PRESS RELEASE: INTERNATIONAL PROTESTS TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST SEX WORKERS

Wave of international protests spread to Britain, as sex workers and allies remember Dora and Jasmine, and call for an end to criminalisation and stigma.

Sex workers across the world mobilised this week in an unprecedented spontaneous response to two murders of sex working women. Twenty five demonstrations across three continents and both hemispheres are planned for Friday at 3pm – with more being added every day – as sex workers and allies mourn Jasmine and Dora, two women murdered two days apart at opposite ends of Europe. Although in many ways their lives were very different, both brilliant women were made fatally vulnerable to the violent men who killed them by the criminalisation and stigma of sex workers – deliberately fostered by the Swedish and Turkish states.

Luca Stevenson, co-ordinator with the International Committee for the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE), the organisation which is supporting local activists around Europe and the world in their demonstrations, said about the UK protests, “It is with sadness, grief and anger that members of Sex Worker Open University will gather in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Brighton and London on Friday the 19th to protest against the murders of Dora and Jasmine. The systemic violence faced by trans* sex workers in Turkey, and the institutionalised stigma and discrimination of the ‘Swedish model’ have both led to the violent deaths of two young women. Governments, civil societies, feminists, LGBT and human rights’ organisation need to wake up and listen to sex workers and work together, with us, so that our rights, our access to justice and our freedom to live free from violence and discrimination can be attained.”

Sex workers particularly emphasised the hypocrisy of the Swedish approach to sex work, which criminalises clients in order to “protect” sex workers, who are positioned as women entirely lacking in agency or voice. In its own report on the effect of the law, the Swedish government acknowledges that its approach increases the stigma that sex workers face – and calls this a “positive” thing. Jasmine was a sex worker in Sweden, and the stigma that the Swedish government deliberately fostered was what allowed her violent ex husband to kill her – she had repeatedly asked the state to intervene in his domestic violence, but had been disbelieved about it because she was a sex worker.

The Rose Alliance, a sex worker organisation in Sweden, said, “Our board member, fierce activist and friend Petite Jasmine got brutally murdered on 11th July 2013. Several years ago she lost custody of her children as she was considered to be an unfit parent due to being a sex worker. The children were placed with their father regardless of him being abusive towards Jasmine. They told her she didn’t know what was good for her and that she was ‘romanticizing’ prostitution, they said she lacked insight and didn’t realise sex work was a form of self-harm. He threatened and stalked her on numerous occasions, she was never offered any protection. She fought the system through four trials and had finally started seeing her children again. Yesterday the father of her children killed her. She always said “Even if I can’t get my kids back I will make sure this never happens to any other sex worker”. We will continue her fight. Justice for Jasmine!”

Nine, who delivered support services to sex workers for several years when employed by Edinburgh charity SCOT-PEP, said, “It can no longer be claimed that Sweden’s aggressive campaign against sex work is not also an aggressive campaign against sex workers. In taking Jasmine’s children away from her and in ignoring the escalation of her killer’s behaviour, the Swedish authorities have demonstrated where their priorities really lie in tackling violence against women.”

Nancy Ellis, a sex worker and single mother, said, “I was threatened and stalked by someone violent with very high status, who sought to discredit me as a single mother. The feeling of knowing that people will agree with this because of the work I do, and leave me at risk of violence is a feeling I cannot describe.  It is the worst feeling in the world and the experience of it will never leave me and has changed my life irrevocably.”

Sex worker Laura Lee said, “’I am absolutely appalled at the senseless murders of Dora and Jasmine. We know that stigma and whorephobia kill, as does the Swedish model. It is long past time, that as sex workers we are afforded equal rights and are no longer treated as second class citizens. That there are twenty five cities protesting is cause for hope: no longer will we be silenced.”

S, a male sex worker, said, “The murder of Petite Jasmine is a chilling indictment of how dangerous the Swedish model is for sex workers.  When will governments and policy-makers stop trying to ‘save’ us from our own lives and instead offer us protection from abuse and stigma.  Sex workers are easy targets for those who want to commit acts of violence.  The murder of Dora, a trans sex worker from Turkey, by one of her clients is another tragic example of this.  We urge all governments to decriminalise sex work and foster societies where sex workers are valued and accepted for who we are.  We simply want the right to work safely and free from violence.  How many more of us have to die before things change.”

Sex workers highlighted the barely-concealed viciousness towards those currently in the industry that is inherent in the Swedish model. Scotland-based sex worker Molly noted, “The special adviser to the Swedish government on prostitution, Gunila Eckberg, is on film telling a woman who disagreed with her to ‘not expect any help from the women’s shelters’, because ‘this is what happens when you betray us’. Tragically, that threat was really real for Jasmine. And yet Gunila Eckberg is welcome everywhere in Glasgow as a ‘feminist’ and an expert on the ‘benefits’ of the Swedish model; she attended two conferences last year, one hosted by the STUC women’s committee, and one by Rape Crisis Scotland. Advocates of the Swedish model pretend to be feminists, but really they just viscerally hate sex working women – as the results of their policies show”.

Violet, a sex worker, said: “Most people think that all the violence and murder sex workers endure is from clients. Jasmine died for the want of human rights in Sweden, a so-called socialist paradise of social justice, at the hands of a violent partner, and having reported abuse to a police force who wouldn’t listen because of her work. The pseudo-feminists who built and now export the Swedish model, which fosters an abhorrent climate of stigma towards sex workers have Jasmine’s blood on their hands. During her life, she advocated strongly for global decriminalisation and justice for her death will not be done until we see that goal achieved. No more sex workers must die.”

Sex workers in the UK focused particularly on the policies that led to Jasmine’s death, because the Swedish model is one that is being actively pushed in for in Britain. But we are also gathering to mourn Dora, and protest the policies that led to her death.

Women like Dora, who are both trans* and sex working, experience a confluence of oppressions, ranging from the transphobia that makes it so difficult for trans* women to find employment outwith the sex industry, to the ‘regulationist’ approach of the Turkish government’s sex work legislation, which effectively criminalises those who can’t or won’t fulfill the arbitrary qualifications set but the Turkish state. This de facto criminalisation makes them tragically vulnerable to violent individuals posing as clients.

Sex workers reiterate that ‘legalisation’ or regulationism is not good enough: it does not protect women like Dora, any more than the Swedish model protected Jasmine. We need full decriminalisation, and furthermore we call on the Turkish government to tackle transphobia: the fatal results of which, some in Turkey are already calling a “trans massacre” – with no end in sight, as the government – at best – ignores this hatred, and the violence it engenders.

Kemal Ordek, chair of Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association said, “Discrimination against trans women in education and employment sectors is widespread. Many trans women end up in doing sex work under risky environments. Sex work is regulated in Turkey in a manner which paves the way to criminalise those unregistered sex workers – even though the law does not require so – as any step taken in relation to sex work is criminalised under the Turkish Penal Code. The police are generally one of the perpetrators of violence, pushing sex workers under more risky environments where they are more open to violence coming from clients or gangs.”  The 31 reported murders of trans women in Turkey in the last five years is likely to be far lower than the real number.

Jasmine and Dora were in some respects very different, and many people would perceive Sweden – liberal and ‘feminist’ – as a complete opposite to Turkey, coded as conservative to the point of being patriarchal. To sex workers, however, these two deaths, two days apart, explode that myth of contrast and instead point to the very similar themes – despite the difference in rhetoric – of criminalisation and stigma being used by the State to foster and permit violence against those it views as undesirable.

On Friday 19th at 3pm, sex workers and allies will take to the streets in cities around the world – there are six protests being planned in Australia alone – and in Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, Sheffield and Brighton outside Swedish and Turkish consulates. We will use this moment of anger, clarity, and grief to mourn and to organise, because in the words of Jasmine’s mother: “I will do whatever I can to fight your fight … My love – you will live on forever in our hearts and souls – and we will keep your candle burning”.

 

CONTACT:

Luca Stevenson, ICRSE Coordinator:

info@sexworkeurope.org / 07 821 540 004

More quotes + updates + specific city info http://jasmineanddora.wordpress.com/

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SCOT-PEP’s press release on Rhoda’s defeat

Sex worker-led organisations in Scotland welcome the defeat of a bad law; call for decriminalisation.

Scottish charity SCOT-PEP, and sex workers of all genders across Scotland today celebrated the defeat of a proposed law that would have made sex workers more vulnerable to violence and stigma, and hampered harm reduction. Sex workers and allies pointed to decriminalisation – such as in New Zealand, the world leader in tackling violence against sex workers – as the crucial next step in keeping sex workers safe.

SCOT-PEP are delighted that the vast majority of MSPs decided to listen to the international body of academically rigorous evidence that clearly demonstrates that this proposal was completely misguided.  Neil McCulloch, a SCOT-PEP board member, said, “Elected politicians should always seek to develop legislation that is evidence-based and backed up by empirical study – rather than push through bad laws that are based on personal, moral or dogmatic belief.”

Kat, a sex worker in Scotland, said, “So much evidence shows that criminalising sex work makes us more vulnerable. Where clients are criminalised, sex workers face more police and client violence, and we have nowhere to turn to if we want to report this. The Swedish government itself acknowledges that its law to criminalise clients increases stigma. Stigma is what makes us vulnerable; it means the police won’t believe or listen to us, and people who pose as clients know this, and this makes us easy targets. I’m so relieved that this bill has fallen. It would have worsened the structural violence and stigma that we face.”

An anonymous Scotland-based sex worker said, “It’s been a difficult time ever since Ms Grant took over Trish Godman’s work, but thinking back I realise that I am very grateful to her. The danger of possible criminalisation helped many sex workers get together; in a society where we’re alienated by stigma I now have friends and this means a lot to me. Regardless of her motives, Ms Grant helped us break the isolation, find allies and become stronger together. We’ve learnt to defend our position, now we know we can achieve more. It was a difficult time but it was totally worth it.”

SCOT-PEP noted that MSP Rhoda Grant has never been accountable to any of the many responses to her consultation that suggested that she misrepresented her evidence. One academic, whose work was ‘quoted’ by Ms Grant, was moved to clarify her opposition to the Bill and her objection to Ms Grant’s distortion of her work. Amnesty International UK were forced to re-state their opposition to criminalisation after Ms Grant misrepresented their position in her summary of responses.

 SCOT-PEP will continue to campaign for an intelligent debate around sex work in Scotland, which must include meaningful dialogue with sex workers themselves, looking at how Scotland can protect their health and human rights.  SCOT-PEP believe this can only be achieved through full decriminalisation of sex work, sex workers, clients, management and others related to sex workers, within a human rights-based framework.

Alice, a Scotland-based sex worker, said, “The next step is decriminalisation. Decriminalisation in New South Wales and New Zealand has been shown again and again to tackle abuse and exploitation, fight trafficking, effectively promote condom-use and thus profoundly help the fight against HIV, and empower sex workers to access justice and labour rights. What’s not to love? New Zealand has always been at the forefront of women’s rights – it was the first country in the world to give women the vote – and its still a globally-acknowledged leader in tackling violence against women, as this brave and successful policy demonstrates.”

Sex workers and allies within SCOT-PEP and throughout Scotland look forward to continuing to do the work that we do: amplifying diverse sex working voices, organising, as sex workers, to promote rights and fight stigma, and campaigning for decriminalisation. Our door is always open to any MSP who wishes to talk to us about how to craft a successful piece of legislation – that would be supported by sex workers, sex worker rights activists, and evidence.

As Catherine Healey, from the New Zealand Collective of Prostitutes, once said, “I look at my watch, and it reminds me that New Zealand is a day ahead. We have decriminalised sex work”. SCOT-PEP look forward with optimism to a new day in Scotland.

– end –

contact: press[at]scot-pep.org.uk

 

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NEW: PRESS RELEASE – SWOU respond to Rhoda!

PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE

Scottish sex workers call for rights, not so-called ‘rescue’.

Rhoda Grant releases the responses to her consultation, amid concerns that she has ignored both sex workers, and overwhelming evidence contrary to her conclusions.

The Sex Worker Open University, a UK-wide worker’s collective comprising sex workers and allies today questioned the extent to which MSP Rhoda Grant understands the issues she seeks to address.

Sex Worker Open University pointed to the latest evidence from around the world that contradicts Ms Grant’s various claims. In particular, the most recent UNAIDS guidance note came out very strongly against precisely the kind of criminalisation that Rhoda Grant now thinks is a good idea. UNAIDS stated, in December 2012, “The approach of criminalising the client has been shown to backfire on sex workers. In Sweden, sex … were left on the street with the most dangerous clients and little choice but to accept them.”

An anonymous female sex worker echoed the report of UNAIDS in her own words, saying “The criminalisation of our clients serves only to make our work more difficult and risky. We as workers are flung into a buyers market, with less ability to negotiate safety and safe meeting with clients (who would be taking a much bigger risk if they were criminalised) on OUR terms. Sex workers who rely on their clients will be forced to let crimes go unreported, lest they harm their income by drawing attention to their other clients. Sex workers under this law would be far more vulnerable and isolated from police in the event of violence”. She added, “Lawmakers must listen to us, not speak over our heads. We are the experts on our own lives and to ignore the knowledge we have on issues such as harm reduction and safe working conditions is completely appalling.”

An anonymous male sex worker commented, “As a sex worker I am deeply saddened that Rhoda Grant intends to pursue her private member’s bill to criminalise the purchase of sexual activity.  Ms Grant thinks that her proposals will protect sex workers but in fact they will make our lives more precarious, more dangerous and further stigmatised.  With the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS and Ban-Ki Moon himself all calling for the decriminalisation of sex work we have to ask ourselves why these global experts are being ignored in Scotland.  The evidence overwhelmingly supports the fact that criminalisation of sex work (whether on the supply or demand side) has negative outcomes for sex workers’ health, safety and wellbeing.  Sex workers are the experts on our own lives and we will not stand by quietly while Rhoda Grant attempts to pass this ill-conceived and deeply dangerous piece of legislation.”

SWOU members highlighted that Rhoda Grant’s approach seems to be to treat sex workers as people who have no other option but to be in the sex industry – and then to try to take away that option, making what she supposes as only ever a last resort substantially more dangerous. The people she purports to be most concerned about – those who really are there through no choice of their own – will still be there, just in profoundly worse circumstances.

Kat, a female sex worker, said, “I’ve met Rhoda, and when I told her that her proposals would make me more vulnerable to violence, she just told me ‘you’re not representative’. That’s not an answer, is it? That’s a non-sequitur. I wasn’t arguing I was representative: I was telling her that I would be more vulnerable to violence. It seems that she either can’t hear us when we say that – or she won’t hear us”.

Kay, a female sex worker, said, “it is trying to bring in criminalization by the backdoor. There are many things that make the life of a sex worker like me harder. There are laws that mean I cannot work with others for safety, there is the stigma that means I might lose my children, there are laws on soliciting and  kerb crawling that make women unsafe. However right now the biggest threat to me is not from clients but people like Grant who with American Evangelical money want to stop me seeing the nice, law abiding clients and drive me into the arms of the dangerous law breaking ones.”

Again, this tallies with the official advice from UNAIDS and others. In the December 2012 guidance note, UNAIDS observed: “Policies and programmes to reduce the demand for sex work, designed ignoring the voices of sex workers, often result in unintended harms including increased HIV risk and vulnerability for sex workers and their clients”. We wonder to what extent the harms can be considered to be ‘unintended’ when the policy is pursued by deliberately and actively ignoring the warning words of sex working people.

An anonymous member of SWOU commented, “If Rhoda doesn’t want women to choose sex work because of poverty then she should work to improve employment for women. If Rhoda doesn’t want women to choose sex work because of addiction then she should work to improve services for addiction and mental health and access to these services. If Rhoda doesn’t want women to choose sex work because she doesn’t like it, I’m afraid she’s fresh out of luck because what individual women choose to do with their own minds and bodies is simply none of her business. Sex work is not the cause of poverty, it is not the cause of addiction and it is not the cause of Rhoda Grant and other’s moralistic beliefs. Criminalising the purchase of sex will do nothing to change these things.”

Sex workers and allies within the SWOU network also drew attention to some telling discrepancies within the publication document itself. Submissions written that opposed Rhoda Grant’s proposal – one from Nine, a former support worker with a sex worker-led organisation, and another from Matthias Lehmann, a researcher in the field – were mysteriously left unpublished. Nine has in the past commented, “how does it feel to support [legislation criminalising clients], then see the women you support showing up with more and more tales of violence and desperation? How does that feel like a victory?”, while Matthias Lehmann wrote in his submission to the consultation that Ms Grant was suffering from “a self-inflicted lack of information”. There were approximately seventy other responses to Rhoda Grant that remain oddly unpublished – the vast majority from people opposed to her proposal.

The Sex Worker Open University has some concerns about the transparency of the process by which Rhoda Grant has collated and summarized the responses that she received, given that she apparently has had some logistical trouble in publishing those that were critical of her plans.

The SWOU collective – which includes workers from all sectors of the industry, while excluding managers and bosses – simply believes that those who work in the sex industry have the best knowledge in how to make the industry safer. This opinion isn’t difficult or strange: it is basic common sense, backed up by a huge quantity of high-quality evidence from around the world. Sex workers in Scotland are disappointed to see that Rhoda Grant is apparently determined to be on the wrong side of history.

CONTACT

Tel: 0330 111 0514

Email: glasgow.swou@gmail.com


END

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Very latest press release! See the press kit for more!

SEX WORKERS PROTEST THEIR EXCLUSION – OUTSIDE THE STUC.

Following the last minute cancellation of their booking at STUC, sex workers gathered in Glasgow for a sex workers’ rights festivals will hold a protest on Saturday in front of the trade union building.

Because the “objectives of the Conference are in direct contradiction to STUC policy” (STUC email), sex workers will not be allowed to gather and share experiences with their colleagues from other parts of the world, nor hear from academics and experts on the consequences of the Swedish model to criminalise clients, or the decriminalisation model pioneered in New Zealand.

With only a week’s notice, and the festival’s programmes with STUC’s address already printed and distributed all over town, SWOU collective has no other choice than to meet at the proposed time in front of the STUC. Many participants will not be aware of the change of venue, and therefore organisers will be there at the agreed time to direct uninformed attendants to Kinning Park Complex, which has agreed to host the event. Sex workers will take this opportunity to express their disappointment and anger at STUC by holding a protest in front of it.

Morgane, a sex worker and participant explained: “We are very shocked and to be honest quite confused. If the STUC sees prostitution as a form of violence against women, why would they refuse victims coming together to share their experiences? It seems that for them, a prostitute also need to be silent to fit their idea of the ‘ideal victim'”.

Luca, a male sex worker, added: “An email of STUC to us mentioned that they need to consider the ‘implications of the holding of an event which will attract counter demonstration’. It sounds to us like they received threats that our conference would be ‘protested’ against. This is a clear case of stigma and discrimination, which sex workers endure all the time. The STUC is supposed to be for all workers but it seems some workers are more worthy than others”.

The protest will be held at 11am on Saturday 6th of April in front of STUC, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow G3 6NG. The sex workers’ rights conference will take place between 12 and 6 pm at Kinning Park Complex, 43 Cornwall Street. Glasgow, G41 1BA

– End –

If you would like to speak with the organisers or for us to arrange other interviews
Please phone us on 01 414 332 502 or email contact.swou@gmail.com and glasgow.swou@gmail.com

High resolution images at http://www.flickr.com/groups/sexworkeropenuniversity/

More info:
Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) website http://www.swou.org
SWOU Glasgow page and full programme: http://www.glasgowswou.wordpress.org
Full programme: https://glasgowswou.wordpress.com/programme/
Quotes from Organisers and Participants: https://glasgowswou.wordpress.com/quotes-from-organisers-and-participants/
SWOU Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/sexworkeropenuniversity
Main SWOU 2013 Facebook event –http://www.facebook.com/events/
347770968675060/
SWOU Twitter – https://twitter.com/SexWorkerOU; Hashtag #sexworkerOU
SWOU Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/groups/sexworkeropenuniversity/
Email – contact.swou@gmail.com

– Ends –

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Letter from Australia

Hi Grahame,

I am writing to you concerning the Scottish Trades Union Congress decision to cancel the venue booking for the Sex Worker Open University.

Scarlet Alliance has sent a speaker to the event from Australia to highlight the way in which legal frameworks here (namely decriminalisation) have supported rights, including industrial rights, for sex workers. Self organising is important for all workers in any industry and it is the same if not more so for sex workers. It is a great shame that your union has sought to block access to sex workers sharing experiences of self organising and campaigning in workplaces for industrial rights.

We have very close links with unions here in Australia and sex workers have union coverage.

I believe that whoever made this decision within STUC must be misled, seemingly on two levels. Firstly, sex work is work and workers deserve industrial rights protections. Secondly this decision seems to have been influenced by a women’s group that seeks to criminalise the clients of sex workers and frame sex workers as all women, and exploited by clients who are all men. This is an extremely conservative analysis of the experiences of sex workers.

I hope that you will consider that sex workers need rights, particularly industrial rights.

Systemic discrimination does not improve working conditions for sex workers only industrial rights will.

I ask you as Secretary of the STUC to reconsider this decision and support sex workers campaigning for sex worker rights.

Yours faithfully,

Janelle Fawkes,
Chief Executive Officer,
Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association,
Sydney, Australia.

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