Over the course of this month, several articles have appeared in British media promoting the “End Demand” approach to sex work: criminalizing people who buy sex rather than fully decriminalizing the market. Two of these articles were been released by radical feminist Julie Bindel on the Independent website and in The Spectator respectively, and both promote her upcoming book on the global sex trade (which I look forward to reviewing). The third article—written by UK Feminista co-founder Kat Banyard—was published yesterday on The Guardian’s website, and also promotes a new book titled Pimp State.
These articles are remarkably similar in structure and content—so much so that I’ve created a simple guide for how to write your own article advocating harmful approaches to sex work regulation!
Step 1. Misrepresent advocates of sex work decriminalization as friends of the ‘pimp lobby’. Falsely accuse your opponents of propagating the ‘happy hooker’ myth: the idea that sex workers almost invariably find their job empowering and wonderful.
Bindel’s first article does this from the outset: it’s titled “Tell me if you still think prostitution is empowering after hearing what the buying punters have to say”. Her second article does the same:
We’ve become accustomed to thinking of prostitution as a legitimate way of earning a living, even ‘empowering’ for women...don’t believe the ‘happy hooker’ myth you see on TV...the loudest voices calling for legalisation and normalisation of prostitution are the people who profit from it: pimps, punters and brothel owners.
...I discovered that whatever the lobbyists say, women and girls in prostitution are overwhelmingly from abusive backgrounds, living in poverty, and otherwise marginalised.
Banyard’s article does this indirectly, quoting a German local support worker:
Constabel didn’t hesitate when I asked her who drove efforts for prostitution to be recognised as work. “It was people running the brothels … they wanted these laws that made it possible to earn as much money as possible.”
Step 2. Suggest that commercial sex is by necessity (or almost always) equivalent to rape or sexual abuse.
From Bindel’s first article:
The punter has the most choice, and women have the least. They are paying for sex because without the money the woman would not consent. What else do we call sex without consent?
Her article for The Spectator does something similar, although at least this time it’s an falsifiable empirical claim rather than an ontological one:
In almost every case [sex work is] actually slavery. The women who work as prostitutes are in hock and in trouble. They’re in need of rescue just as much as any of the more fashionable victims of modern slavery.
Banyard takes a more general approach, equating all commercial sex with ‘sexual abuse’:
For all the ways it is marketed, the sex trade boils down to a very simple product concept: a person (usually a man) can pay to sexually access the body of someone (usually a woman), who does not freely want to have sex with him. He knows that’s the case - otherwise he wouldn’t have to pay her to be there. The money isn’t coincidence, it’s coercion. And we have a term for that: sexual abuse.
Step 3. Reference and misrepresent obviously biased, poor quality research about people who buy sex. Use a choice selection of objectionable quotes for shock value.
Bindel’s first article cites her own research on men who buy sex:
I have been interviewing sex buyers since 1999 when I, with sex trade survivors and other feminist activists, set up a re-education programme for men who pay for sex in West Yorkshire. In 2009 I was a researcher on a major, six country study on men who buy sex. I was part of the team that interviewed 103 sex buyers in London. Over 50 per cent of the men, who were interviewed at length and face-to-face, admitted that they knew the women they bought were trafficked, pimped, or otherwise coerced. Not one man chose not to have sex with the women upon realising this.
Her second article also references her interviews:
I have interviewed a number of punters, both in the UK and elsewhere, and this is the sort of thing they say: ‘I don’t want her to enjoy it — that would take something away from me.’ And: ‘I like prostitutes cos they do what I tell them. Not like real women.’ What about this: ‘It’s no different from buying a burger when you’re starving and the wife hasn’t cooked you anything.’
Banyard follows protocol and cites her conversations, although her quotes aren’t quite as shocking as Bindel’s:
I heard a range of justifications rolled out by the men I spoke to about why they pay women for sex: “I don’t have any option … At the moment I’m just single so I have to buy it”; “It’s just a male thing where it’s get as many as you can” ... “I think it’s just a fact of ‘I’ve done my duty’,” for instance.
What united these men, however, was an overpowering sense of entitlement to sexually access women’s bodies.
4. Make vague, incorrect pronouncements about how sex work decriminalization is useless or harmful. Alternatively, avoid talk of decriminalization entirely and attack legalisation: despite this approach being condemned by sex workers' rights advocates.
From Bindel’s first article:
During one of my book research trips to Holland, where the sex trade was legalised in 2000, I met a punter who told me that prostitution “prevents rape”, and, conversely, if men, were prevented by nasty feminists from puntering, they would be driven to rape “real women”. This is one of the most pernicious of all the myths about prostitution. In the first place, it is an abhorrence, and should be an anathema to all feminists, that we are told that men are programmed to rape if they do not get their rocks off. It is one of the most pessimistic and inaccurate views of male sexuality I have heard.
But equally as dangerous is the view that some women should be made available to men to be sexually violated so that “other” women can be safe from rape.
From Bindel’s second article:
New Zealand, we are regularly told, is the gold standard in dealing with the sex trade. The Home Office Select Committee (prior to its chair Keith Vaz being forced to step down following allegations that he paid for sex with young men) was looking at adopting a similar model of decriminalisation in the UK.
On the streets I met Carol, who looked 70 but was much younger, using a zimmer frame to rest between punters. Carol told me that since prostitution was decriminalised 13 years ago, nothing had improved for the women. The punters are still violent, and police still don’t care, she said. Nor do human rights defenders. While women all over the world fight to end violence and abuse, the Labour party and Amnesty International, to name but two public bodies, betray them.
And finally, from Banyard’s Guardian piece:
Getting governments to facilitate a commercial market in sexual exploitation therefore requires masking it with myths such as: that demand is inevitable; that paying for sex is a consumer transaction, not abuse; that pornography is mere “fantasy” and that decriminalising the entire trade, pimping and brothel keeping included, helps keep women safe.
5. Advocate for the flawed Nordic Model.
From Bindel’s first article:
Buying sex is neither a need, nor a human right. But it is a right for women and girls to grow up in a world where prostitution is an ancient relic.
Bindel tacitly advocates for the Nordic Model in the second piece:
If I suggest to fans of prostitution that nothing terrible will happen to men if they can’t pay for sex, I hear the same complaints…
Banyard praises the Nordic Model in her article too:
First pioneered in Sweden, the abolitionist legal framework works to end demand for the sex trade. It criminalises sex-buying and third-party profiteering, but it completely decriminalises selling sex and provides support and exiting services for people exploited through prostitution.
And there you have it! That’s how to write your very own anti-sex work article.