Friday, 15 April 2011

How the Anti-Sex Lobby Profits

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 did.

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 helping yourself?

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 papers.

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 to promote.