Scotland Prostitution Law Reform Consultation Response

2 December 2015

Jean Urquhart MSP
Room M3.20
Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh EH99 1SP

Re: Prostitution Law Reform (Scotland) Bill Consultation

Respondent Name: Mike Crawford

Respondent Background: I have been engaged in the provision of commercial sexual services for nearly two decades, catering primarily to a client base comprised of men who have sex with men (MSM.) Relevant experience includes both outdoor (street-based) work and indoor work as an independent escort. Throughout the years, I’ve also been involved in activism on behalf of intersecting causes such as LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS advocacy and education. Additionally, I’ve spent a number of years researching sex work from a more academic perspective while also writing on the topic regularly.

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All responses are as an individual replying in a personal capacity.

1. Do you support the general aim of the proposed Bill? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response

Yes. Prostitution has existed throughout the entirety of recorded history and attempts to eradicate it via criminalization have consistently failed to achieve their goal. While there is no shortage of sensationalism surrounding sex work (Weitzer, The Mythology of Prostitution: Advocacy Research and Public Policy 2010), and although significantly flawed data (Sanders, et al. 2008, Fitzgerald 2015), methodologically unsound research, (Wood 2008, Bedford v. Canada 2010) and willfully disingenuous, ideology-based conclusions (Showden and Majic 2014, Dank and Refinetti 1999) are often unquestionably cited in debates surrounding the merits of various legislative frameworks, empirical evidence indicates that neither criminalization nor stringent regulatory regimes drive any discernable diminution in levels of prostitution. Full criminalization (Bass 2015) the so called “Nordic” or end demand approach (Levy 2015) and legalization (Weitzer 2012) have all repeatedly failed to generate meaningful reductions in commercial sex participation within either the provider or client populations. Additionally, though these approaches are often characterized as a means to combat trafficking, there is scant evidence to suggest they have any positive impact; quite to the contrary, further pushing an activity underground often emboldens and strengthens any criminal elements operating within it. (Kempadoo 2012, Hoang and Parreñas 2014). Transparency has proven to be one of the most effective tactics against trafficking as evidenced by the extremely low incidence in the commercial sex sectors of countries/regions that have adopted decriminalization (Donovan, et al. 2012, New Zealand Government 2008).

The criminalization of activities associated with prostitution does, however, undoubtedly present significant risk of harm to sex workers (Parent, et al. 2013) as very thoroughly detailed throughout the research cited in the consultation. Further, even were any of these approaches shown to diminish levels of prostitution, it seems unconscionable to deny individuals who have a limited choice set one of the few avenues available to them for survival; given it is often members of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged and historically marginalized groups who are engaged in commercial sex just to meet basic needs, this denial would be particularly cruel and unjust.

2. Do you agree that the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act is a model for Scotland to follow? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

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Yes. As evidenced in New Zealand’s own exhaustive inquiry (New Zealand Government 2008) into their model conducted five years after implementation, their approach has been “…effective in achieving its purpose” and “…the social evils predicted by some who opposed the decriminalisation of the sex industry have not been experienced.” These results have been further substantiated by independent review (Abel, et al. 2010).

Additionally, as noted in the Consultation, full decriminalization is accepted as a best practice by a large number of objective organizations who have thoroughly researched the topic; New Zealand’s experience of having moved in this direction is empirical affirmation that the research driving the recommendation of these prestigious organizations is well-founded.

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3. What (if any) would be the main advantages of the legislation proposed? What (if any) would be the disadvantages?

Proposals included in the legislation have long been favored by sex worker rights activists (Kuo 2002) due to their numerous advantages. Some macro-level benefits of the proposal include:

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  • Increased safety: Clients are far less likely to exploit/harm a sex worker if they know she will avail herself of law enforcement resources without fear of prosecution herself (Deering, et al. 2014). Changes in the current laws around soliciting will aid outdoor workers who often are already disproportionately impacted by violence.
  • Decreased law enforcement abuse: Law enforcement is sadly one of the largest abusers of women and men engaged in sex work (Kanestrøm 2013, Mgbako 2011). Again, this abuse is opportunistic, arising from the targeted sex workers having little recourse given their susceptibility to prosecution for loitering, solicitation, et. al.
  • Decreased stigma: Changes in legislation have a normalizing effect that can reduce stigma (Scoular and Sanders 2010); not only does stigma tend to drive violence, it narrows the opportunity set for women who wish to pursue employment outside the sex trade (especially for those who have charges related to engagement in sex work on their record.) Stigma also can impact the mental well-being of affected individuals, especially if it is experienced in conjunction with violence (Rössler, et al. 2010).
  • Increases in health and well-being: As many organizations cited in the consultation have noted, full–decriminalization is the ideal approach to ensure the greatest access to health resources for sex workers and create an environment that fosters safe provider-client engagements (Sukthankar 2011). Additionally, the reduction in fear of negative law enforcement interaction inherent in the proposed legislative reform will contribute to reduced stress and increased well-being for sex workers.
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4. Do you agree that current laws against soliciting and kerb‐crawling should be repealed? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

Yes. Outdoor workers are often some of the most vulnerable and require full protection of the law rather than its scrutiny. Laws that prohibit solicitation, loitering, and “kerb-crawling” often force sex workers to negotiate with clients too quickly to effectively ascertain risk. They also push the initial encounter into more risky areas, typically those that are poorly-lit and outside the view of the general public. Additionally, the fear of an associated police encounter can incite impatience and edginess in clients that can exacerbate any propensity toward violence. Further, sex workers with charges of solicitation or loitering face much higher barriers to exit should they wish to seek employment outside of the trade.

These laws also tend to be enforced more heavily in affluent areas, or in those undergoing gentrification. This has the effect of displacing sex workers into more dangerous environments, and disproportionately impacts those who are most socioeconomically disadvantaged.

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5. Do you agree that small groups of up to four sex workers should be legally entitled to work collectively from the same indoor premises? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

Yes. Allowing small groups of individuals engaged in the provision of commercial sexual services to work together (as proposed) increases their safety both while working and not, and allows them to pool resources while sharing costs. These small groups often also function as fulfilling networks that can enhance the well-being of its members.

6. Do you agree that the licensing regime already in place for sexual entertainment venues should be extended to cover indoor premises where more than four sex workers are employed? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

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I am unfamiliar with the current licensing regime. As a best practice, any licensing regime for larger-scale establishments should ensure equal access without undue restrictions, zoning requirements, etc. Those that do not include controls to ensure fair distribution risk monopolization, infiltration by organized crime, or excessive government control intended to restrict/minimize the number of venues by making licenses difficult to obtain (Fawkes 2015).

As noted in the consultation, licensing of either individual providers or small groups of workers often creates a barrier to entry too high to clear for many; this results in a two-tiered system that forces the most disadvantaged to continue to work illegally. Individual licensing also requires sex workers to provide legal names for entry into a government registry which – given the stigma surrounding the occupation – is often undesirable. Further complications can include mandatory testing regimes tied to licensing, requirements to display licenses to clients on demand (complete with full, given name) and the possibility that any registry could be compromised via a cyber-attack or hacking, a rogue employee, etc.

7. Do you agree that the laws on living on the earnings of prostitution and procuring should be repealed and that there is a need for more stringent and robust laws against coercion in the sex industry modelled on the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act?

Yes. Sex workers should be free to voluntarily share their earnings with their families, significant others, or any other individuals they wish, just as employees in any other occupation are free to do. Should they choose, they should also be able to share earnings with drivers, managers, or security personnel with whom they may partner to conduct business.

New Zealand’s legislative framework for addressing coercion in the industry appears to work well, though it is always a best practice to consult with local sex worker led advocacy organizations and individual sex workers in the development of any new laws related to the trade.

8. Do you agree that there should be a statutory right for sex workers to refuse to provide, or refuse to continue to provide, sexual services?

Yes. As with the provision of any service, consent and individual autonomy must be respected at all times. Material exchange does not grant any client unrestricted license to a service provider – anything less than this standard invites coercion and all of its resultant harms.

9. Do you agree that there should be a statutory obligation on brothel operators to ensure safer sex supplies are made available on their premises?

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Yes. It is incumbent upon any employer to provide the basic resources and tools required to protect the safety and well-being of both its employees and customers.

10. What is your assessment of the likely financial implications (if any) of the proposed Bill to you or your organisation? What (if any) other significant financial implications are likely to arise?

While I personally have no invested financial interest in the outcome of the proposed Bill, there are several benefits for stakeholders, including:

  • Continued ability of sex workers to safely maintain their current income
  • Re-direction of resources currently focused on policing consensual sexual exchange – these resources can be reallocated to providing resources for underserved populations and combating coercion.
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11. Is the proposed Bill likely to have any substantial positive or negative implications for equality? If it is likely to have a substantial negative implication, how might this be minimised or avoided?

Equality is a broad category in which a wide array of circumstances and immutable characteristics including race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, gender identity/presentation, et. al. intersect; subsequently, a full exploration of the impact of any single piece of legislation on equality as a whole is unfortunately beyond the scope of this reply. The proposed reforms would certainly contribute to somewhat bridging the gap in parity between sex workers and the state – one that continues to be constructed and reinforced by a number of government, religious, private sector, and [some] feminist actors (Brock 1998). More tangibly, elimination of the stigma, possibility of a criminal record, and constant threat to one’s income is a positive first step in equalizing sex workers with the rest of society.

Further, while much discussion continues around the philosophical implications of the existence of the sex trade, it is my belief that the material realities of those currently engaged in commercial sex ultimately trump specific ideologies, especially those that [sometimes inadvertently] perpetuate the problematic Madonna-whore dichotomy that persists to this day. These ideological discussions also frequently make invisible the presence of male sex workers and many members of the LGBT community engaged in the trade, a great deal of whom remain underserved (International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe 2015).

Finally, while a very vocal feminist camp has attempted to frame the debate on how best to serve sex workers in conceptual abolitionist rhetoric (often to the exclusion of any consideration of real world implications) it is important to note that there are many feminists who embrace sex work (Merteuil 2015), some of whom have constructed entire theories around the subversive, equalizing nature of its practice. (Nagle 2010, Wolkowitz, et al. 2013). Minimally, recognizing the agency of sex workers – agency that is so often denied by those who use “rescuing” them as a tool to inflate their own sense of identity (Agustín 2007) – would be a welcome first step.

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Works Cited

Abel, Gillian, Lisa Fitzgerald, Catherine Healy, and Aline Taylor. Taking the Crime Out of Sex Work: New Zealand Sex Workers’ Fight for Decriminalisation. Bristol: The Policy Press, 2010.

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Agustín, Laura Marie. Sex at the Margins. London: Zed Books, LTD, 2007.

Bass, Alison. Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law. Lebanon: ForeEdge, 2015.

Bedford v. Canada. 329807 (Ontario Superior Court of Justice, September 28, 2010).

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Brock, Deborah R. Making Work, Making Trouble. Toronto: university of Toronto Press, 1998.

Dank, Barry M., and Roberto Refinetti. Sex Work & Sex Workers. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1999.

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Deering, Kathleen PhD, et al. A Systematic Review of the Correlates of Violence Against Sex Workers. Am J Public Health, 2014.

Donovan, B., et al. The Sex Industry in New South Wales: a Report to the NSW Ministry of Health. Sydney: Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales, 2012.

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Fawkes, Janelle. “The Sydney Morning Herald.” Sex work and brothels should not need a licence. November 10, 2015. (accessed December 1, 2015).

Fitzgerald, Juniper. “How the Government and the Christian Lobby Quash Real Research on Sex Workers.” Pacific Standard. June 15, 2015.

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Hoang, Kimberly Kay, and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas. Human Trafficking Reconsidered: Rethinking the Problem, Envisioning New Solutions. New York: IDEBATE Press, 2014.

International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe. “Underserved. Overpoliced. Invisibilised. LGBT Sex Workers Do Matter.” October 2015.

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Kanestrøm, Jorunn. “Prostitutes are abused in the hunt for criminals.” Science Nordic. November 7, 2013. (accessed December 1, 2015).

Kempadoo, Kamala. Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2012.

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Kuo, Lenor. Prostitution Policy: Revolutionizing Practice Through a Gendered Perspective. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

Levy, Jay. Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden. New York: Routledge, 2015.

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Merteuil, Morgane. “Sex Work Against Work.” Viewpoint Magazine. October 31, 2015. (accessed 1 December, 2015).

Mgbako, Chi. “Police Abuse of Sex Workers: A Global Reality, Widely Ignored.” RH Reality Check. December 15, 2011. (accessed November 28, 2015).

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Nagle, Jill. Whores and Other Feminists. New York: Routledge, 2010.

New Zealand Government. Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. Wellington: Ministry of Justice, 2008.

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Parent, Colette, Chris Bruckert, Patrice Corriveau, Maria Nengeh Mensah, and Louise Toupin. Sex Work: Rethinking the Job, Respecting the Workers. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013.

Rössler, W, Koch U, Lauber C, Hass A-K, Altwegg M, and Ajdacic-Gross V. The mental health of female sex workers. New York: John Wiley & Sons A/S, 2010.

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Sanders, Teela, Jane Scoular, Michael Goodyear, and et al. “A Commentary on ‘Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution in Scotland’: A Research Report Based on Interviews with 110 Men who Bought Women in Prostitution, (Jan Macleod, Melissa Farley, Lynn Anderson, Jacqueline Golding, 2008).” April 29, 2008.

Scoular, Jane, and Teela Sanders. Regulating Sex/Work: From Crime Control to Neo-liberalism. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

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Showden, Carisa R., and Samantha Majic. Negotiating Sex Work. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Sukthankar, Ashwini. “Sex Work, HIV and the Law, Working paper prepared for the Third Meeting of the Technical Advisory Group of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law.” July 7-9, 2011.

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Weitzer, Ronald. Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business. New York: New York University Press, 2012.

Weitzer, Ronald. “The Mythology of Prostitution: Advocacy Research and Public Policy.” Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 2010: 15-29.

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Wolkowitz, Carol, Rachel Lara Cohen, Teela Sanders, and Kate Hardy. Body/Sex/Work: Intimate, embodied and sexualized labour. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Wood, Elizabeth. “Melissa Farley in Scotland: Trivializing prostitution and trivializing violence against women.” Sex in the Public Square. April 30, 2008. (accessed November 28, 2015).

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