13th April, 2018
To the Women’s Equality Party,
This is an official complaint from the Sex Work Research Hub to the Women’s Equality Party, regarding the recent conduct of the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker.
The Sex Work Research Hub connects researchers and academics across a range of Universities and disciplines, working on sex work, sex working and sexual exploitation, around the world. We also connect with sex workers, sex work support projects and other stakeholders, such as healthcare providers, lawyers, police, policy makers, educationalists, youth and community workers, to support and develop research that produces new knowledge, critiques dominant discourses on sex work, as well as delivering tangible public benefit and impact.
We are deeply concerned with the recent online comments made by Sophie Walker around the issue of sex work, and how she has been engaging with sex workers on her personal Twitter account. As the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Walker not only holds a position of significant power, but she acts as a mouthpiece for feminism today. Walker’s recent comments and articles have shown that she is very poorly informed about modern sex work and that her agenda is ideologically driven, rather than being informed by the sex worker voice or peer reviewed data.
The language that Walker uses ignores the preferred terminology of those in the sex industry, and shows that she has little respect for the autonomy and wishes of the sex work community. Using terms such as 'prostituted woman', conflating sex work with sex trafficking, and repeatedly referring to sex work as 'rape', reinforces the shame and stigma around sex work that sex worker rights groups work hard to challenge.
By Raven Bowen
Q: So, what do you do?
A: I have sex with people for money. And this allows me to do many other things for free, with sex workers - mostly organising meetings and events.
Q: And your favorite color?
A: I love colour in general, I don't have a favourite one. My preference lies with yellow, red and orange, but ideally I would like my life to be filled with as many colours as possible.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: Myself. I am proud of myself. The older I get, the more I have to look back at, and looking back at everything I have done and achieved, I am really proud of how far I've come.
Q: What drew you to sex industry related work?
A: I wanted to eat and I didn't have access to other sources of money. Q: You’ve built a community through fun events. What motivated it all? A: I think it was isolation. Within the group that we have at the moment I seem to have been working the longest. The first 5 years were fine. I made friends in the brothels where I worked, so I was never alone. Then I started working independently and moved to Scotland, and that was much further than I’d ever been from my non sex working friends, and I lost contact with most of the sex workers I knew in London; I was in a new place completely alone. I realised that as a sex worker, it is very difficult to make friends because the question of ‘what do you do for a living’ comes up right after ‘what is your name.’ And if you’re hoping to make friends with people, you don’t want to start by lying to them first. Then through SCOT-PEP I met a woman who told me about sex workers' breakfasts in London in a community space, and we thought, maybe we could do something like that in Scotland! That’s how the group started. But I don't think I built a community. It takes a village to build a community, it's not something you can do on your own. There was a moment when I realised that if I want something to happen, I'll have to take the lead, because nobody else was planning to. And I wanted many things to happen, I wanted to make friends, I wanted to be around people. Q: You also talked about organising self-defense workshops for sex workers. A: Yes, this is something that we’ve been talking about for years now, but somehow we never really went forward with it. Now I've been in touch with a sex worker who can do a 3-day workshop and she tailors the course to the specific environment that we work in.
Q: The last thing you laughed about?
A: I laughed at it twice, actually! Last week we had a pyjama party. We had the idea for it when me and another sex worker went to a film night. It was a lot of people in a church, sitting around, watching films, so we thought we could organise something like that for sex workers – but, you know, not in a church. Bring a projector to someone’s home, sit around in pyjamas, eat popcorn and watch films all night. There were 13 of us. We decided we would watch films about sex workers, whether it’s trafficking in South Africa, or Pretty Woman, there will always be something that we all can relate to in those films. So, that night, there was a moment when we had to decide who was going to sleep with whom. There were so many of us, we had to share the sleeping space. Some good conversations took place on that subject! That's what I laughed at. And today at the clinic I told a sex worker who couldn't come to the party about this, and we had a good laugh - again.
Q: What’s your favorite food?
A: Pomegranates. And mangos.
Q: Your current project or pursuit?
A: I have too many at the moment. Some are personal, some are work or community related. As I said, one of the things I'm excited about right now is organising a self-defence workshop for sex workers in Scotland. Also, we all want another pyjama party – the first one was a roaring success! And after that it'll be time for our Ho liday. We had one in November: we rented a house in the Highlands and spent a couple of days there. Best time ever! We need to do this again. So no, there is no end of things to do in sight!
Q: What’s your biggest regret?
A: I don't think I have any. There are things that I would on occasion say I wish I had done, like I should have started sex work sooner than I did, but when I look at the circumstances, I see that everything happened at the right time. So, no regrets, none I can think of.
Q: Facebook or Twitter?
A: Twitter. This is how I find all the wonderful people!
Q: What challenges you the most about your sex work or related work?
A: My lack of patience. I don't suffer fools easily, which makes sex work challenging for me, because there are so many right plonkers out there contacting sex workers! Some people never become clients because I just don’t have the patience to deal with them. When I started, I would listen to a lot of people because I was new, I really wanted to become established. Now, now life is too short for that shit!
My lack of patience also means that once I'm excited about something, I want it to happen now, and things usually take a long time to develop, especially in sex work activism. And as a member of the support group, one of the challenges I have is with the circumstances of sex work. It's irregular, and trying to organise a meeting, literally every sex worker has a different work schedule which is fixed around their children, or around their studies - it’s really difficult to find a time that works for everyone. It’s the nature of sex work, this flexibility is how so many people benefit from it, but it also makes it hard to bring people together.
Q: Favorite Movie?
A: Moonrise Kingdom. I very rarely watch films, and I’m very picky about what I’m going to waste my life on. Also, I’m sensitive to violence: I went to watch Moonlight and I had to leave because of the scenes of childhood abuse there that the main character suffered. So I don’t have a favorite film, as in, something I would re-watch now and then, but Moonrise Kingdom is sweet and funny and light, it has some magic to it, it captured my heart.
Q: And the last time you cried?
A: Five minutes ago, when I was thinking of question three, about what I’m proud of. I’m not often proud of myself. I don't give myself enough credit and praise for the work that I do. I want to learn to think and talk about it more often. Q: You probably don’t realize the impact you have on other people and who lies back thinking how great they are, but you need to acknowledge who you are and what you bring which is why I’ve included that question. A: True. Often nobody gives you the feeling of value as a person, and so I want to do better here, to learn to feel more proud of myself, my talents and my skills.
Q: Cat or dog person?
A: Neither. If I had to deal with an animal, I'd choose a small fluffy rodent.
Q: Who understands you?
A: I feel like different parts of my life are supported by different people or groups of people, but I am yet to find one person who would understand the whole of me. A big part of my life is being a sex worker but that’s not all of my life. So I share much of who I am with the sex workers in the group, but even within the sex work experience, not many people in the group have experiences of violence and police raids, for example. The negative experiences of sex work, I don't always have the feeling that everyone understand them, if they haven't been through the same thing. Also, there is much more to me than sex work, there are other things that I am engaged in, or want to do. It's like my life consists of separate pockets of activities and feelings that I can share with some people but not others. Q: We are so complicated. A: Yeah, and I don’t think there should, or could ever be one person that can understand you. I don’t think I could be that person for somebody. It’s a hard job!
Q: What’s the last book or article you read?
A: Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. I haven’t finished it yet. It’s rather scientific, but an easy read, not like one of those academic papers where you have to look up every 3rd word in the dictionary. This book made me question some of my ideas about myself, and being brought up as a woman. Q: That’s important, because other people decide what’s possible for us as children. Our worlds can be made small because we’re not supported in exploring all that we can be. A: Exactly! I never thought that I could be a surgeon, I was raised all girly and squeamish. But now I wonder if the way my parents thought women should be, has more to do with it than my actual abilities.
Q: Childhood Fear?
A: Being abandoned.
Q: What did your last text message say?
A: “Thank you, I appreciate the time you take to do this.” That's the majority of my texts these days, thanking people for their help.
Q: One thing that your work or existence is aimed to do for the sex industry?
A: I want to make sure that every sex worker has sex working friends that they can meet in person with. These connections are powerful.
Q: The meaning of life in one word?
A: Experience. Life is a collection of experiences, big or small, good or less so, and all of them teach us something. I would like to try as many of them as possible!
Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I am not planning to grow up!
Q: Three portable items that you would want with you while stranded on a desert island?
A: Assuming it's not one of the Scottish offshore islands, I will need 1. my favourite shampoo, 2. a pair of sunglasses and 3. a good sunblock. And because I'm limited to only three, I'll have to do without a bikini!
If you are a sex worker based in Scotland, and if you’re interested in meeting people, please be in touch and I’ll pass you on to Jewel.
Call for papers!Postgraduate Sex Work Conference26th March 2018Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne
Northumbria University is hosting the Annual Sex Work Research Hub Postgraduate Sex Work Conference.
This conference is free of charge and includes lunch!
Submit your 300 word abstract by 31st January 2018 to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Include: the title of your paper, your name, institution and level of study
Registration is open to all PGRs; early stage researchers, research active practitioners, sex workers and Sex Work Research Hub members.
Registration info to follow shortly!
This event is hosted by the Sex Work Research Hub
Joint Statement expressing serious concerns about police and UK Border Agency actions targeting migrant sex worker
We are writing to express our serious concerns about a number of joint UK Border Agency and police operations targeting migrant sex workers which took place during the week commencing 17th October, the week during which Anti-Slavery Day, 18th October 2016, is marked.
On Thursday 20th October in Soho and Chinatown, London, six premises were raided and closed as part of Operation Lanhydrock, carried out by the Metropolitan Police and UK Border Agency. These raids led to protests by sex worker rights organisations outside the Home Office. Photos were taken during the raids, including of the earnings seized from the sex workers. No charges for trafficking were brought but 26 people were arrested for "immigration offences" including four Chinese women who have been detained awaiting deportation. The English Collective of Prostitutes was contacted by some women impacted who report that they were terrified.
In Leeds on the evening of 21st October, UK Border Agency accompanied by West Yorkshire Police attended the managed area in Leeds targeting migrant women, removing six women and detaining them in Yarlswood Immigration Removal Centre. Basis Sex Work Project who have visited them report that five women remain there in great distress.
The Beyond the Gaze project reaches it's half way point (ends sept 2018) and has collected a monumental amount of data. We have a customer survey of over 1300 respondents and also a survey on sex workers that work online with over 600 responses. This, in addition to interviews with 60 sex workers, over 55 police informants and a survey of support projects, explores working practices, safety and regulation within the online sector. Rosie continues to take forward the netreach activities with Basis Yorkshire and develop good practice guidelines & safety info with NUM, sex worker advisers and our practitioners forum. There will be dissemination events in 2018 which will be widely advertised.
By Maggie O'Neill
Colleagues will know that I have used walking as a (participatory, sensory, arts based) method for some years now and may be interested in a walk that I undertook with Open Clasp Theatre (an award wining women's theatre company based in Newcastle), a woman's direct access hostel and Faye. I was invited to run a walk-shop as part of Open clasp's week long workshop in the hostel. The link to the article by Catrina McHugh, Faye and myself is below.
Walking with Faye from direct access hostel to special place in the city: walking, body&image space. A visual essay tandfonline.com
More walks to follow with Rosie Campbell, Shelley Stoops and Nick Mai in the U.K
Here is the link to my walk with Kerry Porth in Vancouver at the missing women's memorial walk in honour of missing and dead women many of whom were sex workers.
By Allan Tyler
This spring, a chapter I have written about sex work appears in a book called – rather provocatively – Mad or Bad?: A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology (Vossler, Havard, Pike, Barker & Raabe, 2017). The book itself aims to deal with some of the topics that have been stigmatised and/or have remained unfamiliar to counsellors, forensic psychologists, and other helping professionals in the past. Importantly, sex and sexuality are addressed critically from a number of standpoints. My contribution aims to examine a diversity of experiences selling sex and challenge assumptions about sex work, including why and how sex work is framed in contexts of mental health and crime.
A bit about me: I didn’t start out as a sex work researcher and came into the field rather naively. Very naively. Until 2007, almost all of my (professional) research was related to body image and commercial applications of how our clothing fits. But none of us are Just Workers, and part of my own story was my migration from farm-country Canada and my concomitant migration into big-city London’s queer scene/s in the early-to-mid 90s. What I had observed and learned about men’s bodies and how gay and bi men used their bodies was another education entirely. After more than a dozen years of reading magazines with columns (and then pages) of ads placed by men labelled ‘Escorts’ and ‘Masseurs’, it was those experiences – or lack thereof – that prompted me to ask the rather loose question, ‘What exactly is going on here?’
by Katy Pilcher
Erotic dance is one of the most contentious issues in feminist debates today and a source of fascination in media representations, yet little is known about those who perform erotic dance for women customers, or the experiences of these spectators themselves. Through vivid ethnographies of a lesbian leisure venue and a male strip show, Erotic Performance and Spectatorship examines the gender and sexual politics of erotic dance, simultaneously relating these to debates about sex work more widely. Drawing on insights gleaned through participant observation within erotic dance spaces; interviews with dancers, customers and management; together with a photo-elicitation venture with a dancer, this book subverts previous assumptions that only women perform erotic dance and only men spectate, and develops the debate beyond assumptions that erotic dance is either straightforwardly degrading or empowering.
Queer Muslim Sex Worker is a groundbreaking podcast documentary about the real life of a young, genderfluid Londoner.
Through a series of interviews across a year of Maryam’s life, the podcast tells her real story as she speaks candidly about her gender, sexuality, Muslim identity, and demonstrates on-air how she interacts with clients via online messaging for sex work.
Maryam (not her real name) is from London, of Pakistani heritage and is highly involved in her local mosque.
Through the 42-minute podcast, listeners will follow Maryam’s incredible true story as she navigates her identities, meets new clients, and comes out as queer.
The podcast looks at how Maryam’s identities intersect and shape who she is, while letting Maryam tell her story in her own words.
“I’m from an immigrant, Pakistani, Muslim family. I am a queer, gender fluid sex worker who’s currently in a relationship with a woman and I am very involved with my mosque life,” Maryam says in the podcast.
“I will think sometimes, this is f***ing insane - half an hour ago I was scissoring my girlfriend, and the next minute I’m at the mosque translating a religious sermon against gay marriage.”
An independently-funded project, the podcast is produced and presented by journalist Amy Ashenden (formerly LGBTQ Correspondent at the Evening Standard, now Senior Video Reporter at the Mirror Online), who produced the viral documentary The Gay Word in 2015.
Producer and presenter Amy Ashenden said: “This podcast tells such a unique story, I’m really excited for its release.
“The interviews took place across a year so you’ll see how much Maryam’s life and identity change over the course of the documentary.
“Maryam’s story is extraordinary but it’s also her real, everyday life, and she tells it so candidly and articulately in a way I’ve never come across before. I hope people can learn a lot from her story and that it will make listeners rethink what it means to be queer or Muslim.
“I was very careful to ensure the documentary took an intersectional approach and that Maryam was telling her story in her own words and not misrepresented. I wanted to avoid simplifying the narrative or putting her into boxes, as that would erase the fascinating intersections of her identity. Retaining Maryam’s anonymity was also really important.”
The documentary is available with RSS so subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts, including iTunes, audioBoom and TuneIn. Why not leave a review on iTunes? You can also follow Queer Podcasts on Twitter.
Read more about the documentary on the Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/queer-muslim-sex-worker-maryam-london-pakistani-mosque-lesbian-relationship-science-experiment-a7714901.html …
Many thanks to Amy Ashenden for this post!
‘Decriminalising sex work is the only way to ensure sex workers have access to justice – and New Zealand has proved that it works’
by Lynzi Armstrong
This article also appeared in The Independent
Sex work laws are currently under debate in several parts of the world, and there are divergent views regarding which approach best protects sex worker’s rights and supports their access to justice.
While some advocate for a legislative framework which would criminalise clients of sex workers, sex worker-led organisations disagree, arguing that this approach places sex workers in danger. Instead, they are calling for decriminalisation – an approach which has been in place in New Zealand since 2003. However, myths abound regarding New Zealand’s model, including unsubstantiated claims that the sex industry has expanded, that pimps are emboldened, and that trafficking is rife. But, what do we really know about New Zealand’s policy of decriminalisation and how it impacts sex workers?
The passing of the Prostitution Reform Act followed years of work by New Zealand’s sex worker organisation – the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. The purpose was to minimise harm, and so the law change not only removed legislation which criminalised sex work, but also afforded rights to sex workers.