Letter To The Guardian Signed by Sex Workers Organizations and Academics

Dec 23, 2013
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Mon, 23 December 2013

Following a series of articles in the UK newspaper The Guardian, International Committee on the Rights Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) and many sex workers organisations, academics and allies have signed a letter demanding a fairer representation to the debate on criminalisation of clients.

To this date, the letter to The Guardian (or its shorter version) have not been published and The Guardian has not contacted ICRSE.

Dear Sir or Madam,


Sex workers and academics demand fairer representation of the debate on criminalisation of clients in Europe.

We are shocked by the recent series of articles published in the Guardian. Unrelated to any specific news, The Guardian published four articles in two days (11th and 12th December) in the Global development section, including an interactive map of Europe’s prostitution legal framework, one Comment piece and an Audio guide, all arguing in favour of the Swedish Model to criminalise clients.

This series of articles comes at a time where many sex workers are being arrested in Aberdeen, Bradford, Glasgow and London, and a week before the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, where many sex workers in Europe and around the world will come together to demand an end, not only to physical violence, but to state-sponsored violence including the criminalisation of our clients. The Swedish Model, receiving so much attention in your paper, runs counter to such a demand.

The quantity and quality of the articles and information presented manifest more as a propaganda effort for the Swedish Model, than factual reporting. Further research would show that the Swedish model has been demonstrated to be not only inefficient, but also dangerous to sex workers and has been opposed by a number of important international organisations including Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, World Health Organization, United Nations Development Programme, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and many more. There is also a significant amount of peer reviewed evidence, by respected academics which questions this model as a model which supports the well being of sex workers.

We are submitting this response to some of the erroneous information stated as evidence in your reports.

In your interactive map of Europe, you define France as a country where “it is illegal to buy sex although prostitutes are not prosecuted. Buyers can be fined”. This is incorrect.  The criminalisation of clients voted by the National Assembly has not yet gone through the Senate, nor has the repeal of passive soliciting laws. Sex workers are still criminalised. In the last few days, in Paris alone, police operations have led to the arrest of many migrant sex workers, abusive treatments of transgender street workers, confiscation of vehicles, money and other belongings. Criminalisation, arrests and deportations is a daily reality for sex workers in France.

Your explanation of the situation in Ireland states that “the law on prostitution was the subject of a major review this year by the Department for Justice, which recommended criminalising the purchase of sex in an attempt to reduce demand for sexual services.” This is incorrect. Though the Oireachtas (Parliament) Justice Committee recommended criminalising the purchase of sex, this has not been accepted by the Department of Justice and in fact, the Minister has expressed significant reservations about it.

Another article (Prostitution: why Swedes believe they got it right) states that in Sweden, since the implementation of the law to criminalise clients in 1999, “police say the number of prostitutes has dropped by two-thirds”. This is a misrepresentation. In 2007, the Swedish government stated, “we cannot give any unambiguous answer to the question [of whether prostitution has increased or decreased]”. It concluded, “no causal connection can be drawn between legislation, and changes in prostitution” (Skarhed, 2007). This is quite different from what you published. The origin of claims that the number of sex workers has decreased comes from an alleged decrease in the number of street-based sex workers. However, the Swedish government has no idea whether these people are quitting sex work, or merely changing the way they work. The Swedish government admits that the number of sex workers contacting clients via the internet is increasing.

In the same article, the quote from Kajsa Wahlberg “We have a small group of pro-prostitution lobbyists that are very powerful” is contentious.  To call sex workers advocating for the respect of their human and labour rights a pro-prostitution lobby is attempting to deny sex workers a voice of their own.  To call us “very powerful” implies that we speak for the industry rather than for the workers. Sex workers are supported by many groups including human rights, feminist, gay, lesbian and transgender rights organisations as well as many HIV organisations.  We are not pro or against prostitution. We are for evidence-based policy on sex work, and for the human rights of sex workers. To call us “very powerful” implies that we speak for the industry rather than for the workers. This statement hides the law and order agendas of governments which have been driving criminalisation worldwide.

This statement is even more shocking when the articles fail to mention that some of the groups leading the campaigns to support in the criminalisation of clients in the UK and Ireland are extremely wealthy and connected Christian organisations such as Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), who is acting as secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade in Westminster. CARE is infamous for lobbying against gay and reproductive rights and for offering free interns to Members of Parliament – with the exception of gay MPs, whose “lifestyle” they oppose. Chris Bryant MP has spoken out against this homophobia. Who would believe for one second they have the interests of any women, trans women or gay men – the majority of people selling sexual services – at heart?

In Ireland, the main organisations supporting the criminalisation of clients of sex workers is Ruhama, which is quoted in one of your articles. You reporter again fails to mention that Ruhama is the 21st century re-brand to the Magdalene Laundries – popularly referred to as the slave laundries. The Magdalene Laundries have been exploiting “fallen women” for decades, and the abuse they inflicted, and the mass graves they created, are a permanent stain of shame on Ireland’s history. Ruhama was founded as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters, who were both running the Magdalene Laundries. The former LGBT Director at Human Rights Watch has written, of Ruhama, “even their own slave laundries could not wash the blood from their hands”.

We end this letter with a statement from World Health organization published in December 2012: “All countries should work toward decriminalisation of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers.”

We thank you for publishing this letter and hope that in the future your newspaper will offer a more nuanced debate. We also encourage reporters, journalists and researchers to fully research the influence of Christian groups on sex work policy.



Luca Stevenson, Coordinator, International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe www.sexworkeurope.org

Molly Smith, Organiser, Sex Worker Open University www.swou.org

SCOT-PEP, sex worker organisation, Scotland

Cari Mitchell, English Collective of Prostitutes

Dr Kate Hardy, University of Leeds

Dr Graham Ellison, Reader in Criminology, Queen’s University, Belfast

Dr Jay Levy, Researcher, UK

Professor Phil Hubbard, University of Kent

Nicola Mai, Professor of Sociology and Migration Studies, London Metropolitan University

Dr Tuppy Owens, Disability Charity Worker, Outsiders Trust & TLC Trust

Dr. Mary Laing, Lecturer in Criminology, Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences, Northumbria University

Anastacia Ryan, PhD researcher, UK

Caoimhe Mader McGuinness, Postgraduate Researcher, Queen Mary University, UK

Rosie Campbell OBE, CEO Genesis Leeds, Chair National Ugly Mugs Advisory Group UKNSWP, visiting Research Fellow Leeds University & postgraduate researcher Durham University

Jane Pitcher, UK Network of Sex Work Projects

Alex Bryce, Manager National Ugly Mugs Scheme

PG Macioti, Postgraduate Researcher, Open University, UK

Katie Kruz, Keele University, Law department

Ellis Suzanna Slack, writer, campaigner, researcher, UK

Caroline Lynch, Chairperson, Scottish Secular Society

Morgane Merteuil, General Secretary, STRASS, French Union of Sex Workers

Support Transgenre Strasbourg, France

Irina Maslova, Silver Rose – Association of sex workers and their allies, Russia

Veronica Munk, coordinator TAMPEP-Germany

Aoife Nic Seáin, public relations officer Sexworker Verein (UNO-recognised international NGO based in Vienna)

Jury Kalikov. Director of NGO AIDSi Tugikeskus (AIDS Information & Support centre), Estonia

Matthias Lehmann, Researcher, Germany

Christiane Howe, sociologist/researcher, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

Kemal Aysu Ördek, Chair of Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Associaton

Sonja Dolinsek, Researcher and editor of the online magazine “menschenhandel heute”, Berlin, Germany

Aliya Rakhmetova, Executive Director, Sex Workers Rights Advocacy Network of Central & Eastern Europe and Central Asia (SWAN)

Association of Hungarian Sex Workers

Christian Knappik, CEO Sexworker Verein (Vienna) & senior admin www.sexworker.at

Ron Weitzer, Professor of Sociology, George Washington University, USA

Borche Bozhinov, President STAR-STAR, Macedonia

Dr Calum Bennachie, Co-ordinator, New Zealand Prostitutes Collective

Tais Plus, Sex Worker Organisation, Kyrgyzstan

Agata Dziuban, researcher/lecturer, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland

Licia Brussa, TAMPEP International Foundation

Marjan Wijers, independent researcher, trainer & consultant human rights and human trafficking, Netherlands, Rights4Change, Netherlands

Alexandra van Dijk, Buro Brycx, Netherlands

Jerry Barnett, SexAndCensorship.org

Sonia Verstappen, anthropologist, Brussels, Belgium

Marian Ursan, President, Carusel Association, Romania

Paul S. Braterman, Professor Emeritus University of North Texas, Hon Sr Research Fellow in Chemistry, University of Glasgow

Francisca Funk, sexworker from Frankfurt und Vorsitzende des http://www.regenschirm-ev.de/

Fuensanta Gual, President CATS (Comite de Apoyo a las Trabajadoras del Sexo), Spain

Mag.a Sophia Shivarova, LEFÖ Tampep Austria

Colectivo Hetaira, Spain

Marianne Schweizer, Association Aspasie, Geneva

Fabian Chapot, Association Boulevards, Geneva

Pia Covre, Comitato per i Diritti Civili delle Prostitute Onlus, Italy

Rayna Dimitrova, Health and social development Foundation, Sofia, Bulgaria

Mechthild Eickel, Madonna e.V., Germany

MariaMagdalena, Beratungsangebot für Frauen im Sexgewerbe, CH/St. Gallen, Switzerland

Fleur de Pavé, Lausanne, Switzerland

Hydra e.V., Berlin, Germany

Feminist Initiative -network from Finland

LEFÖ/TAMPEP, Vienna, Austria

Associazione Radicale Certi Diritti, Italy

Alexandra Oliveira, Professor at the University of Porto, Portugal

Dan Gallin, trade unionist, Geneva, Switzerland

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10 years ago

You’ll see this run in The Guardian the day the WSJ posts a favorable review of Das Kapital. The Guardian is a partisan hack rag run by a particularly toxic mob of sex-work bashers who kiss Gail Dines’ dirty army boots daily as a devotional act. Fine if you admit what you’re running is a propaganda house organ for mindless fanatics. Doing this while claiming to be practicing journalism is like calling a bank robbery a withdrawal. If Rupert Murdoch were a leftist demagogue instead of a rightist demagogue, The Guardian would be the flagship of his newspaper chain. Shame… Read more »

Michael Whiteacre
Michael Whiteacre
10 years ago
Reply to  ernestgreene


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