Sex work should be decriminalised everywhere. It is the quickest solution to almost all safety problems workers face in the industry.
Transactional sex is completely legal in Scotland, and many make an honest and decent living out of it to support themselves and their families. But, the ‘Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act 2007’ makes this already risky industry even more dangerous.
It would be naïve to say that the sex work industry does not come with any risks and that it can run unregulated by law. However, more times than not, the restrictions decriminalisation imposes on sex workers does not help their safety but impedes it.
Right now, sex work is legal. But, the law renders soliciting and sex workers working together as a group illegal. This is to prevent sex trafficking victims from being pimped out by criminals for money.
From this point of view, the law seems like a good thing. However, the impact it has on the everyday lives of sex workers is far from it. Sex workers would be far safer banding together as a group, renting out a shared space completely removed from their personal homes to use for their work. They would also have an easier line of communication with each other, allowing them more flexibility in sharing information and warnings of dangerous clients.
Criminalisation also accelerates the stigma of sex workers. Right now, people in the industry rely on sex work charities such as Umbrella Lane, one of the biggest in Glasgow, to find ‘sex work friendly’ clinics for their mental and sexual health. This is because criminalisation of the industry creates confusion around their job. When they go to see a normal GP about anything related to their job, they are not always educated on the industry, leaving sex workers feeling judged and feeling reluctant to return.
It needs to be normalised, and therefore, decriminalised. And, unless sex workers are involved in the decriminalisation, they will never really achieve what needs to be done to ensure maximum safety within the industry.
Sex work charities are already attempting this. Dr Anastacia Ryan, founder of Umbrella Lane, says that their involvement is so important to achieve successful decriminalisation.
“I think sex workers would have to be involved in the production of things like health and safety frameworks, and that would apply across sex work settings making sure that, for example, sex workers have the right to refuse a client without having to give a reason.”
She also thinks decriminalisation would have a positive impact on sex workers’ relationship with the justice system. Comparing it to domestic abuse prosecution, she says that right now sex workers do not have the same rights.
“If you are a victim of domestic abuse in Scotland you can anonymously testify. In fact, you don’t even need to testify if they already have two other bits of evidence… But, with victims of violence within the sex [work] industry, they don’t have that protection through the court.”
Decriminalisation would not be easy, but with the essential involvement of sex workers and charities, the industry can be made a much safer and pleasant environment for both workers and clients.
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