While various areas of sex work have little in common apart from the 'sex' bit, increasingly they are lumped together in the eyes of the public, government, and media as something that is affecting society more than before and needs attention now.
The reasons for this are numerous. One particular influence is the rise of what is known as the Rescue Industry, an umbrella term coined by Laura Agustin
to cover people not in the flesh trade, who nevertheless profit from
attempting to end sex work of all kinds. Did I say "profit"? Yes, I sure
Issues such as trafficking, sex work, and pornography are hot topics for
people who claim their main motivation is to help those involved. Help
is a great thing. There are loads of people who could all use a little
help, in all professions and walks of life. But when does the reasonable
goal of helping others cross the line into infantilising others... and
Cynical? Maybe a little. On one hand many of the people concerned about
the welfare of sex workers are no doubt motivated by a genuine desire to
help others. Particularly those they think of as unable to defend
themselves. But the flipside of this concern is that everyone needs
money to survive. As other charities have discovered in the past,
sometimes the desire to have a high profile and keep the wheels greased overtakes the benefit to the people you were trying to help.
The bun fight currently going on over funding to help trafficking victims is one example.
Charities aside - and, let it be said, there are many worthy and honest
ones - there are also the academics, researchers, and writers who earn
their living not through hands-on effort, but by writing papers. Papers
which allow them to win grants. Grants so that they can write more
This, as a former cancer research academic, is a world I know well. We
can't all save lives. But we do all have to earn a crust. Still,
sometimes the ratio of money available to size of the problem seems far
out of whack. You do start to wonder how much of what is said and
written is born from genuine concern, and how much is just chasing
another year's salary.
Is there enough money in it to even bother making this criticism? Well,
thanks to a little tool that compares the money from funding grants over
time, we can make a rough guess of what it's worth. For instance,
funding for studying trafficking is enormous - in 2009, it was funded
worldwide to the tune of nearly a billion US dollars. This is a total greater than the amount of grant money awarded to study lung cancer,
which of course, is also devastating, and affects far more people. And
spending on trafficking since 2000 has dwarfed the grant awards on such
important international health concerns as malnutrition, malaria, or tuberculosis - conditions that kill millions of people worldwide every year, and affect hundreds of millions more.
Another way in which opposing sex work brings financial benefit is
through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Police know, for instance, that
if a brothel owner is prosecuted, since running a brothel is illegal,
any money and property retrieved from the 'crime scene' becomes theirs.
When police resources are limited, does the temptation of profit
possibly influence victimless crimes being prosecuted more vigourously
than they otherwise would? Hard to know for sure. It's a handy little
coincidence, the pre-Olympic crackdown on brothels and the recent cuts
in police funding, isn't it? You can read more about the criticisms of such crackdowns in the Grauniad.
Hanna Morris, who ran a brothel, lost her abuse of process case against the police. She rang 999 when masked and armed gunmen threatened her business...
only to find herself arrested, and the violent criminals never pursued
or apprehended. It's impossible to know for certain, but one can imagine
plenty of situations in which police - with restricted time and money -
must make choices: unknown violent criminals who may be difficult and
expensive to catch, or women technically breaking the law standing right
in front of you, with cash assets?
The outcome of the Hanna Morris case certainly sends a message, but I'm not
convinced it's the message of 'protecting women' that some people prefer