SWARM Response To The Scottish Government’s Equally Safe Consultation

Sex workers demonstrate outside a parlimentary debate in London on the 4th July 2018, to protest discussion of a UK version of FOSTA (A US law that criminalises the advertising of sex work on the internet) and to draw attention to their campaign to fully decriminalise sex work.

The Scottish Government is running a consultation on ‘challenging men’s demand for prostitution, working to reduce the harms associated with prostitution and helping women to exit’, which closes on Thursday 10 December 2020.

It is clear that the Scottish Government intends to introduce client criminalisation or the “Nordic Model” in Scotland despite all international evidence of its harms, and the vocal protests of sex workers in Scotland.

We urge all sex workers and allies to respond to the consultation using Scot Pep’s guide. Below is SWARM’s response in full.

Question 1: Do You Agree Or Disagree That The Scottish Government’s Approach To Tackling Prostitution, As Outlined In This Section, Is Sufficient To Prevent Violence Against Women And Girls?

SWARM agrees without hesitation on the clear correlation between systemic gender inequality and violence against women and girls. However we know from lived experience that classifying prostitution as de facto ‘violence against women’ is counterproductive to sex workers’ safety.

Selling sex can be dangerous for a number of reasons: the same misogyny which leaves women dead and injured at the hands of male partners every year; the stigma of being a ‘prostitute’; criminalisation. Not one of these dangers is reduced by the Scottish Government’s current strategy.

Telling sex workers there is no difference between a safe client and a client who subjects us to violence is a frightening obstruction of reality. If we’re told that every encounter is violent then how are we able to speak out about the real violence we face? According to a 2020 report by the Scottish Government: “Feeling stigmatised was a recurrent theme for lack of engagement [by sex workers] with mainstream support services.”[1] This unsurprising pattern has been demonstrated repeatedly (see reports by Amnesty International [2], UNAids [3], Royal College of Nursing [4]). While sex work is stigmatised, the barriers to accessing both support services and criminal justice are huge. And what greater stigma exists than criminalisation? If paying for sex became illegal our bodies become the scenes of a crime.

Worryingly, to be granted funding, women’s sector organisations must be publicly in agreement with the Scottish Government’s definition of prostitution as an inherent form of violence against women.

On an immediate level, far from making sex workers’ lives safer, the Scottish Government’s current strategy causes demonstrable harm. While brothels are criminalised, sex workers must choose between legally working alone or working with a friend for safety and risking arrest. Sex workers who work outdoors risk arrest for soliciting and must also navigate their clients’ fear of arrest for kerb-crawling. The less time women have to negotiate, the less safety measures we are able to put in place. For many, the ongoing cycle of arrests and costly fines makes it impossible to leave prostitution.

According to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, there were 30,718 domestic abuse charges reported in 2019-20.[5] Criminalising a source of income to which women are increasingly forced to turn will do nothing to alleviate the epic scale of male violence against women.

Furthermore, there is a serious conflict between the Scottish Government’s goal of trafficking for sexual exploitation and current immigration policy. Migrant women involved in prostitution are targeted by police for immigration enforcement, making it much harder for them to come forward to report violence or exploitation in confidence that they will be treated as victims and not as immigration offenders. They also frequently have no or limited recourse to public funds, and so lack the opportunity to access state support if they want to stop or reduce their sex working. This increases their vulnerability to violence and exploitation. The National Referral Mechanism is completely inadequate at providing victims of trafficking with the resources they need to avoid destitution such as housing and a living income, or with safe routes to asylum or permanent residence if they do not wish to be deported. Improving the material support given to victims of trafficking ought to be the priority.

  1. Scottish Government (2020), ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls’, https://www.gov.scot/publications/domestic-abuse-forms-violence-against-women-girls-vawg-during-covid-19-lockdown-period-30-3-20-22-05-20/
  2. Amnesty International (2016), ‘Amnesty International Policy on State Obligations to Respect, Protect and Fulfil the Human Rights of Sex Workers’, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/POL3040622016ENGLISH.PDF
  3. UNAIDS (2017), ‘Protecting the Rights of Sex Workers’, https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/featurestories/2017/june/20170602_sexwork
  4. Royal College of Nursing (2019), ‘Debate: Decriminalisation of prostitution’, https://www.rcn.org.uk/congress/what-happened-at-congress-2019/1-Decriminalisation-of-prostitution
  5. Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (2020), ‘Domestic Abuse and Stalking charges in Scotland, 2019-2020’, https://www.copfs.gov.uk/media-site-news-from-copfs/1902-domestic-abuse-and-stalking-charges-in-scotland-2019-20

Question 2: What Are Your Observations As To The Impact Of The Coronavirus Outbreak On Women Involved In Prostitution In Scotland?

Many sex workers were starting to feel the effects of the pandemic on their income a few weeks before the first national lockdown, back in early March 2020 – as clients became nervous of COVID transmission and bookings slowed. SWARM has members across the UK, including Scotland, and we witnessed a lot of panic and fears of financial precarity among sex workers during this time. In response, we launched a hardship fund to get emergency grants to sex workers in crisis on 20th March. By June 30th 2020 we had managed to give one-off grants to 1,255 individual UK-based sex workers of £200 each, through money raised from public donations.[1] Volunteers working on this fund (who were all current or former sex workers ourselves) spoke directly to these sex workers claiming from the fund and also to many outreach services working across the UK – so we gained a clear, on-the-ground picture of the impact of the pandemic.

We witnessed a huge amount of panic, anxiety and impoverishment among sex workers due to loss of income during the pandemic. It was a condition of application to our hardship fund that recipients did not have savings to draw on, so the sex workers we spoke to were all at immediate risk of financial crisis and potential destitution. They were extremely worried about how to pay rent and bills, how to buy food for their families and how to buy essential items. We spoke to many sex workers who used top-up prepayment electricity meters and so could not heat their homes or cook when they ran out and didn’t have money to top up. 

Due to high levels of stigma, seeking support from official channels is very stressful to sex workers. Because of the criminalisation of some aspects of sex work (e.g. soliciting, working indoors with another person under ‘brothel keeping’) many sex workers are wary that making themselves visible to authorities will lead to prosecution or police raids on their home. Additionally, sex workers may be worried that they will be reported to HMRC if they have not declared their sex work income, to children’s social services if they have children, or to immigration enforcement if they are a migrant. Many sex workers want to keep their sex work private – from their landlord for fear of eviction, from other people in the community for fear of stigma, and sometimes from other household members. There is huge distrust that authorities will keep information about sex work confidential. 

Women working in massage parlours and other managed indoor premises lost all their income overnight when their workplaces shut during lockdown. These workers are often classed as self employed, and so could not benefit from the furlough scheme. However, they also struggled to prove their self employed status to gain access to the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. Many independent sex workers and those working informally – especially the most precarious – were likewise unable to access this scheme due to lack of paperwork.

Sex workers applying for Universal Credit for the first time during lockdown found the process very inaccessible and stressful, with long waits for payments and inadequate payments to cover rent and basic living expenses. Migrant sex workers are often not eligible for benefits at all (no recourse to public funds) or do not have the paperwork required to apply for what they should be entitled to claim.  

Therefore many sex workers claiming our hardship fund found themselves trapped with a sudden reduction in income and severe obstacles to claiming state support. It’s not a hyperbole to say the impact has been catastrophic. Transitioning out of sex work to other employment is very difficult for sex workers even during normal economic times – in the middle of a recession and high unemployment, the barriers are even higher.

Given how incredibly disruptive and immiserating the sudden loss of income during the pandemic has been to women involved in prostitution, we are astonished and horrified that the Scottish Government is considering enacting legislation which attempts to cause a further loss of income to these same women by “ending demand”. We have just seen what a sudden drop in ‘demand’ does and the effects on sex workers are panic, extreme stress, destitution and increased risk-taking due to desperation.

  1. Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (2020), ‘How We Ran A Mutual Aid Fund’, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58cea5cf197aea5216413671/t/5f3bfd8e95eb430ba8d5463b/1597767057163/SHFR_2020_Final.pdf

Question 3 – Which Of The Policy Approaches (Or Aspects Of These) Outlined In Table 3.1 Do You Believe Is Most Effective In Preventing Violence Against Women And Girls?

The harms of sex work are inextricably bound up with its criminalisation, including (but not limited to) gender based violence, criminal records, fines, evictions, deportations, expulsion from communities and barriers to accessing healthcare. Therefore, the policy approach most effective in reducing harms against people who sell sex is full decriminalisation.

In practice, this would mean the removal of laws that penalise selling sex outdoors and selling collectively in pairs or groups (“brothel keeping”). Decriminalisation of these activities would address two major drivers of harm: the fines and criminal records that lock women into prostitution, and also the increased exposure to rape, assault and robbery that women experience when they work alone to avoid police attention (whether in the streets or indoors).

Decriminalisation means that the purchase of sex, whether indoors or outdoors, is also legal. Such a measure would be to reduce harms against people who sell sex, not a protection to benefit buyers. Policies that prohibit the purchase of sex (outlined in the table as ‘Prohibitionism’) drive significant harms against women in prostitution. These harms are present when these policies succeed in their stated aims (to reduce the incidence of the purchase of sex) but the harms are present even when the policy fails.

When the policy fails in its stated aims, and men continue to buy sex, they do so under risk of survelliance and criminal penalty. However, because buying sex is not a necessity for their survival and they can walk away whenever they like, they are able to have this risk borne significantly by the seller. As the party who needs the transaction more urgently, it is incumbent upon the seller to ‘absorb’ this risk by protecting the client, doing business in clandestine locations, rushing negotiations, and compromising safety measures (such as photographing a car license plate with a phone) that could feasibly spell extra danger for the buyer. This phenomenon happens as soon as such laws are brought in – as soon as buyers have a sense of their own risk they use it against sex workers.[1]  

In some cases, the law will in fact effectively deter some buyers – this is explicitly stated to be the goal of ‘end demand’ style laws; fewer transactions taking place. The fewer clients there are, the more each remaining buyer is able to pressure the ‘bearing’ of risk on the part of the sex worker. This phenomenon is part of what is termed a ‘buyers market’ and can lead to sellers offering riskier sexual services in order to secure business that is suddenly more precarious. This phenomenon is even observed on page 12 of the ‘Equally Safe: A consultation on challenging men’s demand…’ report.

Decriminalisation would also mean repealing laws that criminalise third parties such as managers. This suggestion is often misunderstood in policy debates as a gesture of alliance – a protective measure on behalf of exploitative bosses, ‘pimps’ and traffickers. This is not the case. When a woman sells sex with the involvement of a criminalised third party, she again shoulders the burden of that criminalisation directly. If a client attacks her, she cannot go to the police without risking the safety of the third party. If the workplace is a brothel and there are exploitative practices, the only recourse will lead immediately to the full closure of the workplace and criminal proceedings against the manager. If the exploitative environment is within the context of a domestic relationship, the only recourse will lead immediately to the arrest of a partner. This, paradoxically, means that the power of managers can be strengenthened by their own criminalisation, because it is often ‘passed along’ to the person selling sex, whose objective then becomes to protect the manager’s or partner’s safety and security as her own.

There are only two examples of policies in the world where decriminalisation forms the basis of prostitution law. One of these is New Zealand, where street-based sex workers can work with groups of friends, in brightly lit, central areas of their choosing, without fearing police will arrest them or their clients. A public health researcher comments that sex workers in New Zealand ‘now feel more able to work … in well-lit, safer places’. Sex worker Claire says that prior to decriminalisation ‘we were in the darkest places … just real shady’ and contrasts this to the present, where ‘it changed … a lot of us had to hide before then’.[2]

Indoor sex workers can work with friends from a shared flat as an informal co-operative without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops or fear raids or arrest. Both indoor and outdoor workers can communicate clearly and directly with clients regarding services, condom use, and money, without having to rush or use euphemisms. Managers are accountable to labour laws designed to protect sex workers, and reporting a manager will not mean the loss of an entire workplace and job. To be able to work indoors with friends without fearing arrest adds to a worker’s power in their relationship with their manager. Ultimately, if they need to, the worker can leave and work with friends. This power is reflected in the data: since New Zealand implemented decriminalisation, fewer people are working for managers; more are working in shared flats with friends.[3] (Managers even complain about this.[4]) When working together is criminalised, predators can use the threat of arrest against workers. In contrast, workers in New Zealand’s small co-op workplaces are not vulnerable to violent men using the law against them in this way. As a worker in this set-up commented ‘I feel more confident now I know I’ve got rights … there’s no fear now of being caught by police. It was difficult when I was younger. I felt like a criminal, and was less assertive.’[5] 90% of street-based sex workers interviewed for a review of New Zealand’s decriminalisation policy (in place since 2003) told researchers that they felt the law meant they had employment rights.[6] Another 90% felt they had occupational health and safety rights whilst 96% said they felt they had legal rights.

If prostitution is understood to be a survival behaviour that responds to poverty (and this fact is reflected several times in the ‘Equally Safe; A consultation on challenging men’s demand…’ document, for example on pages 12 and 20) then decriminalisation as a policy takes into account that many women undoubtedly will sell sex in times of financial hardship. Decriminalisation acknowledges this, and refuses to see such harms as collateral. It seeks to reduce these harms against women who sell sex, rather than exacerbating them as a longer-term deterrent. 

  1.  Jay Levy, Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden, Oxford, UK: Routledge, 2015 
  2.  Armstrong, L. (2011), ‘Managing risks of violence in decriminalised street-based sex work: A feminist (sex workers’ rights) perspective’, Victoria University of Wellington (PhD Thesis), available at core.ac.uk/download/pdf/41338266.pdf 
  3. Abel, G., Fitzgerald, L. and Brunton, C. (2009), ‘The impact of decriminalisation on the number of sex workers in New Zealand’, Journal of Social Policy 8:3, 515–31; Miller, C. 
  4.  New Zealand Ministry of Justice (2008), ‘Report Of The Prostitution Law Review Committee On The Operation Of The Prostitution Reform Act 2003’, report available at prostitutescollective.net, 38.
  5.  Mossman, E. and Mayhew, P. (2007), ‘Key Informant Interviews Review of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003’, New Zealand Ministry of Justice, chezstella.org/docs/NZ-KeyInformantInterviews.pdf
  6.  Abel, G., Fitzgerald, L. and Brunton, C. (2007), ‘The impact of the Prostitution Reform Act on the health and safety practices of sex workers: Report to the Prostitution Law Review Committee’, report, University of Otago, otago.ac.nz, 139.

Question 4. What Measures Would Help To Shift The Attitudes Of Men Relating To The Purchase Of Sex? Do You Have Any Examples Of Good Practice Either In A Domestic Or An International Context?

The sex industry is unarguably gendered and many sex workers in our network would agree that sexism and entitlement are among the reasons that men feel comfortable paying for sex. However these debates are secondary to the very real, material conditions which sex workers face every day. Even under the harshest forms of criminalisation (for example, in the US, where both buying and selling sex is criminalised) prostitution has not disappeared. We should be asking how conditions can be made safer for those involved, what would prevent women from needing to sell sex in the first place and what is needed for those who wish to exit the industry.

Marriage and intimate partner relationships remain the place in which women are at most risk from men. Studies which showcase male attitudes to sex workers, such as the Melissa Farley-led report quoted in this consultation, reveal no shocks. That men talk about women in a derogatory fashion is not news. No doubt similar studies into men’s attitudes towards marriage or dating would likewise be horrifying.

Sex workers’ increased vulnerability to violence is the result of stigma. Sex workers are seen as soiled, members of the most despised workforce on earth. While sex workers are so vilified, no wonder we are treated as disposable.

There was grim cause for celebration this year at the death of ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ Peter Sutcliffe and a chance to revisit the words of the former Attorney General, QC at the 1981 trial, who said of Sutcliffe’s victims: “Some were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not. The last six attacks were on totally respectable women.” Legislation which adds to this stigma will only perpetuate violence.

We call on the Scottish Government to listen to women who are actually involved in prostitution – if we really are the intended beneficiaries of policy reform. We are calling for our jobs to be decriminalised so that we can work safely and so we have recourse to services and to the justice system. We need access to money, affordable childcare and housing. Existing criminal records for prostitution must be expunged so that we can find other work without encountering the prejudice of employers.

To talk about anything other than sex workers’ material needs reveals the great privilege of distance. It is superfluous to our immediate lives. 

The notion of a dysfunctional male sexual attitude that might be corrected or disciplined is a somewhat salacious and distracting one, and sex workers often see this idea used to slide material concerns about sex workers’ economic hardships out of sight into the background.

Promoting education about the links between sexual consent and economic inequality is a worthwhile goal in any feminist society, but on a day-to-day basis, it is far from the most urgent question pertaining to the material conditions of people who sell sex, and it’s meaningless if such inequality itself is left to fester. Are sex workers to feel ‘empowered’ by the prospect of starvation or homelessness in a Scottish society full of men who are gentle, feminist lovers and who adhere to a ‘cultural taboo’ against buying sex?

Having labour rights and recourse to justice, coupled with ample freedom to select from a number of clients, however, is a key issue for sex workers that deserves attention. It’s important to remember that a woman engaging in prostitution will often select any client – even an unpleasant or dangerous one – over eviction or seeing her children hungry, and so therefore lack of choice or increased destitution is a huge factor in how often we will be exposed to gender based violence. A campaign of education for boys and men that rests on the ideological framework of ‘ending demand’ will at best, fail and waste resources, and at worst, succeed, wreaking the same forms of violence on sex workers that are detailed in the answer given for Question 3 – you cannot starve or smoke a sex worker out of their income in a feminist way. 

Finally, we note with irony and frustration how easy it can be, even for fellow feminists, to fall into the trap of devoting more attention to men’s needs than women’s. The mere fact that two questions of this consultation are dedicated to the issue of how to provide better education for men, and no questions are devoted to the significant hurdles that will be faced in financing effective exit services is telling, and suggests Scottish policymakers are not aware of the mistakes made in Sweden they must seek to avoid. (One policy worker from the Swedish women’s NGO sector comments: ‘If [the prostitution law] was supposed to help those women, then you would also have a huge programme, a social programme for them, which was never introduced.’ A senior government advisor on prostitution comments: ‘The government should have known that they’ve done nothing, absolutely nothing to improve social services for people who sell sex, and they haven’t given a penny to the municipalities’).[1]

  1. Dr Jay Levy, Criminalising the Purchase of Sex, p189

Question 6. How Can The Different Needs Of Women Involved In Prostitution (In Terms Of Their Health And Wellbeing) Be Better Recognised In The Provision Of Mainstream Support?

The number one concern in accessing healthcare or other support is confidentiality. Can a sex worker trust that a service will keep the fact she is a sex worker confidential from police and immigration enforcement? Without being able to trust in the confidentiality of the service, many sex workers will not engage at all. 

One of the main reasons sex workers are wary of accessing services is due to fear that their information will be passed on to police or immigration enforcement. Under a client criminalisation model this distrust will increase – the only way to build better trust and engagement with services is under a decriminalisation model where sex workers can feel confident that accessing services will not lead to a workplace raid or outdoor crackdown which deprives us of our income.

It is highly concerning that sex worker led non-profit organisations in Scotland like Scot Pep and Umbrella Lane find themselves shut out of policy discussions and service partnerships – meaning that opportunities for consultation with sex workers are missed. These non-profit organisations, as well as SWARM, are providing vital peer-led mutual aid to sex workers in Scotland and have much knowledge to contribute to improving mainstream service design to better cater for sex workers’ needs.

Many of our members have also reported particularly poor experiences access mental health support, due to lack of access to affordable therapy and lack of understanding of sex work among counsellors and therapists. 

As well as confidentiality and firewalling from the criminal justice and immigration system, good health and wellbeing services for sex workers need to be designed with co-production or extensive consultation of the service users themselves. It takes a long time for services to build trust among the sex work community and that trust can quickly be eroded when staff have judgmental attitudes, ask intrusive questions or seem to be gathering information to pass to police. Our members frequently report poor and even humiliating experiences accessing services when they need to disclose that they are sex working. 

Question 7. In Your Opinion, Drawing On Any International Or Domestic Examples, What Programmes Or Initiatives Best Supports Women To Safely Exit Prostitution?

When accessing any service, sex workers need to know first and foremost that it is confidential and non-stigmatised. As mentioned in the Equally Safe consultation paper, “feeling stigmatised was a recurrent theme for lack of engagement with mainstream support services”.[1] What’s more, many sex workers may have insecure immigration status and won’t access services if they fear disclosure of their sex work will be passed on to immigration enforcement.

As noted in the Equally Safe consultation paper, exiting is a complex process and women are likely to re-enter sex work at various times in their life due to a lack of other employment options and / or financial hardship. The main barriers to exit are “financial reasons and a lack of choice, with poverty being the main driver”.[2] If financial hardship is one of the main barriers to exiting, and criminalising clients makes sex workers poorer by removing some of their clients, it is clear that criminalising clients is a barrier to helping them exit sex work. Sex workers must be given adequate financial support to exit.

Stigma is another huge barrier to accessing services. Amnesty International reports that criminalising sex work acts as “a driver of ongoing stigmatization” and “compounds the perception” of sex workers as “criminal and unwanted”.[3] In Norway, this stigma was not evenly distributed and Oslo police admitted to focusing “exclusively on foreign prostitutes”.[4] Criminalising clients actively impedes the ability of women – particularly migrant women – to exit sex work by increasing the stigma they feel and experience.

Any programme or initiative that aims to support women exiting sex work must be designed with co-production or extensive consultation of the service users themselves. Amnesty International advises that services for sex workers should involve the “meaningful participation and consultation of sex workers, including, in particular current sex workers”.[5] Sex workers are best placed to recognise what support they need to exit and whether they even wish to do so.

The need of sex workers wishing to exit can be best met by peer-led, well-funded support services. Women experiencing financial precarity need access to secure housing, emotional support, financial support, and secure employment options. 

Services work best when they work with women who wish to exit at their own pace, and do not pressure them to quit selling sex as a precondition of support. A clear example of Good Practice is Basis Yorkshire’s Housing First pilot for female sex workers in Leeds. We strongly recommend that the Scottish Government explore this model of delivering sex worker support, rather than a criminal justice-led model.[6] 

  1. Scottish Government (2020), ‘Equally Safe – challenging men’s demand for prostitution: consultation’, https://www.gov.scot/publications/equally-safe-consultation-challenging-mens-demand-prostitution-working-reduce-harms-associated-prostitution-helping-women-exit/
  2. Equally Safe consultation paper
  3. Amnesty International (2016), ‘Norway: The human cost of ‘crushing’ the market: criminalization of sex work in Norway’, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur36/4034/2016/en/
  4. ‘Norway: The human cost of ‘crushing’ the market’
  5. Amnesty International (2016), ‘Amnesty International Policy on State Obligations to Respect, Protect and Fulfil the Human Rights of Sex Workers’, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/POL3040622016ENGLISH.PDF
  6. The project evaluation can be found at: https://basisyorkshire.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Basis-Housing-First-Final-Report-March-2018.pdf

Question 8. Support services are primarily focussed within four of Scotland’s main cities – Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow – how can the needs of women throughout Scotland who are engaged in prostitution be met, noting that prostitution is not solely an urban issue?

Women selling sex outside of urban areas can be particularly isolated and cut-off from support services. These might be mental health services, drug and alcohol, sexual health or other support services. High travel costs, poor transport infrastructure and restricted opening hours all make it hard to access city-located services.

Sexual health services which offer confidential home STI testing by post are really valued by sex workers who are able to access them. Online appointments for counselling and support casework are also possible and convenient for some sex workers. However some sex workers will always prefer an in-person appointment or require it due to access barriers and so this needs to remain an option – online and by-post services shouldn’t be used as a replacement. 

Question 9 – If There Are Any Further Comments You Would Like To Make, Which Have Not Been Addressed In The Questions Above, Please Use The Space Below To Provide More Detail.

Sex workers in SWARM are dismayed by this consultation, so obviously designed without consulting any women who are currently selling sex. It is wildly disingenuous to set out with such biased terms yet still claim neutrality and a desire to understand the reality of sex workers’ situation in Scotland. It’s clear that this ‘consultation’ is merely a formality, a box to be ticked on the path to client criminalisation.

Women’s experiences in sex work are as varied as the women themselves. No one can claim that all prostitution is ‘violence against women’, just as no one can claim that prostitution is never violent or dangerous. The obliteration of nuance is deeply revealing as to the consultation authors’ distance from the industry.

We know that criminalising any part of this work makes our lives harder. We do not want our bodies to become the de facto scenes of a crime; our bodies which, by virtue of being women, are already seen as disposable, more deserving of violence. The more entrenched stigma becomes, the greater this risk. Those behind any legislation which increases stigma will, quite literally, have blood on their hands.

Many, many women would dearly love to leave sex work. It’s a job which can bring the freedom of quick money and flexible hours but it is frequently a last resort. We need easy access to benefits, affordable childcare, housing, and an immigration system that does not leave us destitute. Taking away one of our few avenues of survival leaves many of us with nowhere to turn.

SWARM joins every other current sex worker-led organisation on the planet in calling for full decriminalisation. We strongly believe that the Scottish Government’s plans to criminalise clients is dangerous and misguided. 

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