It is, I guess, not unusual to hear bad news these days but this week I heard news that truly shocked me. This was the death, at the scandalously early age of 39, of Laura Lee. Laura had acquired a significant profile over that last couple of years as an articulate and determined sex workers rights activist both in Great Britain and in Ireland, where both Northern Ireland and the Republic have recently introduced laws to criminalise the purchase of sex, both, incidentally, without lifting existing criminal sanctions against the sex workers themselves despite this being part of the sales pitch for the so-called Nordic model which politicians claimed as their inspiration.
I never met Laura. But I came across her back in 2012 when I started blogging and tweeting and stumbled across the debates raging in Scotland over the attempt by MSP Rhoda Grant to introduce a criminlisation law north of the Border. Laura was prominent in this battle as, although originally from Dublin, she lived in western Scotland (hence her Twitter handle @glasgaelauralee),and so I discovered her on social media and we soon followed each other on Twitter, became friends on Facebook and we chatted quite a bit about the various issues.
I blogged a lot on sex work in those days. I don’t really write much now as I have said all that I had to say and where more needs to be said, there are many others better placed than me to say it. Nonetheless I am FB friends with a number of sex workers and activists from around the world and really value my little online sex work community. Laura was very much part of that
Laura was about to fight her biggest battle yet, to get the criminalisation law in Northern Ireland, (introduced two years ago on the initiative of Lord Morrow of the DUP and against the advice of the Police Service of Northern Ireland) overturned as a breach of the ECHR. Sadly she did not live to see the outcome of that fight.
Those who knew and love her will grieve as they must. Those who did not know her in person will be saddened. But all of us who value the safety of vulnerable women, all of us who value policy based on evidence and not on ideology, all of us who believe in the bodily autonomy of women, must fight on.
None of us, and least all Laura, would ever say that sex work is never exploitative, that many sex workers would not prefer to make their living in other ways, that many want and need exit strategies. What we do say is that the way to make life better, safer, for sex workers, those who want out as much as those who want to remain, is to remove criminal sanctions, to get the state out of all our beds. Continuing the struggle for this is the way to honour the memory of Laura Lee.
Rest in Power.