Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Community Safety Glasgow visualises prostitution

Scotland’s ‘zero tolerance’ stance on prostitution, ostensibly pursued to tackle human trafficking and reduce violence against women, has led to methods of crude and discriminatory campaigning.

Janine Ewen
9 April 2015
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Captioned by CSG: ‘THE FANTASY: New in Town! Sexy Oriental Star! All Services! 24/7.’ Source: CSG Facebook. Fair Use.

In 2014, Community Safety Glasgow (CSG), a charitable body owned jointly by Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Police Authority, joined the pledge for Glasgow to become a ‘White Ribbon City’. This declaration, which seeks to address and reduce incidences of violence against women in all its forms, interacts with Scotland’s zero tolerance policy on prostitution, Scotland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill (to be implemented this year), and the Violence Against Women strategy (‘Making Scotland Equally Safe’) in a combined effort to eradicate prostitution.

In addition to these current measures, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is exploring the creation of a single human trafficking offence for all forms of exploitation. Many submissions to the committee have asked for the bill’s central tenet to follow the so-called ‘Swedish model’. This criminalises the clients of sex workers, despite ample evidence from Sweden itself that the criminalisation of buyers leads to disastrous results. MSP Rhoda Grant, whose previous attempt to change legislation was the ‘Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland)’ bill in 2012, is the prime figure behind this drive. It is therefore of no surprise to those who have been following Grant’s lobby trail that the MSP has been urging feminist value organisations and Police Scotland to submit their views, making sure that ‘demand’ is a hot subject of discussion in both the analysis and conclusions.

Prostitution is legal in Scotland, however the relevant laws deem it a type of ‘anti-social behaviour’ [S.46 of the Civic Government Scotland Act 1982]. They also criminalise prostitutes who work in public spaces [S.19 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998; Prostitution (Public Places) 2007]. The period between 2013 and 2014 also witnessed brothel raids, a proposal to ban condoms and a policy of welfare visits as suspected raids, in that order.

It is therefore difficult to applaud Glasgow City Council’s White Ribbon statement of, “we want to say to women that they do not stand alone, and are not to blame for the violence used against them”, as the current legislation directly targets women in prostitution [as a public nuisance]. Furthermore, they are vicariously punished by moves to criminalise their clients, efforts which continue despite a 2004 Report of the Expert Group on Prostitution in Scotland that cautioned against motives that criminalised sex workers’ clients, for increasing stigma, and further isolation. Perhaps we should consider that these words are not inclusive of women in the sex industry; those who do not want to be saved.

Which will it be? An anti-social behaviour order (ASBO), a brothel raid or increased risks from community exclusion? None of these evoke a measure for community safety or even a progressive outcome in any ‘routes out’ initiative. The feminist alliance of ‘end demand’ charities, government officials and local authorities have framed the sex industry as an exploitative trade that ultimately leads to violence, sex trafficking and destroys communities. In this framing sex work can never be a career choice. It is an industry that must have an exit only route through zero tolerance, a door which initiates moral cleansing, but ultimately prompts prostitutes to view themselves as sexually exploited women. Only after this is agreed upon may they be included in a plan of help (in other words, consent to the stigma, then we will assist).

Sex worker-led organisations furthermore face prejudice and financial struggles because they offer both a rights-based approach and exit paths that uphold the humane traits of dignity and respect. Organisations developing practical strategies to reduce harm in Scotland are also starting to question whether they will be eligible in the future to apply for the Scottish Government’s Violence Against Women Fund. Pragmatic harm reduction activities contradict the policy’s approach to prostitution, which does not endorse tolerance.

An anonymous service provider commented:

“Given the environment and driving factors by a majority, it feels intimidating to express our concerns on the Swedish Model for sex workers. We are a frontline service and we need to protect our work and reputation, so what can we do? We work to reduce stigma, not add it.

For example, I have been pulled in previously  to a government panel because I do not agree with labelling every sex worker as a victim, nevertheless I was questioned on my commitment towards ending violence”.

CSG and social media campaigns

These embedded preconceptions and stigma-fuelled remarks have evolved into visual representations of prostitutes [primarily trafficked] through the CSG social media channels. Established in 2006, CSG fosters partnerships with government agencies and communities to pursue its stated mission of creating a “safer, better, cleaner Glasgow, where equality and respect are paramount.” It functions as a type of community policing mechanism, working with other groups to tighten regulation of Glasgow’s urban space in the name of increased safety.

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"Think becoming involved in prostitution is a ‘free choice’ made by ‘grown women’? That’s not the case." CSG Facebook. Fair Use

CSG campaign ‘16 days’ in December 2014 combined a heavy pro-Swedish agenda—which seeks to criminalise the clients of sex workers—with fictional newspaper clippings of prostitutes promoting their services. The general response to this crude campaign was that prostitutes needed an education by members of the public. One key and reoccurring throughout CSG’s postings is ‘choice’, and that prostitutes have none.

The pictures promoted by CSG suggest it has little understanding of the sex industry or at the very least that it ignores academic research and critical knowledge when producing its ad campaigns. It is time for the public to view a different picture, one that portrays the failure of both Scotland and Sweden to keep sex workers safe amidst their drives to eliminate prostitution.

The term prostitute has been used in accordance with Scotland’s legislation.

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