Our Consent Counts when legislating on sexwork by Leon Abrien

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.

The subject is often debated using fallacious arguments instead of research data and correct interpretation of such verifiable information.

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 and often irrational, organised, and well-funded but ill informed, 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 am 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 is 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.

I hope that, whatever your personal feelings about sex and prostitution, you treat people in the sex industry fairly and equally and acknowledge that often the reasons why decide to do this sort of work are financially related. 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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