Sex Worker Voices
'Nothing About Us, Without Us'
Miranda Kane is a former sex-worker, comedian, activist and public speaker. She also runs a Body positive/Fat activist night called Club Indulge, blogs for the Metro, debated at Cambridge University and Trinity College, Dublin on Sex-Worker rights, was nominated for best Comedy Award, Perth Fringe 2016, toured the UK with ‘Coin-Operated Girl’, and wrote and performed ‘Slaving Away’; a 6 part sitcom with audible.com.
‘Why Amnesty International are right to lobby for the decriminalisation of consensual sex work after undertaking a two year study where they actually talked to sex workers; and why a bunch of Hollywood A-Listers, who are so desperate to get away from the ‘Actress/whore’ stereotype that they demonise the only way a marginalised section of society can afford to live, all from the safety and comfort of their Beverley hills mansions, are wrong.’
Title speaks for itself, really.
Ok, so I’m going to explain a bit about my background, what decriminalisation actually is, the current way in which sex-work is policed and why Tina Fey, Lena Dunham et al are putting lives at risk with their ‘selective feminism’. I also want you to remember I’m talking about CONSENSUAL Sex-work. Anything else is a crime, and should be treated as such with the full force of the law. And also, please remember that sex-workers and their clients remain the leading source of intelligence on possible trafficking victims.
I’m Miranda Kane, and I was an independent sex-worker for 7 years; a career which allowed me to live independently, helped me to travel, meet people from all walks of life, and taught me how to run my own business. You may think that there is only a fairly limited amount of practical skills you can pick up in sex-work, but I retired having taught myself how to build websites, photography and photoshop skills, marketing and search engine optimisation as well as tax accountancy.
I would say I have a lot to thank the sex industry for – it broadened my horizons so much, that I’m now a comedian, and have a pretty good time telling people about my work. After all, we’re British. And therefore sex remains one of the funniest things anyone can do with their clothes off.
Now, to understand why Amnesty wants sex-work decriminalised, it’s handy to understand what decriminalisation actually is. Is it legalising sex-work? No. To fully legalise it refers to the use of criminal laws to regulate and control the sex industry. Fine, you may think – what’s wrong with that? It would mean strict laws which determine where, when and how sex-workers can work, it also means anyone unable to comply with these rules would be breaking the law, giving them a criminal record, which effectively would trap them into a life prostitution. We’re already seeing it in Germany, where it is legal, but sex-workers are hampered by bureaucratic regulations that turn them into criminals if they don't comply.
But decimalisation would mean a lift on the current laws surrounding sex work. Mainly the law which stops one sex worker from working in the same premises as another. At the moment, it’s perfectly legal for one to work alone, but if you wish to work with another for safety, then it becomes a brothel. Which is ILLegal.
This law means sex workers are currently susceptible to violence as they have to work in isolation. If they work collectively, they are then at the mercy of the authorities – unfortunately, this can lead to an abuse of power depending on which police commissioner wants some easy PR.
One example of which is the Soho raids – on a cold December night in 2013, 250 policemen in full riot gear, in riot vans with dogs pulled 25 women into the streets. Handcuffed their maids to radiators, took money, and belongings from the flats without receipts, and also bought along the UK press so pictures of these ladies, in their underwear, appeared in the newspaper the next day. According to their press officer, it was because these women were linked to sex trafficking and rape. If that’s true, then surely they should have been protected from appearing in the newspapers at all.
However, in court, they were accused of running brothels as women were working in pairs for safety.
The cases all got thrown out.
The real reason for the raids? Easy PR and an attempt to clear a well known block of flats so that Soho Estates could continue the gentrification of the area and turn it into a shopping centre. All on the money earnt from sex-workers themselves.
Now the ladies in Soho feel they have no one to turn to. You won’t hear of crime statistics on the rise because they no longer feel they can go to the police for protection. Rapes, thefts and beatings are now going unreported – the trust is gone, and the perpetrators continue to walk the streets. Not only that, but up and down the country, since the failed operation Pentameters 1 and 2, condoms are now being used as evidence – thus discouraging a lot of sex-workers from keeping them.
I realise that you’re the Edinburgh Skeptics. You want figures, you want statistics. However, all I can give you is personal insight. I can tell you what I have experienced from talking to sex workers throughout the country, from rallies with the English collective of prostitutes and conferences with sex worker support organisation like National Ugly Mugs.
Because whilst we may hear a lot of figures and statistics about sex-work, the fact is we will NEVER get a clear idea through surveys and questionnaires because hundreds, if not thousands of sex-workers do not wish to be asked about their work.
Plus whatever data there is can be easily manipulated. Irish Journalist Kevin Myers recently wrote an article for The Sunday Times with the headline ‘Prostitution row makes me want to start charity for abused statistics’
Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Meryl Streep and Ann Hathaway. All have waded in to add their voice to the argument that Amnesty are wrong. All are women we have come to admire and the media have thrust them forward as cheerleaders for feminism. But when their views actually stand to harm other women, to put other women in danger and to refuse an act that will save the lives of women throughout the world then I have to point out that they are wrong.
Feminism should seek to help all women.
Feminism should seek to make women equal to men, and that should be with us standing as one – not sacrificing those who are already marginalised.
People ask me why I do this – why I stand in front of people everyday and talk about being a sex-worker, am I brave or just incredibly stupid. Am I some kind of glory hunter, am I riding on a Belle De Jour bandwagon?
It’s simply because of this – Stigma kills.
I stand in front of you to say look at us. Look at sex-workers. We do not deserve the stigma you have attached to us. We are human, we are average, we come in every size, shape, colour imaginable. We are beautiful, we are frumpy, we watch TV in onesies and we have chosen to make a living in a way that doesn’t maim, doesn’t murder, but the stigma we have attached to us is worse than any kind of criminal.
Stigma kills – we’re seeing this in Sweden where the law which bans the buying of sex has pushed sex workers further underground, and made them more susceptible to abuse, both from the clients and the authorities. Women have died because they have not been afforded the protection they might have had because the Nordic Model has heightened the stigma attached to sex work. This, in turn, has given the country a whole new problem - there’s no government funding for sex worker outreach. The street workers no longer have access to free protection. Many of the shops in Copenhagen have banned them from even walking inside because of the amount of condom thefts taking place, and the hurried negotiations between sex-worker and client have left many not being able to use protection at all. In short, Sweden is sitting on a HIV timebomb.
Ann Hathaway and Meryl streep are not sex-workers. They are not experts on sex workers. But unfortunately Hollywood has held up the belief that sex-work objectifies us. I disagree. I know that me being a sex-worker is not a manifestation of the patriarchy. I do not believe that having a man pay for the pleasure of licking my feet is what is causing unequal pay and a lack of women in highly paid, high powered jobs. Saying I can be as promiscuous as I wish, I just can’t have the power and control that comes with a legal financial agreement I find confusing. Saying I can’t partake in a sexual practice I, and many others, find a turn-on is just castrating.
I’ve watched dozens of comedians this month do Dead Hooker jokes, unaware and oblivious to the fact they’re devaluating human life, and I’d like to quote from an excellent article by Carly Lewis in reaction to Tina Fey’s regular contribution to the same comedy ouvre – ‘This is perhaps disdain disguised as sisterly concern. To be a feminist though, should mean being engaged in the safety and advancement of all women. When you begin picking and choosing who should succeed under feminism and who should be left behind or punished – its not feminism, it’s lobbying.’
Let me tell you what I think feminism is.
It is the right for a woman to do whatever she wants with her body without fear, shame or judgement.
That is it! A woman has the right to do what she wants with her body – as long as it’s safe, sane and consensual - without fear, shame or judgement. We should be able to do whatever the hell we want to do with our bodies. Just like the men can.
After all, let me remind you all we live in a world where David Beckham can pose on the side of a bus in his pants, and no one blinks an eyelid at his thinly veiled 6 foot tall cock and balls –and he still goes on to get an OBE. Can you imagine a woman being able to do that? I want to live in that world – the one where a woman can pose in a bra and it not be the most defining thing about her or her career. I want her to go on and be prime minister if she wants to be!
The right to do what she wants with her body without fear, shame or judgement.
It’s a full stop.
It’s the end to any argument on sex-work and feminism.
I can’t write you an academic paper on it, I can’t write an era defining book. I cant stretch it out anymore than that. At best, It’s easy words, for an easy ideal.
At worst, it’s a sodding meme!