Intended for healthcare professionals

Reviews

Prostitution shake-up: one sex worker's view

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7535.245 (Published 26 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:245

My name is Juliet, and I'm a prostitute and dominatrix based in London (zone 2—not central, not suburbs). I'm in my late 30s, white, and well educated, and my background is borderline working/middle class. I operate at the medium price bracket (from £120 ($214; €174) an hour) as opposed to the £30-40 for 30 minutes in a massage parlour or £250 plus charged by most outcall agencies. I use an appointment system (as opposed to spending the whole day at my “office” and seeing people at short notice). All these details alter the kind of experience one has of working in the sex industry—how much of your time it takes up, how flexible you have to be, how much you can plan, and the overheads it takes to stay in business.

I love my job. I work for myself, at a wage I set, and I get to make people happy—very happy—for a living. One of the many good things about prostitution is that there's very little bullshit, at least from my clients, who are placed in a situation where there is a clear incentive for them to be open about their needs and respectful in their treatment of me—they get a better experience if I'm trying to make it so. In the five years I've been working I've seen about 5000 clients, and I have never experienced an untoward physical action from a client, or even outright rudeness (though nervous brusqueness or plain lack of social skills are not uncommon). When people ask me about my work, I say that the general conditions are similar to freelance work in any field—uncertainty of income, reluctance to turn down work as you can't guarantee when the next client will come along, needing to offer a better service than the next person to maintain a regular clientele. The conditions specific to the sex industry are the social opprobrium and bikini waxing, and to be honest I tend to skip the bikini waxing.

The problem is coercion, drug dependency, lack of choices, not prostitution itself

The government just had a chance to do something about the social opprobrium, though, and they failed enormously. Actually, some of the planned changes are beneficial—allowing more than one woman to work in the same premises, for instance— but the overwhelming media storm of “prostitution is the most common form of child abuse,” “by giving money to prostitution you're giving money to drug dealers”— has done no prostitute any favours. The law is an ass, says Dickens, whose tome-like novels were in part an attempt to draw attention to the conditions of the poor and the complexity attached to their situation; he provides a soundbite to rebut the lurid imaginings of Home Officer minister Fiona McTaggart. Prostitution is having sex for money, and neither having sex nor getting paid is inherently degrading, abusive, exploitative, or harmful. Yes, there are women working in prostitution who are coerced or drug dependent or homeless or whose backgrounds have otherwise limited their choices—but the problem is coercion, drug dependency, lack of choices, not prostitution itself.

For the relatively lucky like myself, the law's reluctance to doff its donkey ears will do little damage. Thanks to the legislation that sexual health services be available anonymously, the establishment of the NHS so they are free at the point of delivery, and the enlightened and non-judgmental attitudes that have developed in consequence of the HIV and drug use strategies of harm reduction, I shall continue to visit the specialist clinics I use for my regular sexual health checks and low cost condom and lubricant purchase, and enjoy the benefits of my general practitioner without having to raise his consciousness or deal with his assumptions. For migrants, their dependence on those who have arranged their journey or who employ or house them is enormously increased by the unclear legal situation that can be misrepresented to them. Street prostitutes have been put firmly in their place as the lowest of the low among our demonised underclasses, and simultaneously entrenched as the ultimate downtrodden victim, in a kind of ultra-toxic cartoon version of “you don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps.”

And all this brouhaha does have an effect. The morning I woke listening to Fiona McTaggart's ill informed and cliché ridden scaremongering on the radio, I was aware all day of my slumped shoulders and gloomy outlook. Studies show that school pupils who are told they are stupid underperform; how the world thinks of us is internalised. The constant abuse of prostitutes and street prostitutes in particular contributes to the low self esteem and emotional degradation we have to face not from our clients but from society itself. The framers of this legislation and those who want to “rescue” us while determinedly ignoring the voice of the sex workers' rights movement and the complexity of our experiences are part of creating the very problems they say they wish to solve.

Editorials p 190

The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous, but correspondence can be sent c/o linda.cusick{at}paisley.ac.uk

View Abstract