David Maddox: Turning a deaf ear to the sex trade

Picture: AFP/Getty
Picture: AFP/Getty
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SOMETIMES things happen that are so far outside the accepted political narrative that politicians, and often the national media, simply choose to ignore them and carry on as if it had not happened at all.

One of these events happened on Friday last week when sex workers – prostitutes – gathered with symbolic red umbrellas outside the Swedish and Turkish embassies in 36 different countries, including the one in London, to protest against laws which they believe led to the brutal deaths of two of their number earlier this month.

Sweden is a world leader in its laws on prostitution. In the late 1990s it repealed laws against people selling themselves for sex, but instead brought in laws to make it a criminal offence to buy sex.

This fits into the narrative that all women, and the few men and transgender people, who are involved in prostitution are victims, often forced against their will into a trade to survive or maintain a drug habit. Those who purchase sex are in turn abusers and are the real criminals.

The Swedish model is now being introduced in Ireland, Australia and was the basis for an unsuccessful bill brought forward in Holyrood by the Labour MSP Rhoda Grant. If Labour return to power in Scotland it will almost certainly be revived and looks set to be introduced in England and Wales, if Labour win power in Westminster.

Essentially feminist puritanism has replaced Protestant puritanism in yet another drive to stamp out the world’s oldest profession.

The strength of the Swedish system is that it supposedly kills off the trade by targeting users, but allows sex workers to start again in a new life without having a criminal record hanging over them.

But the large group of sex workers outside the Swedish embassy in London challenged that accepted political narrative. They were saying was that they are not victims; that their clients are not abusers; and that they choose to be involved in their trade. Their catchphrase “stigma kills” was that any criminalisation of their trade is what leads to deaths.

They claim that the Swedish model “infantalises” them and means that their experiences and views are not considered. Petite Jasmine, one of the two victims being remembered, had been a leading campaigner in Sweden for sex worker rights after she lost her children because she chose to remain as a prostitute. The authorities handed the children over to an allegedly abusive partner who is now awaiting trial for her murder.

The women involved want to be treated normally and allowed to work without fear in their chosen profession and even pay taxes and be part of normal society.

All this makes uncomfortable listening, but whatever your views on prostitution, sex workers themselves have a right to be heard like everybody else.