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.
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