Asserted Not Demonstrated

Once upon a time there was a university lecturer who scribbled AND in the margins of his students’ essays. This stood for ‘Asserted not Demonstrated’ and was a sign of the importance he attached to structure argument supported by facts, in other words to intellectual rigour.

Last week Rhoda Grant MSP published the results of the consultation on her proposal to criminalise the purchase of sex in Scotland. Her headline was that 80% of respondents were in favour of the proposal. The individual responses can be seen by visiting . That is to say most of them can as a number of omissions have been identified. It has been claimed that these omissions are mainly submission opposing criminalisation.   Notwithstanding this I had a look through and ;picked out what seemed a representative sample. My thoughts are that quantity and quality are not the same thing and that a certain long retired academic would be writing AND until his arm ached.

Leaving out the responses that just said ‘I agree’ and nothing more, most of the responses in favour did not engage seriously with the issues but simply asserted the assumptions on which Rhoda Grant’s case is based. There are three main assumptions:

Where prostitution exists there can be no gender equality.

The majority of prostitutes are coerced into undertaking sex work.

Sexual intercourse with a prostitute constitutes sexual assault. .

The first point does not make clear whether prostitution is a cause or a result of gender inequality. This is important since, if it is the latter, criminalising the purchase of sex can do nothing to promote equality. If the former it is surely only one cause of many and by no means the most significant,  particularly given the relatively small percentage of the population that either provides or uses paid sexual services. Are there no more important battles to fight?

The second point is not supported by available evidence. Rhoda is not, however, interested in this as she has, as she said in her TV debate with Laura Lee, extended the definition of coercion to include all women who engage in sex work through economic necessity. The problem with this, of course, is that, on this logic, most workers in most jobs are coerced, including those, probably women, who clean her office at Holyrood. .She has rendered the word ‘coercion’ meaningless and, in doing so, done a great disservice to those who are genuinely coerced into sex work by blurring the definition of consent. There is no logic in arguing that a woman’s consent to sex is automatically invalidated because she receives an envelope full of cash before getting into bed.  Sadly, logic is not Rhoda’s strong suit.

The third point follows from the second. We do not, therefore, need to say too much about it except to ;point to more muddled thinking. If you accept the second point you must logically accept that paid for sexual intercourse is not just analogous to rape, you have to accept that it is rape. Rhoda is not prepared to follow her own logic, since she seeks views on appropriate penalties. If you think it’s rape then why seek views? The punishment for rape is set down in statute already.  Perhaps she is looking to follow the model of Sweden with its on the spot fines. But, as we have seen recently, Sweden is not a country where rape is  taken seriously.

Pretty much all of the submissions in favour simply parroted the flawed assumptions and muddled thinking I have talked about here. I formed the impression that many respondents dislike sex work for moral reasons and, knowing nothing about it, have grabbed the ready made arguments provided for them. I am not clear why particular weight should be attached to what they say..

The submissions opposing  criminalisation were generally longer and contained detailed argument. Many were clearly written by people with detailed first hand knowledge of the sex industry. The main arguments I saw were:

Academic research dies not support the claims made for the so-called Swedish model.

The United Nations is opposed to criminalisation mainly for reasons of public health.

It was argued brilliantly from a feminist perspective that, after decades of struggle to get the state out of our bedrooms, no feminist should support proposals that will result in the state again policing the sexual behaviour of women.

Last but not least there was the personal testimony of sex workers saying that it was their choice to work, that they enjoyed their jobs, that clients treated them with courtesy and respect, even that it was not unknown for regular clients to become friends.

These submissions are, it seems to me, worth far more than the unproven assertions of supporters of Rhoda Grant. They may only account for 20% of responses but surely contain 80% or more of the truth. Yet they are being ignored. Why?

None of the submissions I read addressed a point that I think is fundamental. My partners’s (missing) submission did pick this up. It is that both sex and payment elude easy definition and will result in bad law, law which may lead to function creep and rank injustice. What is the position, for example, of the professional dominatrix? Or the professional submissive?

Those opposed to sex work should also realise that they too can, indeed should,  oppose Rhoda Grant’s ill thought out proposals, because they will not achieve their stated aims. If you want to see and end to sex work you have to address the question of how sex workers can earn their living. Many sex workers are mothers, often single mothers, and the  victims of Rhoda Grant will ultimately be their children, unable to go on holiday, unable to go on the school trip, waiting in vain for a Christmas present. This question was put to her last week. She had no answer.

As so often when policy is based on unproven assertions, on abstract ideas untested in the real world, real people suffer. All too often these people are women. That a woman is behind this, appealing to feminist ideas as she does, is depressing. And I don’t need to demonstrate that do I?

4 thoughts on “Asserted Not Demonstrated

  1. Reblogged this on It's Just A Hobby and commented:
    I have not written yet on Grants consultation,(other than the amnesty post) mainly because I do not know where to start. This brilliantly sums up the submissions though and is a must read post. Many thanks to Eve for this.

  2. I think that under capitalism, a choice between starvation and work is not a choice, but a threat. And therefore, we are all coerced into working. Whether or not that work is sex work, hair dressing, being a masseur, or some other form of service work, or whether that work is manual labour digging ditches, it is all coerced work.
    I maybe able to choose whether I dig ditches, or whether I do sex work, but I can’t make the choice not to work.
    I.e. fuck capitalism.

    Where someone is forced to choose a particular line of work (such as sex work), then the person forcing them should be stopped. Simply outlawing that entire line of work (or preventing payment to be made for that kind of work) will not actually stop it. If the government made it illegal to pay for cleaners and maids, because they are predominantly women, and they are sometimes forced into this line of work, it wouldn’t actually eliminate paid cleaning, nor would it eliminate people being forced to work as a cleaner. In this present society, there will always be people willing to pay to have someone else clean up after them. Just like there’ll always, in this present society, be people willing to pay to have sex (or merely to have a massage of a sexual kind, but that doesn’t extend to actual insertion of anything anywhere).

    One thing I notice is missing from the debate (and is almost always missing when talking about porn as well), is that men also do sex work. Though it is much less common for sure. But, I do wonder whether they intend to outlaw women or men purchasing sex from men. According to Wikipedia, in Sweden: “Theoretically the gender of the seller and buyer are immaterial under the law, that is it is gender neutral.” But goes on to make the point that the entire discourse is around men purchasing sex from women. As seems to be the case here. But if there’s no issue with women or men purchasing sex from men (because it hardly helps the patriarchy — does it?) (though certainly men can be coerced into sex work), then why outlaw it?

    Wikipedia also makes the point that it is quite difficult to estimate whether or not the law in Sweden actually had the effect of reducing prostitution. Moreover, by effectively driving prostitution underground (my reading, yours might be different) the law has in effect increased the danger to women. But, whether or not violence has increased is almost impossible to tell, because it’s underground and not in the open.

    Once again, we get people under the guise of one label or another (feminism it seems in this case), wanting to control others. I think we should just throw off their control (no matter the label they use, in Turkey the government uses moral values) and have a revolution. Anarchy and freedom is what I want.

  3. I agree that the issue of male sex workers is a gap in the debate. I think the people behind this genuinely have no understanding of the complexity of the sex industry. Apparently when a committee of the Dail in the Irish Republic was looking at sex work earlier this year one TD was astonished to learn that there are male sex workers providing services to men. As regards Sweden there are claims and counter claims but, as far as I understand, no adequate evidence base to permit firm conclusions either way. Interesting point about all work being exploitative. This is an arguable proposition, one that follows from Rhoda Grant’s argument, but with radical implications. Here too Rhoda is unwilling to go where her arguments lead.

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