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Umbrella Lane Statement on Press Release by Male Campaigners to Outlaw Purchase of Sex in Scotland

Umbrella Lane, a sex worker-led charity supporting over 500 sex workers throughout Scotland, condemns calls by men to bring in laws that criminalise the purchase of sex.

These calls would remove predominantly women’s livelihoods at a time of increased austerity and exacerbated feminisation of poverty created by the pandemic. As evidenced in other countries where they have been introduced, these laws will create more victims than they help, hurting consensual sex workers while doing nothing for those being exploited.

Criminalisation approaches are opposed by every sex worker-led organisation, as well as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. Even leading feminist organisations in Scotland, including Scottish Women’s Aid, have expressed concern that these laws will further endanger sex workers.

A focus on “demand” is an ideological, flawed and disingenuous approach that fails to consider the reasons people engage in sex work, which are predominately related to financial need. The approach becomes even more dangerous when put into a legal framework that has been comprehensively linked in other jurisdictions to increased risk and instances of violence and poorer overall health, while doing nothing to decrease the number of people doing sex work.

“It is unfathomable that a group of men are calling for laws that have been shown to increase violence against women who engage in sex work,” says Dr Anastacia Ryan, Founding Director of Umbrella Lane. “These laws already put women at risk forcing sex workers to work alone indoors or risking arrest through working alone, in hidden and isolated areas on the street to avoid police repression and possible prosecution.”

Ryan also notes the failure of male campaigners to quote a single woman in their campaign, damaging the credibility of their so-called allyship.

The contribution of male police officers has irked many sex work campaigners, who point out that the ground on which they assert their feminist credentials is shaky at best.

“Who is Alan Caton, a police officer, to assert that prostitution is violence?” asks Niki Adams, a spokesperson for the English Collective of Prostitutes. “Sex workers, like other women, know the difference between rape and the sex we consent to and we strongly object to a policeman interpreting our experience for us. Caton inappropriately capitalizes on his experience in Ipswich, after the tragic murder of five young women, to advocate for more police powers, disregarding what sex workers say about how police powers are currently used to abuse and persecute us.”

The police’s credibility to comment appropriately on sex work is particularly questionable following revelations about convicted police officer Wayne Couzens’ conduct towards sex workers and the continued support he received from his colleagues.

Dakota Jake Jones, Umbrella Lane’s Community Support Officer, highlights that the male campaign erroneously frames sex work as exclusively engaged in by women.

“This is a reductive male saviour narrative that does nothing to help women who are doing sex work,” he says. “It also paints sex workers as a single homogenous female group. Male sex workers exist. Non-binary sex workers exist. Trans sex workers exist. Forgetting them is dehumanising and exclusionary.”

Jones points out that this discourse has damaging consenquences, making these groups less likely to access support services.

Umbrella Lane emphasises a rights-based approach that respects individual self-determination. Consent to transactional sex is valid and it is essential that sex workers can differentiate between encounters where their boundaries were respected, and behaviour that transgresses that. Framing all sex work as “violence against women” ignores the accounts of actual workers and disempowers them from seeking help and recourse where appropriate.

Full decriminalisation of sex work is the best way to support those in the industry. Umbrella Lane opposes any criminalisation model and stands in solidarity with sex workers, recognising their right to make choices for their own lives.

Additional input from @MarinScarlett_

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