Justice served (for now). Updated!

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.

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5 thoughts on “Justice served (for now). Updated!

  1. Prostitution is not illegal here but neither is it legal; it is decriminalized/regulationist, which means that activities associated with it such as soliciting and kerb-crawling are illegal (you get a fine) but not the act itself. This means that de facto streetwalkers and their clients get criminalized while all other sex workers don’t. This is bad as streetwalkers are the most vulnerable of all sex workers and the majority of them are drug addicts and being abused; they don’t have agency like escorts, porn actors, or sex workers who work from massage parlours or the internet. I used to be in favour of legalising all sex work until I studied prostitution at uni, now I think decriminalization/regulationism is best, because legalization leads to greater criminalization of streetwalkers, forced health checks on sex workers but not clients, victimization of sex workers in illegal brothels (cos some ppl will not want to open legal, registered brothels), sex trafficking into illegal brothels and women not being able to choose clients or working hours. Often, the most vulnerable will be the most persecuted by the criminal justice system. Of course I am disgusted with Rhonda. I think your blog is really interesting btw.

    • Yes, I agree. Often people who aren’t that familiar with the issues think that legalisation and decriminalisation are the same thing, when in fact, as you point out, they’re frequently very different – particularly in the way that they impact on the most vulnerable workers in the sex industry. (Though I’d add that being extremely vulnerable doesn’t totally rob a person of agency.)

      Do keep on eye on Rhoda – she’ll be back in the autumn doing … whatever it is she does, and if you’re interested, it would certainly be worth your while to respond to any public consultation that might occur. Also: thank you!

  2. There’s a few points here. Firstly, I find it difficult to believe that this is the first issue that comes tripping off the tongue of residents in Grant’s Highlands and Islands (yes, islands!) constituency. Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe Glasgow is a pastor’s tea party compared to that sin capital of Europe known as the Orkneys, or the Shetlands, or wherever. Residents of which are, of course, entitled to their opinion, it’s just that one wouldn’t have thought this would be their priority, or indeed, necessarily their opinion should they be fully informed. Now I’ve no doubt there will be (some) sex workers in Grants’ constituency, and it would be interesting to see whether she consulted them, and what their views are.
    Secondly, it has, nonetheless, pushed the sex workers’ rights movement north of the border onto the reactive back foot again (again, again…), trying to deal with a damage limitation exercise as distinct from pro-actively fighting for rights. I don’t want to knock (or compete with) Scot-PEP, which does an excellent job despite a crippled budget, but an effective network of sex workers across Scotland is much needed, with properly run branches and stuff. It’s a major problem with the single London-based branch structure of the TGWU, and Holyrood’s legistrative independence coupled with corrosive radical feminism, notably in Scottish Labour, should make it a priority.
    And the election should have been another message. What happened to Scottish Labour in the election? It was slaughtered. Yet Ms Grant seems to think that the same old policies should grind on regardless…

    • On Rhoda’s constituency: absolutely, it’s all rather strange. Well, except that the honourable member has thus far been notable only for some kind of Bill protecting the definition of black pudding and a campaign to improve the surface of an A road. (Armando Iannucci dreams of being able to write such telling details to indicate ‘minor, going-nowhere politico’, but wouldn’t dare for fear of being called too obvious. I mean, really.) So y’know, not yet the big time, sexy stuff that gets you talked about in the Scotsman and the Herald. I’d say Rhoda’s identified this issue as her ticket to name-recognition and doesn’t care what damage she does to marginalised men and women across Scotland along the way.

      Mmmm, I agree that Scot-Pep are marvellous. I think Rhoda’s mis-stepped: she’ll lose the Bill, be laughed out of Holyrood (as she was at the Justice Committee, by several more critically capable members of her own party no less), and this is the perfect hook on which to hang an increasingly pro-active sex worker movement in Scotland. Without wishing to give too much away in a public forum, the threat of the Bill is already sparking plenty of interest in Scot-Pep … I think we’re looking to expand, from an already very strong base (reminded of that scene in ‘Milk’ where Harvey Milk opens his speeches with, “I’m Harvey Milk, and … I’m here to RECRUIT YOU!”). Though I agree that trade union stuff is somewhat hampered by the London-focus, – well, that and sex worker trade unions are facing similar issues to trade unions en masse, e.g public disaffection, freelance/post-industrial/contractor culture, etc etc. I don’t know the answers to that stuff but obviously I’m excited to find out: I think SW trade unions could be at the forefront of a new way of doing worker politics …

  3. Pingback: Rhoda Grant’s Proposal — Amanda

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