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Tilting at sex work windmills

My Granddad grew up in a northern town at the height of the depression. With enough siblings to make “10 in the bed” more than a song and a father who drank what little money they did have, the older children did what they could to help with the family finances. Granddad used to get pennies by keeping watch on the back streets when the bookmaker was holding session.

Off- Course betting was illegal in the UK until 1961, the rich of course could always legally gamble, either at the race course or the casino, the poor had book makers who worked outside the law, and small boys with fast legs keeping watch for the police.  Now gambling is legal, and a multi million pound industry.  They are found more often, apparently, in the poorest neighbourhoods and people are concerned with addiction and the impact on those with most to lose.

So we have gone from heavily criminalized, to heavily regulated, through to gambling being advertised between every TV show, and replacing TV shows if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be channel surfing late at night when you can’t sleep.  It is a situation that those from countries where gambling is illegal, or heavily regulated might find shocking. Many Americans express surprise with the sheer number of betting shops on British high streets, however as a nation we love gambling, happy to bet on anything from election results to royal baby names.

Last night on twitter I was observing a conversation between two sex workers about the Swiss sex box scheme, neither was Swiss, but had a whole heap of feelings about how Switzerland should be running its legal sex work,  They objected to the fact sex workers had to have health insurance, despite the fact every Swiss worker has to have health insurance. Indeed I cannot think of a single European country where health insurance is not mandatory in some form or another.

They also objected to the fact the sex zones had rules. This in a country where washing your car or mowing your lawn on a Sunday are illegall. This may seem something of a joke to us Brits whose lives are more Hogarth than Hegelian, but the Swiss are great believers in the social contract.  The Swiss confederation (there is a good argument it is  not a nation-state in the sense most of us use it) has united different linguistic and cultural groups for over 200 years, whilst those same groups have engaged in bloody war after bloody war against each other outside its borders. The constitution and system of direct democracy are very different from countries where people are more separate from both their local and national governments, seeing them as something apart from their everyday lives.

If you believe, as I do, that sex work is work, then you also have to accept that the workers will be regulated just as other workers are in whichever country they live in. In the UK there is a close enough resemblance to New Zealand for its model of decriminalization to work, particularly the moving of the regulation of brothels into the local government and planning committee sphere of control.  Although anyone who has ever talked to the management of swinging clubs knows how planning committees attempt to ignore the law and use moral objections to refuse permission.

To insist though that some theoretical ideal of zero regulation is the only model of sex work that is acceptable is not only unrealistic, but ignores the fact different countries have different ways of being, different cultures and traditions. Yes, there are some basic human rights issues that it is easy to stand against, such as mandatory STi testing, but these are about the basic right to bodily autonomy, not workers rights. This is the difference between really accepting sex work is work and seeing it as an “issue” to challenge whichever windmill you want to tilt at this month.

Some need to remember that when we demand sex workers are treated like all other workers, that might mean different things in different countries, and unless they want to impose their world  view on others in an act of cultural imperialism, that is the way it must be.


4 comments on “Tilting at sex work windmills

  1. Korhomme (@Korhomme)
    August 26, 2013

    Not only are there “sex boxes”, girls advertise daily in Swiss newspapers — “Verscheidenes” — and brothels are legal.

    And the Swiss once had a civil war, in 1847; it lasted a week. The victors and the vanquished sat round a table afterwards to thrash out a new constitution.


  2. Sometimes people equate decriminalisation to no laws. This is not true. Decriminalisation means putting sexwork on par with other occupations, without laws specifically regulating sexwork.

    We all say New Zealand is the place to follow. It has laws on sexwork. Condom use is mandatory, even for oral sex. It has planning and zoning laws to regulate brothels. Employers have to obey employment contracts.

    I totally agree that in a sexwork decriminalised environment, there will still be laws and regulations that sexworkers and managers will have to abide by. These are planning, employment and health and safety laws.

    So as you say, Switzerland is a bit of a control state as is much of Europe, then sexworkers in those countries would have to accept a little more control than others.


    • jemima2013
      August 29, 2013

      The condom use is a great example, there is no way sex workers in the UK would support that, whilst Australians think we are v risky for doing owo. Different countries have different norms.


    • jemima2013
      August 29, 2013

      Oh and another thought i have never seen anyone address, tho perhaps my co author might know, there are laws about working form home, people might not like that, but if sex work is work, then surely they should apply?


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This entry was posted on August 26, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , .

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