I spent Saturday with a hooker. Several in fact. I was at an international conference on prostitution organised by the English Collective of Prostitutes, in search of a story. It was a fascinating and bizarre day. The conference was a response to the government's recent consultation paper, and the venue was an Anglican church. The "congregation" was a mixture of radical feminists, sex workers, social workers, political activists and about 6 men including me. A couple of others were also freelance journalists, one an avuncular looking vicar, and there was someone who looked like he was probably a John.
The ECP have succeeded in winning over a number of serious feminist academics, civil rights activists, and campaigners for justice in the global community by their very persuasive and practical agenda for change which has
as its core value the putting of women affected by prostitution and their
needs first. This includes campaigning on other social issues that would
stop girls entering the trade, helping women wanting to leave, and tackling
drug dependency and people trafficking hard and as separate issues from the
prostitution they become associated with. As regards women working in the
sex industry, they believe that it only by decriminalising the activity
altogether (including the demand) that prostitutes will be able to
work safely, and under the least damaging conditions - and they warn that
whatever your moral views prostitution will exist and by criminalising
it the moral message you send out is at a very high price to the often very
young, and very abused young girls.
With the government's consulation process midway through, the debate on how the laws will change (the first time in 50 years) is now high profile, in fact Cari Mitchell from The ECP was interviewed on the Politic's Show on Sunday, and Nicky Adams also of the ECP was referred to in a piece in Saturday's Independent.
Speakers on the day included sex workers from Sweden and New Zealand whose laws have recently changed, the former towards greater criminalisation, and the latter has legalised brothel keeping.
I find the group is interesting in the context of their campaign, but also in the way that they have allied themselves with a quite radical group of feminist thinkers who reject the "career feminists" who have previously taken hard lines on sexual matters at the cost of other women. And they are interesting in themselves - articulate, attractive middle class women, involved in probably the worlds most stigmatised "profession".
If I do get a commission on this then any comments received would of course go to making it more informed.