Last night we spoke at the Reclaim the Night Belfast march. Below is the text of our speech.
Firstly, thank you for having SWAI here and asking us to speak. I honestly wish I wasn’t standing here talking, but my colleague and friend Laura Lee instead. These are big boots to fill and it is extremely difficult to do justice for someone who has done so much work for the sex worker movement and also acting as essentially SWAI’s Northern Ireland representative. Building bridges between allies such as Belfast Feminist Network to make sure sex worker voices were included in events like this and building a sex worker community here in the North.
This year has not been an easy year for sexual violence here on the island of Ireland between the Belfast rape trial and now the recent trial in Cork. How can sex workers have any hope under those circumstances, when the criminal justice system will blame our work for when we try to seek justice. And how can sex workers have hope, when organisations which seek to support victims of sexual violence debate against us and only recently tried to prevent us from having an event. Or use these events like Cork and Belfast to further criminalise our work.
Their demand for criminalising our clients and our workplace, when two or more sex workers share together, makes us easy targets for rapists. There are serial rapists out there at this moment, who only target sex workers because they know we won’t report to the police in fear our place of work will become a surveillance target by police to catch our clients. And even more so, as a migrant sex worker fearful they will be deported and all their earnings taken off them to pay for their deportation if they are discovered working together. Why would you want to report a rape, when the outcome could make you lose literally everything?
But yet our voices are silenced and ignored.
Client criminalisation also known as the Swedish Model, because it has its roots in Sweden. This was seen by anti-sex work feminists as a beacon of hope. But all it did was put sex worker further at risk of violence and exploitation, especially the most vulnerable.
Petite Jasmine was a sex worker in Sweden, who had her children taken away because she was a sex working mother. the father, with a history of violence was given custody. Shortly afterwards he killed her in front of the very social workers who took her children away.
Many anti-sex work feminists believe that the increase of violence, which will inevitably happen as a result of client criminalisation, is seen as a deterrent for anyone who may consider becoming a prostitute. Sex workers are seen as collateral damage to further this agenda. You don’t have to take my word for it – ask Frances Fitzgerald, the ex-Justice Minister, who introduced this law in the South.
Reclaim the Night started in response to the Yorkshire Ripper murders when police told women to stay inside after dark while the Ripper was on the lose. The Yorkshire Ripper first targeted sex workers and there was only a public outcry when non-sex working women were targets.
This is why sex workers need to be part of any movement against sexual violence as we are often the easy target and amongst the less likely to get justice.