As you’ve probably already heard, Rhoda Grant’s Bill to Criminalise the Purchase of Sex went before the Justice Committee in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, to establish whether it could proceed towards the legislature or would require further consultation. The Justice Committee had up to a month to decide, and took under three hours to unanimously declare that further consultation will be necessary.
There were loads of problems with the first consultation, starting with the fact that although Rhoda was using it to claim her Bill had been fully-consulted-upon, it was in fact a consultation for a different Bill entirely. (Trish Godman’s attempt to criminalise the purchase of sex was much more wide-ranging, taking in advertising and a wider range of sexual services.) Additionally to that, the consultation asked questions like, “do you think both participants of a commercial sex act should be criminalised, or only one? Which side do you think should be criminalised?” which, sharp-eyed-readers will have noted, is not a exhaustive cartography of all the possible options in the world: there is also the unspoken shadow-option that no participant should be criminalised for a consensual sex act between adults. Finally, sex workers and sex worker projects felt that their contributions had been minimised, downplayed, or excluded – because not listening to whores is such a feminist option, duh. (All of this is extremely shady, but this last point shockingly so. From the SCOT-PEP submission to the Committee: “Grant claims that views have not changed since the time of the initial consultation period; this is based on a meeting that was held on the 17th of January 2011, immediately after Trish Godman’s consultation deadline. This meeting was held behind closed doors with a select group of stakeholders and interested organisations; no sex worker-led organisations were invited. SCOT-PEP was neither notified of nor invited to this meeting, no minutes or notes of record were taken, and Rhoda Grant has refused to provide details of the attendees. Rhoda Grant claims to have an on-going engagement with ‘a number of bodies, the public and others with an interest in this proposal’, yet has never sought the views of the genuine stakeholders, the sex workers themselves” [emphasis mine]. Boom. The whole submission is very, very worth reading.)
I thought of Rhoda’s attempt to fast-track her Bill on the back of a shoddy consultation for a different piece of legislation when I read about Irish legislator’s attempts to frame the legality of selling sex as a “loophole” which we can therefore snap closed without too much icky discussion. You can see a similar thing going on in this not very impressive Scotsman piece, that starts: “A new law to finally make prostitution illegal in Scotland is to be put before the Scottish parliament this week in a bid to clamp down on the blah blah argle blarge …”. Yeah, to finally make prostitution illegal. Finally. I must have missed the memo where we all, as a nation, decided on this and closed the case. I can see the piece in The Scotsman is not a think-piece, but must it be where thinking goes to die?
The tired tone of that ‘finally’ reminds me something Rhoda said in the Justice Committee (which I sat in on, making baleful eyes at the back of Rhoda’s head, like some kind of Ghost of Christmas Future in a pencil skirt), actually – she was being sarcastic about the prolific nature of the debate around the topic, and said something like, “I look forward to this Bill progressing to stage one, because then the honourable member will also have the pleasure of reading all the material”. My jaw kind of dropped at her sarcasm, because, like, Rhoda – if you’re not interested in the issues, don’t fucking legislate on them. It is really not that hard. I mean, I’m not an academic or a law-maker, and I’ve read most of the key academic papers on both sides of the issue, because I’m interested and want to be reasonably well informed. If you’re not interested, why (why, oh god, why) are you pushing forward with the Bill? My mind. It was blown.
What kind of makes me laugh about the Irish parallel, though, is that what Wendy unpicks at Feminist Ire is actually a rather neat rhetorical trick, whereas in contrast, Rhoda’s attempt to claim that we’ve all discussed this before and thus can nip straight past the boring ‘listening’ and ‘debating’ and ‘evidence’ bits of law-making is rather clumsy. As the speedy knock-back of the Justice Committee demonstrated. If you’re going to be disingenuous, at least show us the respect of trying to do it convincingly. Good grief.