Thursday, 13 December 2012

An Open Letter to Rhoda Grant MSP

Dear Ms. Grant MSP,

I am writing to you today regarding your proposal to criminalise the purchase of sex in Scotland. I hope this email can help you to open your eyes, change your heart, your mind and your proposal. I have highlighted below the questions I felt were properly answerable. 

I am a private individual. I recently obtained my Criminology Masters from University College Cork and one of the areas that I studied was Prostitution. I wrote about and analysed whether or not it should be legalised. I honestly approached this topic weighing more on the ‘no’ side as I was under the impression from certain groups here in Ireland, that prostitution itself was wrong, the people involved were in it as a last resort and were being abused and trafficked. In researching this topic with an open mind, every view I held was challenged and overcome. I am now firmly in favour of legalising sex work and using all available resources to tackle the scourge that is illegal human trafficking. The two areas unfortunately are currently interlinked, but not as much as some NGO’s would like you to believe. I believe that with proper regulation, supervision and employment services, sex workers can openly contribute to society and the scourge of human trafficking can be tackled. I will attempt to answer some of the questions in your proposal while providing you with evidence from my research that shows the Swedish model of criminalising the buyer does not work.

.     Q1:  Do you support the general aim of the proposed Bill? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.
I do not support the aim of the proposed Bill. Criminalising the purchaser of sex services only makes the provision of these services more difficult. This Bill will not make sex workers disappear, the provision of sex services will not go away. All that will happen is that those who are involved in sex work will be made more vulnerable and will be forced to accept unsafe working conditions and sexual practices due to the very nature of Police evidence compilation. Condoms, lubes etc. are used as evidence in cases of sex purchasing in Sweden and Norway. The sex workers who I write about in this email will have the recognisable faces of the people we know. “Their circumstances may be different from our own but they are ordinary people living ordinary lives – the fact of their buying or selling sex is part of those lives rather than the defining characteristic of them.” (McKeganey et al. 1996: 1-2) Is prostitution actually a crime Ms. Grant? What harm do sex workers do to society? If it is your morals motivating you to propose this Bill – I will point out that it is not a crime to be unchaste Ms. Grant. I ask why is it a crime when two consenting adults conduct a business transaction for sex? In a sample of interviews with men in Glasgow, the overriding reason for buying sex was one of ease: “The attractions of prostitutes are that it’s easy. We both know what we want, there’s no charade. If I go to a club or something I have to work for it but with a prostitute it’s pure sex, no one’s kidding the other.” (McKeganey et al., 1996: 52) It is not a crime to go on a night out, spend money on a woman with the intention of sleeping with her. If two consenting adults conduct a business transaction for the purpose of a sexual act, why do you wish to criminalise the buyer?

It seems that two major groups have been established. On one side, ‘sex work’ liberals want to normalise prostitution and see it as just another form of employment which, however demeaning, is seen as being no better or worse than many other forms of service work which disadvantaged women engage in. The abolitionists and radical feminists, on the other side, claim that prostitution is a distinctively different form of activity than other types of service work and has damaging personal and social consequences.” (Matthews 2008: 136) What I am attempting to show is that the people who sell sex, their views and attitudes differ from the radical feminists and that people do decide to sell their bodies for sex – of their own free will. Prostitution like sex in general, is surrounded by myths, one of which is the belief that it always involves someone else; the woman who sells sex is never our mother, our daughter, or our sister but some anonymous other who is infinitely more desperate than those we love. Similarly the man who buys sex is never our father, brother, husband or boyfriend, but another whom we do not know and may not even wish to know.” (McKeganey et al. 1996: 1)

Sex work has a human face to it. Criminalising the buyers pushes sex work further into the underworld and makes everyone more vulnerable to the criminals you claim to be stopping.

.     Q2:  What do you believe would be the effects of legislating to criminalise the purchase of sex (as outlined above)? Please provide evidence to support your answer.
I believe the effects would be entirely negative. Sweden to the best of my knowledge, has not released a proper report into their criminalisation legislation. You have to go to Norway to get reports on the Swedish model. In 2004, a report by the Norwegian justice ministry “cited evidence of an ‘increased fear of attack’ among Swedish prostitutes, who found it harder to assess their clients because transactions had to be agreed hastily or on the telephone.” (The Economist, 2008)  Skeptics have argued, indeed it has been widely reported in Sweden, that by “driving prostitution away from Sweden the authorities have simply exported it, sending sex-hungry Swedes to nearby countries or else to Thailand.” There was a report late last year in the Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, that investigated the number of Swedes availing of cheap flights to places like Thailand to avail of sex. (; The Economist, 2008) Even in 2001, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern that “the Swedish legislation may have rendered prostitutes more vulnerable, and asked the Swedish Government to evaluate the effects of the law. (CEDAW 2001:79; cited from Bryngemark) The Swedish Parliament recently voted in favour of a proposal to undertake such an evaluation, but to my knowledge no investigation into the matter has been initiated as yet.” (Bryngemark, 2005: 50)
Following another investigation into the matter in 2010, Norway presented a Progress Report to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.  It noted the following:
“Experience shows that it has become more difficult to have a good overview of and gain admittance to prostitution circles. In addition, it is reported that individual sex workers no longer want to carry condoms and lubricants out of fear that they will be used by the police as indicators of sale of sexual services. The support and health services for sex workers in Norway, describe increased vulnerability for sex workers. They argue that due to increased competition and greater stress on the market, sex workers are forced to offer clients e.g. unprotected sex. In addition, sex workers in escort services are forced to sell sex at the customer’s arena, which makes them more vulnerable to violence and abuse.” (Norwegian Ministry of Health cited through
NGOs like Ruhama in Ireland who want the Swedish model implemented – (Ruhama are the main opposition to sex worker rights being established in Ireland and are also a powerful religious anti-sex work organisation. Ruhama is a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters, who have been ‘caring’ for Ireland’s ‘fallen women’ since 1848 and 1853 respectively. Please Google ‘Magdalene Laundries’ to see for yourself, the shining example of the care they provided Irish women) – they argue that another deterrent of this style of anti-prostitution law is that it would curtail the trafficking of women. On their website they say that prostitutes tend to be women who “were trafficked into prostitution in Ireland but a significant number were trafficked or prostituted into other countries but escaped to Ireland. Now while living here, they have sourced Ruhama for help” ( ‘In Whose Name?’ – the largest study of migrant sex workers in the UK to date raised a few issues. It argued that there is a climate of fear being created amongst sex workers due to increasing police activity that is driven by “hype and misinformation promoted by NGOs who are ideologically opposed to commercial sex.” (; 2011) This claim is backed by the rare voices of sex workers against the same campaign in Ireland. The Metro focused on the same study and reported “the majority of sex workers who were asked in a study say they prefer working in the sex industry to menial jobs where they are less likely to achieve such a good standard of living.” (The Metro, 2011)
Jesper Bryngemark is a lecturer in Law in Malmo. He argues that “one reason this law (criminalising the purchaser) became a
reality in Sweden in the first place
was that so few sex workers were
ready to go public. Prostitution
traditionally has been invisible in
Sweden. Connected to this invisibility is the fact that the sex workers’ movement in Sweden is very, very weak. And feminism is very, very strong.” (Bryngemark, 2005: 49) Regarding the law, “a few reports have been written, although none of them meet acceptable scientific standards for methodology. Two Swedish official reports in 2000 and 2003, state that street prostitution appears to have decreased, but that no causal link can be drawn between this decrease and the law. The question, “What happened to the sex sellers who stopped working from the street?” is raised in both reports, but is left unanswered. According to the same reports, clandestine prostitution has increased since the law entered into force.” (Bryngemark, 2005: 50)
.     Q3:  Are you aware of any unintended consequences or loopholes caused by the offence? Please provide evidence to support your answer.
.     Q4:  What are the advantages or disadvantages in using the definitions outlined above?
.     Q5:  What do you think the appropriate penalty should be for the offence? Please provide reasons for your answer.
It should not be an offence. Prostitution and sex work should be legalised.
.     Q6:  How should a new offence provision be enforced? Are there any techniques which might be used or obstacles which might need to be overcome?
.     Q7:  What is your assessment of the likely financial implications of the proposed Bill to you or your organisation; if possible please provide evidence to support your view? What (if any) other significant financial implications are likely to arise?
Legalise sex work and the economic implications are entirely positive.
.     Q8:  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?
It creates massive inequality by not providing a safe work environment for sex workers. They will not stop working. They will only become inaccessible and invisible as Norway reported to the UN.

There are very few sex workers voices being heard in any argument regarding the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Ireland, Northern Ireland or Scotland. Why not? You realise that sex workers are people? With their own reasons for doing what they do? They can be people who have suffered either physical or sexual abuse at home, run away and had to live a life on the streets that has led them into prostitution. They are also young people who simply happen to be in debt. When looking at Sweden previously, feminists argued that no woman would willingly choose to sell herself.  However in studies where the sex workers have been interviewed, it has been shown that “prostitution offers a means of earning a good income where otherwise employment opportunities might be considered limited and low wages the norm.” (McKeganey et al., 1996: 26) More recently, a letter was published that was sent to the Irish Justice Committee who are debating prostitution laws in Ireland. The sex worker said the following:
There is no NGO currently speaking for sex workers in any real sense. All NGOs ruthlessly exclude them from decision making as if they were stray animals, or some kind of substandard, feral people in need of guidance and control from their “betters”. They even go so far as to abuse invalid statistics and distort facts to cultivate this as an image of sex workers in the public eye. The truth is, most sex workers are of above average intelligence, many of them are remarkably well read and/or well educated. They are intelligent people who can do their own thinking and speak for themselves far better than the NGOs who try to insist on being funded to do it for them against their will and sex workers are likely to base that thinking and self-representation on reality rather than the usual NGO basis of pursuit of agenda and funding that is mostly deployed on huge and superfluous salaries and expenses.” (

I urge you to read the rest of that sex workers letter.

Any interviews conducted with the actual workers produce very similar stories. For example, women interviewed in Ann Marie O’Connor’s study in 1996, said that “the bad thing is having to hide, the good thing is that it keeps you independent. I have been able to provide for my children without being dependent on any man.” (O’Connor; 1996: 12) On the streets, the dangers are greater as the author noted that “a number of women had experienced problems with clients; making them leave, being beaten up, being forced to have sex.” (O’Connor; 1996: 13)  In comparison, lets look at a sex worker from the last decade: Belle de Jour. Belle de Jour on the other hand, she was part of an agency. She was secure in the knowledge that if anything went wrong and she failed to text or ring her agency after meeting a client, “the manager will ring the client, then the hotel, her own security if they’re nearby, then the police. She knows. She’s been in your shoes too.” (Jour 2005: 11) What other profession would you have to deal with this disparity? What is amazing is that despite everything these people have to go through, “in virtually all countries, sex workers are strong, courageous women, attempting in any way possible to establish control over their work and their lives.” (McKeganey et al., 1996: 2) Why should there be differences especially when it affects the most vulnerable of the sex workers. The answer lies in the legal aspect. That is where politicians can actually help society. Not by moralising, not by attempting to pass laws criminalising adult behaviour, but by legislating to ensure workers can work in safety.

Can I just finish my email to you with the following? A report released in 2004 by the Association of Chief Police Officers notes that ‘Police Forces in England and Wales are currently operating in a policy vacuum: the law regarding prostitution is clear, but the application of the law – in order to best serve the public and protect the vulnerable – is not.” (Brain in Matthews 2008: 126) The law surrounding prostitution is fair to no one, whether it is the police or the women involved. But the question must be asked - is prostitution actually a crime? Who in society says yes? Politicians? They will say yes when it is deemed to be a public menace and laws will be drafted. But policy vacuums emerge due to inadequate legislation. When society demands action against prostitution, it is generally because they’ve read that trafficking or drugs or pimping is out of control. “People are not disturbed by things, they are disturbed by the view they take of them” (Epictetus) and this is proven in the fact that “policing prostitution has generally been seen as a low priority in police work and the police response has largely been a function of community and political pressure.” (Matthews 2008: 125) Very few people in reality experience problems with prostitution. Their problems arise from what they read is ‘happening’. Operating in a policy vacuum is not fair on the police. In a study conducted in Ireland in 1996, only one Garda (police officer) gave an interview for the research and while the views expressed do not represent those of the Garda force, it is very interesting to note that “in his view legalisation of prostitution would be the best option, from a control, security and health point of view.” (O’Connor; 1996: 17) Legalising it would stop any ambiguities arising, that is, on the one hand stressing that “the law must be enforced” (O’Connor; 1996: 17), while similarly “he agreed that relationships have to be built between the women and the Gardai: “if anything goes wrong they must feel they can come to us”, saying that women would certainly “not be charged if they reported an attack”” (O’Connor; 1996: 16) Removing the criminal label is a first step to “giving women the power and authority to report abuse and coercion and to believe that such reports will be taken seriously and acted upon.” (Matthews 2008: 124) Research has shown that “where a woman had been forced to have sex with a client the woman in question worked on the streets and would not tend to report the attack to the Gardai.” (O’Connor; 1996: 12) This is not right. The law should be there to protect everyone. Policy makers need to be encouraged “to introduce some more radical and far reaching reforms” (Matthews 2008: 138) and religious organisations who argue that prostitution is wrong and lobby governments to make it illegal should be ignored. Previously, courts that tended to be led by a moralistic view were “excessively punitive towards women who deviate from the norm by not conforming to acceptable standards of femininity, heterosexuality and monogamy.” (Heidensohn in Sanders, 2005: 95) It is hard to argue that “if forms of welfare intervention are developed which can reduce women’s motivation to engage in prostitution, address their personal social and economic needs, the need for criminal sanctions should be removed.” (Matthews 2008: 125) The multiplicity of legislation directed at prostitution has not succeeded in eradicating it. We have a simple choice. We either decide “whether we want to essentially increase the welfare response or extend the criminal justice response.” (Matthews 2008: 124)

When the Irish government first looked into prostitution, little changed. After a government paper was released entitled ‘Girls on the Street: The Need for a Welcome’, Jim Finucane, who in the late 1970’s was the researcher and secretary to Fine Gael’s spokesman for Justice Michael Keating TD, “was appalled to discover the full implications of prostitution in Dublin: ‘the slavery, the brutality and the way the system works against the girls on the street” (Levine et al., 1987: 35). “The findings of the paper recommended the establishment of ‘Welcome Centers’ and law reform. The center would be run by ex-prostitutes to provide a homely atmosphere for women who needed help. They would also try to develop any talents that would encourage an alternative way of life, offer professional help when required and provide protection and relaxation.” (Levine et al., 1987: 35) Mr. Keating raised this matter in the Dail but nothing ever came out of this work and the number of women involved in prostitution only increased. Today, we are again looking at prostitution but from your current perspective: criminalising the buyer.

Lastly, can I ask you to look at a hypothetical: Brothel keepers like Tom McDonnell earned millions from running their brothels in Dublin in the 1990’s – “McDonnell was earning around £1,000 a day from the brothels at Grattan Street and South William Street.” (Reynolds, 2003: 24) Yes he exploited the women working for him. But in a legitimate environment, a safe house, that is regulated by government and run by sex workers, for sex workers, why can they not avail of this demand when it is evidently there? Money earned goes back into the economy. Why can’t the government use this revenue potential?  Profits could be used to increase the police force to fight the real crime: trafficking. Money can be used to pay for health care and education centers for the sex workers. Good would come from it.

In regard to prostitution and trafficking, ensure trafficking is the focus of criminal law. They are linked, but they are not hand in glove like some NGOs portray it. No system is ever going to be perfect. You need to try and help the greatest number. Legalising prostitution could help lower the number of trafficked people. By regulating it, governments, councils and the police will know who is involved. Keep a register. New person comes in? Find out where from? If you regulate properly then problems as reported by The Economist, need not happen. The Economist noted that while the level of sex trafficking into the UK appears to have significantly increased over the last decade, the level of regulation of prostitution in general and brothels in particular has declined. (The Economist, 2 September 2004) Proper regulation and laws would negate this. While you keep the sex workers illegal and criminalise their buyers, the likelihood is that the only relationships sex workers will be able to maintain will be with those see them as an easy source of money. (Davis et al., 1994) That is what we should be tackling.
I thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope you read this with the open mind I did when researching my topic.

Yours sincerely,


BBC News; (2011) Most Sex Workers ‘Not Trafficked’, says study.

Belle de Jour; (2005) The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl. Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Bryngemark, Jesper; (2005) Sex Workers Rights.

Davis, S & Shaffer, M; (1994) Prostitution in Canada: The Invisible Menace or the Menace of Invisibility?

Mai, Dr. Nick; (2011) In Whose Name? Migration and Trafficking in the UK Sex Industry: Delivering Social Interventions Between Myths and Reality. London Metropolitan University

Matthews, Roger; (2008) Prostitution, Politics and Policy. Routledge-Cavandish

McKeganey, Neil & Barnard, Marina; (1996) Sex Work on the Streets: Prostitutes and Their Clients. Open University Press

Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services; (2009) UNGASS Country Progress Report, Norway. Online @

O’Connor, Ann Marie; (1996) Women Working in Prostitution: Towards a Healthier Future. University College Dublin

Reynolds, Paul; (2003) Sex in the City – The Prostitution Racket in Ireland. Pan Macmillan Ltd.

Sanders, Teela; (2005) Sex Work: A Risky Business. Willan Publishing

The Economist; (2004) ‘It’s a Foreigners Game’, Volume 372, Issue 8391, September 4th

The Economist; (2008) Policing Prostitution, The Oldest Conundrum. Available online @ October 30th

The Metro; (2011) Prostitutes Believe Selling Sex ‘Beats Doing a Menial Job’ – Study.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this, your knowledge shines through.