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.
For an advocate of women’s equality to call a woman in the sex industry a ‘pathetic’ ‘sex bot’ in a public Twitter exchange is not only deeply offensive, but we are concerned this reveals far deeper issues with Walker’s attitudes towards sex workers. We recognise that the tweet to which Walker responded was a personal attack, which cannot be condoned, but that does not justify Walker using her position of influence and authority to 'slut shame' another woman online. Walker should be listening to women in the sex industry, not dismissing them as 'pathetic', or shaming them as little more than 'sex bots'.
Many sex workers have used social media to directly address Walker for her damaging views on their work, but she has refused to engage with any of them beyond tweeting sarcastic comments, even accusing one person of selfishly calling for decriminalisation at expense of exploited women.
We have also seen Walker claim in her Twitter thread that Women’s Equality Party spoke to ‘women who call themselves sex workers’. The language used here is truly shocking and adopts the position that sex workers are not only lying, but that the Women’s Equality Party simply knows better. This is not equality, this is condescension. We would also like to ask who these women are that the Women’s Equality Party has spoken too, as we can confirm Walker did not get in touch with Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement, National Ugly Mugs, the English Collective of Prostitutes, or any member of the Sex Work Research Hub before making such claims.
These online comments come shortly after a blog article by Walker on ‘ending demand’ of prostitution, published with the Huffington Post (27/03/2018). Whilst we welcome debate around sex work and sex worker safety, this article is littered with misrepresented and debunked statistics, shaming language and blatantly ignored the considerable research that proves ‘end demand’ tactics cause significant harm to sex workers. Walker celebrates the Nordic Model of sex work in Ireland, but ignores the fact that under this system there has been a 54% increase in crime against sex workers, and violent crime is up by 77%.
Sophie Walker’s attacks upon sex workers, her refusal to engage with and listen to the people she claims to want to protect, and her poorly informed articles celebrating a legal system that leads to violence against women, have led us to question Walker’s suitability to lead your party.
Sex workers are a vulnerable social group, a position made significantly worse by prominent feminists publicly attacking and dehumanising them. Sex workers are as deserving of equality and respect within your party as any other woman. Their choices around employment, sex and bodily autonomy are as valid as any other woman’s.
We call for a public apology from Walker for her attacks upon sex workers, and ask for the Women’s Equality Party to meet with the leading sex worker rights groups to address these concerns as a matter of some urgency.
Professor Teela Sanders, Criminology, SWRH Board Member, University of Leicester
Professor Nick Mai, Sociology, SWRH Board Member, Kingston University, London
Dr Pippa Grenfell, Assistant Professor, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Professor Maggie O'Neill, Sociology/ Criminology, SWRH Board Member, University of York
Professor Clarissa Smith, Sexual Cultures, University of Sunderland
Professor, Jane Scoular, SWRH Board Member, University of Strathclyde
Professor Alison Phipps, Professor of Gender Studies and Director of the Centre for Gender Studies, University of Sussex
Dr Rosie Campbell OBE, (University of Leicester) , Board Member, SWRH & Chair National Ugly Mugs
Dr. Heidi Hoefinger, Professor of Science, School of Liberal Arts, Berkeley College, New York
Dr Kate Brown, Lecturer in Social Policy and Crime, University of York
Dr PG Macioti, Kingston University, UK
Dr Nicola Smith, Senior Lecturer in Law, SWRH Board Member, University of Birmingham
Dr Lynzi Armstrong, Lecturer in Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington
Dr Laura Connelly, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Salford
Dr Kate Lister, Lecturer in History, SWRH Board Member, Leeds Trinity University
Eurydice Aroney, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, University of Technology Sydney
Dr Scarlett Redman, Sex Work Research Hub
Dr. Alison Jobe, Assistant Professor in Sociology and Criminology, Durham University
Camille Melissa, Doctoral Researcher
Raven Bowen, Doctoral Researcher, SWRH Board Member, University of York
Dara Howley, Masters in History Student (focussing on sex history), University College London
Rebecca Meiksin, Research Fellow and PhD Student, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Gaynor Trueman, North East Sex Work Forum
Max Morris, Doctoral Researcher, Durham University
Lilith Brouwers, Doctoral Researcher, University of Leeds
Evie Brill Paffard, Victorian Literature and Culture MA student (focussing on sex and sexuality in the Victorian era), University of York
Sam Geuens, Clinical Sexologist (MSc, MA, PEV) , PXL University College
Dr. Mary Laing, Senior Lecturer, Northumbria University
Dr. Emily Cooper, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Central Lancashire