Turn on the Red Light

[editor's note: while ostensibly about tackling prostitution, the radical feminist Turn off the Red Light campaign in Ireland intends to actively target all sexually active males]

By David Walsh

 

The campaign to introduce the Swedish Model into the Irish Laws on Prostitution

In brief the Swedish model (1999) criminalises the buyer of sexual services but not the seller.

Any consideration of the Swedish model must recognise the genesis of the law and the thinking behind it. The change in the law was incorporated in a government bill, the Violence against Women Act.  The thinking which informed the bill was ideologically driven. Its proponents asserted two fundamental propositions: that no woman voluntarily enters into prostitution and that prostitution and sex trafficking  are inextricably entwined. No empirical evidence was advanced in support of either even though all that followed was based on them. This is the ideology of radical feminism. The historian Yvonne Svanstrom describes the parliamentary debates as being heavily gendered. In addition, the uniqueness of the proposal was emphasised, all of which took place at an ideological level with no appeal to empiricism which was explicitly rejected.

At one stroke the proposal  is to eliminate sex trafficking and prostitution by one simple provision. No woman in prostitution is seen as having made a free choice; instead they are all regarded as innocent victims. The conflating of prostitution with sex trafficking is both simplistic and opportunistic. This enhances the appeal of the larger proposal to eradicate prostitution altogether. However many research workers in the field see prostitution as a complex issue and do not regard it and sex trafficking as the same thing. The sex workers in their alliance SWAI,  Sex  Workers Alliance Ireland,  do not regard themselves as trafficked or incapable of making their own choices. 

Much is made of the alleged success of the Swedish law in reducing prostitution.

In 2008, the Swedish government set up an official inquiry, the Skarhed Inquiry, into the effects that the purchase law has had on prostitution and human trafficking in Sweden which then produced a report. The report was sent to the consultation process, where interested groups were provided with the opportunity to comment on it. While many were favourable, those from academic sources, such as the Department of Criminology at Stockholm University were very critical. Two Swedish researchers, Petra Östergren and Susanne Dodillet, analysed the responses and compared them to the official report and found major contradictions. Their study concluded that there was no evidence to support the official claims.

The police are now engaged in extensive operations in relation to the indoor market. Surveillance, phone tapping, monitoring of sites, mobiles, advertisements etc. (National Police Board Sweden, 2010)

Below are comments from another paper which criticises the Skarhed Report:

April 2012 Ann Jordan

“Lastly, the branch of radical feminism that supports this analysis of sex work uses the rhetoric of ‘violence against women’ and ‘victimhood’ as a tool to silence and disempower ‘socially objectionable’ women. They collaborate with governments to create tools to enforce their views about appropriate gender roles.”

“It is important to note at the outset that the mandate for the Skarhed Report ensured that the results would not provide any support for abandoning the prostitution law. There is no evidence the law reduced the number of sex buyers.

The law has been enforced almost entirely against clients of street-based sex workers but the government does not have any evidence of a decrease in sex buyers since the law went into effect. They do not know how many men were soliciting on the street before or after the law. They do not know if men moved from the streets to indoors and online, or out of the country. They have not collected such data and so cannot prove any success in achieving the primary goal of the law.”

In 2008 Kajsa Wahlberg, of the human trafficking unit at Sweden's national police board, conceded that accurate statistics are hard to obtain, but estimated that the number of prostitutes in Sweden dropped 40% from 2,500 in 1998 to 1,500 in 2003.[96] However by 2010 she had conceded that the policy had failed, and that issues around prostitution were increasing as noted in the media which carried out surveys on the street.

Exporting the Model

Fact sheets outlining Swedish policy made it very clear that prostitution and trafficking were manifestations of the same male criminal predisposition, ‘male violence against women and children’, who are described as victims. A severe threat to society as a whole and indeed the world at large is described.

Present law in Ireland:  While some activities connected with prostitution such as soliciting, pimping and brothel keeping are criminal offences, it is not at present an offence for consenting adults to exchange sex for money.

The Turn Off the Red Light (TORL) campaign was begun in Ireland around 2010 to introduce the Swedish Model into Irish Law. There are three core members of the campaign:  Immigrant Council, Ruhama and National Women's Council.

They initiated it, organised it together with other groups, recruited other civic organisations  including trade unions,  provided the narrative and altogether controlled the agenda.  It  is driven by the ideology of radical feminism with some religious fundamentalism thrown in.

As before prostitution and sex trafficking are inextricably entwined. This conflation of two separate phenomena most definitely suited the campaign agenda and was designed to sway wavering supporters or those with misgivings otherwise. This conflation was also challenged at the hearings before the Justice Committee and has been condemned both by the UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law 2012 and the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work 2011.

The campaign has been characterised by heavy appeals to the emotions by use of videos featuring alleged victims and many horror stories. The campaign has powerful supporters both inside and outside Leinster House. Six trade unions Siptu, Impact, Unite, Teeu, Cwu, Pseu have joined as well  as INMO and IMO.

The Labour party was an early supporter. Access to Dail and Seanad was regular where talks were given  and films, videos were shown. In Oct. 2011 a bill was tabled in the Seanad in favour of the campaign by Sen. Katharine Zappone. Another ardent supporter is Ivana Bacik.

It should be remembered that there was a Europe wide,  even international campaign being conducted at the same time.

In June 2012 a discussion document was published by Justice outlining options for Review of the Law. In  August a call for submissions was made and in Oct. a conference was held in the Dept of Justice. Over 800 submissions were received but owing to their huge influence most were made by TORL  supporters. The opposition consisted mainly of individuals, some academics expert in the field and only one organisation, SWAI.

Hearings were conducted by the Joint Oireachtas Committee over Dec. 2012-Feb. 2013. During these an alarming level of bias was apparent.  First, the time allocated was heavily in favour of TORL: overall  there were 27 people on that side as against 7 on the opposing side. The opposition was not afforded sufficient time to make a proper case.

Second, it was clear there was a strong bloc in the committee who favoured TORL. Labour had three members, two independents K. Zappone and Ronan Mullen had declared support in the Seanad while on the opening day the Fianna Fail Justice spokesman Niall Collins stated his party's support for TORL. With seven out of fifteen already committed it was clear from the outset that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

The JOC report was issued in June 2013. As expected it was unanimously in favour of the Swedish Model.  Its conclusions are worthy of particular study:

4.3.3 Legal reform

Provision should be made in law for the following:

One provision should be noted: a seller of sexual services would be free to solicit but if the other party simply agreed to purchase he would be guilty of a criminal offence. It is also unclear whether payment is in cash or whether it could include gifts, meals, alcohol or entertainment. If these are included any man  going on a one-night stand where he pays for such items could find himself facing a criminal rap if things dont work out.

Both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein endorsed their support for TORL at their Ard Fheiseanna in April and May of 2013. The only people to speak out against TORL in the Dail were six independents: Clare Daly, John Halligan, Joan Collins, Mick Wallace, Richard Boyd Barrett, Luke Flanagan.

However not all events have run in favour of the Swedish Model.  It is true that the French Assembly voted in favour in Dec. 2013, but the Danish Ministry of Justice Committee Report on reform of the criminalisation of sexual offences in Denmark (report no. 1534) found:

According to the report, a criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services (the Swedish Model) will most likely not have any actual effects on the reduction of prostitution in Denmark because a ban on the purchase of such services will be extremely difficult for the police to enforce. Criminalisation will merely demonstrate a general moral condemnation of the purchase of sexual services. The report suggests that this may even have negative consequences for the women providing the services due to potential poorer financial conditions for these women and increased stigmatisation. For these reasons in particular, the committee does not recommend a criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services in Denmark. The findings in the report are based on practical experience with the Swedish model in other countries and existing knowledge about prostitution in Denmark

. The Danish Government announced on 21 November 2012 that they did not wish to introduce the Swedish model into Danish law. One should note that the reasons given are the exact opposite of those cited by the JOC in its favour.

On June 29 2013, the Scottish Parliament rejected the Swedish Model. It had  previously rejected it in April 2010 and again in 2011. The proposer of the bill, Labour MSP Rhoda Grant stated:

I am disappointed that the Bill has fallen due to not achieving cross-party support when there was such overwhelming support expressed in response to my consultation from a wide range of individuals and organisations. I will continue to press for the introduction of legislation that aims to tackle the demand side of the industry and support for those who have been failed by society.

This shows the determination and the power of the radical feminist lobby.

In a submission to the Stormont Assembly  in 2013 the PSNI had this to say about the Swedish model:

There is a serious concern that displacement or movement into a hidden environment would seriously impede law enforcement capability. The proposal may also be difficult to enforce as Law Enforcement would require corroboration of a transaction  between two parties involved.

Alternative evidence gathering methods utilised by European Law Enforcement partners, who have criminalised this activity is not available to  the PSNI. The deterrent value of the legislation would be minimal, in that persons using  prostitutes do so in a clandestine way. The legislation, as proposed around  the purchase of sex, will present investigative difficulties and in reality would  be difficult to police, given the requirement to  prove who offered what for sale, and the specific details of the interaction between two or more persons.

There is also concern that this would draw resources away from Human Trafficking investigations into a prostitution enforcement role. Law enforcement activity to reduce demand for the product of organised crime has concentrated on public awareness rather than criminalisation. It Is suggested that demand reduction is focused on awareness within the area of  human trafficking. Whilst  there are many advocates of the Swedish Model in the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services, there is conflicting information available.

Recent PSNI experience and investigations in Sweden have highlighted concern that significant  levels of trafficking and prostitution still exist despite the introduction of  legislation to criminalise the purchase of sexual services.  The prostitution environment in Sweden is not comparable to the situation existing in Northern Ireland,  in that the majority of Prostitution is on-street or females involved in prostitution being transported to residences or addresses.

and this

The term “sexual service” would need to be clearly defined  and referenced, as it  would be open to a wide range of  interpretations and moral comment.  A spectrum range could stem from “sex phone line”, voyeurism with no physical contact though to sexual intercourse.

The majority of prostitution within Northern Ireland is through independent prostitutes who are not trafficked or controlled by organised crime groups.

UglyMugs conducted the largest recent survey on escorts working in Ireland. The vast majority (97%) was self-employed  (and not controlled by an outsider); the others had worked for another party such as an escort agency. Such statistics bear out the fact that sex workers are exercising choice and are not always coerced into prostitution.

Norway

The Swedish law was introduced here in Jan. 2009. To judge from the annual reports from ProSentret, the city of Oslo’s resource center on matters related to prostitution, it has not been a success.

Since 2008, the number of prostitutes in the streets of Norway has decreased by 30 percent, but the annual report of 2011 from "Pro Senteret", the city of Oslo’s resource center on matters related to prostitution, also shows that prostitutes are now coming back regardless of the new legislation.

Estimates from Oslo show that 850 women sold sex in Oslo last year, compared to 500 women in 2009. This is an increase of 70 percent according to the “Pro Senteret” annual report of 2011.

A newspaper report 22 Jun 2012 ran the story:

Norway should rip up a law that criminalizes sex buyers, Oslo’s social affairs chief believes, as a new report shows a marked rise in violence against prostitutes working in the city.

Anniken Hauglie (Conservative Party) called for the law to be scrapped after the city’s official help centre for prostitutes, Pro Sentret, released a report on Friday detailing deteriorating conditions for sex workers in the capital.

”The reality is that the law has made it more difficult for women in prostitution,” Hauglie said. The Pro Sentret report indicates that the law has in fact made prostitutes much more susceptible to violence at the hands of their clients as the sex trade moves further underground.

The 2012 annual report by Pro-Sentret, Oslo’s official “help centre” for sex workers has this to say:

there is no reason to believe that there has been a reduction in the prostitution market in the past year. On the contrary. Much suggests that the Norwegian prostitution market remains fairly stable in terms of the number of people who sell sex, nationality and how prostitution is organized.”

More recently, it revealed new venues for prostitution in Trondheim in  bars and restaurants and tanning salons are increasingly being used.

Ireland

The figures for trafficking (all purposes) produced by AHTU, the Anti Human Trafficking Unit are as follows:

These are alleged cases many of which are still being investigated. This is important to remember since TORL try to confuse the issue frequently and the Dept of Justice confirms that many alleged cases turn out not to stand up.

The 2012 Report, Friday 20th December 2013, indicates a further reduction in the number of reported cases of human trafficking compared to previous years. An examination of data between 2009 and 2012 indicates that the number of persons originating from outside of the EU reported as victims has been declining on a yearly basis.

Noting the level of reports of human trafficking of children for the purposes of sexual exploitation in the Report, the Minister said,

With regard to the abhorrent human trafficking of children for the purposes of sexual exploitation, it is important that we recognise that the offences that are reported for 2012 arise predominantly outside of the context of prostitution. Human Trafficking is very broadly defined in Irish legislation and offences relating to child pornography, for example, may often contain the elements of human trafficking – such as recruitment and sexual exploitation – that will bring such actions within the legal definition of human trafficking.

The reports concerning 21 of the 23 children in 2012 related to offences such as child pornography, sexual assault and sexual indecency, rather than exploitation through prostitution. That is not to say that the trafficking of children for exploitation through prostitution may not be occurring, 2 cases of that nature were reported in 2012 and remain under investigation.”

TORL has made a number of  claims in the course of its campaign which it has not been made to account for by the media:

More generally it has made claims that prostitutes suffer a wide range of  disorders and abuses including  ptsd. Much of this is based on the “work” of one Melissa Farley, a notorious  radical feminist who has been cited for unprofessional conduct and has been slated by many researchers in the field around the world for biased claims. Farley is quoted many times in the references submitted by ICI, Ruhama and NWC. She was dismissed as unreliable by Judge Susan Himel  of the Ontario Superior Court. Her findings in relation to prostitution in New Zealand were categorically denied by the Government. She quoted figures five times greater than those given by the Government.

Some quotes from submissions made by NWC, Ruhama and ICI

NWC:

The prostitution of women and girls constitutes a fundamental violation of women’s human rights and a serious form of male violence against women. The system of prostitution perpetuates patriarchal views on women’s sexuality and legitimates male domination in society.

The dearth of any effective legislation in Ireland to curb the sex industry sends out a message to men and boys that women are sexual commodities to be bought. The current situation legitimises the traditional sexuality of dominance and submission.

The situation whereby adults in the absence of any degree of control or duress or lack of alternatives, discreetly agree to exchange sex for money seldom occurs.

Ruhama:

Essentially what men purchase is the power to be violent with the likelihood there will be no sanctions.

Male abusers can act with impunity because they know that women in prostitution will not be believed or taken seriously by the criminal justice system.

If one woman is for sale then potentially all women are for sale

Education/Attitudes to Condom Use: Recommendations for education of men in changing attitudes to condom use are to be welcomed, but should not, and arguably cannot be restricted to sex buyers. Such initiatives must (and generally do) target all men who are sexually active, who can be classed as ‘potential buyers’.

ICI:

If a man is determined to get paid sex nothing can stop him in countries where prostitution is tolerated/legalised and where the availability of women is unlimited. In fact the chances that he will brutalise more prostitutes is much greater because the likelihood is that he is not committing a crime in legal terms. Who is to stop him? If however, there is a ban in operation, this man will be seen as the offender that he actually is.

What you can do

Write or contact your TDs and put your views to them based on what you have learnt. Emphasise the point that this is just another aspect of  the way men are being demonised. If you are a member of one of the six trade unions that supported TORL raise this at a union meeting. Ask why you were not consulted. They will try to avoid debate at all costs. They hate to be associated with radical feminism or religious fundamentalism.

The unions are: SIPTU, TEEU, IMPACT, UNITE, CWU, PSEU. The same applies to IMO, INMO. Try to get a discussion going. If they stonewall get a signed petition and send it to the General Secretary. If you are a Labour, Sinn Fein or Fianna Fail supporter make sure your representatives know your feelings. Raise it at local meetings. These three parties have signed up to TORL. More than twenty local councils also signed up, many of them by unanimous vote. Put this to your local councillors and ask them to reconsider.

Some further reading

For a powerful look at the position here read the article by Fionola Meredith from 2013. Nick Davies' piece on trafficking outlines the way that hysteria has taken over discussion. Another piece of essential reading by an expert in the field is by Eilis Ward last year.

The PSNI document is here. The reports by ProSentret are here for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The very extensive reports into the review of Danish law are here and here. These last are the Danish reports 2012. See p.60-69 Vol I, 469-576 Vol.2, however these are in Danish only. The English version of the latest monitoring report by the Swedish police was published May 2013, and covers the year 2011.

Oslo

Norwegian women organizations believe Norwegian newspaper VG’s recent coverage of prostitute Hege Grostad gives a one-sided representation of the sex industry.

Norwegian tabloid newspaper VG published a 15-page- story about Hege Grostad working as a prostitute in Oslo.

Hege Grostad is a university student, Mensa member and lobbyist. She finds the term "selling your body" distasteful, and describes her job as "relaxing". For the past two years she's also been one of Norway's 3,000 sex workers, and is at the heart of a grassroots campaign to decriminalise and regulate the sex industry.

According to the article presented with a smiling picture of the Grostad (27), she sells sex to finance her studies and now wants to change the law criminalizing prostitution in Norway.

Pro Centre, the Swedish sex workers advocacy group, believes

“All people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one other in a spirit of brotherhood.” - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Pro Centre believes that all work in relation to prostitution must be based on human rights. Prostitution is an act, not a character trait of some human beings. Prostitution involves two parties: one person buying, and one person selling, sexual services. We want to live in a society where no-one feels that prostitution is the only available option. We cooperate with individuals, respecting the choices that they make in the situations in which they find themselves. Pro Centre wants to replace myths and prejudices about prostitution with greater insight and knowledge.

We want to live in a society that instead of stigmatising women and men who sell sex shows solidarity with them. Society should invest heavily in preventing prostitution and in providing help to people who are looking for alternatives to sex work. Female and male sex workers must be included as equal partners in the processes that relate to them and their lives. Pro Centre aims to support individuals by making them aware of their rights and responsibilities, and helping them to maintain their self-respect and good health so that they can take control of their own lives and realise their true potential.

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