I reproduce below an exchange of e-mails I have had with Gavin Shuker MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution, which was behind the much criticised information gathering survey to which some of those reading this may have replied. It doesn’t give much confidence that the Group will be prepared to listen to those who want to stop the criminalisation band wagon in its tracks. Note that he addresses me by my first name. I’m old enough to be his mother!
- APPG enquiry
To: Gavin Shuker
Dear Mr. Shuker,
Thank you for your reply. I have to say I find it odd that you do not know what the term ‘prostitute’ means since it occurs in your Group’s terms of reference!
There are two points in your e-mail I wish to pick up. Firstly my comment about the term ‘prostituted women’ is far from a debating point. It is fundamental to the whole debate on sex work. It is not a neutral term and, I think, inappropriate for an objective information gathering exercise. The reason is that it has connotations of coercion. I know that some organisations (Ruhama in Ireland being a good example) have been vigorously promoting the view that women sex workers are all victims of coercion but frequent repetition of an untruth does not make it true.
I am not a sex worker (although I have been a client , yes, as a woman) but I have had discussions with a number of sexworkers and have contact with many more via social media. One of my best friends is a professional dominatrix. Whilst the services she offers her clients explicitly exclude sexual intercourse she would be classified as a sex worker for the purposes of most legislative definitions that I am aware of. The picture of sex workers as coerced or, as you put it, ‘prostituted’ is not one that they or I recognise. Clearly some women are coerced into sex work (as some are coerced into domestic service, farm labour, cockle picking etc) but I have no reason to believe that they are typical. I ask the question again – why do your definitions exclude men? There are male sex workers, fewer than women admittedly, and some of them may have been trafficked or coerced. Why are you not concerned with their fate?
Secondly I must challenge the assumption that demand for paid sexual services is something that needs to be tackled. Why does it need to be tackled? This is something that needs to be demonstrated not assumed. Your survey assumes it and is one of a number of reasons why I, and and many others, have no confidence in the objectivity and impartiality of your Group’s work. The fact that you have accepted funding from CARE who are vociferous advocates of the so-called Nordic model does not inspire confidence either.
Gavin Shuker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Eve Ray
Thanks for getting in touch and allow me to apologise for the time it has taken to reply.
You asked about the terms ‘prostitute’ and ‘prostitution’. The call for evidence doesn’t seek to define these terms to enable individuals and groups to make their submission based on their own understanding of these terms. Similarly, with the term ‘those who create demand’.
I’m taking your reference to ‘prostituted women’ as a debating point. The group’s focus is primarily though not exclusively on women involved with prostitution, as the numerical bias in the trade is towards women. I think this speaks to your point five too.
We have received and taken evidence on exit from a wide number of individuals and groups with direct experience of prostitution.
You have concerns about Care and the practical support they offer the group as its secretariat. The Inquiry is led by and will reflect the opinions of the Members of Parliament and Peers who sit on the committee; editorial control will rest with them.
Finally, you refer to an information gathering survey. We published a call for evidence in January to which hundreds have responded. This evidence has helped us to identify participants for further oral evidence sessions, which will conclude shortly.
Dear Mr. Shuker,
I am writing to you in your capacity as Chair of the All Party Working Group on Prostitution. I have a number of questions relating to the Group’s Terms Of Reference and would be interested to hear your answers. For convenience I have numbered these:
1. How does the Group define the terms ‘prostitute’ and ‘prostitution.’ I think we can assume it includes women providing paid sexual services for men. Does it include any or all of the following?
Women providing sexual services for other women
Men providing sexual services whether for women or men
Women providing paid domination services (known as ‘dominatrices’ or ‘pro-dommes’) whether to men. women or couples.
Men providing paid domination services whether to women or men
Professional submissives (some of whom call themselves ‘spankees’)
2. The terms of reference refer to tackling individuals who create demand. What does this mean? How do you distinguish between those who ‘create’ demand and those who ‘meet’ demand? Please provide examples of instances known to you of individuals who have created or are creating demand for sexual services that would not otherwise be there.
3. The terms of reference talk of helping ‘prostituted women.’ The use of a past participle implies that these woman have had something done to them to make them prostitutes, in other words that they are not prostitutes by choice. Does this term apply to all women involved in sex work or just some? If the latter what proportion of women are ‘prostituted.’? Why do the Group’s terms of reference not extend to male sex workers, some of whom may also have been forced into prostitution?
4. With regard to exit strategies is the Group considering wider economic issues? If women leave the sex industry they need other ways to earn a living and alternative employment is not easy to find in the current climate. Is the Group in contact with any of the sex workers’ self-help groups that offer assistance to those that wish to leave the industry?
5. The Group aims to prevent girls entering the industry. Why not boys?
6. Do you not consider that the neutrality and independence of the Group are compromised by receiving financial support from CARE?
7. Who designed the information gathering survey currently online? Do you not consider that this contains leading questions and implicit assumptions regarding the nature of sex work that are, in fact, matters to be determined by evidence.
I look forward to hearing from you,