Quotes from organisers and participants:
Molly, female sex worker, co-organiser of SWOU: “As a feminist and a sex worker, I’m so excited to be part of a space that sees sex worker rights as a feminist issue – one that should be led by sex workers. We’re often excluded from feminist spaces and this is about showing that we can make something of our own, that’s more inclusive, that respects our agency and our self-definition and treats what we say about our own lives as important. Sex workers have always been at the forefront of fighting for rights for all women, and laws that impact on the lives of sex workers – whether that’s directly criminalising us, or criminalisation-by-proxy through criminalising our clients – should always be seen as an attack by the state on the lives and bodies of women (and others). Don’t let anyone tell you that the Swedish model only criminalises clients – it hurts us all. That some feminists collaborate in causing us real and serious harms by supporting the Swedish model only demonstrates how successful patriarchy has been in dividing women into categories of good and bad. They think they don’t have to listen to us because we’re bad or sad, and traditional patriarchal ideas about the worth of an ‘easy’ woman back them up. Well, we reject that. We’re here, we’re workers, and people need to listen to us. Don’t assume you know. Listen. Isn’t that Andrea Dworkin’s own most bedrock pedagogy? Yes it is. Listen”.
Luca, male sex worker, co-organiser of SWOU: “SWOU is a radical platform for sex workers to meet, discuss, share skills and learn about legal and political issues surrounding our work. We are members of the community: mothers, sisters, sons, carers and students… we care about our families, our communities and our-selves. Lack of consultation of sex workers on laws that would affect us are contributing to make us invisible and vulnerable. We believe it is very cynical that at a time of such economic hardship, politicians would waste time on proposing bills such as the criminalisation of our clients that have been proven to increase our vulnerability. We do not want to be “abolished”. We want human and labour rights, and events like SWOU Glasgow allow us to make that statement loud and clear.”
Sex worker member of SWOU: “As a Scottish sex worker I am delighted that SWOU is coming to Glasgow. To have a space where our work is honoured and celebrated is so important to me. As well as addressing the stigma faced by sex workers my hope is that this event also challenges the sex negative culture that is so pervasive in Scotland. I want to see a Scotland where sexuality is embraced and celebrated in all its amazing diversity.”
Sally, Co-organiser of SWOU: “After working directly with sex workers in Cambodia I’ve seen how anti-sex trafficking laws and Raid and Rescue policies funded and promoted by international aid organizations and foreign governments most harm the people whom they claim to be “saving”. The Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation law was passed in Cambodia in December 2007 to meet the standards of the United States policy on trafficking in persons and is intended to combat trafficking by eliminating the sex industry. Since then female, male and trans sex workers have faced a multitude of human rights abuses including unlawful detention in “rehabilitation centres”, rape, robbery, extortion and beatings at the hands of the Cambodian authorities.
The human rights of sex workers are being threatened all over the world. In Scotland there is increasing pressure from anti-trafficking and feminist groups and organisations to further criminalise certain aspects of the sex industry. Sex workers voices and experiences are being systematically silenced, ignored and invalidated in discussions about the sex industry by feminists and governments. As a woman I find it increasingly difficult to identify with the feminist label when my sisters are being so blatantly and sometimes viciously attacked and oppressed in the name of feminism. It’s fantastic that there exists a feminist space that is intersectional and respects the voices and autonomy of all women.”
Lily, Sex Worker, Glasgow, 25: “I’m looking forward to attending the sex workers rights festival in April. Usually in Glasgow you are made to feel like you shouldn’t have a voice – usually because sex workers are excluded from the mainstream feminist movement and made to feel bad for not conforming to their perception of sex workers as victims (even at the point of accessing health services I am constantly told I am a victim and either given options to leave sex work or I’m made to feel like because I have made a choice to do this work that I’m undeserving of their health advice or support). At such a horrible time in Scotland where media and campaigns have focused so much on criminalising clients, it is wonderful to have a safe space to talk about our work and discuss what rights we deserve. We are not bad people, nor are we victims for you to pity and rescue, we are people and deserve the same rights as other workers and human beings”
Laura Lee, sex worker, sex workers’ rights campaigner: “I am delighted to support SWOU, it is a very valuable platform for sex workers to get solidarity and support. As a minority group, we face stigma, abuse and harassment but we are getting stronger and more vocal and it is projects like SWOU which will put our struggle to the forefront. As sex workers we have the right to be treated with dignity and respect and to have our voices heard.”
Quotes from workshop facilitators and partners:
SCOT-PEP: “Scot-pep is proud to be a co-funder of the first Sex Workers’ Rights Festival in Scotland, organised by Sex Worker Open University. SCOT-PEP have been an established sex workers’ rights organisation since 1987, and since losing funding for service provision our organisation now campaigns for the health and human rights of sex workers in Scotland. We are a group of mainly current and former sex workers and we continue to push back against misinformed, ideological political agendas that fail to recognise and respect the human rights and dignity of sex workers. At a time in Scotland where sex workers are facing legislative challenges which threaten our livelihood and well-being, we are extremely pleased to be part of this festival and make all our voices heard and more importantly, listened to.” http://www.scot-pep.org.uk/
Anastacia Ryan, researcher, University of Glasgow: “I will be discussing preliminary findings from a PhD research study that sets out to explore sex workers experiences in New Zealand (where sex work is decriminalised) and in Scotland where there is a current push towards the criminalisation of clients. I’m happy to be presenting the findings to sex workers, aiming to give back evidence to the people whose lives and work are most affected by current law and policy debates in Scotland.”
Jay Levy, University of Cambridge: “ Based on research conducted in Sweden between 2008 and 2012, I will discuss the outcomes of Sweden’s criminalisation of the purchase of sex. Though the law has failed to demonstrably diminish levels of prostitution, stigma, danger, and violence in sex work have increased, as have difficulties with authorities and service and healthcare providers.”
Niki Adams, English Collective of Prostitutes: http://prostitutescollective.net “In coming to Glasgow for the Sex Worker Open University (SWOU), we are looking to the people of Scotland and the world for leadership and encouragement. We hope to make new allies, and to strengthen all our struggles against poverty and criminalisation.
We face desperate times in England and elsewhere. While bankers and politicians get richer, benefit cuts and sanctions, student fees, debt, homelessness and lowering wages are driving increasing numbers of people into prostitution. People in Scotland will be acutely aware that in many areas of the UK 30% of children live in severe poverty. We estimate that 70% of sex workers are mothers, mostly single mothers, working to ensure their kids can eat. Rape and other violence are also increasing, but instead of protection and justice we are targeted for raids, arrests and prosecution.
Our presentation “Organising for Decriminalisation, Safety and Rights” and other SWOU activities, aim to bring together information and experiences to advance the movement for decriminalisation, similar to the law successfully introduced in New Zealand in 2003.”
Nengeh Mensah, Montreal/Canada : ” Stigma against sex workers is widespread and has a very real and negative impact on the lives of sex workers. Sex workers regularly encounter interpersonal and systemic barriers when they access social, legal, police and health-related services that should be available to everyone. These barriers must be dismantled. One key to realizing the necessary social change is public education! “
Chris Bruckert, Ottawa/Canada: “In Canada, in response to strategic litigation by two former and one current sex worker, two levels of courts have ruled that laws criminalizing sex work deny sex workers the right to security guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The case will be heard by our highest court this summer.”
Morgane Merteuil, General Secretary, French Union of Sex Workers: “In France, as in many other countries, sex workers face daily harassment and abuse from passers-by or the police. Our trade-union of sex workers created 3 years ago has reached 500 members and we have been organising relentlessly to stop the criminalisation of our clients. Politicians and policy-makers need to listen to us if they really want to stop abuse and violence against sex workers. Drafting laws without the input of those firstly concerned is not only undemocratic and misguided but also dangerous. We are workers, we want rights and we will fight until we get them!” http://site.strass-syndicat.org/
Rob McDowallChair, LGBT Network:
“The time has come for the Government to fully recognise, protect and uphold the rights of Sex Workers within the UK.
For too long the Government has given in to prohibitionists and moral crusaders who seek to skew the views of the public through their portrayal of all sex workers as vulnerable and trafficked substance misusers, who are all being forced to work in the sector against their will.
Sex Workers in the UK should be afforded the same protections and considerations in law as any other worker, and should be given equal standing in the access to benefits and housing. It is unacceptable in 2013 that Sex Workers are forced to work in secrecy for fear of police harassment, prosecution or being stigmatised and marginalised by their clients and members of the public.
On the face of it, society abhors violence yet seems to view violence against Sex Workers as an occupational hazard. People working in any sector of society should be afforded the full protection of law and should have the right to work without the fear of violence, blackmail or rape. Many such attacks on Sex Workers go unreported due to the stigma attached to the work they do.
We should embrace the contribution that Sex Workers make to our society, and in doing so, make true equality a reality. Society has no right to force its victorianesque views on others and cannot continue to deny Sex Workers their rights.”