After a day attempting to write a sex work essay, I was drawn to the call from the Association of Chief Police Officers for a debate on sex work legislation; along with the government’s plans to allow the public to influence parliamentary debates if a petition receives over 100,000 signatures.
Whilst engaging the public in political debates is important, the public ‘influence’ would be framed within the context of a system that is increasingly being challenged by alternative power structures. Really, the public wont have that much of a say, nor will many of the interested parties. Consider sex workers, it will be very unlikely that the politicians debating, say a petition to decriminalise sex work, will ask sex workers what they think and allow them the space to influence public opinion. Historical analysis of sex workers’ organisation illustrates that once sex workers are given the rightful space to influence the public’s opinion, it can have a positive influence on the attitude of the community and police etc towards the sex workers.
As Bob Ainsworth was right to call for a debate re drugs, Acop are also right to question a power schema that is framed by an obsession with ‘morality’. At the moment, the laws that prohibit sex workers from working together or in specific areas (with the threats of ABSOs or fines) only endanger sex workers. There is so much evidence and research into how damaging the UK sex work policies (and other countries’ policies) are; the sheer ignorance of the political system to this evidence and to the voices of those affected is distressing.
Instead of the gimmicks, real public assemblies where the voices of those so often ignored – such as sex workers – are listened to, are required. Parliament is hardly a place to adequately debate issues that effect so many when you have demeaning remarks from MPs to the public voice, such as:
The blogosphere is not an area that is open to sensible debate; it is dominated by the obsessed and the fanatical and we will get crazy ideas coming forward. – Paul Flynn, Labour.
Yes, there will be the odd person who puts forward a stupid suggestion for a debate, but then if done properly, a system where the public have a real say will need to accommodate views contra to the norm. That is how change happens. There once was a time when homosexuality was only judged to be acceptable by a minority. It took a civil rights movement and a great deal of public activism to make it more accepted. The same needs to happen for groups such as sex workers, but only if we give them a say, and stop blocking them out through a morality discourse, will we challenge the damaging perception and policies in place.
The limited idea of public requests debated in parliament can actually undermine the value proper public debates could have in changing consciousness and encouraging reflexivity. At the moment, we are ruled by a system of consensus where we often go with the lowest common denominator with minority viewpoints being shut out. If we were to challenge the power structures and allow for real democracy where people have a real say, instead of a virtual illusion, then this would have a potential to really influence people’s views on issues such as sex work. The public could hear from those involved and those who are experiencing the policies enacted in their name, instead of just the media frenzy morally junked up attacks.
What we need is a system where people are really listened to. If the government really wanted to take the public’s view into account, they would have listened to the protests against rising tuition fees. If the government really cared about what people thought, they would listen to the resistance from those to be affected by the benefit cuts. This is the problem. People who are the most affected, such as sex workers, from the nonsensical approach governments take to issues that are often tied to ‘morality’, are those so often denied the right to voice their expression and view. Only when we change the political system so we have real democracy that provides rights to a variety of interests, instead of those that are seen as the most ‘powerful’, will we have real public democracy and a better chance at removing the damaging laws governing sex workers.