The 'pimp lobby' slur thrown at those who argue for full decriminalization discredits the sex work labour movement. Frankie Mullin reports on the Amnesty UK Annual General Meeting.
Frankie Mullin is a freelance journalist covering social issues with a special interest in the politics of sex work.
“The English Collection of Pimps.” That was the slur thrown at a small group of women – all current or former sex workers – who were waiting to speak at the Amnesty UK Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Sunday. The women were there to defend Amnesty International’s support for the decriminalisation of the industry; their adversaries to call for its end.
Toni Mac responds to the recent police raids in Soho and Chinatown targeting migrant sex workers. She campaigns for better working conditions for sex workers by fighting criminalization and supporting public education projects around issues relating to sex worker rights. She is writing a book about sex work with Molly Smith, forthcoming from Verso.
Late last night, on the evening of Thursday, 20 October, police officers and sniffer dogs raided six massage parlours in Chinatown and Soho, when their cash registers were full with most of a day’s takings. Women in these presumed sex work premises were dragged out onto the streets past midnight, before 12 were detained and removed for immigration offences, with a further 6 arrests of maids and other staff members.
(Credit: Toni Mac)
‘Operation Lanhydrock’ is reported to be a “proactive multi-agency” effort to tackle a long list of issues said to be plaguing the local community, including human trafficking, exploiting prostitution for gain, immigration offences, money laundering, and drug dealing. The Met has stated that the “aim of the operation is to identify, safeguard and remove victims of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and modern slavery offences”. But the Met (and the law) confuse the meanings of these terms. The person on the street would expect that a victim of these offences had been forced – yet the Modern Slavery Act of 2015 specifies that in the case of “trafficking”, for instance, “it is irrelevant whether the victim consents to the travel”. To be an undocumented migrant who sells sex is to be a victim under the law, irrespective of whether you see yourself that way.
Molly Smith (@pastachips) responds to the tensions between policing and protection of sex workers following the release of video footage of sex workers being escorted from their Belfast home into a police van, while a hate mob jeers at them. She argues that criminalisation and policing, often racialised, create the conditions for violence against sex workers to thrive, which is then used to justify further policing and criminalisation.
Last Friday, on the afternoon of the 29th July, a large, angry crowd gathered in Belfast outside an unremarkable semi-detached house. In shaky mobile phone footage, since uploaded to YouTube, perhaps a hundred people are visible – men, women, small children. They are shouting and jeering, and the jeers grow markedly louder as women appear from a side door of the house and are hustled by the waiting police into the militarised police van used in Northern Ireland. You can hear people in the crowd shout “nasty fucking whores”. The women are suspected to be sex workers.
There is a lot to unpack in this scene. The footage is hard to watch. Unlike videos where the person capturing the scene is aware that they are documenting something horrifying, this clip seems to have been filmed by a participant: a cheerful memento of a summer day. The presence of small children reinforces the troubling sense that this is both an act of community violence and an event attendees considered a family day out.
In Playing the Whore, Melissa Gira Grant writes about vigilantes who post videos of suspected sex workers online, noting that for those who film and post these videos, “the camera isn’t just a tool for producing evidence: it’s his cover for harassing women he believes are selling sex, pinning a record on them online even when the law will not”.