The consultation! I just thought I’d quickly have a look at Rhoda’s first really substantial reference. (The actual-first reference is the ‘Safer Lives: Changed Lives‘ Scottish government document, which basically amounts to Rhoda arguing, “people who agree with me, agree with me. Therefore we must all be right”. More on this another time, but suffice to say that Safer Lives is neither the apex of feminist scholarship, nor is it written in stone.) The first meaningful reference (i.e, to an academic study) appears in the following paragraph.
“The majority of those who are involved in prostitution are unwilling participants. A number of UK studies provide useful background information in this area. Many of the findings are disturbing. For example 75% of women in prostitution in the UK became involved when they were children … ” (p.6)
That 75% figure comes from a study done called ‘Ties That Bind‘, by Margaret Melrose, and it makes for interesting reading. And no, I’m not going to critique the methodology! To my untrained eye, it looks reasonably howler-free. Ties That Bind “was generated by in-depth interviews with forty-six women, all of whom had become involved in prostitution before they were 18. At the time of the interviews, 32 were still involved in prostitution. Approximately three-quarters of those interviewed were street-working prostitutes.” (I can’t give you page numbers, because the copy of the study that I found online doesn’t have them. But this is from under the subheading ‘Survival Acts’.)
Ties That Bind is a study that focuses on how and why children and young people become involved in the sex industry. To that end, it interviews women (and some children) who became involved in the sex industry as children. It is not a study of the sex industry as a whole. It is a study of a sub-section (those who entered the industry as children) of a sub-section (women who work on the street). Belinda Brooks-Gorden estimates that people who work on the street constitute between eight and ten percent of the UK sex industry.
To cite this study as evidence that 75% of all sex workers entered the industry as children is akin to taking a study on how tigers feel about their identity as cats – by interviewing forty-seven tigers, talking about their relationship to the ‘cat’ label, and then citing that study as evidence that 100% of cats are, in fact, tigers. (But maybe some of them have complicated feelings about being cats.) A different way of highlighting the absurdity of this stat as cited in the consultation is to wonder why it is cited as “75%” and not 100%. After all, all the women interviewed started in the sex industry as children – that’s the point of the study! Rhoda’s got 75% because … not all the women interviewed are still selling sex: 25% of them aren’t. So Rhoda thinks that 100% of women in the sex industry started as children, but, y’know, some of them quit. That’s the premise her 75% stat is based on, having fabulously distorted the findings of the paper she’s “citing”. All cats are tigers, or former tigers.
Interesting how Rhoda cites a study that notes that people who work on the street “are thought to be the most vulnerable and exploited of all sex industry workers” (‘Survival Acts’), and then states in her consultation document that she wants to “bring indoor prostitution in line with legislation covering street prostitution” (p.9). Yes, because the main thing I think when I look at the indoor sex industry is, “man, this would totally be improved if it was more like street work”. The de facto criminalisation of clients (and workers) on the street has obviously worked out so well for vulnerable women.
(You’ll note that Rhoda’s proposals will have no effect on the number of people entering the sex industry as children, because – listen carefully; this is complex – sex with children, whether commercial or not, is already criminalised. It carries a potential life sentence. Furthermore, Margaret Melrose, Rhoda’s expert on juveniles in the sex industry, doesn’t recommend criminalising the clients of adult sex workers. Under ‘Conclusions’, she writes, “in order to tackle the causes of child prostitution, this author would argue that there is a need to tackle the poverty of the communities from which these young people so often come”. Not much I’d disagree with there.)
That Rhoda’s using a study that (perfectly legitimately) interviews only women who started selling sex as children, to ‘prove’ that all sex workers entered the industry as children; and that she’s extrapolating the entire UK sex industry from a small study of street-working women (remember when she told me I’m not representative?), seems to me to be a flat-out unethical misuse of the academic work in question. I’d be interested to find out if there are any consequences for that. Anyone know?