Solidarity with incarcerated sex workers

On Friday June 7th, Ana and Adrina were sentenced to nine months in prison. Their ‘crime’ was working together for safety. The Nordic model criminalises sex workers for doing this, and such criminalisation is disproportionately targeted at migrant sex workers. Ana and Adrina were just trying to stay safe, but the Irish state chose to arrest them, prosecute them, and hand them a jail sentence. Adrina is pregnant and faces the possibility of having to give birth in jail.

What has happened to Ana and Adrina is completely unjust. It painfully illustrates what sex workers have been saying for years: the Nordic model does not decriminalise people who sell sex. Raids, arrests, prosecution and jail are violence against sex workers.

SWARM and SWAI (the Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement and the Sex Workers’ Alliance Ireland) are calling on our supporters to raise money for Ana and Adrina and we have set up a fundraiser. We have been in touch with their solicitor, so we can get the money to them. We want to do something to help these two women – and to tell the world that sex workers need decriminalisation and resources, not the Nordic model.

Christina, a sex worker with SWARM, said, “Imprisoning these young women for something which should not be a crime is horrible and absurd – and it is made worse because advocates for the Nordic model are constantly telling us that this law is about ‘protecting’ women who sell sex. How does it protect us to put us in jail?”

Lily, a sex worker with SWARM, said “Criminalisation of sex work, including the Nordic model, disproprotionately targets migrant workers – as we see in this case. We want feminist advocates of the Nordic model to engage with the reality that this legislation harms people who sell sex.

“When women are arrested, prosecuted and jailed, they are at risk of becoming destitute. We want to highlight the injustice that the women are experiencing as a result of Ireland’s Nordic model, and to try to support them as best we can. Sex workers need to support other sex workers, as the Irish state is just interested in persecuting them.”

If you are a sex worker and have been prosecuted for brothel-keeping because you were sharing a space with another worker in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland or Northern Ireland, please get in touch. We are two small grassroots organisations with very little money, but we would be keen to offer you solidarity if we can.

Please share this fundraiser with your networks, using the hashtag #NordicModelJailsWomen. Here are some tweets you could use:

  • Two sex working women were handed jail sentences in Ireland last friday, because they were working together for safety. Please donate to @SexWorkHive & @SWAIIreland’s fundraiser for them if you can #NordicModelJailsWomen https://www.gofundme.com/fcjna

  • Jailing sex workers for working together is violence against women. Sex workers need decriminalisation and resources, not prison. Donate here to support Ana and Adrina, jailed last week in Ireland https://www.gofundme.com/fcjna #NordicModelJailsWomen

  • The Nordic model doesn’t decriminalise sex workers – Ana and Adrina have just been handed 9 month jail sentences. @SexWorkHive and @SWAIIreland are raising money for them – please share & donate if you can! https://www.gofundme.com/fcjna #NordicModelJailsWomen

Call for Submissions: Mine to Define zine, issue two!

We’re putting together a second issue of ‘Mine to Define: Survivors and Sex Workers Speak Out’. If you haven’t already read it, the first issue is here.


We got a lot of positive feedback and a lot of people wanting to contribute after the first one so we’re doing a general call out for the second.


We’re looking for contributions from sw’ers from any part of the industry who have been through something they define as abusive, whether they define or identify with the term ‘survivor’ or not.


These experiences can have happened in childhood, before starting work, within a session, interpersonally once a worker, or at any other time.


Submissions can be poetry, personal stories and experiences, art, theory, narrative, anything you like. The motivation for the zine is to break the silence that we often have to feel in the industry to not perpetuate any stigmas that often circle about ‘you’re only a worker because you were abused’ or ‘if you were abused at work, that means the industry should be criminalised’. These things end up silencing us around a topic where remaining silent spreads toxicity.


The due date for submissions is the 22nd April. If you have any questions feel free to get in touch.

All submissions and questions can be sent to swspeakout@gmail.com

December 17th: International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers 2018

This December 17th, sex workers across the UK will be chalking messages and statistics on pavements and walls, drawing attention to the violence we face. Today is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (IDEVASW). Each person it took to make up the numbers in these statistics of murder and abuse was or is a sex worker. We want you to see us; because these statistics reflect our lives, reflect the marginalisation and criminalisation we experience and the lethal violence to which this has led.

Produced by SWARM in collaboration with Ada Jusic and Woven Ink, ‘To Survive; To Live’ weaves together candid interviews from five people selling sex in austerity Britain. Setting aside the polarising rhetoric that often surrounds discussions of sex work, the film gives an intimate insight into the hopes, fears and needs of a group whose voices are routinely silenced.

As you read this, a trial is underway for the murder of UK sex worker Christina Abbotts in a flat in Crawley, West Sussex. This summer, we held a vigil for a trans, migrant sex worker, Vanesa Campos, who was murdered in Paris. Another trial is currently underway at Bournemouth Crown Court for the rape of an escort in Boscombe, Dorset.

In Odessa, Texas, a 78-year-old prisoner is claiming he killed 90 people over nearly four decades and has just pleaded guilty to the 1994 murder of a Texas woman. Many of his victims were sex workers. The murders bear a horrible resemblance to those of serial killer Gary Ridgway plead guilty in 2003 to killing at least 48 women, mostly sex workers and teen runaways in Washington State. It was these murders which prompted SWOP-USA (Sex Workers Outreach Project, United States) and Dr. Annie Sprinkle to begin IDEVASW.

Today is also the day on which Tumblr fully enacts its ban on explicit adult content. This follows a year in which the online platforms that sex workers rely on have been shuttered and purged. Since the passing of the FOSTA/SESTA bill in the US in February this year, the ability for sex workers to create communities, advertise independently, screen clients and avoid danger has been dramatically reduced.

2018 has been a brutal year for sex workers and we are calling for your support. We are fighting for access to better resources. We need money, secure housing, healthcare, childcare; we need a drastic overhaul of the immigration system. Until these fundamental needs are met, people will continue to sell sex.

Like every sex worker-led organisation around the world, SWARM is calling for decriminalisation. Criminalisation of our work and our bodies only makes life more precarious, more stigmatised and more dangerous.

Solid evidence backs up our claims. In a review of data from 33 countries, published last week, researchers found that sex workers three times more likely to experience violence from clients where their work is criminalised. Organisations including Amnesty International are likewise calling for full decriminalisation as the first step toward protecting sex workers.

Here in the UK, in England, Scotland and Wales selling sex is legal but almost all activities around it are not. It’s illegal to work with a friend for safety, as this is classed as a brothel and brothels are illegal. Soliciting on the street is illegal. In Leeds, there is talk of closing down the UK’s only ‘legalised sex work zone’ in Holbeck.

In Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, paying for sex is criminalised. Contrary to claims, sex workers themselves have not been decriminalised and prosecutions for brothel-keeping continue. In the ROI, since the law was introduced, 55 people have been arrested for prostitution offences, only two of them are clients. Violence against sex workers – including a spate of knife attacks in Dublin – has increased since paying for sex was criminalised.

It is poverty which lies behind the continued reliance of marginalised people on the sex industry. Since 2010, 86% of the burden of austerity has fallen on women. Some groups are particularly vulnerable. Migrant sex workers face the added danger of deportation, often carried out in the name of ‘recusing trafficking victims’. Research by Transgender Europe (TGEU) found that of the over 1,700 trans and gender diverse people murdered between 2008-2014, 65% were sex workers.

We are calling for decriminalisation as the first step toward making life safer for sex workers. Allowing us to work and advertise openly, build networks and maintain safeguards. And we are calling on

The single best tool for ending stigma against sex workers is this: listen to us.

Possible closure of Leeds 'managed zone'

SWARM and ECP submitted the following statement to Leeds Council regarding the possible closure of the Leeds ‘managed zone’, in which sex workers are able to solicit for business in a designated area without fear of arrest. A meeting will be held on Weds 14th November to evaluate.

 We send greetings and solidarity to sex workers earning their living in the Holbeck managed area. We are outraged at the way these workers have been disrespected and disparaged in a hate campaign fuelled by the media.

 The zone is situated in an area that has been deprived of resources and where many people are suffering from benefit cuts and other austerity measures. We hear the concerns of local residents but this is a time for solidarity; sex workers in the managed zone are also part of the community and have been working in Holbeck for at least 15 years, long before the zone was implemented.

 Regulation via zoning is not ideal but any solution which increases safety for sex workers, allows them to report crimes and brings down the number of arrests is important.

 Working without fear of arrest means sex workers aren’t running from the police are more able to use basic safety measures like working in close proximity to each other and sharing information about clients. This should considered as a priority by Leeds Council.

 According to sex worker outreach charity Basis Yorkshire - which has worked tirelessly to support workers in the area - 97% of sex workers are now willing to report crimes to the police, compared with just 7% before the scheme launched. There has been a dramatic uptake in engagement with health and support services, vital for members of the community who sell sex.

 Poverty is the driving factor behind prostitution. In an interview with Buzzfeed, a woman called Sarah described how she started working in the area to support her three children after being made redundant.

 "Kids shouldn’t have to be worrying about where your next meal is coming from, about bills, or if you’ve got clean clothes,” she said. 

 Sarah said media reports of the area were inaccurate. “People think it’s 90% drug users of crack or heroin and 10% clean, but it’s the opposite. It's the other way around with everyone I know.”

 Another woman, Laura, had escaped from a violent relationship and was now supporting four children.

 If the zone is closed down, can Leeds Council promise sex workers like Sarah and Laura a viable alternate source of income? It is the council’s responsibility to help with problems related to poverty, violence and drug use.

 The council must also hold the government to account. Since 2010, 86% of the burden of austerity has fallen on women. Reports from Doncaster suggest a 60% increase in prostitution with charities saying: “Women are being forced to sell sex for £5 because of benefit sanctions.”

 Sheffield reports a 166% increase, while charity workers in Hull report: “women who are literally starving and they are out there to feed themselves.”

 If the managed zone is closed down women won’t be able to stop working. They will be forced to work in even more isolated areas to avoid detection by the police and will be less able to screen clients who fear arrest. This undermines women’s safety. Sex workers will once again face arrest.  Migrant and transwomen our often particularly targeted by police crackdowns. Having a criminal record bars access to other jobs and prevents women leaving prostitution. Is this what Leeds Council wants?

 The group calling for the zone’s closure - ‘Save Our Eyes’, a name which is, in itself, telling of a particular set of priorities - has laid out the reasons for its anger but has made no mention of how it envisages the protection of community members who sell sex. What concrete proposals does it have for women like Sarah who work in the zone to feed their children?

 The concerns of residents are valid and we stand with any working class community which calls for better living conditions. However, sex workers are human beings. If the zone is closed down, Leeds council must vouch for the safety and survival of the sex workers who will be displaced.

 QUESTIONS FOR COUNCIL:

If the zone is closed down, can Leeds Council promise those working in the area a viable, alternate source of income?

If the zone is closed down, can Leeds Council promise that outdoor sex workers won’t face arrest?

How is Leeds Council planning to support sex workers in the area?

How is Leeds council facilitating dialogue between workers/services and residents to deal with any issues?

A lot of conflict seems to be around residents and workers not knowing where the boundaries of the zone are. Have the police and council done enough to educate and inform people of this?

Can the council reassure local people and the public generally that moves to close down the zone or not driven by a desire to gentrify the area which would result in working-class people, including sex workers, being driven out?

Can the council publicly clarify whether Save Our Eyes has links with property development in Leeds and, specifically, in Holbeck?

 

 

 

 

Student Sex Workers of SWARM - Statement On SWOP at Brighton University Freshers Fair

As student sex workers we know all too well the gap between what we are expected to live on and the actual cost of living. For many of us trying to navigate student life, sex work becomes the best and often only option for us to fund our time at university. This is due to a variety of issues such as disability, mental health, or being a single parent without time to work, study and raise a child. For many, taxing course requirements simply don’t leave enough time to commit to employment at a traditional workplace, particularly if we’re stuck in the weekly uncertainty of a zero hour contract. International students are also limited to working 10 or 20 hours a week, meaning they face even greater pressure around finances.

We were disgusted and disappointed to see that yesterday The Sunday Times ran a piece titled “How to be a sex worker — advice for freshers”, slamming the University of Brighton Student Union for inviting a sex worker outreach project in to the student fresher fair. The piece, written by Andrew Gilligan, brands Brighton University as “encouraging its students into prostitution” for allowing a stall which provides information on safety services, sexual health screening, clean needles, safer sex work advice, support for reporting incidents. It should not be necessary to argue in favour of basic healthcare information and harm reduction strategies, recognition of their value and importance should be commonplace.

We fully support the actions of SWOP Sussex in their efforts to share knowledge around keeping safe in sex work. We do not believe that trying to stop students doing sex work by not talking about it is a suitable approach to the topic, just as we think abstinence based sex education is useless. We wish to highlight that it is only the full decriminalisation of sex work which approaches the issue from a view of harm reduction. No methods of criminalisation of our work, including sex buyer laws, approach this issue from this same harm reduction approach, forcing sex workers to fend for themselves without access to the information required to keep us safe. The literature framed as encouraging students in to sex work is in fact information on how to reduce risk when selling sex, and what to do in the event of an emergency. To see supposed feminists rallying against this information and branding it as “pitching prostitution as a manageable and desirable lifestyle” is very disheartening, since this information can and does literally save lives.

The majority of student sex workers entering higher education are already sex workers, and the suggestion that a stall at a freshers fair is going to be a greater encouragement to enter into sex work than the significant pressures of austerity, rising tuition fees and the astronomical cost of renting, is absurd. That MPs like Sarah Champion are more vocally disgusted about a stall at a freshers fair than they are about cuts to education and the fact that students are simply not given enough money to live, is a revealing example of moralistic policy over practical safety measures. Once again we see our elected representatives attempting to conceal the sex industry from view to avoid taking responsibility for the systemic problems that have created it.

Other stalls at the same freshers fair included information on the LGBT student society, domestic violence, living with HIV, sexual health services, and drug use. Like SWOP, all of these stalls provide information and support on issues that impact students. As with any of these services, it’s important all students know they exist if and when they need them. If a student has a friend who is working in the sex industry and they’re worried about them, they can direct them to that support. Also present were social clubs stalls - rowing, polo, and free pizza. The suggestion that the SWOP stall presenting legal information on sex work is comparable to a social club signing up members shows just how far from the realities of poverty within student populations these commentators are.

One student sex worker in our network stated, “As a student from a low income background I get one of the highest amounts of maintenance loan available, and yet this amount still doesn’t even cover my rent. My disabilities make it hard enough for me to do my degree itself never mind balancing a job with long hours for little pay. Sex work felt like a way out of this, but when university staff found out I was met with threats of expulsion from my course and no offer of support. A fresher’s stall dedicated to supporting sex workers is a breath of fresh air that I wish I’d had in the early days of my undergraduate degree.”

Another student sex worker in our network who is doing a PHD at Sussex Uni said “as a student at Sussex uni and a sex worker, it’s essential that we are offered health and well-being services that deal with the specific issues we face. That’s what the SWOP stall was about, attempts to portray it as ‘career advice’ on getting into sex work are sensationalist misrepresentation.”

SOLIDARITY WITH OTRAS - the Spanish Government must not ban sex workers from unionising

SWARM joins with the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) in denouncing the attempt by the Spanish Government to ban the sex worker union OTRAS (@OtrasSindicato‏). We call on sex worker organisations, trade unions, human rights and feminist organisations internationally to do the same.

As sex workers, we know that we will only win our rights through organising collectively as workers, including in recognised trade unions. That is the way workers in other industries have fought labour exploitation and improved the lives of their members. It is a bitter irony that a government which claims to be socialist and feminist has declared itself opposed to the efforts of sex workers to self-organise and fight for better conditions. Sex workers should be leading the conversation on the issues which affect us directly, not banned from the table.

The template letter of protest below has been drafted by ICRSE, to be sent to Mr Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain. He has personally tweeted that OTRAS’ registration as a union will be revoked.

You can use this form on the Spanish Government website to send the letter: https://escribealpresidente.presidencia.gob.es/formulario

Or tweet at the Prime Minister: https://twitter.com/sanchezcastejon


TEMPLATE LETTER:

For attention of:

Mr Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain

Date

City, Country

Dear Mr Sanchez,

[ insert information about yourself or your organisation here ]

Sex workers in Spain, as in many countries in Europe and globally, are amongst the most marginalised and discriminated against members of society who experience high levels of violence and human rights violations. Whilst European governments may have different views on prostitution or sex work, we are deeply shocked to see that the new socialist government of Spain is seeking to ban the union of sex workers. To our knowledge, the only other country in the region which has refused sex workers’ right to self-organise is Russia[1]. The attempt to invalidate the registration of the sex workers’ union brings shame to the Socialist government of Spain and constitutes a dangerous and harmful breach of human rights law.

The European Convention on Human Rights recognises, under Article 11, the fundamental right to form and to join trade unions, which makes unionisation an established right that applies across the Council of Europe.  Spain has also ratified several international human rights treaties that further recognise the fundamental human right of workers to organise and unionise. Some examples include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which, under Article 22, states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of [their] interests”.   Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes “the right of everyone to form trade unions...for the promotion and protection of [their] economic and social interests.” In addition, the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) further establishes the fundamental rights of workers to organise and notes in Article 4 that workers’ organisations “shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority”, which is precisely what the Spanish government is attempting to do here.  These actions are, therefore, in direct breach of European and international human rights law.

The Government’s actions are being justified on the basis that sex work is illegal in Spain but that is not an accurate description of the legal situation in Spain, where the selling of sexual services is not directly criminalised.  Regardless of the specific legal situation, however, it is crucial that sex workers, a marginalised group of workers, who are often vulnerable to exploitation, be provided with the opportunity to organise and unionise to fight collectively for the protection of their rights and interests.  The International Labour Organisation recognises sex workers as workers as confirmed in the drafting of its Recommendation 200 on HIV/AIDS[2] and the world of work. It was noted that sex workers were absolutely included under the scope of this Recommendation, which applies to “all workers working under all forms or arrangements, and at all workplaces...including...the informal and formal economies” (para 2).

Supporting the organisation and unionisation of sex workers has been recognised by several United Nations agencies as a key element in the fight against HIV (see, for example, the Sex Worker Implementation Tool[3] produced by the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS and UNFPA).  These key UN agencies are joined by countless other human rights organisations including Amnesty International[4], Human Rights Watch[5], the International Lesbian and Gay Association Europe[6] and Transgender Europe[7] in calling for the recognition of sex work as work and the full decriminalisation of sex work.  The importance of sex worker organising was recently evidenced in an extensive study by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women[8], which highlighted how sex worker unions and collectives were key in fighting against exploitation in the sex industry and ensuring that the human, economic, social, political, and labour rights of sex workers are recognised and respected by state and non-state actors.

In Spain sex work isn’t illegal, according to Art.188 of The Spanish penal code. Sex work is broader than “prostitution” and the majority of those modalities are perfectly legal and contribute to Spain’s GDP. However, due to the stigma that comes along with their labour, sex workers can’t find support in the existing Spanish labour unions when they suffer abusive working conditions. In fact states should provide better legal tools to workers in economic sectors that are more liable to vulnerability, like sex work or agriculture, such as for example the abuses suffered by Huelva’s seasonal workers in strawberry farms.

By this letter, we wholeheartedly condemn the recent public announcement from the Spanish Prime Minister to ‘annul’ the Labour Office approval of a sex workers’ union, OTRAS. We demand the recognition and support of OTRAS by the government, trade union congress and other Spanish institutions.

Sincerely,

Name

Organisation

Country

[1] https://www.redumbrellafund.org/sex-workers-stand-russias-discriminatory-draconian-laws/

[2] http://www.ilo.org/ilc/ILCSessions/99thSession/texts/WCMS_142613/lang--en/index.htm

[3] http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/sti/sex_worker_implementation/en/

[4] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/05/amnesty-international-publishes-policy-and-research-on-protection-of-sex-workers-rights/

[5] http://www.nswp.org/timeline/event/human-rights-watch-affirm-support-decriminalisation

[6] https://www.ilga-europe.org/blog/why-we-have-new-policy-lgbti-sex-work

[7] https://tgeu.org/sex-work-policy/

[8] https://www.gaatw.org/resources/publications/941-sex-workers-organising-for-change


Women's Equality Party leader owes sex workers an apology

SWARM, Scot-Pep and National Ugly Mugs are calling for an apology after the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker, publicly dismissed a sex working woman as a “sex bot”.

Walker is surely aware that it is women’s perceived disposability that props up violence. For sex workers this is heightened – and Walker’s comments only add to this stigma. Much is made of the misogynist language used by sex workers’ clients. To hear the leader of the Women’s Equality Party dehumanise us in the same way is truly disturbing.

Hurtful things can be said on all sides of this heated debate. Indeed, the tweet to which Walker responded was, itself, misogynistic – but we would ask the Women’s Equality Party to take into account the vast power inequality in this exchange and the fact that Walker felt it appropriate to share her “sex bot” comment with 33,000 followers. The sex work community must hold itself accountable for the pitfalls of misogynistic rhetoric when it arises. We can simultaneously be self-critical whilst also demanding humanisation. We urge the Women's Equality Party to exercise the same self-reflection.

The same goes for Walker’s comment to another sex worker, who called out her lack of knowledge on the topic, that “As a woman who claims to be doing this from choice you are in a powerful position to help other women who don’t have a choice. Protecting yourself to their cost isn’t ok.”

We would like to unpick this. Firstly, Walker’s inability to distinguish between sex workers’ marketing and their real life situation speaks to a complete lack of understanding of the industry. Her suggestion that a sex worker’s power is somehow equivalent to her own is baffling.

Most importantly though, we would like to draw attention to the view – repeated by many high profile feminists – that sex workers and sex worker-led organisations calling for decriminalisation are doing so at the expense of the exploited. Branding us as “pimps” is a blatant attempt to discredit our voices. Likewise, the suggestion that any man who supports our rights must be a punter is a handy way of discrediting any men who disagree with their opinion, and ensuring that their only opponents are those less privileged than them.

Many of us have encountered violence and exploitation at work. Our more privileged members recognise their position. The idea that sex workers themselves are somehow devoid of empathy for the more marginalised, while comfortably-off politicians and journalists are filled with compassion is bizarre.

We campaign for decriminalisation because it is better for all sex workers, not only a chosen few. When sex workers are arrested for soliciting or brothel-keeping, nobody wins. Sex workers are disproportionately migrants, single mothers, people with illnesses and disabilities, trans people; those who have struggled or been unable to make money in any other way. We imagine a world in which everyone had access to housing and healthcare, in which austerity has ended, in which childcare is free and mothers have the ability to feed their children. We imagine a world with open borders in which no human is “illegal” and under whose conditions trafficking would not flourish.

What we do not believe is that increased police powers and enforcement against sex workers is the way to bring this about. Criminalising any aspect of the sex industry does nothing to end poverty or give migrants better options for work.

For as long as we sell sex, we should be able to do so as safely as possible. Decriminalisation won’t make the world a perfect place but it will mean we can work together in safety, that we can screen our clients and that the deep stigma which makes our lives seem worthless will lessen.

We are calling on the Women’s Equality Party to acknowledge and apologise for the careless and dangerous message espoused by its leader last night. While sex workers are viewed as nothing more than “sex bots”, no wonder we are such easy targets.