Talking to The Women’s Support Project.

I see the Women’s Support Project/SCASE are currently re-circluating that “sex worker rights activists are secret pimps” text. What fun! (Old news, though surely, ladies? Get with the programme. I’m sure Stella Marr has written something fresher – maybe she’s tried to out another sex working blogger? Nice company you keep How exciting.)

As it happens, the Women’s Support Project recently turned up in my inbox, wanting to know my views on service provision in Glasgow. (“I understand that your political viewpoint differs substantially from that of the Women’s Support Project, however, I am hoping that you will still be willing to give me your input as this report  … [as] … we both hold the safety and wellbeing of women in prostitution paramount.” Hee, isn’t this just the cutest leverage you’ve seen in a while? ‘Plz send info to help us screw you over better, because WOMEN and their SAFETY!’)

So I wrote back, noting:

  • I have no indication of whether this information will be used purely to tailor service provision, or whether it’ll crop up in some press release or on SCASE with the headline, “survey says [high number]% of women in prostitution have experienced [whatever]”. I don’t necessarily want to ‘give’ my experiences to an organisation that might subsequently use them to silence me. ( … And, what, have a bunch of commenters on SCASE go “these results just show the bullshit of the pro-pimp lobby”, as if they might not simultaneously be talking about *my* experiences of rape, *and* calling me a pimp. Wow, thanks!)
  • If we were in a Rape Crisis Centre, talking about responses to survivors of rape, you’d recognise disbelief and name-calling as a form of violence, and yet again and again sex workers who have the temerity to disagree with the WSP are called the ‘pro-pimp lobby’ or similar – by the WSP, by SCASE. [ … ] Hmm! And now you want to talk to me about violence and service provision? Can we start with the structural violence that is perpetuated by feminist organisations?

Calling sex workers ‘pimps’ (oh god oh god could the casual use of this word by white people be any more problematic no it couldn’t) demonstrates an understanding of the sex industry that makes Lord of The Rings look morally complex. Guess what, geniuses: some of us work in criminalised conditions, for instance, because we live with other sex workers. This is called “hella fucking safer”; it’s also called “brothel-keeping”. You know who campaigns to keep us in criminalised conditions? ‘Feminist’ organisations such as the Women’s Support Project. The effects of these laws are that we get to choose between (i) keeping ourselves safer, and (ii) calling the police if we do get attacked. You may pick only one! If you see any problems with this state of affairs, allow me to refer you to the WSP. They wish to call you a pimp.

The final point I made in my email was that:

  • … the WSP strikes me as a wholly inappropriate vehicle for service provision to sex workers. [You] have seemingly no accountability to the sex working population you purports to serve, you have no room for nuance in your approach, and there’s a huge conflict between your campaigning work and your putative service provision. (Campaigning in the WSP context seems to mean, ‘educating’ non-sex workers about the ‘reality’ of the sex industry, which translates to sex working-ears as ‘shouting over you, if your reality is different’. That’s not a safer space for us, is it? Would you get STI testing in a place that shouted over you?)

So, just to clarify, I was totally right. I cannot think of a more inappropriate conflict of interest than on the one hand, posting articles all like, “oh well, I’m not saying all (so-called) ‘sex workers’ are definitely pimps, but here’s an article about how loads of sex workers are pimps, just fyi”, and on the other, being a service provider to Glasgow’s sex working population. Imagine trying to access those services! “Hello, I’m a sex worker and I was raped last night, could I speak to someone? … Uh, ideally someone who hasn’t joined in with insinuating that all sex workers are pimps? Thanks”.

(Just as a point of interest: lol forever at the idea that ‘pimps’ get into the sex worker rights movement … because, what, we’re rolling in cash? Its the most lucrative of all the mostly-invisible and stigmatised human rights campaigns? Mate, I can’t move for red umbrellas made out of rubies. For what it’s worth, when we spend money on activism – hiring rooms, paying each other’s childcare – that’s money that we’ve earnt ourselves – y’know, on our backs. The Women’s Support Project get over a quarter of a million pounds a year, to run ‘services’ that are genuinely … nebulous. (“We are not able to offer a drop-in service …. At the moment we are unable to advertise set opening hours for our telephone line“.) Er. If you were looking for someone making a fairly good living off being mean to sex workers, ladies, you might want to look a bit closer to home.)