The Merseyside model petition is up! The petition aims to extend the Merseyside Police’s strategy (declaring all crimes against sex workers hate crimes and working in partnership with sex workers’ organisations to catch violent criminals) to all UK police forces. You can sign it here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/49040
The petition isn’t in my name because for Government petitions, a legal name and current address are required. The name is visible on the petition and being a sex worker you risk being fired if you out yourself. Although I’m currently still studying, I’m worried that future employers might discriminate against me when I graduate and enter the job market. I’m not trying to say that most employers are bigots – I’m sure most of them are perfectly nice, decent human beings – but you never know. So this requirement is yet another obstacle to sex workers campaigning for basic rights and equality with those in other careers. I could have done a Change.org petition, but a Government petition would have more chance of success because if we get 100,000 signatures by 22 October 2013, the petition will have to be discussed in Parliament.
So, mental health professional Jayne Rogers created the petition out of a text that I drafted (the text is written to appeal to antis and feminists as well, which is why the term “prostitution” appears alongside “sex work”.) Jayne Rogers is neither a sex worker nor an anti. I interviewed her so you can all see where she’s coming from:
Interview with Jayne Rogers
Although the Merseyside model can be supported by everyone, it would be interessting to know your personal opinion of sex work?
I hold no hard & fast views on the rights of an individual to sell what is theirs to sell. I don’t come from a moralistic viewpoint. I believe people should be given information to make decisions for themselves & assistance to get out of situations that are damaging to them. I don’t believe people should be abused for the financial benefit of others. I have concerns about sex workers becoming hidden from sight & beyond the reach of assistance if abolition became law.
What is your opinion of the Nordic/Swedish Model?
I’m not sure that the UK is culturally fit to receive this model, there is too much social deprivation which is set to get worse in the presence of increased unemployment which we know hits women & men from deprived social backgrounds hardest.
It would be great if no one had to sell sex against their will to survive but we’re not in that place yet.
Now that your name’s on this petition, What do you hope it achieves?
Merseyside model & Ugly Mugs scheme have shown an increase in prosecutions & reporting for attacks against sex workers. Training a select group of police who are empathic & targeted to understand the issues at stake to engender the trust & goodwill of sex workers is essential. Attitudinal change in public perception should follow if the police are engaged positively though there is a long way to go. The bottom line is that any sex worker should be able to report a crime against them without prejudice and as an equal citizen. It’s just not ok that anyone should be abused in any way, shape or form without recourse to justice.
Merseyside model is needed anyway to start a focus on the attitudinal change needed in the police force for sex workers to feel able to report crime, to know that it will be treated seriously & be treated with respect. It does not exclude the Nordic model but people need to feel & be safe now.
Sex workers need to have helpful no strings attached services available to let them work safely if that is what they wish to do or to have opportunity & support to exit with skills training, education, counselling, protection & housing.
Any other thoughts on these issues?
I really hope that people support this. I know there are differences in opinion about what model is the best way, I am no expert but have been learning a lot from the opinions & blogs of exited & non exited women, one of whom has become a very close friend, I’ve learned a lot from her. It’s about time we made sex work & workers visible, listened to & treated as any other citizen deserves to be in pursuing their lives without prejudice.
Peek behind the scenes: I was curious about Jayne’s background in mental health and if anything she’d experienced or seen had made her care about sex workers’ issues. This is what she said:
I’ve worked with people who have severe & enduring mental health difficulties for many years starting off like most health care workers of my generation working in the big bins. I started to get interested in the histories of very disturbed women clients who from early records of their illness had clearly come from a background of sexual abuse. The culture of the big bins allowed further abuse to women patients who would sell sexual favours to male patients, usually for one or two cigarettes. Nobody thought this was wrong or damaging, it was the way it was. There were some women who were more entrepreneurial who set up business as the hospital ‘slag’ usually raking in a better rate of cigarettes per sexual favour. I came across a woman I knew well who was blown & past her prime at the bottom of the stairs one day in floods of tears. I asked her why she was upset, she said she’d had sex for cigarettes. I said ‘What’s new?’. She said ‘I fucked him for 10 fags, he took 5 away because I wasn’t good enough.’ The reality is that 50% of her income was at stake in a situation of dreadful social deprivation, she was robbed, she was abused. That exchange has stayed with me.
In more recent times working in community care in deprived inner city areas has made me acutely aware of vulnerable women having even less protection than there was in hospitals. I regularly saw trafficked women on the street, sometimes being slapped & beaten in full public view with no-one giving a damn or picking up their mobile to call the police. In my job I saw women in regular danger of trafficking.