INDEPENDENCE-supporting sex trade workers are stepping up a campaign to have the SNP overturn a conference resolution to introduce laws criminalising the purchase of sex.
A new group, Sex Workers For Yes, will be launched this week with two objectives: firstly to persuade sex workers across Scotland to support independence, and secondly to persuade the SNP “to revisit the decision” taken at their conference on Friday.
Delegates at the conference overwhelmingly backed a motion from Edinburgh Eastern MSP Ash Denham, and supported by George Kerevan, the MP for East Lothian, and Philippa Whitford, MP for Central Ayrshire. It called for the introduction of a “Scotland model” of legislation on prostitution, similar to the Nordic Model, or Sex Buyer Law, pioneered in Sweden.
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Under that law, prostitution is recognised as a form of violence.
The purchase of sex rather than the selling of sex is made illegal and prostitutes are seen as victims rather than criminals.
However, a number of sex worker charities say this model is harmful, and forces the trade underground, further away from police and services that could help those involved in prostitution.
Holly, a founding member of Sex Workers For Yes, said: “Many sex workers supported independence in 2014, and many will do so again when the next referendum comes.
"In particular, sex workers who are EU nationals and work in Scotland now see independence as the only chance to retain their right to stay here. Last time the No side made the case that independence would put at risk their freedom to live, work and be in relationships here – but that argument has proved hollow.
“However, as a result of the vote at the SNP conference to support the dangerous Nordic model, we now have a second task. We know many in the SNP support sex worker rights, and we have also heard from many members who feel they did not have enough information at the weekend and now regret voting for those proposals.
“There will always be a minority who do not support sex worker safety and human rights on ideological grounds, but we believe the evidence is there to persuade the party to overturn this decision at a future conference.”
The Nordic Model, Holly argued, has been found wanting. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said the “approach of criminalising the client has been shown to backfire on sex workers,” with prostitutes “left on the street with the most dangerous clients and little choice but to accept them”.
Rachel, another founding member of the group, said: “Sex worker rights are a human rights issue. It raises questions of austerity, ableism, inclusivity and whorephobia.
"Do not ask yourself, ‘would I want my daughter doing this?’, ask yourself, ‘would my daughter be safe doing this?’.”
During the debate at the SNP conference, Fiona Broadfoot a former sex worker, spoke in favour of the motion and the model. Her harrowing testimony, and description of rape as an “occupational hazard” helped convince delegates in the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre to back the proposal.
MP Denham had told delegates: “Prostitution is fundamentally incompatible with the principles of respect, of justice and equality the SNP stands for.”
“We have now taken a big step in tackling gender-based violence. Countless victims of prostitution state that violence is an inevitable part of the industry.
“This is backed up by studies here in the UK, as well as fully decriminalised systems like that in New Zealand, where prostituted women have said full decriminalisation will do little to address violence. Whether it is ‘above ground’ or ‘underground’ the culture of prostitution is the same: abusive and degrading.
“Furthermore, many other studies show a clear link between prostitution and human trafficking. The two systems fuel one another.”
Denham argued the adoption of the Nordic model by neighbouring countries “risks seeing a displacement effect of traffickers setting up shop in Scotland”.
She said: “By approving a Scottish model on prostitution, SNP delegates have said ‘no’ to increased flows of trafficking in Scotland.”
The Scottish model also goes further than the Nordic model by committing to legislation that includes assistance and support for those wishing to exit prostitution, Denham added.