New Zealand took a big step in 2003 by decriminalising prostitution. The English Collective of Prostitutes is fighting for the same status in England.
Poverty and the recent economic crisis forces hundreds of women to work in the sex industry in order to earn money to support their families, to save them from going hungry or even to pay for education, due to costly fees and government cutbacks.
However, the situation that many of these women face is complicated and dangerous because of the violence, abuse and rape inflicted on them by some customers.
Given this situation, the English Collective of Prostitutes is calling for a decriminalisation of their profession, as part of a solution to the problem.
Members of the New Zealand Parliament passed the law, endorsed by Labour politician Tim Barnett, with 60 votes in favour and 59 against, much to the delight of workers and supporters alike.
The law has set in place a legal framework for the sex industry, and the country became the first to decriminalise the world’s oldest profession.
One of the aims of the decriminalisation is that names are no longer recorded on a police register, and therefore will not be permanently linked to prostitution. This will provide greater privacy and security for women in this line of work.
Furthermore, decriminalisation means that sex workers can refuse any sexual practices that they do not want to take part in, choose whether to accept clients or not, set prices and, in the case of brothel workers, establish rules.
New Zealand’s experience only confirms that this measure gives prostitutes more power to deal with problematic or violent situations, without running the risk of being accused of criminal activity themselves when the police arrive.
Previously, not only would the police not help a prostitute who sought assistance after being raped or abused, they would also treat her like a criminal, instead of trying to catch the rapist,who is the real criminal.
Above all, the fact that prostitution is no longer considered a crime means that not only will these women stop being arrested and prosecuted; it also keeps them safer, defends their rights and ensures their health.
At the last sex workers’ meeting, held in Sydney, Australia, women who work as prostitutes claimed that thanks to decriminalisation, they now feel able to report abuse whereas before they didn’t trust the police.
The fact that information about these women is kept on record means that the fact that they were once prostitutes can never be forgotten should they wish to change careers. Once the record is written, it stays on file in a criminal record. Following decriminalisation, sex workers have the power. “Their work cannot be used against them because they have rights as well,” says Niki Adams, a representative from the English Collective of Prostitutes.
Similarly, Adams notes that now, “when politicians, academics and the media talk about prostitution, they have to talk about New Zealand and decriminalisation.” This is a step forward. And the point of all this is to fight poverty.
Indeed, this is one of the realities associated with sex workers. “A large number of women, many of them mothers, are living in despair and have to choose between poverty, or begging and prostitution. This is what is happening in Kenya, for example. This is the international reality of prostitution,” adds Niki Adams.
For example, Sheila Farmer decided to engage in prostitution in the early 90s so that she could afford to raise her son as a single mother.
Sheila, who decided to work that way because it was safer, also supports the decriminalisation of prostitution. “No one, not the police, nor anyone else, has the right to judge what I do or tell me that I’m a criminal. I’m not a second-class citizen,” says Sheila.
One of the arguments used to ban the world’s oldest profession is the argument that it generates exploitation, abuse and trafficking.
However, this is a situation which occurs in other professions as well, such as domestic workers.
The group also notes that the solution to the problem isn’t to criminalise clients who pay money in exchange for sex either, because such measures further conceal this profession, making it more difficult to protect prostitutes.
This creates a greater danger and further stigmatizes the profession. Banning their profession is, therefore, not a solution.
With this in mind, a recent initiative from the European Women’s Lobby aims to “free” Europe from prostitution, to which the English Collective of Prostitutes replies: “Are we any less degraded when we sell sex than when we skip meals, or have to beg to feed our children, when we live with a violent partner in order to keep a roof over our heads, or when we work over 40 hours a week for £5 an hour and it’s still not enough to pay the bills?”
(Translated by Marie-Thérèse Slorach – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)