Last year I blogged here about a Midlands sex worker called “Katie”. I was reminded of her this week when I read about the new clause that has been added to the Northern Ireland Human Trafficking Bill. In the course of the interview my friend conducted with her she talked about clients who come to see her for things other than penetrative sex. In particular she talked about a regular client she calls “The Balloon Man.” He sees her once a month for half an hour. He blows up half a dozen balloons with which Katie rubs him down before bursting them with her long finger nails while he lies on the bed and masturbates. No penetration takes place, in fact there is not even any direct physical contact between sex worker and client. Anecdotal evidence suggests that clients like Balloon Man are not unusual.
This is a problem for the prohibitionist zealots. If you are going to enact a law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services you need to have a robust definition of sexual services. Even Lord Morrow who one imagines coming from a background where they do it in pyjamas with the lights out has realised that there was a potential gaping hole in his pet legislation and he has now, late in the day, moved to close it via Amendment Ten to Clause Fifteen which adds the following to the definition of sexual services:
“B touching B in a sexual manner for the sexual gratification of A, B being physically in A’s presence.’
With the unspoken assumption that A will manually stimulate bellend C resulting in emission D which can on occasion have a pungent smell but is, it seems, acceptable to ATVOD. But I digress.
There are obvious difficulties with this. If, as Lord Morrow seems to believe women are trafficked to touch themselves sexually on the presence of clients, can they not also be trafficked to perform on webcam, which the amendment specifically excludes? And then we come back to the definition of touching in a sexual manner. How is that to be defined? Is it only touching the genitalia? Or anything erotic? Consider how many men must have masturbated over this since 1946.
Will Lord Morrow now be adding a further clause to stipulate how women may remove their gloves in the presence of men? Defining sexual is, it seems to me, like catching a bar of soap in the bath, ever elusive. Attempts to define legally what eludes clear definition can only lead to bad law, and what generally follows bad law, function creep. Providers of domination services, for example, may be targeted under this clause. It was apt to start this piece with a fetish since it is in the nature of fetishes that some people find various things sexually arousing that most others don’t. Fetishes lay bare the incoherence of attempts to define in legalistic manner “sexual”. They are a manifestation of human sexuality in all its joyous anarchic diversity. If the new moralists start trying to plug every gap in the law as it appears we will soon have left sex work and trafficking behind and we will be looking at what many believe to be the real agenda: an attempt by religious fundamentalists aided and abetted by people who should know better, to bring the police back into our bedrooms. Remember that what is happening in Northern Ireland today may yet happen in England. Not that Lord Morrow had anything to fear. He always has the lights out.