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?