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.