This is our truth, tell us yours
You have to admire Mary Honeyball.
In her pursuit of sex workers, determined as she is to make their lives unsafe and harder, she opens her mouth and exposes how little she has to do with any definition of decent ethical socialism. Don’t believe me; listen to Mary – unlike her, we believe in evidence not assertion.
To avoid a race to the bottom we must lift standards up and provide opportunities for those women who are struggling – not tell them that selling their bodies is the only option. For that reason I’m absolutely delighted at the adoption of the report this week.
That’s Mary writing in the Huffington Post, the Daily Mail of the chattering classes.
Re-read Mary’s report. Where does it propose raising standards? Where does it propose to provide opportunities? Where does it address gender inequality, or the barriers to work for women with kids?
Mary’s guilty of saying one thing and doing another. She claims to want greater opportunity for women, but what she proposes is criminal sanctions and stigmatization straight out of the nineteenth century. Worse still, she knows, as anyone who can read the data knows, that end demand isn’t a viable model. All she will achieve is to force more women into unsafe models of sex work, and to make life harder for those who are drawn to the already riskiest areas of sex work, such as street prostitution.
In particular, let’s look at the safety issues. Right now, many sex workers can use the protection of only accepting clients who call from a traceable phone number, or who’ve provided credit card details, or who are booked into a particular hotel room, or who’ve used a known website or agency. These are all sensible risk management strategies. Operation Ore still looms large in the memory of many – simply put, if you make it illegal to buy sex, you open up the prospect of the NSA, GCHQ or a similar organization going on a harvesting mission against PunterNet, or AdultWork, and seeking to arrest anyone they can identify.
Here’s where Honeyball, and her ilk, miss the point. Demand will not end. It will re-surface in other ways, and the wish of some people to be sex workers will continue. It will simply be less safe.
If Mary Honeyball really cared about oppressed, badly paid unsafe women workers, she’d be bending her mind and all her intellectual powers to the question of how it is that, while she has lived it up in Europe on an MEP’s salary, the worst paid workers in local government and the health service, most of them women, have become much worse off over the last four years. Mary doesn’t appear to give a shit about those women – she’d rather waste public time and money on her personal fatwah against sex workers.
There’s a structural critique here- most MEPs know that they’re about as useful and essential as male nipples, and know that their time in whichever city is lapping up their expenses this week is the antithesis of any decent motivation they had when they entered politics. All too often the result is that they shy away from the central issues of the day and head off on individual searches for issues that will define their time in politics and convince them that they are not engaged in a fruitless act of self denial. This is Mary Honeyball’s dilemma; she knows that, while she lives a life of luxury in Strasbourg and Brussels, hundreds of thousands of women workers she represents are getting poorer in the name of austerity. Rather than tackle that issue, which is huge, difficult and might involve questioning her own role as high apostle of European market capitalism, she has set off, like Quixote tilting at windmills, to make a grand statement that will convince the woman she sees in the mirror that her life isn’t just a luxurious waste of time and money.
Epic fail Mary, epic fail.