (in the language of the Act, “defectives”). One assumes that these are not things women do to “stay safe” in prostitution and therefore cannot be targeted by the motion.

The Act also criminalises the keeping of brothels and permitting premises to be used as brothels, which we infer is what the motion intends to criticise. It is however a debatable claim that indoor prostitution, or women working in parlours and brothels, is necessarily safer than outdoor or single-woman prostitution. Research conducted by Ulla Bjørndahl in Norway in 2012 has shown that women working indoors are seriously sexually assaulted and robbed by their clients more frequently than street workers (Bjørndahl, 2012, table 11). Indoor workers also reported higher incidence of abuse from a pimp (ibid, p. 15).

The Policing and Crime Act 2009 mostly deals with police procedure or co-operation, but among other things criminalises purchase of sex from persons subjected to force; again, this provision is surely not the target of repeal under decriminalisation, and more specific information is needed to support the assertion that “Almost everything that sex workers do to stay safe is illegal”.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 mostly deals with sexual offences such as rape, incest and child abuse. There is a section criminalising trafficking and a section criminalising the solicitation by a person seeking to purchase sex from another in a public place. This provision does not criminalise women engaged in prostitution. The Act also elaborates in a minor way on the criminalisation of brothel keeping in the 1956 Act.

11. It is outside the scope of this document to conduct a thorough review of the law pertaining to prostitution; however even the partial examination above casts serious doubt on the idea that the effect of the legislation cited is to prevent activities designed to keep women “safe”. The only potential example that does emerge is brothel-keeping, but, as Bjørndahl’s research reveals, and as has been reported by exited campaigners such as Rachel Moran and Fiona Broadfoot from personal experience, brothels are not a reliable means of increasing women’s safety.

12. Clause 3: In Clause 3 the motion states that “Financial reasons, and any criminal record gain due to the criminalisation of sex work, are usually cited as the main reason for staying in sex work.”

13. This assertion is supported by a reference to research undertaken by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland in 2014. However, careful review of the findings does not support the claim implicit in this clause: that acute financial necessity is what leads women to sell sex, and that they are devoid of other options. From the DOJ report: “The need to earn money to survive (22%), the need to support the family financially (18%), to finance their own education (14%), to pay off debt (10%) and having no other way to earn a living (7%) were stated reasons for respondents to engage in prostitution.” Only the last of these implies that selling sex is the only available option.

14. Financial reasons to engage in any form of paid work should be considered as normal; abolitionists fully support the self determination of all women and there is no reason to expect them to make their decisions in any other way than rationally. But from the evidence above, there is no reason to suppose that more undue hardship would come to them as a result of a reduction in trade than would from being made redundant from any other job in the course of normal capitalist dynamics.

15. Furthermore, the New Zealand based research additionally cited as support for this claim states only that: “around 93% of sex workers surveyed… cited money as a reason for both entering and staying in the sex industry.” No further detail was available and, despite what is implied by this clause, it is not possible to come to the conclusion that women in prostitution are experiencing unique financial hardship, from which selling sex is their only way out.

16. In addition to this inaccurate use of evidence, we suggest this clause lacks both logic and an alignment with Labour values. The mission of the Labour Party cannot and should not be only to keep people in jobs under any circumstance: zero hour contracts, and unsafe or degrading jobs, are rightly considered a focus for a labour movement with a conscience. Therefore it is surely not a sufficient or satisfying argument for the mainstreaming of the sex industry to say that some people might otherwise lose their jobs.

17. Clauses 4 and 5: The implicit appeal to the vulnerability of women is made more explicit in clause 4, which reads: “There are a disproportionate number of disabled people, migrants, especially undocumented or semi-documented migrants, LGBT people and single parents (the vast majority of whom are women) involved in sex work.”

18. Clause 5 elaborates: “The financial cost of being disabled, the cost of childcare, the cost of medical transition and hormones, racism in the workplace, the vulnerability of undocumented migrants to exploitation in other forms of work and the prejudice faced by LGBT and disabled people undoubtedly contribute to this overrepresentation.”

19. The footnote citation for Clause 4 is “Safety First Coalition” only, without any link or reference to any relevant research that would verify this claim. Clause 5 is not referenced and cannot be verified. However, the Northern Ireland (NI) research done by the DOJ, which the motion cites (and which it can therefore be assumed that those moving it consider reliable), found that only 4% of non-EU nationals had an illegal immigration status: the majority of those selling sex in NI were UK and Irish nationals, followed by Romanian and Hungarian nationals who are EU citizens, and of the remaining minority most were on legal visas.

20. Analysis of family status showed that 52% in the NI sample were in relationships and/or married; and 42% had children. No detail is provided as to the number in the sample who both have children and are not in a relationship (single mothers). Irish and UK nationals were more likely than foreign women to be in relationships and to have children.

21. Regarding the gender identity, disability and sexuality (except in respect to a very small minority of men who have sex with men), the research provides no information. The claims here cannot therefore be substantiated based on the sources provided. While there is a widespread belief among both the general public and advocates of decriminalisation that women engaged in prostitution substantially belong to marginalised groups, the DOJ report in fact reflects high levels of secondary and tertiary education among its respondents.

22. Clause 6: This gets to what we think is the real impetus behind the motion: protecting the rights of men who buy sex. It states: “The criminalisation of sex workers’ clients… was recently passed in the Northern Irish Assembly, despite government-commissioned research showing that 98% of sex workers working in Northern Ireland did not want this introduced.”

23. This is a misrepresentation. The research does state that only 2% of those currently selling sex who were surveyed thought the criminalisation of clients was a good idea. However, it does not give the number of undecided respondents or those who did not respond to the question, making this a poor and tendentious use of research. Additionally the wording of the question is misrepresented: whether or not criminalisation is a good idea is not the same as whether the respondents wanted it or not.

24. What’s more, when the scope of questioning is expanded to those who have sold sex in the past, the landscape of responses changes considerably. As was found in the consultation by Rhoda Grant MSP exploring the introduction of a “Nordic Model” style law in Scotland: “[it] was clear that the majority of those who have already exited prostitution were in favour of legislation, while those currently involved were fearful of the impact on them” (Grant, p. 51). In addition, only a small proportion of respondents to this consultation objected to the law, and the majority of those were organisations explicitly dedicated to legalisation. Supporters of the proposal included social and health services, women’s organisations, local councils, the White Ribbon campaign to end men’s violence against women and so on. The full list is available here.

25. This aspect of the motion, the silencing of exited women, is particularly disingenuous and disturbing. In considering the regulation and/or normalisation of any other industry, we would not dream of demanding that only those currently employed in it have a valid view on its management or social impact. It would have been unthinkable, for example to set the terms of the Leveson inquiry in such a way that only current tabloid journalists were seen to have a valid opinion on widespread culture and conduct. The focus on testimonies and perspectives of those currently involved in the sex industry only is unique to advocacy for the decriminalisation of the sex trade, and is ethically baffling.

26 Clause 7: “Organisations that support the decriminalisation of sex work include the World Health Organisation, UN Women, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, the National Union of Students and NUS Women’s Campaign, and the Royal College of Nurses.”

27. This is in fact a list of organisations which support the full decriminalisation of both selling and buying sex, since they all oppose the Nordic model. Organisations which support the Nordic model by definition also support the decriminalisation of women, but oppose the decriminalisation of sex buying, as well as pimping and those who exploit the prostitution of others. As well as those listed above (paragraph 24) supporting the proposed criminalisation of demand in Scotland, these include:

TUC Women’s Committee, Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Unison, Ashiana, the Centre for Gender & Violence Research at the University of Bristol, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, Durham University Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse, Eaves, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Equality Now, European Women’s Lobby, the Fawcett Society, National Alliance of Women’s Organisations, nia, Northern Refugee Centre, SafeLives, St Mungo’s Broadway, Welsh Women’s Aid, Women’s Aid Federation of England, and Women’s Aid Federation of Northern Ireland.

28. Clause 8: In Clause 8, the Motion attacks the efficacy of the Nordic model: “The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women opposes introducing criminal penalties against the clients of sex workers. Their research found that criminalising clients does not reduce sex work or trafficking, but infringes on sex workers’ rights & obstructs anti-trafficking efforts.”

29. This is a claim which is contested by many others, and is not supported by actual data on the introduction and implementation of the law in Sweden and Norway. It has certainly decreased street prostitution – which few prostitution regimes do not regulate or even make illegal – in both countries, and the law is considered by police and prosecutors in Sweden as the most effective measure they have in their anti-trafficking efforts. This has been recognised by the Council of Europe (COE, 2014, p. 10).

30. Clause 10: “The criminalisation of sex workers’ clients has been proven to lead to further distrust of the police amongst sex workers, a willingness of sex workers to engage in more risky behaviour/safety procedures out of desperation, and does not reduce overall levels of prostitution.”

31. This is a contentious and contested claim, and none of the references provided are links to the three evaluations of the law in Sweden (see SOU, 2010 for the most recent). Those studies suggest that precisely because the law decriminalises those who sell sex different, more open relationships have been possible with police and social workers. There is also very little evidence supporting the claim that it has made selling sex more dangerous: the last woman to be killed in prostitution in Sweden was in 1986. Support for this claim also often cites a Norwegian study after their law reform in 2009, which did show those reporting having experienced violence in prostitution increased from 52% to 59% (Bjørndahl, 2012). However, closer examination of the data shows that the definition of violence in the post-2009 study was wider, including name calling, hair pulling and being spat at. It is these behaviours which account for the increase, whilst rape, physical assaults by regular customers/pimps and in a car with an unfamiliar customer actually decreased by half or more in the same period (Berg, 2013).

32. Those moving the motion now set out a number of beliefs to support the call for decriminalising sex work, or to put it more honestly, against the introduction of the Nordic model which decriminalises women and criminalises men who buy.

33. Belief 1: “Sex work is work. Sex work is the exchange of money for labour, like any other job. It is different because it is currently criminalised and stigmatised.”

34. We fundamentally disagree. Sex work is not identical to other forms of labour. Firstly, unlike other labour, sex is an activity which the majority of people engage in freely without remuneration. In this context, it is not labour, but an activity motivated by mutual desire. So, in the buying and selling of sex, what is effectively paid for is the waiving of this requirement of mutual desire. It is emphatically not the exchange of money for labour; it is the exchange of money for consent.

35. Framing the debate as an issue of labour rights thus rests on obscuring the fact that the sex industry involves financial coercion of consent, not an exchange of labour for money. And that, moreover, this takes place in the context of a society in which women have less social and economic power than men, and are hence particularly vulnerable to financial coercion. And as the legal strictures around paid organ donation indicate, there is significant potential harm to coercing an individual’s consent to transgressions of their bodily integrity. Since the sex industry relies on this coercion, it should therefore be seen in the same way.

36. Furthermore, there are practical barriers to treating the selling of sex (again, this motion seems to refer only to “full service” sex – i.e. intercourse, oral sex, anal sex and associated activities) as other jobs are treated under the law. One key difficulty is around health and safety (H&S) legislation. While abolitionists and supporters of decriminalisation both agree that the safety of the women engaging in sex work should be a paramount concern of any proposed policy, the latter have not been able to give an account of how, for example, bodily liquids would be treated under H&S law with regard to prostitution. In other professions when contact with potential body fluids such as saliva, blood, semen or urine is likely, protective equipment such as face masks, latex gloves (double latex gloves in the case of nurses working in the presence of blood or semen), plastic aprons etc. are recommended or in some cases mandated, for the protection of the workers. It is difficult to imagine how the provision of full intercourse could function while complying with such regulation, and we are left to imagine that supporters of this motion would in fact exclude women from being fully bound by such regulation, treating them very much as not professionals doing “any other job”, but as a special case, worthy of reduced protection.

37. Similar difficulties arise when looking at legislation touching on sexual harassment at work and other hard-won legislation which functions to protect workers and structures what is legally considered an appropriate work environment. It would be irresponsible in the extreme for people belonging to the Labour movement to hide behind a glib assertion of “sex work is work” while abandoning the workers in question to be excluded from the protections available to others.

38. Belief 3: “The right of consenting adults to engage in sexual relations is of no business to anyone but the people involved.”

39. Consent to sex and equality in sex are not the same, as students will know from the fact that sexual relationships between students and teaching staff are prohibited, even where they are consensual. This is a highly contestable statement of opinion which does not reflect society’s growing awareness of socialised male privilege and sexual entitlement.

40. As set out above, in selling sex, one person is in reality paid by the other to waive the usual expectation of mutual desire and equal power that applies in non-paid consensual sexual encounters. “Consent” in this context refers to the kind of temporary relinquishment of rights that happens when patients sign consent forms for medical procedures: “I grant you my consent to temporarily have the right to do something to me (for example cut me in a surgery, or have intercourse with me) which I would normally consider harmful and which it would be an offence for you to do to me without this form.” However the patient signing away bodily integrity is doing so out of a medical necessity, whereas the woman is doing so purely out of financial interest and not because of any reciprocity of benefit.

41. Belief 4: “The moral panic around sex work and prostitution echoes the moral panic that was present when homosexuality was in the process of being decriminalised. It is no coincidence that many who argue for harsh anti-prostitution laws under the guise of feminism also voted against equal marriage and similar civil rights measures.”

42. While some voices may oppose both the sex industry and equal marriage for religious reasons, it is profoundly misleading to ignore feminist organisations and individuals such as those listed above, who oppose the former and support the latter.

43. Belief 6: “Regardless of their reasons for entering into sex work, all sex workers deserve to have their rights protected and to be able to do their jobs safely. This includes sex workers who do not find their job ‘empowering’. Whether or not you enjoy a job should have no bearing on the rights you deserve while you do it.”

44. By definition, the Nordic model would not deny women this protection, since it too would decriminalise them. This being the case, it is not clear how this motion would better ensure that women can “do their jobs safely”, when its very distinguishing feature is that it protects the “rights” of those responsible for the threat to women’s safety in the first place: men who buy.

45. Belief 9: “Tim Barnett was correct in asserting that “prostitution is inevitable, and no country has succeeded in legislating it out of existence”. Sweden cannot show a reduction in the number of sex workers.”

46. In the DOJ research cited in the motion, it is estimated that only 3% of men currently regularly pay for sex. If the numbers did decrease in the wake of criminalising demand, then the proportion of men paying for sex would shrink to the point of being insignificant.

47. No undesirable social behaviour has yet been eradicated completely – which is why we have laws and courts punishing those who commit murder or theft, despite the fact that they are illegal. To argue that, because it is impossible to prevent 100% of offences, we should not have laws making them offences in the first place is a bizarre for a political organisation, and not particularly coherent in terms of the wellbeing of the women involved in the sex trade. Our concern, as a society, for their welfare should not be predicated on the willingness or otherwise of men to change their behaviour.

48. Conclusion: This motion is based on selective and tendentious readings of the research and on assumptions and myths about the nature of prostitution and those who engage in it. It also seems to set out actively to misrepresent the Nordic model and those who support it. It engages in the strange sophistry of defending women as fully self-determined agents operating from purely rational and free motives on the one hand – whilst simultaneously claiming that it is driven primarily by the needs of vulnerable people who have no alternative. And in both these arguments, the interests of the men who fuel the demand are completely absent, suggesting that the industry somehow operates solely to the benefit of the labour force- an odd position for a Labour movement to find itself in. Where it does make any fleeting reference to the role of buyers, it relies on the deeply ingrained belief that male sexual exploitation of women is immutable and can never be eradicated as an argument for normalising it.

49. By contrast, as feminists we believe that women who sell sex are fellow human beings who operate under the constraints and limitations of all human life. Most of them are neither superior, sexually liberated entrepreneurs, nor weak and defenceless victims. They are responding to the demand created by men and catered to by pimps and traffickers (among others), a demand which can and should be delegitimised through the introduction of legislation that signals that sexual exploitation is not an acceptable “service” to purchase, even if the money exchanging hands seems to make it a “free” transaction on behalf of the class of people thus being exploited. The protection of those who sell should not be conflated with the legitimisation of those who buy. Those within the Labour movement who fail to distinguish or even acknowledge these two very different constituent elements of the sex industry, and who do not identify which holds the power, should explain their position better and more honestly than they have done in this motion.


WAPOW (Women Assessing Policy on Women)

June 2015




Berg, S. (2013) New research shows violence decreases under Nordic model: Why the radio silence? Feminist Current, January 22, available at:

Bjørndahl, U. 2012 “Dangerous Liaisons: A report on the violence women in prostitution in Oslo are exposed to” Accessed at on June 2nd 2015

Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, 2014, “Prostitution, trafficking and modern slavery in Europe“. Accessed at “”&HYPERLINK “”Language=en on June 2nd 2015

Department of Justice, 2014, “Research into Prostitution in Northern Ireland”. Accessed at HYPERLINK “″on June 2nd 2015

Grant, R., “Proposed Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex: Summary of Consultation Responses”. Accessed at “” on June 2nd 2015

SOU (2010) Selected extracts of the Swedish Government report SOU 2010:49: Prohibition of the purchase of sexual services. An evaluation 1999-2008.

Sex Worker vs Prostitute: Who Gets to Define the Terms of the Discussion

I have been thinking about this issue for a while but have been unwilling to write it. Partly, I’ve been worried about causing unnecessary distress but equally because I have already been attacked online for my stance on the entirety of the sex industry including lap-dancing clubs and pornography. I didn’t want to pop my head above the parapet again. 

I wouldn’t have written this had I not seen yet another discussion on twitter today stating that only sex workers were allowed to have opinions on sex work or the sex industry.

Apparently, the sex industry is the only industry in which you can only have an opinion if you are/ were involved in it. This does beg the question as to why people who were never involved in it have the right to dictate who can or cannot speak about the industry. Surely the logical conclusion of not being allowed to speak about the sex industry means you also aren’t allowed to decide who gets to speak about the sex industry? Perhaps, I am just confused and you are allowed to have an opinion but only if you are pro-sex industry. 

I have never worked within the sex industry. Like all my political positions, I came to my decision through research. I have read blogs, books and other forms of personal testimony by women who have exited the industry. I have read blogs, books and other forms of personal testimony by women who are still working in the industry. I have read radical feminist research and research from those who are pro-sex industry. I stand by my position.

I do not like the term sex industry. I have used it until this point to cover everything from lap-dancing clubs to Playboy to pornography and to prostitution. However, I just want to focus on the difference between the terms sex worker and prostitute. Whilst I would never tell a woman how they can and cannot label themselves, I do find the current insistence on using the term sex worker is a silencing tactic. The term sex worker implies a positive experience. Many women, both currently working and those who are exited, prefer to use the term prostitute to define their experience. They use it because the word prostitute has a negative connotation.

My question, as a radical feminist, is which term do I use to accurately define my political position without causing unnecessary distress to women. I prefer to use the word prostitute because I think it more accurately reflects the experience of the majority of the women and children whose bodies are sold. Yet, there are women who self-label as sex workers. Do I have the right to tell them how to self-label? Do they have the right to tell other women that they cannot self-define as prostitutes. 

What I find most worrying is that there is a concerted effort to silence women, especially exited women, from using the word prostitute. Even if I believed that it was not possible to have an opinion on a subject without it directly effecting you (which is clearly ludicrous), why aren’t women allowed to use the term prostitute to define their own experience? Why are we privileging the voices of some women over the voices of others? 

I would never tell a woman how they can self-define. I do have a problem with women being told whether or not they are allowed to call themselves prostitutes. I do have a problem with what is clearly a well-funded industry dictating who is allowed to speak. I’ve seen the vitriol and personal attacks on blogs written by exited women. I’ve seen them belittled, denigrated and publicly attacked for daring to speak in negative terms about their own experiences.

I am willing to believe that some women have positive experiences as sex workers. Why is it so dangerous to believe that other women do/ did not? 

If we are going to follow this new rule about only being allowed to have opinions on things which effect us directly, then why are women not allowed to define their experience by using the word prostitute?

I would really like those online feminists who are pro-sex work but who are not actually sex workers explain why the voices of exited women don’t count.

I want to know why we must use the term sex work with no attention paid to those who use the word prostituted to define themselves?

I respect the right of those who choose the term sex work but I also respect the right of those who use the term prostitute. I may find the term sex work deeply problematic, and that is an understatement, but I will not tell another woman how to define themselves. Why isn’t the same respect extended to women who prefer the term prostitute? Why are exited women attacked over and over again online without any support?

UPDATE: I got these tweets today from the organisation NorMas:

NorMAs ‏@NorMAs_201239m@LeStewpot We’re often told it’s not ‘sex worker’ vs ‘prostitute’ but ‘prostituted’. Many exited women uncomfortable with ‘prostitute’ too. 

NorMAs ‏@NorMAs_201239m @LeStewpot We tend to use ‘women in prostitution’ and ‘exited women’ as compromise, avoiding ‘prostitute’ or ‘sex worker’.

I prefer these terms “women in prostitution” or “exited” women. The term sex worker feels too vague due to the size of the “sex industry”. 

Brilliant Circus for Kids if it didn’t have a Faux Pole Dance in the Middle

I took my youngest to see a travelling circus last week. It was, for the most part, a great kids’ circus. Lots of acrobatics, no animals, and an utterly ridiculous clown who didn’t feel the need to go in for any sexist jokes but rather focused on the old routines of dropping plates and throwing popcorn on people. Yes, I’ve seen that a million times before but it’s still funny. More importantly, kids love it and circuses really are for kids. This wasn’t the best circus I’ve ever been too but small loved it and that’s what counts the most for me; although, to be fair, I quite enjoyed it too.

There were, however, two twitch-inducing acts. The first was an acrobatic act involving 3 Black men. They were fucking brilliant and the one who limboed basically bent backwards was incredible. I felt my usual spell of jealousy of people who are that athletic and flexible. I am neither. But, they were dressed in “African” prints and were doing “African” dances. Now, I have no idea of their ethnic origins since I didn’t speak to them but I really do find it sad when I see incredible Black artists reduced to using stereotypical [but usually wrong] constructions of “Africa” in order to entertain white audiences. They were a great act but the reductive “othering” of it was uncomfortable to view.

The other was an act featuring a young woman in a very “sexualised” outfit performing what was basically a pole dance without the pole [since she was standing on a large disco ball rather than the pole]. Now, this is was an acrobatic circus. Most of the women were in tight or revealing clothes but weren’t dressed as pole dancers. This particular act involved lots of standing on her head and doing the splits whilst stroking herself. She was an incredible athlete so the stroking was nothing more than an attempt to pander to the pornographied sections of society who can’t go to an event with their children without having their cocks virtually stroked. What was a real piss-off was the climax involved this athlete [and she was an athlete] standing on her head, facing backwards and shooting an arrow at a dartboard. Now, I’m dyspraxic and couldn’t shoot an arrow in a straight line whilst standing upright and facing the right way so the whole shooting whilst standing on your head and facing the wrong direction was pretty fucking amazing. It didn’t need to be “sexed up”. It’s just so disgraceful and depressing that a circus aimed at kids feels they need to add a routine like this in order to appeal to the pornographied masses.

What happened to just being able to take our kids to the circus, pay obscene amounts of money for popcorn to watch real clowns and real athletes perform amazing acts without the need to make lions jump through hoops which are on fire or have women trussed up like sex toys?

Louis Theroux Utterly Stupid View of Porn


To be clear, I am anti-porn. I think its harmful, reductive and destructive. It destroys women’s bodies through abuse and objectification. It reinforces rape culture by perpetuating the myth that women are ALWAYS in a constant state of consent. It destroys sexuality by delineating and prescribing “acceptable” sexual practises which, inevitably, privilege the male orgasm at the expense of a woman’s bodily autonomy [never mind their desire to orgasm]. I agree with the radical feminist philosophy that: Porn is the Theory and Rape the Practise. I have no time for the arguments of “choice feminism” which suggest we should support the rights of individual women to “choose” to engage in any activity which then, necessarily, become feminist [with no mention the issue of poverty, abuse and substance misuse which push women into the porn industry]. Feminism is a political theory which examines structural power. It is not about individual “choices”; especially when those “choices” involve serious consequences on the physical and emotional body of the woman involved and longer-term consequences for the objectification and abuse of other women. Porn is your basic woman-hating, Patriarchy-approved establishment.

Usually, I am a fan of Louis Theroux’s work. I like his ability to play the foppish Englishman and ask awkward and inappropriate questions which elicit answers that others couldn’t. Twilight of the Porn Stars, a return to a 1997 documentary by Theroux, though was, simply, quite embarrassing. Theroux’s failure to challenge the myth that porn is in financial difficulties is incredibly harmful. Yes, I get that he’s more interested in the performers than in the money but still, his refusal to even attempt to tackle one of the most pervasive myths of the sex industry is telling. He could have challenged the myth in his conclusion without impacting on his interview technique. Theroux seems to have taken the information he received from employees in the industry without question. It just wasn’t good enough as a documentary or responsible enough for a man with his reputation. It also shows a remarkable lack of research into the topic and some serious cognitive dissonance.

I would have just clenched my teeth and assumed that bad editing was responsible for the problematic documentary but the article Theroux wrote for the Guardian to advertise the documentary destroyed my optimism. The article is really quite appalling and distressing. There is so much wrong with it that I don’t even know where to start. Basically, Theroux’s premise that the porn industry is in decline is just wrong. He completely misunderstands how “free” porn works on the internet or how the “sex entertainment industry” uses the word “amateur”. How can you produce a documentary without understanding the mechanics of the industry; especially one which operates on obfuscation? Porn is a profitable industry because it followed the rules of capitalism and has concentrated the power and the profits in the hands of a few men. Gail Dines and Dana Bialer have written an excellent critique of Theroux’s failure to understand the industry in the Guardian. Frankly, ten minutes googling would have demonstrated just how fallacious the premise of a porn industry in decline really is.

Whilst Theroux’s failure to understand the economics of the porn industry is interesting, I found his refusal to really question the effects of the porn industry on individual performers quite intriguing. Theroux does return again and again to the suicide of a performer called John Dough that he interviewed in the 1997 documentary but Theroux seems to have a “romantic”view of the industry. At least, his view of the industry has some seriously rose-coloured glasses involved. He does get Francine Amidour to make some seriously unpleasant comments including the fact that she wouldn’t want her children to be involved because she doesn’t want to be the mother of a “whore”. The fact that Amidour is “whoring” out other people’s children is, apparently, so insignificant that isn’t even worth mentioning. Amidour also says that “fucking someone on a camera isn’t as hard as working 16 hours a day in an office.” I’ve worked in offices. It’s never given me an STD, or stretched my anus so that I suffer permanent anal leakage or resulted in my gang rape. And, that’s without getting into Robert Black, who actually served a prison sentence for obscenity, who says that he doesn’t regret forcing women to engage in multiple anal penetration but that it seems “silly” now. The women whose bodies he tortured might feel differently about that. I know I do. It’s actually quite lazy journalism.

Theroux does focus on the suicide of the one male model, ‘John Dough’, that he interviewed in his  original film is interesting but very odd considering the irreparable harm caused by the industry on women’s bodies daily like double anal penetration, gang-bangs and men ejaculating in women’s eyes. Theroux asks everyone he interviewed about Dough’s suicide and tracks down Dough’s wife. Monique DeMoan suggests that her husband committed suicide because of “his cocaine addiction and the instability and sense of failure that went with it, not because of the pressures of the industry”. Whilst the interview with Dough’s wife is definitely one of the most important parts of the documentary, interviewing her daughter on camera was a step too far for me. She is a child. She could have been interviewed without her face being shown. I know Monique could have refused the interview but it’s Theroux’s documentary. He could have shown some consideration for the child and chosen not to use her; especially because she is used as a foil to belittle her mother. That made me so very uncomfortable and angry. More importantly, Dough didn’t commit suicide because of the “decline of a media format” as those interviewed by Theroux suggested. And, that’s certainly not what the people Theroux interviewed thought. They have been saying it but its a clear case of cognitive dissonance. After all, no one working in the industry is going to admit that the industry is harmful and kills people. Theroux just didn’t push hard enough on this issue.

I don’t even know where Theroux was going with this bit in his Guardian article:

It’s an open secret in the porn world that many female performers are supplementing their income by “hooking on the side”. It’s also called “doing privates”, as in private bookings. The official industry line is that it’s dangerous (because clients aren’t tested the way performers are) and irresponsible (because the women could then infect the closed community of professional performers). But the women can make far more money having sex behind closed doors than doing it on film and, in fact, the practice is widespread. For many female performers nowadays, the movies are merely a sideline, a kind of advertising for their real business of prostitution.

Male performers do not have the same options. For a tiny subsection of top talent, there is still a regular pay cheque, albeit a shrinking one. But work has dried up for many of the journeyman-performers in the lower ranks and there is a great deal of anxiety across the board.

Because men aren’t financially “compensated” in the same manner as women, we should feel sad for them? “Doing privates” is prostitution. The models, male and female, do so because they need the money. That’s hardly a “free choice”; especially in an industry which has no health insurance and causes serious physical damage to bodies. Using “adult movies” to advertise your body to be prostituted is not a good thing. It just shows how strong the links are between the “sex entertainment industry” [approved by Wall street] and the prostitution and abuse of women’s bodies [approved by Wall Street in all but name]. The fact that we live in a society where women and men are required to sell their bodies to pay their bills is not a society I want to live in.

And, frankly, this bit is just stupid:

Where the industry will end up is hard to predict. Clearly there is still a market for softcore movies made by companies such as Penthouse and Hustler, available on subscription channels. The parodies may continue for a while, too. But it is difficult to see how a business selling hardcore movies and even internet clips is sustainable when most people simply don’t want to pay if they don’t have to. To many people, when it comes to porn, not paying for content seems the more moral thing to do.

I know where I want the porn industry to end up: consigned to the rubbish bins of history and every piece of pornography destroyed so that the abuse of individuals is no longer the fodder for men to wank over. The morality of people who masturbate over the abuse of women’s bodies is questionable but its not because they don’t like to pay for porn. It’s because they are masturbating over the rape and torture of women; vulnerable women. That is the morality issue.

And this bit just made me want to vomit:

And there is also the wider question: do those who use porn not, perhaps, owe it a little something? Should those who download it not be ready to pass on a little cash incentive to the business? And if not, why not? Does the stigma attached to porn make it OK to steal it? These questions underpin a much bigger dilemma being faced by all media: how do you sustain an industry that provides a certain standard of product – be it journalism, music, or mainstream movies, or X-rated movies – when more and more consumers are in the habit of downloading content for free? In the world of porn, the answer is: you can’t.

I’d like to see the BBC do a real documentary on pornography and the real effects of it on individual performers and the larger effects on the objectification and sexual violation of women. The obfuscation in this documentary is just depressing.

Theroux is better than this. And, the women and men abused daily in the “sex entertainment industry” deserve better than this documentary.

Hustler being Despicable. Again: Sexualisation is Silencing Petition

Hustler being disgusting and despicable is par for the course. Larry Flynt is horrible, vicious misogynist. I would like to say that there is nothing he can do which would surprise me but it would be a lie. I am not going to link any images because, frankly, I find them so triggering that I refuse to have them linked on my blog nor do I want to increase traffic to any misogynistic site which might have the images linked. I would like to see publications like Hustler banned and their proprietors and editors required to pay huge fines to support rape crisis centres and shelters.

Hustler’s current attack on conservative S.E. Cupp, rather like the attacks on Tory MP Louise Mensch, is based entirely on misogynistic constructions of sex/gender and the punishment of women who dare to have opinions and make them publicly. Now, personally, I don’t agree with pretty much anything Cupp and Mensch say. I find their views abhorrent but finding their views abhorrent is not an excuse to sexually humiliate, bully and intimidate women. It is this kind of behaviour that silences women. It encourages and perpetuates the rape culture which violates the lives of so many women and children. Allowing this kind of smear campaign to go unchallenged is a passive affirmation that it is acceptable to treat women in this manner.

As such, I have signed the petition by the Women’s Media Center denouncing Hustler for its vile attack on S.E. Cupp. The media release from the Women’s Media Center is below:


Gloria Steinem, Women’s Media Center Denounce Hustler Attack On Conservative Commentator

May 24, 2012






Women’s Media Center Condemns Hustler’s Sexist Attack on S.E. Cupp

Statement from the Women’s Media Center:

Hustler Magazine has posted a picture of conservative commentator S.E. Cupp with a Photoshopped penis in her mouth. This is a prime example of sexism against women in the media and the Women’s Media Center stands with S.E. Cupp and women everywhere in condemning Hustler.

Gloria Steinem, Co-Founder of the Women’s Media Center, said of the incident, “As another of the countless women who have been attacked, defamed and endangered by Larry Flynt and Hustler over the years, I am proud to stand with S.E. Cupp and defend her right to free speech and respect. One has only to look at Flynt’s record of woman-hatred and the depiction of sexualized violence against females–including children, as in such famous Hustler features as ‘Chester the Molester’–to see that the only thing more damaging than Flynt’s hatred would be his approval.”

Robin Morgan, also co-Founder of the Women’s Media Center, had this to say: “In Hustler’s worst degrading, woman-hating tradition, the magazine has done it yet again. Larry Flynt and the editors of Hustler–with the apparent IQs of inebriated gnats–clearly cannot grasp a basic fact: When you demean one woman, you demean us all, and all of us fight back. The Women’s Media Center was founded to confront precisely this kind of vicious, unfunny, destructive representation of female human beings–whatever their political position, and whether or not we agree with it.”

Julie Burton, President of the Women’s Media Center, said, “It makes no difference that Larry Flynt thinks he is opposing the defunding of Planned Parenthood. His crude, sexist attacks on Ms. Cupp demean all women–and undermine his claim to support women’s rights. As a pro-choice, feminist organization, we do not agree with Ms. Cupp’s stance. But the sexualization of women in the media is not a partisan issue–it’s an ongoing problem that makes it harder for women on both sides of the aisle to run for office and be taken seriously as political commentators and media makers.”

“At nearly the exact same time last year, the Women’s Media Center successfully defended conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham when Ed Schultz called her a ‘slut,’” Burton said. “Our stance has always been that from Gloria Steinem to Sarah Palin, a woman’s political opinions, whatever they are, should never be met with sexist attacks.”

“We urge all men and women, regardless of your political beliefs, to stand up against the misogyny Hustler wants the country to accept as par for the course,” Burton said. “The only way our culture moves against sexism is when stand as one and say this is unacceptable.”

To join the Women’s Media Center’s call to stand with Ms. Cupp and against media misogyny, sign the petition at

Lap Dancing Clubs Increase Sexual violence

The knowledge that lap dancing clubs lead to an increase in sexual violence is hardly a surprise to anyone whose actually bothered to read any of the research into the links between increased sexual violence and the sex industry. This, however, is the first time I’ve heard a senior police officer discuss lap dancing clubs in such terms. Inspector Ian Drummond-Smith, the police chief in the “resort” of Newquay wrote an official letter objecting to the town council licensing a lap dancing club. Drummond-Smith claimed that the lap dancing clubs had already “contributed” to 14 rapes and 34 other sexual assaults in the area within the last two years. Okay, I’m not entirely comfortable with this bit:

“It is of concern that sexual entertainment would take place in such proximity to dwellings and vulnerable persons, and those leaving the premises, having been subject to highly sexualised performances, may be at greater risk of committing sexual offences. The combination of factors above, in particular the vulnerable groups identified, have contributed to the sex crimes.”

Since, it seems to imply that men who commit sexual offences after participating in the objectification and abuse of women in lap dancing clubs are “vulnerable”; as if men are so controlled by their penises that they can’t help but rape women after hanging out in a lap dancing club. That pisses me off. Women are vulnerable because of the increase in sexual violence. Men are at an increased risk of committing a criminal offence; that does not make them vulnerable.

But, I am pleased to hear a senior police officer making the national press whilst arguing against the provision of lap dancing clubs and I am incredibly grateful to the campaigners at Object who fought to have lap dancing clubs rezoned as “sex entertainment venues” (in England and Wales) so that the general public has an opportunity to campaign against their existence. I hope the Scottish government has the gumption to do the same.

Some resources:

Julie Bindel and Liz Kelly, A Critical Examination of Responses to Prostitution in Four Countries: Victoria, Australia; Ireland; the Netherlands and Sweden, (London Metroplitan University, 2003)

Jennifer Hayashi Danns with Sandrine Leveque, Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing, (Claireview, 2011)

Gail Dines, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, (Beacon Press, 2010)

Kelly Holsoppe, Stripclubs According to Strippers: Exposing Workplace Sexual Violence, (Metropolitan Coalition Against Prostitution, 1998)

Robert Jensen, Pornography and the End of Masculinity, (South End Press, 2007)

Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, (Pocket Books, 2005)

Melinda Tankard Reist, Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls, (Spinifex, 2009)

Dr Meagan Tyler, Prof Sheila Jeffries, et al. Not Just Harmless Fun: The Strip Club Industry in Victoria, Australia. (Coalition Against Trafficking Women, 2010)

Natasha Walter, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, (Virago, 2010)