Annual Report 2010-11

This time last year, I remarked that it had been a strange year for Scot-PEP. (As if, of course, things are ever “normal” for us!) However, just before that meeting, and for some time after, some sort of normality was restored to Scot-PEP life. I am referring, of course, to the resurrection of Trish Godman’s proposals to criminalise the purchase of sex.

Our response to that took up much of our energies in the early part of the year... a return to a familiar pattern of reaction rather than pro-action. As well as our own, guarded but forceful, formal response, we were able to mobilise resistance to the proposals among sex-workers, sauna owners, academics and others with an interest.

Since then, of course, the complexion of the Parliament has changed. Trish Godman has retired, her party suffered heavy losses in the May election, and there are many new faces at Holyrood. It remains to be seen whether the proposals will find their way into the debating chamber. We, of course, take the cautious (some might say paranoid) view that they will; we are therefore constantly vigilant and ready to continue our resistance.

Partly as a result of our reactive work, but also in a spirit of pro-action, we took the time to contact all members of the new Parliament. As a result, we have had meetings with a number of MSP’s, some new, some old, from various parties. These meetings have been reasonably successful, in terms of gauging opinion, in putting our case across, and in letting people know that we are still here. Some interesting alliances have been made, which may prove very helpful in the future.

We have undertaken a considerable amount of other work during the year. For example, we continue to engage with the Violence Against Women Partnership. That is a particularly difficult task; credit here should go to Sarah and Neil for their consistency and diligence in dealing with a set of ideologies that is alien to ours, but which may have significant implications for the future of sex-work in Edinburgh. One of our roles, in my opinion, is to be the “fly in the ointment”, the “devil’s advocate”, the awkward customer.... not an easy role to play, but one which Scot-PEP has learned to do well over the years. We must continue that work in the coming year, in this situation and many others.

On a more positive note, in July we presented a paper to the British Society of Criminology Conference, a first for Scot-PEP. The paper was, quite rightly, very well received and provoked an interesting debate. In addition, another volunteer and I attended the conference, and took part in a number of discussions. We were able to make a number of contacts, which is always useful, but, again, we let the community know that we are still here.

Our work on our new website continues. This has been a long process, but the Board have been determined to get it right. It will be right, and we may (MAY!) have an announcement for you very soon.

During the year, we also engaged with a wide range of organisations, on a range of issues. These include Lothian and Borders Police, Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership, the City of Edinburgh Council, Lloyds TSB Foundation, the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, the Salvation Army, the Street Sex Workers Practitioners Forum, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, XTalk, and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects. The last-named, of course, gives us a home, and we should acknowledge and thank them for that.

Looking at that list, I have to remind myself that we are still, for the most part, a voluntary organisation. The amount of work we do, as such, is quite exceptional. It is difficult for us, of course, as we all have other lives and commitments demanding our time and energy. However, the fact that we have no masters, in terms of funding and the like, makes our task just that little bit more liberated. We can sit on the shoulders of those who are making decisions about the lives of sex-workers and, quite freely, question those decisions.

Yes, I did say that we are almost all volunteers. That, of course, is to ignore the huge effort that Andrea puts in, as our only paid staff member. Our continuing thanks and appreciation are due to her. She is about to reduce her hours with us, but I am sure that her commitment will remain.

That brings me to the changes in personnel during the year. We enlisted three new company members, and lost three. In Board terms, we co-opted four new members, Neil, Mandy, Irene and Staci. We welcome them with thanks and much appreciation for their work thus far.

We also, reluctantly, accepted the resignation from the Board of Gill Rae. Gill had been involved with Scot-PEP almost from its inception, as a volunteer, company member, staff member and Board member. Her contribution to the organisation has been immense and, from a personal perspective, I learned so much from her. She was always a popular and very capable colleague, and we will miss her. We wish her well.

This time last year, we were coming to terms with the idea that Jinty wouldn’t be around quite as much as she had been. She always intended to come back to us, of course, but that was Jinty... always up for the fight. Sadly, of course, she lost her last battle at the end of August. Writing this, things are still very raw, as they are for all of us who knew her. However, I took a lot of heart from the things that were said and written about her when she died. She was, by all accounts, a remarkable woman and, as an organisation, we were very fortunate to have her for the few years that we did. She will, of course, never be forgotten.

Finally, I would like to thank all of our staff, Board members and volunteers for their contribution in the last year. If there is a theme to this year, it is that Scot-PEP, and by extension the sex-work community in Edinburgh and beyond, is finding its voice again. That is a process which has encouraged and heartened me, and one which, I am sure, will continue over the next twelve months. With the website and other initiatives that we have planned, our voice will become louder, more confident, more strident, even (perhaps) more annoying. We will continue to challenge, to ask the awkward questions, but also to support and empathise. As I said at the outset, life is rarely normal for Scot-PEP, but I have every confidence that your Board is well-placed to deal with whatever that life throws at us.