Our Consent Counts when legislating on sexwork by concerned citizen

I am writing to you to ask your views on the sex industry. This is an emotive and contentious issue, generally reported on and discussed in sensationalised and objectifying terms that use people who sell sex rather than listening to them.

Those who loudest shout to be heard are often those with the most extreme views – that the sex industry should be eradicated, that prostitution is violence and that paying for sex should be criminalised. These campaigners are noisy, organised, and well-funded, particularly compared to frontline services to people in the sex industry or groups lead by sex workers. But they are not representative of majority views.

I’m writing to you as a member of the tolerant majority – like the 72% of ITV’s This Morning audience who voted for complete decriminalisation of prostitution, the 71% who told The Big Questions (BBC1) that prostitution should be accepted or the 85% of Daily Mirror readers who, when asked “Should buying sex be a crime?”, responded “no”. That’s the view of ordinary people – that the sex industry is a tolerated part of society and that neither people who sell sex, nor their clients, should be criminals.

Does this mean that there is no prejudice or stigma? No, of course, not – in the same way that, nearly 50 years after decriminalisation of homosexuality there is still discrimination and prejudice against the LGBT community from an intolerant minority. And, due to criminalisation, it is risky for people in the sex industry to be open about their lives and so directly challenge prejudice and ignorance, as people who sell sex are targeted for violence and discrimination because they sell sex and criminalisation means that a casual remark about sharing premises renders them, and their colleagues, vulnerable to prosecution.

There is no situation in which a woman is made safer by treating her consent to sex as something that can be ignored, dismissed or devalued. It is fundamentally discriminatory and anti-feminist to ignore, dismiss or devalue a woman’s consent to sex, even if you think it is for her own good.

What I don’t agree with is the brothels that are run on the slave trade, whereby girls are brought in, passports taken, given drugs, etc. The penalties for the operators/owners of these types of establishments should be imprisoned for many years. No one should ever be ‘forced’ into sex work..

There will always be men willing to pay for sex – including those who wine and dine, give jewellery, property, etc, in order to have sex with their ‘date’. I know women who receive payment for sex in order to feed their families. I also know ‘happily’ married men who pay for sex as they are their wife’s carer. The wife is unable to have sex but the men still have needs, this way they can stay married, continue to love their wife and have their sexual needs satisfied without having to force themselves onto an unwilling wife. Provided the sex is consensual, it is wrong to criminalise any of these people just because money has changed hands.

I hope that, whatever your personal feelings about sex and prostitution, you treat people in the sex industry fairly and equally. Support the New Zealand model of full decriminalisation, equal rights and respect for the right to consent to sex – because, for everyone, consent counts.

My vote at the General Election depends on this, so please let me know your views.

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