This is our truth, tell us yours
I write about sex work. I’m a man who isn’t either a sex worker or a punter but I see no problem there.
I write about work a lot. If sex work is just work, as I believe, then we have to consider it and judge it by the same standards as any other work.
Like judging its impact on the environment.
Now I will declare an interest in this.
Like most kids who grew up where I did Aberfan is seared into our imagination. It was a consequence of badly regulated industry, or work done in such a way that the environment became lethal.
All work has to be regulated to prevent it becoming abusive, and to prevent it harming the people who have to co-exist with it. That regulation failed at Aberfan, and we killed a school full of kids as a consequence. Not as large a death toll as at, say, Bhopal, or Chernobyl, but it will stay with me forever because I grew up riding my bike on spoil heaps just like the ones that engulfed Aberfan.
So, let’s look at the impact of sex work on the environment.
In 99 out of 100 cases there’s no impact. Simple as.
Occasionally there are impacts. Usually from street prostitution, when both customers and workers can damage the environment. Occasionally the premises prostitutes work from are inappropriate, or lead to nuisance to neighbours. No different to living next door to that irritating man who mends cars on his front drive and parks them in the street with a for sale sign in the windscreen – but he’s regulated by Trading Standards and the Planning Department, not the Vice Squad. There is no more reason to criminalize sex work than Aberfan was a reason to criminalize coal mining, or Dodgy John with his driveway car lot is a reason to ban second hand car sales.
The only argument for regulating brothels is the development control argument. There is no other that does not depend on moral codes of dubious efficacy and basis. In the week that the Good Pub Guide called for 4000 pubs to close I can think of a perfect alternative use for them, but then, my favourite swingers club is also a former pub, complete with a well appointed Victorian cellar that makes a wonderful dungeon.
Of course if sex work is just work that means there’s also a need to organize sex workers, or to provide them with the means to organize if they wish. I can’t think of an industry more likely to be fertile ground for mutual financial services for instance. A trade union promoting neutral financial products, a credit union – these are things that independent workers need, and which could be delivered mutually. Whether you call it a seamstresses guild or a collective, sex workers need and deserve mutual protection.
While we try to protect the urban environment by treating sex work as a special case where the negative effects of some practices must lead to criminalization there’s no chance of that kind of organization emerging sucessfully. And as a result, sex workers will suffer negative consequences.