Police and Thieves

This is a post I originally published on the Everyday Whorephobia blog two years ago. Following  the criminalisation of clients in Northern Ireland it appears that the flawed arguments of the sex work prohibitionists are enjoying a second wind. They remain however deeply flawed. One of the flaws is the naive faith in the police as agents of”rescue”. Melissa Gira Grant, in her book Playing the Whore, discussed how the police are themselves a major source of violence against, and exploitation of sex workers. Here are some more examples.

POLICE AND THIEVES

We can argue theoretical points all day, about women’s right to bodily autonomy, about whether sex work can really be a free choice in a patriarchal society and so on, but some of the most important issues connected to the criminalisation of sex work are essentially practical.   Are the laws enforceable and who will do the enforcing? It is with the second of these that serious questions emerge.

It has been said that a good police force is one that catches more criminals than it employs. The British police certainly aren’t doing too well on that score at the moment. We have heard stories from Sweden about police harassment of supposedly non criminal sex workers. The Swedish police, by the way, are those nice people who gave Joan Smith a free tour of night-time Stockholm in exchange for an advertising spread masquerading as critical journalism.

A three hour ferry crossing from Sweden is yet another country where the police can’t be trusted. That country is Poland. Here are a few examples of how the Polish police treat women, sex workers and otherwise.

A woman accused a policeman, a friend of the family, of raping her. Several months later she has been interviewed several times but her alleged attacker remains on active duty and has yet to be interviewed. The investigation is focussing on blood tests carried out on the woman, aimed at determining whether she had taken substances that could have caused psychological disturbance and so lead her to make false allegations.

On 9th June this year a 27 year old woman was stopped by a traffic policeman in a southern Polish town as she drove her car. She was tied up with masking tape, raped and had her mobile phone destroyed to prevent her calling for help. At least this case is being taken sufficiently seriously for the alleged attacker to have been arrested.

A senior officer of the Gdansk police was caught carrying out a sexual assault on a disabled 14 year old girl. He has been arrested and suspended from duty but a statement from the press office of the Gdansk police expresses ‘disbelief’ that he could have done such a thing.

Outside the city of Bydgoszcz in North West Poland sex workers stand by a busy road leading to the German border to attract clients among the thousands of lorry drivers who pass this way each day. They are offered “protection” by the local police which means, in effect, free sex in exchange for being left alone.  Some of these sex workers are so fed up with all this that they have gone to the press. One told a journalist that she had had sex with and given oral to one particular policeman on several dozen occasions, usually in the back of his patrol car. This man evidently has a uniform fetish as he makes her dress in his uniform for sex. A reporter who had been seen taking photographs of a policeman forcing himself on a sex worker was stopped and held for over an hour to be breathalysed and have his car checked. When he complained to the local police he was told that these enhanced controls were part of a new campaign to stop pimping and trafficking.

All this happens in an EU member state. Poland is probably no worse than many other countries in the way the police treat women and sex workers. Those who favour criminalisation should answer this question. You will be giving men like these even more power to harass and abuse women. Is that what you really want?

Running for the Finish

I discovered running at about the same time I discovered sex which is not long ago. By discovering sex I mean the time when, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I felt an urge to start writing smut and began to explore my sexuality and what it meant to me. This was, too, the moment when I began to connect online with the many clever, sex people (mostly women) who have inspired me on my journey. At the same time I took up running and joined a local club. I now train twice a week and have a few 10ks under my belt. I feel fitter and healthier and this impacts too on my self-image. I feel desirable. This, in turn, brings me back to sex, well, sort of.

Running is, if not directly, erotic, a deeply sensual experience. This starts with dressing for a run, the way the leggings mould themselves to the leg and the groin, and then there is the running itself, the being in touch with the body in an incredibly intense way. As I run I am aware of my body, and, as I slip into a rhythm and head for that mental state where I pass from allowing thoughts to flow randomly through my mind to the state where active thought stops altogether I am filled with that sense that I am my body. My body is me.

When I think about an altered state of consciousness I am reminded of something else, of what kinky people call sub space. The parallels are striking. The initial struggle, the pain and the drive to overcome it, the passing of the pain as the endorphin rush pushes us on into another realm of consciousness that is actually an incredible oneness of mind and body, the high on which it finishes and in which we remain for a while afterwards, the low that comes later as the high dissipates (what in kink circles is called sub drop).

My interest in kink was, until recently, that of an interested bystander and I spent my time at clubs on the sidelines. Recently I took the plunge and submitted to a spanking during an evening at a fetish club. I finished on a high that reduced my to tears as my play partner took me in her arms to look after me after she had covered my buttocks in angry red marks with a variety of floggers, crops and canes. At times I had to fight hard against the temptation to scream ‘yellow’ or even ‘red’ to halt the stinging blow that were raining down on me. But, as with my running, I gritted my teeth and stuck it out to the finish line. I am so glad I did.

The Policeman in the Bedroom

It is nearly three years since I stumbled on the debates about sex work and its legal status and following the arguments about Rhoda Grant’s attempt to criminalise the purchase of sex in Scotland was certainly an education. This was particularly true of reading the cogent, well informed responses to the consultation by opponents of the proposal. Two and a half years on two responses have stuck in my mind. One was from a Scottish professional dominatrix who lives and works in England who raised the issue of the grey area legally that her work inhabits and pointing out what being unable to session with her might mean for many of her clients. The question of whether professional domination is sex work for the purposes of any legal definition is, as far as I am aware, still unanswered, The second response came from a Glasgow based feminist collective and argued that after the advances in sexual freedom over several decades which had largely removed the state from our bedrooms such a law would be thoroughly regressive.

Rhoda Grant failed in her attempt. Across the water in Northern Ireland Lord Morrow succeeded and, 21 and a half hours ago as I write, the policeman re-entered the bedrooms of those of the province’s women who make all or part of their living selling sex. To be fair to the police they didn’t want this and made a well argued submission to the consultation saying that they didn’t see it as their role to police sexual activity that they had no reason to believe was not consensual in the vast majority of cases, and that they considered that attempting to police such a law would divert scarce resources,from the fight against real trafficking. Tellingly they pointed out that clients are often a valuable source of intelligence about trafficking victims, a source that would be choked off by criminalisation.

Lord Morrow, of course, knew better and the PSNI now have to police a wholly unworkable but nonetheless damaging law. You may well have read in the newspapers today the litanies about “victims” “prostituted women” and so on. These comments are wholly disingenuous. It has been a criminal offence for clients to have sex with coerced or trafficked women for several years now. The sole effect  of Morrow’s law is to outlaw consensual sexual activity between consenting adults. I will say nothing about the legal arguments that will doubtless ensue  over what constitutes payment but finish by saying that in Northern Ireland the fears of the Glasgow feminist collective have been realised. The state is back in the bedroom. And that is bad news for us all.