Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Candies Foundation prophet: preaching abstinence, selling sex

Candies Foundation founder Neil Cole sets himself up as the saviour of teenage girls, shaming teen mothers and promoting abstinence. But does this modern-day American prophet practice what he preaches?

Neil Cole’s Candies Foundation is named after his clothing line – a line aimed at very young teenage girls. Its website even lets visitors use their webcam to take a photo of themselves with the Candies model and tantalizingly offers a ‘behind the scenes’ peek at the modelling shoot – things which wouldn’t be of interest to older teen girls. The site sells clothes for girls as young as 7 years old. And THIS is how Candies markets its products to young teenage and preteen girls:

Promoting purity or selling sex?

Promoting purity or selling sex?

Yep. Playboy model Jenny McCarthy naked and displaying her underwear. And here’s another ad, featuring a pose that’s more 50 Shades than purity pledge.

Fifty Shades of Cole

Fifty Shades of Cole

 

Jenny McCarthy speaks against teen pregnancy for the Candies Foundation – while dropping her underwear to model for them in a pose that has scat or watersports undertones. In the 1980s Neil Cole used presidential hopeful Gary Hart’s mistress to market his jeans. And she’d only recently been outed as Hart’s mistress.

Is Neil Cole pushing the old patriarchal message “be sexy but don’t have sex” as this blog alleges? Or does this 55 year old man’s obsessive interest in underage girls having sex have a more unhealthy, darker side to it? I’m not suggesting that Neil Cole is an ephebophile. What I am suggesting is that Neil Cole’s choice of sexually charged marketing strategies might indicate that he has an above average interest in sex.

And, sometimes people want to talk about sex – a kind of social-sexual interaction. That’s normal. Some talk about it with their friends or even family members such as sisters or cousins. Others find their outlet by creating art, writing fiction or documenting their sex lives anonymously online. But for those without liberal-minded friends and without the time, skills or artistic inclination to take advantage of opportunities provided by the internet, they’re deprived of an outlet for expressing themselves. So, some people – like Neil Cole- may find socially acceptable ways to talk about sex – like teenage pregnancy.

Or we could go with the cynic’s hypothesis – that Candie’s inappropriately sexualised advertising attracted criticism so Neil Cole started his purity crusade to counteract the bad press.

Neil’s suitability for the office of Controller of Young Women is in question: he’s committed fraud since he set up the Candies Foundation. In 2003 he was fined $75,000 after he and several top Candies staff committed fraud; they neither denied or admitted the various allegations. Given this man’s own behaviour, I hardly think he’s in a position to moralise over the rest of us. And fraudsters are not exactly the sort of people that teens should be looking up to.

Neil isn’t your ordinary guy, either. On his 50th birthday he rented out a swanky art gallery for a party which was attended by celebrities, including Beyonce and Jay-Z. His father became a millionaire selling the Candies shoe and his even more successful brother Kenneth married the Mayor of New York’s daughter. Neil himself married a beauty queen then divorced her 15 years later before marrying again. So Neil Cole clearly is an influential figure with lots of connections to some of the biggest names in Western society.

The Candies Foundation campaign is chock-full of mixed messages. From teen moms preaching abstinence to Playboy models shaming mothers to a company selling sex to preteens while repressing the sexuality of legal adults, it’s got it all.

USA Today rejected one of the Candies ads because it was offensive – and in today’s climate of moral panic over teen pregnancy, it must have been very offensive to be rejected. The single line I’m able to read calls teen pregnancy “an epidemic”.

To me Neil Cole seems the very embodiment of the patriarchy: a rich, powerful, straight white man controlling the sexual behaviour of young non-affluent women. As has been going on for centuries.

List of all the things the Government is doing to increase wealth gaps

 

Work Tax Credit

Sound good? Tax credits for poor people, right? Nope. Work Tax Credit is counted as “income” when calculating your Housing Benefit. So you actually get nothing. If you work less than 16 hours a week you won’t be entitled to Work Tax credit but that’s not so bad because you’ll actually pay the same amount of rent.

Did I say you get nothing? That was wrong. If you don’t need Housing Benefit then you get to keep the Work Tax Credit.

 

Housing Benefit

If you rent a property then the Housing Benefit goes to your landlord. But if you’ve got a mortgage then the Housing Benefit drops into your pocket. This is clearly unfair as it’s helping the more affluent or less poor get more affluent. But the poorest don’t get a penny.

 

Child Tax Credit

This is also counted as income while calculating Housing Benefit, as was Child Benefit. So the poorest don’t receive anything while those who own their own houses take it all.

 

The cuts/NHS/tuition fees

Pretty self explanatory. Those with lots of money needn’t worry about tuition fees. If you can afford private healthcare then the NHS isn’t really important to you. If you have lots of resources, time and the educational background to invest in your kids’ education, cuts to public services won’t really affect you.

 

The bedroom tax

Again, an obvious one. Only those who don’t own their own properties are targeted while those who own their properties could have ten spare rooms and not pay a penny in tax – even though it’d be much easier for them to afford the tax. It is common tax policy in most countries to tax proportionally accotrding to earnings, which was why the Thatcher Poll Tax recieved widespread opposition. The bedroom tax is worse than the Poll Tax because it only targets the poor.

 

The Jobcentre

Affluent people and their family, boyfriends/girlfriends and close friends won’t ever step into a Jobcentre. They can be as shiftless as they want. But the less fortunate have to be subjected to constant surveillance, forced travel and attendance to the Jobcentre and various companies and workfares. Worst of all (in my experience) is the constant harassment and erosion of self esteem and confidence. It’s this last thing which has led me to include the Jobcentre in this list. Because writing great CVs and covering letters – not to mention performing well in interviews- is heavily dependent on self esteem  and confidence. The Jobcentre, A4e, Ingeus, Atos, Working Links and the rest are making the poor poorer by  (unintentionally) making them do badly in interviews and keeping them out of work for longer.

New Clause 20: pros and cons of sex and relationships education

While I was getting the sex work debate posts together. this happened:

On 11 June, New Clause 20 – which would have made personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, including sex and relationships education (SRE), statutory in state schools – was defeated by 303 votes to 209

That’s from the Brook Charity’s website. Brook and the FPA  made submissions to the PSHE review, staring that sex and relationships education isn’t compulsory for all schools. Schools classed as academies don’t have to provide anything beyond teaching the biology of human reproduction and parents of children in all schools can opt to not allow their children to receive sex education.

 I don’t think it’s a bad idea for parents to remove kids from sex ed classes and teach them themselves, as long as the parents give a balanced education. (The problem of course is that some parents remove their children but provide no sex education). The sex education currently provided is (in my experience) heterosexist and inadequate with little to no teaching about rape, consent, victim blaming, BDSM, bisexuality/homosexuality, transgender issues and slut shaming. If parents can provide a more balanced sex education then I say go for it. I would certainly have benefited from being taught about these issues instead of having to piece it all together from my friends’ experiences and TV.

Back when I was at school the clause against promoting homosexuality was still in force. Sex was seen as something bad that, if you must do it, at least do it wearing a condom. I was never taught that pleasure was good or masturbation was empowering and we weren’t given tools to challenge stereotypes or the double standard or deal with sexual assault or transphobia.  Being taught about BDSM would have avoided the months of research in my university library to answer the question of why I am the way I am. Teaching about these issues can help to combat rape, domestic violence and homophobia.

This isn’t just about health – it’s about crime and keeping everyone safe. It makes sense to teach kids about respect instead of spending public money on prosecuting and jailing them for wife beating in years to come. And how does a teen know she’s committing a sexual assault if she forces a boy to do something she doesn’t even realise is sexual (such as a BDSM act?)

So we can all agree that better sex education is needed. Parents, teachers, pupils and the government all feel the same way. But Brook’s stance is notable because they don’t just want sex education – they’re for compulsory Sex and Relationships Education. SRE would teach about relationships and the emotional side of sex as well as consent, religious and secular views of sex, reasons to have or delay sex and pregnancy options.

I think this is great! It could contribute to less violence against women (and increased reporting of sexual assault), less homophobia, less coercive sex, etc. And given that (judging by the plots of books, TV and films our society produces) a lot of our problems stem from relationships and sexuality issues, teaching about relationships and the emotional side of sex seems like a good idea. But what if teachers glorify long-term relationships over casual sex and experimentation? Personally I support encouraging teens to experiment but even if you don’t agree with me, would you want your child to be subjected to repressive views?

Similarly, with teaching about religious attitudes to sex, there is scope for educators to force their own beliefs onto children in a way that the Brook Charity, FPA, government, parents and pupils wouldn’t expect. I would question whether it is necessary to teach children about religious (or secular) views of sex, as these views are widely known. It might be more helpful to teens to encourage them to develop their own ideas about sex.

When teaching about reasons to delay sex, there might also be chances for teachers to indoctrinate pupils with abstinence (In 2011 Nadine Dorries MP put forward to Bill to teach 13-16 year old girls abstinence in schools. The Bill was withdrawn after protests.) There’s no reason why abstinence shouldn’t be mentioned as part of SRE. But it shouldn’t be promoted over other lifestyles.

The solution to these concerns would be to include a clause which prohibits educators from promoting one sexuality or lifestyle over another. Another safeguard would be to ensure that teachers are heavily dependent on course materials with little scope for personal views and teaching methods. (In the USA sex “education” teaching methods include using a strip of sellotape to represent how a girl becomes dirty sand unlovable through having sex). This would also make SRE streamlined and uniform across Britain.

The submission doesn’t contain any mention of teaching about polyamory, whorephobia, slut shaming or transgender issues, which is a flaw.

SRE seems to be, in part, a reaction to teens learning about sex from online porn. Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman has said that honest sex scenes in books will stop teens learning about sex from porn. What she appears to be saying is essentially that teens should learn SRE or sex education partly from teen fiction.

I don’t think that teens learning from porn is such a bad thing – it can be pleasurable, fun and aid in discovering one’s sexuality. Neither do I think that anything will stop teens viewing porn. The problem with porn is that it doesn’t teach teens about consent but I’m not sure that books always do that, either. I’ve seen some gender-stereotypical portrayals of sex in books – including Judy Blume’s Forever, which was banned because of its sex scenes. (I read it aged 16 and considered the portrayal of sex to be stereotypical, slightly negative and too mild to be interesting). Nor do I believe that (especially considering the violence and misogyny available through TV and the internet) any subject should be taboo for teen books. I agree with author Melvin Burgess, who is quoted in The Telegraph as saying that there should be “no actual limits” to the subjects covered in teenage fiction. And it’s difficult to see why sex should necessarily be presented as part of a “loving relationship” as Malorie Blackman is quoted as saying in the same article.

Which is why I disagree with this article in which Dr Brooke Magnanti claims her books (I’m assuming she means the Belle de Jour series and not The Sex Myth) are “certainly not for teens”. Sex work is a part of our society and has been for thousands of years. You can’t hide it from teens. What better way for teens to learn about the sex industry than firsthand from an actual sex worker? If more teens read the Belle books (and many probably have), it might improve our country’s whorephobia problem.

Another point that needs to be addressed with regard to SRE is what we actually mean when we start using concepts like the “emotional” side of sex. Does sex even have an emotional side? If so, does it have an emotional side for everybody? Is the emotional side – assuming that it even exists – important? Is sex inherently emotional or are sex and emotions two separate things? In a loving committed relationship, perhaps the emotions of love and the sex are unrelated to each other. It’s far from clear how sex and love operate and whether sex leads to love or love leads to sex; companionship and spending time together might be more instrumental in building relationships than the sex.

I think it would be good to teach girls how to pick up men and avoid getting dragged into relationships when they just want sex. But that’s outwith the scope of  education and besides, we don’t want a generation of brilliant PUAs competing with us for men in a few years, do we?

So the Brook Charity and FPA’s submission looks like the best way forward – though some focus on transgender issues, polyamory and BDSM is needed. In general, I believe that SRE should be compulsory in all schools. This SRE briefing by the Brook Charity and the FPA shows how inadequate current provision is. Many pupils leave school without having had any SRE at all which might put them at risk of STIs, coercion, exploitation and unplanned pregnancy. The next stage for New Clause 20 is the House of Lords. Hopefully it’ll go through and SRE will become compulsory in all schools.

How the internet deals with racism and why we need a change

This is Vice.com’s interview with three “Babes of the BNP” as Vice has chosen to style these teens and young women. The fact that Vice is showing the BNP’s unbelievable ignorance and race hatred to all of us here in the UK is a good thing. It’s a great thing. But the undertones of sexism and elitism – not so much.

The fact that Vice illustrated an article on politics and race issues with photos of one of the interviewees nude and posing provocatively seems to have an undercurrent of body shaming or sex negativity. It seems to be drawing attention to the interviewee’s gender – as does the title “Babes of the BNP” and the sentence “girls can get in on race hatred too.” Why is the article solely concerned with young women anyway? There’s nothing wrong with running articles solely focused on one gender, class or race – but here the interviewees’ gender was used against them.

A lot of the comments are misogynistic – “I would hatefuck all these women” as well as slut shamming remarks and teen pregnancy shaming. Not to mention comments which stigmatise them for being unemployed.

Do these young women deserve to be shamed? I’d say yes, of course they do. They’re racist (they support sterilising immigrants and see no problem with using other races as a servant class) and incredibly ignorant (one claimed she “doesn’t remember” WW1 and WW2 and a comment was made that immigrants should work and also stop taking our jobs – which is obviously impossible).

But the mocking tone of the interview is elitist; it’s snickering at those who are more ignorant – just because they are more ignorant. I won’t say it’s classist because most working class people aren’t ignorant and so I don’t see a class dynamic at work here so much as a knowledge or social skills dynamic. And going back to do the same thing all over again to one of the girls was a bit much.

Do I think it’s hilarious? Yes. Am I glad Gavin Haynes created the articles? OH YES. Do I feel bad for the women? Nope – because they weren’t tricked into saying anything. Everything they said is actually what they believe. They appear to have willingly allowed their identities and photos to be published.

But there are great and not so great ways to publicise how wrong some ideas are. Reading the article reminds me of my own interviews two weeks ago with Richard Lucas and Rhoda Grant MSP. Like Haynes, I tried to show Britain how harmful the sex purchase Bill is and how morals are influencing the politics. But I don’t think my article would have been improved if I’d mocked Lucas and Grant throughout. It doesn’t help. The fact that readers claimed that the interviewees didn’t get a fair hearing (it’s clear to me that they did and that Haynes wasn’t playing hardball. I’d have asked more questions about the eugenics) is proof that mocking the enemy only gains them sympathy.

But in fairness to Vice, this is how the internet deals with racism: shock, outrage and pursuit of lone – often young or teen – individuals. Teens being arrested over racist tweets. A 17 year old youth police officer being forced to resign over homophobic, racist and drug-referencing tweets when she was 14. And Jezebel’s stunned “outing” of teens for racist tweets after the election.

When middle class adults go after racist teens, it doesn’t stop racism. It might just make these young people more bitter and racist. Those tweets weren’t shocking to me because as a coloured woman I’ve heard all that since I went to primary school. As a toddler I was attacked by six year olds for the colour of my skin and had bricks thrown at me. And the attacks continued all through high school and in my neighbourhoods. Only white people could be really shocked by this language, just as I might be shocked by homophobic comments that LGBTQ people have to deal with on an almost daily basis. Because I’m not gay I tend to think of homophobia as largely dead – but the LGBTQ community knows different. Similarly, white people might think of racism as largely dead or as something that only the EDL and BNP subscribe to. But I know different.

All this outrage and arrests of relatively powerless, harmless teens is just paying lip service to the real problem of racism as a pervasive force in our country’s powerful institutions and politics. I do still receive racist abuse occasionally but it doesn’t bother me; I’ve long since got used to it, as have most other non-white people I know. What I fear isn’t teens yelling at me as I walk by – it’s the racist attitudes I’ve encountered from teachers, police, civil servants and politicians. They don’t shout the N word at me but they have much more real power over me than the local louts.

Racism doesn’t live in words. Shouting the N word isn’t the worst thing a racist can do. The worst thing they can do is take away your rights, turn a blind eye to racist bullying or discriminate against you when you need their help – and all in a way which you can’t prove is racist.

We need a change in how the internet deals with racism. Don’t go for the easy pickings; pursuing teens doesn’t change things. If you want to do something against racists, call out discrepancies in how the police, local authorities or politicians treat different ethnic groups. Challenge racist politicians or pursue people on Nazi or white supremacist sites. And, most importantly, try to change attitudes in wider society. Teens are only racist because their families, friends or wider society tells thhem it’s okay to be racist. The issue doesn’t lie with them, which is why it won’t be eradicated by arresting or outing them. The issue lies with all of society.

 

Libel laws and free speech

Just as I was busy with with the sex work debate posts, our hard working newshounds managed to sniff themselves out another sex scandal. Now, I’m opposed to media intrusion of private lives. I’m baffled by the idea of “sex scandals” or the concept that sex can be news. And I’m against the news media outing people for things which are private or aren’t important.

But in this case, the media weren’t allowed to out the two people involved (who are close to the Prime Minister) because of libel laws. They can’t even put it on the internet because an Australian case sets a precedent that it’s still libel if the media put the information anywhere a Brit might see it. This appears to be a trend towards an international law of the internet, which I previously said we need to ensure fairness sand clarity of law.

Let’s back up a bit. The definition of libel or defamation differs between jurisdictions, but it usually means something untrue which damages your reputation. If it’s true, how can it be libel? This isn’t the first case in which libel was alleged for true events which has been brought. But I personally do not think that the one case that I know to have been brought will succeed, because it’s outing but not libel. I don’t think outing people should be actionable but even if it is, it shouldn’t be classified as libel.

If the media aren’t allowed to out people then that doesn’t bode well for free speech.

It also doesn’t make any sense – if two lovers can’t be outed for, um, being lovers (?) (you see why sex scandals don’t make sense as a thing) then why is Eamon Dillon allowed to out a woman for working in the sex industry? The media even created a YouTube video calling her “Scary Poppins” because she had three jobs – nanny, cleaner and sex worker. And never mind all the other things the media outs people for – being transgender, committing minor crimes, anonymous blogging. While my pseudo-anonymity isn’t important to me, I’d still rather be outed in the national news for shagging some dude (something I’d be proud or indifferent about) than for being Slutocrat (I feel safer and it’s easier for me to express myself when my identity isn’t known). So why aren’t these people protected by libel laws?

I always used to say that people who commit minor crimes or do something non-harmful or private (like sex scandals or writing anonymously) shouldn’t be outed. That there should be a law against the media outing them. The obvious counter-argument is that such a law might protect bad people, and I now completely accept this argument. We can’t have the laws that I wanted. So, why do we now – as far as I can tell – actually have this law that I wished for? This law that protects priveleged and important people but that doesn’t protect ordinary joes like “Scary Poppins” or Zoe Margolis or  teens who commit one crime in their life? I think I’d rather have the blanket law I wanted – at least we’d all be protected, not just the priveleged friends of David Cameron.

In England, libel laws might be changed. The current laws are seen as a way for NGOs and corporations to bully and silence ordinary members of the public. As libel cases are very expensive to defend, bringing suits – even suits that they’ll lose- is an easy way for the rich to harass the not so rich.

On a personal note, libel laws do not protect people from libel by the authorities. Professionals such as teachers, social workers, police, psychologists and other staff can get away with it. Those of you who follow me on Twitter might remember that on the 12th I tweeted that I’d be “heading for the city of my birth” to “chase up libels against me” or something along those lines. Because libel laws don’t protect you very well and because libel cases are so expensive, I’m hoping to  sue under a ground which isn’t libel.

(I can’t be any more specific about any of this in case I’m sued for libel myself! If outing is libel then I can’t out them, can I?) See what I mean about free speech – you’ve all got a right to know what this local authority did. They acted in their professional capacity. But I can’t tell you. So you’ll never know. It’s in the public interest for you to know but sorry peeps, I’m not loaded enough to be blase about getting sued.

After what I’ve seen, I’d recommend that you treat subject access requests in the same way you would STI tests – a key component of self-care that should be tested regularly.

But enough whinging – in reality I’ve got a lot to thank them for.  Without their libels against me, I wouldn’t have created this blog.

So here’s to you, you evil, lying, oppressing bitches. You’re the creators of Slutocrat. Now ain’t that something to be proud of?

casefilesbox

The libels about me are in these files which date from 1995-2004 (a few are 1990 and 2007). Original photo. 13/06/13. This is what made me.

The Prostitution Debate: Extended Edition

On 3 June 2013, a debate on sex work was arranged by Solas, Centre for Public Christianity. The debaters were Laura Lee (Sex worker rights campaigner, blogger and sex worker), Douglas Fox (of the International Union of Sex Workers, editor of the blog Harlots Parlour and sex worker), Rhoda Grant MSP (who has put forward a Bill to criminalise sex purchase in Scotland) and Richard Lucas (a minister and member of Solas – you can read his blog here). Laura Lee and Douglas Fox were debating against Richard Lucas and Rhoda Grant.

The debate opened with a statement by each of the panel. Laura Lee told her story of how she was working as an independent escort when a member of the community outed her on “every social media platform they could find”. She and her 7 year old daughter were bullied, her car was vandalized and her daughter was told by a well-respected, churchgoing adult man that her mother “will die of AIDS” – a statement which caused the child to panic as she believed it. A paedophile who had returned from a long prison sentence for molesting children was accepted by the same community.

Rhoda Grant’s main points were that “demand is met by coercion” and sex work is “trafficking”, not free choice. Ms Grant confused sex work with paedophilia and child abuse. She used Syrian women to back up her argument which isn’t relevant to her Bill as its scope is UK-limited.

Laura Lee took offence to Grant’s use of the term “prostituted women”. Laura said “It suggests we can’t consent to sex because we’re not there of our own free will. But we can, just like a barman can refuse to serve a customer.” She said that clients have reported incidents of violence towards sex workers to Crimestoppers and that the Ugly Mugs scheme which protects sex workers by creating a database of violent clients is now at risk due to funding.

Richard Lucas’ opening statement was bold: “Sex is a deep emotional bond between a man and a woman,” he declared. He claimed sex is for procreation. “It’s self destructive for prostitutes and damages their ability to form long-term relationships. For most women the idea of being a prostitute is repellent,” he added.

Richard Lucas agreed with Rhoda Grant and stated “the demand is met by sheer coercion”.

“A prostitute abuses the sexual bond to make money,” he said and compared this to a drug dealer keeping people dependent on drugs for her own profit.

Richard Lucas claimed that sex work damages families by providing opportunities for unfaithfulness.

He surprised everyone by saying “If prostitution is prevalent then the seriousness of rape is diminished.”

Douglas Fox talked about how sex workers are discriminated against in law, denied basic human rights. Supporters of the Swedish model appropriate famous, emotive child abuse cases to bolster their agenda – a tactic which he thinks is insulting to the victims. He stated that we can’t lump together child abuse victims and consenting adult sex workers. “We need justice,” he said. Douglas Fox reminded us of what academics, sex workers’ organisations and UNAIDS already know – that the Swedish model is internationally recognised as a failed model. There is no evidence that the Swedish model decreased the numbers of sex workers or trafficking victims. (It’s my understanding that the Swedish model actually increases trafficking to Russia). The Swedish Government doesn’t know the number of sex workers or if the number has fallen. He also drew attention to the fact that the consultation responses in favour of Rhoda Grant’s Bill were disproportionately from Christian evangelical groups.

“Why is Scotland even considering this failed experiment when there are successful models to copy?” he asked. It’s a pertinent question. Fox described how the New Zealand Government chose to stop discriminating and give sex workers human rights and legislation which recognises a sex worker’s right to consent to sex. The Merseyside model increases convictions of offenders who are violent to sex workers – though this model and the protection it gives is inexplicably limited to Merseyside, UK. “What a contrast to the moralism offered by Rhoda Grant,” he concluded. Fox talked about a “mythology of men as predators and woman-haters” and said that sex workers are a diverse group of individuals. “The Bill denies the humanity of sex workers,” he said, before discussing the problem of how police would prove that sex work had taken place. In some countries condoms are used as evidence which deters everyone from carrying condoms – whether they’re sex workers or not. It’s my understanding that it may also prevent universities and schools from handing out condoms. Douglas Fox also discussed the huge cost to the taxpayer if the Bill was to become law.

The next part of the debate involved the panellists debating each other.

Rhoda Grant: I wouldn’t want it for my family.

Douglas Fox: I would want my children protected if they decided to go into sex work.

Richard Lucas claimed that “If sex is not a big deal then forcing someone to do it becomes less serious.”

He obviously doesn’t get that rape is violence not sex. His comment is reminiscent of Victorian laws which only recognised rape if the victim was female and a virgin. However, the historical record seems to show that in (largely) sexually repressed societies (e.g. the Victorian age) rape wasn’t treated seriously – it wasn’t rape if the victim wasn’t female or wasn’t a virgin – or if the victim had a tattoo (in one Chicago gang rape case it was held that the tattooist’s needle had already broken the victim’s virginity so it wasn’t rape.) But in less repressed times we have the idea of marital rape and rape is a crime no matter who you rape. Mr Lucas seems to have a problem understanding the seriousness of rape himself, judging by his blog.

Laura Lee pointed out that studies which claimed to prove sex work was bad for the workers were conducted by the biased Melissa Farley who is now under investigation by the APA. Rhoda Grant baced up her Bill with flawed studies. Even studies not done by Farley have their problems).

Rhoda Grant shocked me by openly declaring “We need police to monitor sex workers.” (They already do). State surveillance! She’d admitted it. Though of course it’s state surveillance of only one industry. State surveillance of a minority group which is stigmatised and stereotyped. I think Ms Grant is on pretty safe ground here, because most people won’t actually care about sex workers. It’s not like she wants the state to surveillance hairdressers or accounting clerks or babysitters.

Douglas Fox (to Rhoda Grant) : Imagine if the Bill is now law. Police break down the door and I’m caught in a hotel room with a man. How would you prove that sex had taken place?

Astonishingly, Rhoda Grant MSP doesn’t actually know. The Bill has got to this stage and she still doesn’t know. She’s debated a sex worker and former sex worker on TV and radio, and she still doesn’t know. “That’s down to details of the Bill, which are still to be drawn up,” was all she said in reply, causing an audible ripple of laughter in the room.

Laura Lee then raised the point that the Bill will scare away men and women who don’t want a criminal record, leaving only violent clients who might already be known to the police.

Douglas Fox told of how he was arrested for trafficking because he bought a train ticket for his friend who was a sex worker. He briefly discussed how the trafficking laws can be loosely interpreted to define almost anything as trafficking which not only hurts innocent people but also skews trafficking statistics wildly upwards.

Richard Lucas compared sex work to joyriding. Comparing (victim-less) work to a (damaging, life-threatening, destructive) crime was never going to work as an analogy, but to give Mr Lucas his due he almost managed to pull it off.

There was an opportunity for members of the audience to ask the panel questions.

In response to such a question, Rhoda Grant said “Sex worker communities should not be allowed to regulate themselves”. Brave words – whatever your opinion of them. It’s a position I believed she would never publically admit.

Another MSP asked Rhoda Grant a question and stated “I will not be supporting the Bill”.

Tim Bell, a Church of Scotland minister, disagreed with Richard Lucas.

Most people asking the questions seemed knowledgeable about the issues, especially trafficking laws, and were against the Bill.

Rhoda Grant said that “women should be able to earn as much as men” so they wouldn’t need to enter the sex industry. An unfortunate comment considering that – as proved in The Sex Myth– female porn actors earn around ten times more than male porn actors. Ms Grant described sex work as “not acceptable” – an interesting correlation with Richard Lucas’ statements.

Richard Lucas stated that sex work is “immoral” and that sex work “creates violent men. So does pornography.” The black-and-whiteness of his world view was breathtaking in its attractive simplicity; there are times when I want to believe that complex multifaceted issues can be traced to a single root cause. But though occasionally I’m tempted by monochrome monocausality I believe Lucas’ love affair with it borders on the unhealthy. Sometimes it’s just better to say no.

Quotes from Rhoda Grant MSP

I spoke to Rhoda Grant after the debate. She declined to be interviewed, saying she’d give me an email (which she did). This is what she said in the email:

“Abuse, from family and partners as well as drug and alcohol addiction lead people into prostitution, as does poverty. As a society we need to deal with these issues, it is not right that someone faces these stark decisions.” I certainly agree that we do need to deal with abuse, addiction and poverty. But taking someone’s job away by making it a crime to buy their services doesn’t seem a good solution to poverty – or to drug addiction or abuse.

“Prostitutes face rape abuse daily, they also have a much lower life expectancy than the rest of the population, dealing with demand will mean that fewer people will be coerced into prostitution and not have to face this desperate situation,” Ms Grant said. But there’s no evidence that the Swedish model has had any impact on coercion or trafficking. Instead, the Merseyside model (which could be implemented whether Rhoda Grant’s Bill succeeds or not) does dramatically increase convictions for rape and abuse of sex workers.

Ms Grant also stated “Currently our laws punish the prostitute and deal with public nuisance, I believe the buyers, who create the market should be held responsible for their actions. Our society stigmatises the prostitute but almost encourages the purchaser – this is not right and shows just how unequal our society is. We must hold the purchasers responsible for their actions; they create a market that leads to the abuse of others.”

Right with you on the stigma issue, Ms Grant. But the Swedish model will just lead to more abuse. The fact that purchasers are also women or couples also causes problems for the feminism angle that Ms Grant tends to work, as does the existence of gay escorts and trans sex workers.

At the debate venue I did get the chance to ask her what she thought of the Swedish Government’s admission that the Swedish model had increased stigma of sex workers and what she thought of the fact that the Government classified it as a positive result of the model. Ms Grant said she doesn’t think the Swedish Government said that (they did) and she doesn’t consider increased stigma of people in prostitution to be a positive thing. So it’s interesting that she’s trying to implement a model which directly causes the stigma which she is against. Politicians, eh? Still, she was very nice to talk to.

Interview with Richard Lucas

I interviewed Richard Lucas after the debate. He was very pleasant to talk to, though I have to say that extended only to his manners and not to what he had to say. Though I must admit a certain fascination with the idea that anyone can think like that.

When I asked Mr Lucas whether it was worth harming a few people in the sex industry in order to achieve the abolition of sex work, he compared it to forging money and said increased violence against sex workers is “just a consequence.”

“Disapproval of prostitutes is a good thing,” he said. Other things I learned from Richard Lucas are that casual sex is “immoral” and those who have it are “unhappy”.

He said that “Children should be taught at school that prostitution is unacceptable.”

“I support Rhoda’s Bill and would encourage people to support it. The Bible, especially Proverbs, is against prostitution. I’m happy so many Christians gave supportive submissions to the Bill’s consultation.”

And it’s also responsible for the recession (along with casual sex and homosexuality): “God can intervene; a nation can face consequences directly or indirectly. A book written in the 1930s called Sex and Culture said no civilization lasts for more than a generation when they lose the plot about sexual morality. America and Britain are in economic decline and that’s coinciding with the generation who lost sexual morality. It’s a fact. Recession is a natural consequence.”

“God supports Rhoda Grant and her Bill,” he said. Apparently, God hasn’t communicated his support to Richard Lucas as yet, but Lucas is sure He does support the Bill.

Richard Lucas is against abortion, casual sex, equal marriage and LGBTQ people as well as sex workers. Richard Lucas then informed me that Laura Lee’s story might not be entirely true because “if she suffers from insomnia or flashbacks she’s not going to tell us.” In his view, Laura Lee is causing “harm” by portraying sex work in a way which isn’t negative. Lucas thinks that if prostitution were criminalised then Laura Lee wouldn’t be able to speak about it, which would be a “good thing”. Shortly afterwards he suggested Dr Brooke Magnanti is a paedophile, saying “it wouldn’t surprise me if she said that sex with children is not all that bad.” He didn’t have any evidence in support of this claim. He then said she would not enter eternal life “unless she turns away from what she’s doing” and described how the BBC has an “agenda” and gave Richard Dawkins and Magnanti platforms to fulfil this agenda. I pretty much gave up at this point; Lucas had declined to be audio recorded and I felt that continuing the interview would result in more irrelevant libellous allegations against random people and organisations that, without audio, I’m incapable of proving Lucas ever made. I regret terminating the interview at that point as it would’ve been interesting to hear Mr Lucas’ theories on Richard Dawkins being the BBC’s pawn, though admittedly that’s not relevant to sex work politics. I believe that I allowed myself to be disturbed or at least distracted by the paedophilia allegation.

I will say though that interviewing him was a very interesting experience.

Interview with Douglas Fox

I met with Douglas Fox the next day. He was concerned that the Swedish model actually harms victims of sex trafficking. “The very people [sex workers] who’re in contact with abused people will be those who’re criminalised, so they won’t come forward. Push any industry into the shadows and you create an environment where criminality thrives – like with drugs.”

Douglas Fox also discussed how sex workers would be forced to depend on third parties who might exploit them: “When sex workers are frightened to advertise, frightened to use their own homes for fear of police, they automatically turn to third parties who’ll provide safety and anonymity.”

“The government fails to protect the vulnerable – look how many homeless people there are in Edinburgh. It’s the fault of the state. The state has failed them. They need to put food on the table. It’s not sex work that makes it desperate. He could sell his labour by washing dishes or cleaning floors or dog-sitting. There’s 101 ways you can sell labour. To single out sex work as especially exploitative is a way of marginalizing those people to whom you have a moral objection.”

He also told me how he and his partner who runs an escort agency were arrested for living off immoral earnings. The press were photographing their house as the police searched it – which was illegal. After a few hours in the cells, Douglas was set free – only to find that he and his partner had been outed in the Evening Chronicle. Douglas Fox claims that when his complaint reached the Press Complaints Commission, one of the people on the panel owned the Evening Chronicle. Douglas claims that he lost this complaints hearing as the Chronicle had given them a right of reply – by knocking on the door at 6am the night after they’d won the case and been out celebrating.

“Some sex worker activists talk about the negatives – poor women on the streets. And some sex worker activists talk about the positives. But why can’t we have a full picture of sex work?” he said. “I think people need to start questioning popular perceptions of sex workers and understand that they’re real people, not stereotypes. Those who come to media attention only do so because of law enforcement or because they’re top end and willing to out themselves. And yet thousands of men and women who are your neighbours sell sex every day.”

“Celibacy is wonderful if you’re happy,” he said. “You have to accept people for who they are.”

Douglas Fox discussed middle-aged women buying sex in Turkey and Africa but said people don’t think of it as sex work because it’s disguised under the flimsy pretence of a relationship. “Three women came up to me after I spoke to Amnesty International claiming they had arrangements with men. They paid for tuition fees, cars or gave an allowance in exchange for sex or companionship.”

Rhoda Grant’s Bill doesn’t define “sex” or “money” – which means it probably will result in these women (sugar mummies?) being arrested, as well as arrests of “sugar daddies”. It’s possible that seekarrangement.com and similar sites will be criminalised.

I spoke briefly to Laura Lee at the debate, though I didn’t interview her. My impression of her is that she’s determined to fight for sex workers’ rights and that whorephobia and stigma have caused her distress whereas violence from clients has not.

Nine, an editor, writer and sex worker rights advocate, claims that “Rhoda Grant’s consultation summary has 135 direct quotes from supporters and only 58 from opponents.”

Whatever your stance on sex work, it would seem that although Rhoda Grant doesn’t say she’s motivated by Christian moralism, her Bill plays right into the moralists’ hands. Grant didn’t deny that many Christians support her Bill. Rhoda Grant’s main disagreement with Richard Lucas is just on the point that she doesn’t consider prostitutes to be greedy women keeping their clients dependent on sex; she prefers to think of them as victims in need of rescuing by herself. That’s hardly a radical disagreement. Rhoda Grant chose to join Richard Lucas in debating against two sex worker activists. She must’ve known he would be arguing from a religious viewpoint. And Lucas’ blog, many letters to the Scotsman and Twitter feed promoting them are available on the internet.

In my view, the Bill to criminalise sex purchase is just another example of moralism dressed up as feminism or concern. Attending the debate and talking to everyone concerned has reinforced that view.

Criminalising sex purchase in Scotland: public debate report & interviews

This short version of the article was first published on Blirt.com. For the longer version see The Prostitution Debate: Extended Edition.

Douglas Fox, a sex worker activist, asked Rhoda Grant MSP “Imagine if your Bill [to criminalise sex purchase] is now law. Police break down the door and I’m caught in a hotel room with a man. How would you prove that sex had taken place?

This was at a public debate on prostitution in the MacDonald Holyrood Hotel, Edinburgh, on 3 June 2013, organised by Solas, the Centre for Public Christianity. Rhoda Grant MSP and Richard Lucas were debating against Laura Lee (a sex worker rights campaigner, sex worker and blogger) and Douglas Fox of the International Union of Sex Workers.

Astonishingly, Rhoda Grant MSP doesn’t actually know. “That’s down to details of the Bill, which are still to be drawn up,” was all she said in reply, causing an audible ripple of laughter in the room.

During the event, Rhoda Grant stated that “Sex worker communities should not be allowed to regulate themselves”.

Another MSP asked Rhoda Grant a question and stated “I will not be supporting the Bill”.

Rhoda Grant said that “women should be able to earn as much as men” so they wouldn’t need to enter the sex industry. An unfortunate comment considering that – as proved in The Sex Myth– female porn actors earn around ten times more than male porn actors. Ms Grant described sex work as “not acceptable” – an interesting correlation with Richard Lucas’ statements.

I spoke to Rhoda Grant MSP after the debate. She said the Bill isn’t a complete solution and other things still need to be done to help sex workers leave the adult industry. Grant appears to accept that the fact that the Bill doesn’t include such exiting strategies is a flaw. I did get the chance to ask her what she thought of the Swedish Government’s admission that the Swedish model had increased stigma of sex workers and what she thought of the fact that the Government classified it as a positive result of the model. Ms Grant said she doesn’t think the Swedish Government said that (They did).

Ms Grant doesn’t consider increased stigma of people in prostitution to be a positive thing. So it’s interesting that she’s trying to implement a model which directly causes the stigma which she is against.

Ms Grant said that “Abuse, from family and partners as well as drug and alcohol addiction lead people into prostitution, as does poverty. As a society we need to deal with these issues, it is not right that someone faces these stark decisions.”

I certainly agree that we do need to deal with abuse, addiction and poverty. But taking someone’s job away by making it a crime to buy their services doesn’t seem a good solution to poverty – or to drug addiction or abuse.

Prostitutes face rape abuse daily, they also have a much lower life expectancy than the rest of the population, dealing with demand will mean that fewer people will be coerced into prostitution and not have to face this desperate situation,” Ms Grant said. But there’s no evidence that the Swedish model has had any impact on coercion or trafficking. Instead, the Merseyside model (which could be implemented whether Rhoda Grant’s Bill succeeds or not) does dramatically increase convictions for rape and abuse of sex workers.

Richard Lucas stated during the debate that sex work is “immoral” and that sex workers are greedy women abusing sex to keep men dependent on their services for their own profit. He compared it to drug dealing. I interviewed Richard Lucas after the debate. When I asked Mr Lucas whether it was worth harming a few people in the sex industry in order to achieve the abolition of sex work, he compared it to forging money and said increased violence against sex workers is “just a consequence.”

“Disapproval of prostitutes is a good thing,” he said. “Children should be taught at school that prostitution is unacceptable. I support Rhoda’s Bill and would encourage people to support it. The Bible, especially Proverbs, is against prostitution. I’m happy so many Christians gave supportive submissions to the Bill’s consultation.”

“God can intervene; a nation can face consequences directly or indirectly,” Mr Lucas warned. “A book written in the 1930s called Sex and Culture said no civilization lasts for more than a generation when they lose the plot about sexual morality. America and Britain are in economic decline and that’s coinciding with the generation who lost sexual morality. It’s a fact. Recession is a natural consequence.”

“God supports Rhoda Grant and her Bill,” he said.

Douglas Fox is concerned that the Swedish model harms victims of sex trafficking. “The very people [sex workers] who’re in contact with abused people will be those who’re criminalised, so they won’t come forward. Push any industry into the shadows and you create an environment where criminality thrives – like with drugs. When sex workers are frightened to advertise, frightened to use their own homes for fear of police, they automatically turn to third parties who’ll provide safety and anonymity.”

“The government fails to protect the vulnerable,” Fox alleged. “Look how many homeless people there are in Edinburgh. The state has failed them. They need to put food on the table. It’s not sex work that makes it desperate. He could sell his labour by washing dishes or cleaning floors or dog-sitting. There’s 101 ways you can sell labour. To single out sex work as especially exploitative is a way of marginalizing those people to whom you have a moral objection.”

“Nine”, an editor, writer and sex worker rights advocate, claims “Rhoda Grant’s consultation summary has 135 direct quotes from supporters and only 58 from opponents.”

Whatever your stance on sex work, it would seem that although Rhoda Grant doesn’t say she’s motivated by Christian moralism, her Bill plays right into the moralists’ hands. Grant didn’t deny that many Christians support her Bill. Rhoda Grant’s main disagreement with Richard Lucas is just on the point that she doesn’t consider prostitutes to be greedy women keeping their clients dependent on sexual services; she prefers to think of them as victims in need of rescuing by herself. That’s hardly a radical disagreement. Rhoda Grant chose to join Richard Lucas in debating against two sex worker activists.

In my view, the Bill to criminalise sex purchase is just another example of moralism dressed up as feminism or concern. Attending the debate and talking to everyone concerned has reinforced that view.

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