PRESS RELEASE: SCOT-PEP Responds to Rhoda Grant

PRESS RELEASE: SCOT-PEP Responds to Rhoda Grant

30th May 2013

MSP releases summary of responses to her Private Member’s Bill to Criminalise the Purchase of Sex in Scotland

Today, Scottish charity SCOT-PEP criticised Ms Grant’s summary of responses for her dismissal of the voices of sex workers and other experts on the regulation of sex work in Scotland. Over 900 responses were submitted to the public consultation which closed in December 2012 and Ms Grant claims most were in support of her proposals. SCOT-PEP however maintain that she has ignored the overwhelming evidence from renowned academics, un-biased experts and international bodies warning of the dangers of her proposed legislative approach, as well as the lived experiences of sex workers themselves.  Instead, she favours the unsubstantiated views of those who support her position, relying on a combination of selective quotes from research findings, ‘studies’ that have been widely criticised for breaching ethical codes and in many cases a complete misrepresentation of the available evidence.

SCOT-PEP noted with interest Rhoda Grant’s reliance on the supposed success of the ‘Swedish model’. This is despite the fact that the Swedish government itself acknowledges the failure of the law - albeit in the small print. In 2007, the Swedish national health board wrote, “we cannot give any unambiguous answer to [the question of whether prostitution has increased or decreased] … no causal connections can be proven between legislation and changes in prostitution”. Expert on trafficking and labour exploitation Ann Jordan has repeatedly noted that there is “no evidence” that the Swedish law has decreased trafficking, and furthermore, in 2005 Swedish police complained of a decrease in information about trafficking, leading to zero convictions. Self-evidently, the police having no information and thus being unable to secure convictions against traffickers is hardly a victory against exploitation.

Even on its own terms, then, the Swedish model has failed: it has not reduced the amount of sex work, nor has it tackled trafficking. It has ushered in numerous harms for those working in the Swedish sex industry, with the most vulnerable workers the most badly affected. Sex workers report increased fear of violence, and increased stigma against them - which the Swedish government characterised as “positive”.

A SCOT-PEP Board member went into more detail on the damage of the Swedish model: “Legislation that criminalises the purchase of sex results in harmful outcomes for sex workers, including increasing their HIV risk, vulnerability to abuse and exploitation and limiting their access to effective healthcare and support services. This has been well documented around the world”, adding, “... with the alternative approach of decriminalisation being recommended by UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNDP, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law and most recently the World Health Organization. We fail to see why Rhoda Grant thinks she is better placed to decide the best model of legislation than global experts”.

Sex workers who are part of the SCOT-PEP network have come out in force against the lack of inclusion of their voices and recommendations in Rhoda’s summary.

An anonymous female sex worker said, “Ms Grant may be good at saving puddings but she sure doesn't show the same level of understanding and support when it comes to saving women. Where was she with her help 10 years ago when I had nowhere to spend the night and no money to buy food? Now, when through sex work I have a home, a comfortable life and, above all, a job that gives me purpose in life and pride in my own achievements, she suddenly wants to take it all away from me. How is this helping me? If she really wanted to protect women, she'd be dealing with what makes women enter prostitution in the first place: poverty, cuts and poor child support. With the law she's proposing she simply creates more poverty, misery and inequality."

Another anonymous female sex worker also noted that Rhoda Grant, despite her ‘feminist’ credentials, apparently has no care for women who are currently working. “I feel extremely let down. Has she forgotten that she entered politics to represent the people and not just to pursue her own agenda? I wonder if Ms Grant has any suggestions as to how I should support my family if she succeeds in effectively taking away my livelihood.”

Lily, a sex worker, said: "If Rhoda would open her closed mind and listen to the voices of sex workers she would hear stories of resilience, strength and pride, all of which she sidelines in her portrayal of us as victims in need of rescue and rehabilitation. We deserve the right to work and live free from violence, discrimination and labour exploitation, all of which will flourish under the legal system Rhoda is proposing.”

Laura Lee, a sex worker, expressed dismay at Rhoda Grant’s cavalier disregard of solid evidence. “I am appalled that Rhoda Grant has chosen to ignore the evidence as presented to her on numerous occasions as to the harm that this proposal will do to the very women she is purporting to protect.”

Sia, a sex worker, highlighted that Rhoda Grant’s understanding of the sex industry shows women less respect than the clients she imagines as universally abusive. “The definition of commercial sex work as a form of violence against women is extremely offensive to both us women who have made autonomous decisions to engage in commercial sex work as well as to the clients who treat us with respect and dignity. Something Rhoda Grant seems incapable of affording to adult women.”

Luca, a male sex worker, noted how dangerous Rhoda’s proposals are. "Many reports from Sweden and internationally show that the criminalisation of clients is not only ineffective but dangerous. To ensure sex worker's access to rights, health and justice, the right legal framework is decriminalisation".

Veronica, a sauna-based sex worker, said, “Rhoda Grant seems to think that any sex worker who disagrees with her is by definition ‘not representative’. This is a handy device for pre-emptively ignoring the many voices of those working who think her understanding of the sex industry is both flawed and dangerous. The women I work with in the saunas aren’t fancy, we don’t have lovely Holyrood careers. We just want the legal protections that come from recognising our work as work. If she had listened to any of us she would know that.”

SCOT-PEP particularly deplores that the serious and nuanced debate around tackling exploitation has been reduced in Rhoda Grant’s proposal to such a simplistic and poorly evidenced series of catch-phrases. The voices of sex workers - who are the people who know best how to tackle exploitation within the sex industry - are backed up by a huge body of international evidence which has shown repeatedly that, in the words of the most recent World Health Organization guidelines (December 2012), “countries should work toward decriminalisation of sex work”.


Telephone:  (+44) 0131 622 7550

Email:  voice [at] scot-pep [dot] org [dot] uk