Exeter, Devon UK • Jul 15, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Features Feminist Friday: Dismantling the WEP’s dangerous anti-sex work policies

Feminist Friday: Dismantling the WEP’s dangerous anti-sex work policies

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With the General Election swiftly approaching, it is time for us all to ensure that we are informed enough to make a reasonable decision on who deserves our votes. It’s important to know exactly what your chosen candidate stands for; not just what you think they stand for.

sadly, the wEP have missed the boat when it comes to INTERSECTIONAL feminism.

It wasn’t until recently that I took a detailed look into the policy document of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), and sadly, it induced only anger and eye rolling. The reason I hadn’t considered it much before was that I’d immediately had the impression from the WEP, since its founding, that it was essentially a white middle class women’s party, representing mainly cisgender, white women.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of a political party created solely to support gender equality sounds like a dream. And it could be a truly brilliant thing. Sadly, the WEP seem to have missed the boat somewhat when it comes to intersectional feminism.

‘their policies on discrimination and gender violence must be adapted to be more inclusive.’

Whilst the party policy document addresses in detail issues like the gender pay gap, women in education and addressing violence against women, there is a notably absent lack of mention regarding the intersecting struggles which working class women, trans women and women of colour face. Their anti-violence framework and other policies fail to acknowledge how the issues they discuss particularly disadvantage trans women, non-binary people, and women of colour more than white women. Moreover, their policies on discrimination and gender violence must be adapted to be more inclusive of disabled women and those belonging to the working class or sex workers.

When I, on Twitter, queried how inclusive the WEP really is in regards to these more marginalised groups, I received a reply from the party leader, Sophie Walker, which I can’t say was particularly convincing: “We welcome trans women and our GE candidates include BME and working class women”. There’s quite a difference between theoretically welcoming somebody, and representing their interests with any level of sincerity.

One thing which struck me is the WEP’s extraordinarily ignorant policies regarding sex workers — conspicuously absent from Ms Walker’s reply. This part of the policy, listed under “Ending violence against women and girls”, essentially reduces sex work, in a couple of paragraphs, to an industry based solely on exploitation and abuse, through narrative relying heavily on emotive language and repetitive references to pimps and trafficking.

there’s a marked difference between ‘welcoming’ somebody, and representing their interests with sincerity.

The WEP supports the Nordic model for “legalising” sex work; this criminalises the clients who are purchasing sexual services, rather than the sex workers themselves, hoping to end demand for sexual services. In name a model of legalisation, the Nordic model seems a reasonable idea on the surface. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The Nordic model is extraordinarily dangerous for sex workers, if implemented, as it makes clients far less likely to divulge their real names or details about themselves, for fear of prosecution, and thus makes them much harder for sex workers to vet. A client who a sex worker knows nothing about is a client who brings a high risk of abuse and violence.

I’m not entirely sure that the leaders of the Women’s Equality Party really know what trafficking means and why it’s dangerous to bandy the word around, or whether they’ve even so much as spoken to a sex worker, much less incorporated their opinions into policy.

Fez, 20, a sex worker based in Devon, explained to me how this narrative affects migrant sex workers like herself. “The WEP online statement on ‘an end to trafficking and sexual exploitation’ makes repeated reference to trafficking without adequate acknowledgement of the fact that the legal definition of trafficking does not involve physical coercion, and that in fact most anti-trafficking rhetoric and policy comes from a place of deeply anti-migrant sentiment.”

‘a client who a sex worker knows nothing about is a client who brings a high risk of abuse and violence.’

Whilst force, fraud or threat can certainly play a part, trafficking can be as simple as sponsoring another person to move around the country to “be exploited”, specifically (within the context of this article) to carry out sex work. And, as the Crown Prosecution Service elaborates on their website, “it is irrelevant whether the victim consents to the travel”, even if they are an adult. “Anti-trafficking” activism often masks dangerous anti-immigrant sentiments, defining even those who have consensually travelled with the intention of taking part in sex work.

Sex workers protest misinformation and biased press briefing

Whilst child sexual exploitation and people being forced into sex work is undeniably an issue, these situations do not comprise the entire sex industry. There are plenty of full service sex workers, strippers, webcam performers and porn actors who entered their jobs willingly, without coercion and with full knowledge of what they would be doing. There is far more nuance required when discussing sex work than just a mention of the contrasting “trafficked victim” and “happy hooker” narratives. Most sex workers have mixed feelings about their jobs, just like anybody else. Many sex workers experience no coercion to their jobs outside the usual financial coercion which we all experience under capitalism.

Sex work is undeniably one of the most dangerous professions around. There are certainly enormous risks of rape and abuse, but this is the reason that sex workers need to be protected by laws, not victimised. Trans and disabled sex workers, sex workers of colour, and those working in unsafe environments such as on the streets, rather than from their homes, face even greater risks.

The WEP’s second preference is “regulating” the sex trade; legalising the purchase of sex only from Registered Sex Workers. Many sex workers who are not out in their communities would suffer under this model; whilst looking better on paper, registration is expensive and often difficult to comply with, with marginalised people still being forced to work illegally.

sex workers face enormous risks of rape and abuse — they need to be protected by laws, not victimised.

The WEP list the above two options “in addition to fully decriminalising those who sell sex”, but refuse to support that idea. However, full decriminalisation is the single safest option for sex workers, and one which has been proven to work in New Zealand, having been in place since 2003, with positive impacts such as improved police relations, safety measures, and legal rights in cases of abuse and harassment.

The WEP’s focus on “exit strategies” undermines many sex workers’ choices, and overlooks the social and economic factors which led them to the sex industry in the first place. “But freeing women from sexual exploitation also means providing safe alternatives for all those currently reliant on selling sex for their livelihood, including the small percentage who work in the sex trade voluntarily and independently of pimps and drug abuse.” This certainly sounds like the WEP are furthering prejudices against sex workers by insinuating that the majority are involved with “drug abuse”. Quit while you’re ahead, please.

Realistically, there is no way to eradicate the demand for sex work. It is the oldest profession for a reason, and one which deserves to be recognised as what it is; work, selling a service like so many others.

‘wep doesn’t want to acknowledge us (sex workers) as policy makers, instead we’re asked to know our place as the voiceless victims that policy is made for, not by.’

“WEP repeatedly argue that they seek to ‘end demand’, and yet nowhere in their statement is there acknowledgement of anti-austerity measures as the only known way to reduce instances of prostitution. Instead, they prefer to focus their arguments on the clients paying for sex, and how they purport to end their ability to do so, rather than acknowledging the very real implications this will have on our screening techniques and our bartering power with clients,” Fez elaborates.

As I mentioned previously, there is a blatant lack of consultation with sex workers by the WEP. Their statements on the subject are patronising and speak over the sex workers who the issues most affect. Fez, on the subject of consultation, notes that the ”WEP don’t seem to want to acknowledge us as policy-makers, instead we’re asked to know our place as the voiceless victims that policy is made FOR, not BY.” (@Fendalaust on Twitter)

With a specific election manifesto due to be released on the 12th of May, I’m not holding out much hope for these issues to be rectified in time for the party manifesto to be truly representative during the coming General Election. A vote for the Women’s Equality Party is a vote for cookie-cutter “white feminism”, which realistically, none of us need more of. Let’s concentrate on making feminism inclusive, rather than representing solely the interests of the privileged majority. The creation of a party representing women’s interests seems positive at first glance, but once you look a little deeper, you can see how damaging some of the attitudes they promote really are to the marginalised groups which they should be supporting.

For more information on sex work and the need for decriminalisation, visit http://makemumsafer.com, http://www.prostitutescollective.net or http://pledgedecrim.com.

Twitter: @bea_thechange


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