Sex Work; A Professional Speaks
As it currently stands sex work remains a highly stigmatised and taboo topic of conversation in the UK. Often, against the backdrop of misinformation and propaganda that surrounds the sex industry people’s views concerning the criminalisation of sex work can become incredibly deep-rooted. I sat down with feminist activist, blogger, tweeter extraordinaire and most importantly sex worker, Molly Brown (alias) to discuss the fascinating topic of sex work.
Molly has been working in the sex industry since towards the end of her undergraduate degree from university and says it all began as she became increasingly disillusioned by a series of low-paying soul-destroying bar jobs. The straw to finally break the seriously over-whelmed camel’s back, an unpaid trial shift at a bar in Covent Garden. “I walked out, with tequila all over my arm, having been shouted at by drunk people for eight hours, I text my boyfriend saying sex work it is lol”. Four years on it remains that sex work is how she makes a living.
What do you picture when you think of sex work? Perhaps, women in fish nets, short skirts and high boots leaning into car windows? You might, as these are the kind of images that are repeatedly portrayed in the media, but you would be mistaken as sex work comes in all shapes and sizes in the modern world.
“People want you to fall into three categories, nymphomaniac, happy hooker who loves capitalism or they want you to be a sad drug abused addict who has no agency and no capacity to make decisions and who needs to be rescued and spoken for. When you don’t fall into one of these categories people get confused and annoyed”.
This lady is so wonderfully articulate, she considers herself an intersectional feminist and as we begin to talk about the anti-sex work side of feminism she reveals to me that some of the worst things ever said to her about sex work have been said by self-proclaimed feminists.
The argument she says of the anti-sex work side is “totalising in that it seems to only contain one perspective of sex work”. Often it does not take into account the actual views of any sex workers and asserts the perspective that sex workers cause and perpetuate misogyny and need to be eradicated.
Considering how far society has moved forwards in regards to sex over the last century it seems odd that this social stigma has not yet been wiped out. It has now become acceptable in society to have sex before marriage, for women to have multiple partners but it seems we draw the line at payment.
“The exact same shame is still there we’ve just moved the barriers, women don’t cause misogyny and we shouldn’t have to change our behaviour to avoid it”.
With regards to the Government she believes that they are simply not listening to sex workers. A perfect example of this, she says, comes as we begin to discuss the MSP Rhoda Grant, who was recently involved in a public debate at Edinburgh University.
Grant believes in the criminalisation of sex work and has taken recent steps to criminalise the clients of sex workers. Grant’s ideas come as she continues to push for the Swedish Model of law regarding sex work to be implemented in Scotland.
With passion and anger in her words, Molly says “I wish politicians campaigning around this issue would assume less about sex work and listen more”.
She wants there to be labour rights within the sex industry, which would make it a whole lot safer. She believes strongly in the decriminalisation of sex work along the lines of the model that is currently implemented in New Zealand and was actually written by the sex workers trade union.
“The NZ model removed a lot of the extra laws around sex work and treats sex work like work. Up to 4 sex workers can work together in private if no one is taking a cut and managers must comply with all labour laws.”
She voices that this model truly protects the workers and says that a woman was awarded 25,000 dollars for harassment by a client in a brothel. She stresses the fact that this could not and would not happen in the UK. Reminding me that it was written into Scottish law in 2008 that all sex work is violence against women, something that was not voted on in parliament and written by the then Health Secretary of the time.
A programme called National Ugly Mugs was rolled out as a pilot scheme in the UK in 2012 with the aim of making sex work safer for those involved. It allowed sex workers to receive warnings about dangerous individuals posing as clients, if you were a victim of a crime you could report this to National Ugly Mugs and they would use the information to warn other sex workers.
She believes this was a complete step in the right direction regarding the safety of practicing sex work but because it is written into Scottish law that sex work is violence against women, it was not rolled out in Scotland. Molly became noticeably enraged when we began talking about this.
“To me there is a difference between a client who pays me and leaves and someone who poses as a client and rapes me. To them there is no difference and they might as well not warn me about the rapists”
Routes Out Scotland deal with making sex work safer. Their stance on the subject is if you start making street sex work safer it might encourage more people to do it.
“The unspoken other half of that argument is that if you keep it unsafe it will drive people out, which to me is a terrifying thing to hear. “
I ask her if she enjoys her job, she says she enjoys certain aspects like the money, the flexibility and the camaraderie with the sex work community who have been instrumental in her campaigning. She adds “It’s not all sparkly dildos”, we laugh and I murmur an if only.
Molly does a lot of work to eradicate the stigma of sex work.
“I do workshops with medical students, sometimes in some circles it can feel the argument is so entrenched but these people are open to changing their minds”.
She says the sex working community, to her, are most important, “as it sometimes can feel the only way we’re allowed to talk about it is if our heads are bowed in shame” and says “It’s like an informal trade union”. She has recently co-founded a helpline called Confide, which enables sex workers to talk to other sex workers about any problems they might be facing.
In parting, I ask her how sex workers would be treated in her own personal utopia; “For sex work to be treated like any other work”.