Jean criticises ‘knee-jerk’ call to criminalise sex work

Candles and messages commemorating dead sex workers: "Annette Nicholls, 29 years old, Murdered 2006, Ipswich, UK," "Fight violence, not sex workers."Jean has urged the Scottish Government to resist religious calls to criminalise the purchase of sex. 36 religious leaders signed a letter to the First Minister demanding Scotland adopt the ‘Swedish model’ of making buying sex a criminal offence, but sex workers say such a move would put them in more danger while doing nothing to help eradicate trafficking.

The most up-to-date study on the law in Sweden, released this week, concludes that there is no evidence that it has reduced demand, and that it has only made sex workers more isolated, vulnerable and afraid.

Jean said:

“Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes there is, and eradicating it will take a serious response, drawing on the best evidence. This effort to piggyback a knee-jerk, moralising reaction onto vital human trafficking legislation is deeply unhelpful.

“The ‘Swedish model’ that the churches call for in their letter cannot demonstrate any success at all in reducing trafficking. What it does do is put sex workers at greater risk of violence and sexually transmitted infections, which is why sex workers and international health organisations alike oppose it.

“What would absolutely help protect both sex workers and migrant workers from coercion and mistreatment would be measures to guarantee their labour rights. The better supported and organised both groups are, the safer they will be and the easier it will be to detect and prosecute crimes like trafficking.”

“The Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, has offered to meet the authors of the letter to discuss the issue. I have written to him to ask that he also meet with sex workers themselves, as they are the people who have real experience of the situation and who will be those most at risk if the churches’ campaign were to succeed.”

Jean has been working with the sex-worker-led charity SCOT-PEP to understand the reality of sex work in Scotland, and press for changes that will genuinely protect sex workers. The co-chair of SCOT-PEP said earlier:

“If the Church of Scotland think that this law will reduce trafficking, they’ve been misinformed. The Swedish government cannot show a reduction in trafficking – but sex workers in Sweden are more vulnerable, isolated and afraid. The vast majority of trafficking happens into the agricultural industry and domestic service, and yet no one is recommending criminalising the purchase of groceries or the hiring of a cleaner. All migrant workers need their labour rights protected: that is what would genuinely fight exploitation, not more failed criminalisation that drives people away from support and services.”

Emma, a former sex worker, added:

“As a former sex worker living with HIV, I am saddened at this Church of Scotland call. In the 80s and 90s the Church were at the forefront of new approaches to harm reduction, drug use and HIV. They funded the work of Shiva, a street based sex work project. I always considered that they were our allies in a fight against HIV discrimination and violence, and we would love the opportunity to sit down with you and talk. These laws would put another generation of sex workers at risk of the violence, HIV and stigma that the church helped us climb out of”.

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