Why Corbyn is right on decriminalisation of sex work

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2016 - 12:43

Speaking at a recent meeting at Goldsmiths University Jeremy Corbyn was asked for his opinion on whether sex work should be decriminalised. His reply was: “I am in favour of decriminalising the sex industry. I don’t want people to be criminalised. I want to be [in] a society where we don’t automatically criminalise people. Let’s do things a bit differently and in a bit more civilised way.”

That remark has brought him a lot of criticism in the Labour Party. The following statement (abridged) from anti-capitalist feminist group Feminist Fightback explains the why Corbyn was right.

As anti-capitalist feminists, we welcome Corbyn’s comments on the decriminalisation of sex work.

The feminist case for the decriminalisation of sex work has never been stronger, demonstrating just how wrong Julie Bindel is in her latest attempt to discredit us by arguing that Corbyn’s view is simply that of the patriarchal, male left. The English Collective of Prostitutes, the x:talk project, and Sex Worker Open University insist on decriminalisation as seen in New Zealand. The reasons are simple. Criminalisation of sex workers or clients pushes sex work further underground and creates or exacerbates hardship, violence, and exploitation of workers... But these sex worker led groups insist that decriminalisation is not enough; it must happen alongside worker organisation, an end to repressive border regimes, and redistribution of wealth. ...As anti-capitalist feminists we know that decriminalisation will not magically bring an end to capitalist or patriarchal interests or racism in the sex industry. But we also know that criminalisation not only fails to demolish these oppressions; it exacerbates them. We want to be clear that supporting workers in their struggle, including decriminalisation, does not mean we support those who extort or exploit sex workers. It means that we support workers in the removal of laws that encourage violence and exploitation and limit their ability to self-organise. But many who call themselves “feminists” in the Labour Party, and radical feminists such as Bindel, insist that “prostitution” is simply a result of male demand and have championed further criminalisation of sex work.

These feminists say that the criminal justice system is a benevolent source of protection for women. This position is in direct opposition to the strong consensus that now exists among grassroots activists and academics, demonstrating the need for decriminalisation to protect those who work in the sex industry by removing unnecessary police oversight and allowing workers to work together collectively. “Feminists” in the Labour party have been silent about — or worse, instrumental in creating — the dire economic conditions in which sex work is the least bad option for many women. ... We hope Corbyn’s comments will lead to a broader debate within the Labour Party about why decriminalisation is an essential part of improving conditions in the sex industry... Feminist Fightback supports sex workers’ rights to unionisation and self-organisation as the only way for sex workers to gain power and fight against all forms of compulsion, coercion, and exploitation. This entails, at the very least, complete decriminalisation of sex work.

• Full statement here

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