Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Sex Work and Ladies of Letters

The evening news has included items on a speech Harriet Harman (why do I hear an inner groan ever time I type her name?). You can read/view one example from the BBC here. The speech was made at a gathering of the Women's Institute and followed the sex work/trafficking comments of Jacquie Smith last week. The idea of the WI writing letters to local newspapers complaining about sex adverts was good copy for the media, playing as it does into an established stereotype. The full picture appears a little more complex. The WI website has much more detail on the story, detailing that this is part of a campaign to end violence against women and the focus is upon trafficked women. They do use the government figures (which remain in dispute by experts) do suggest members write letters to local newspapers that carry escort profiles for trafficked women but they do appear much more pragmatic than both the media and Harman portray them. They are keen to tackle the issue of trafficked women (a noble aim) but I fear they have fallen victim to a muddled government agenda.

It is unclear whether the newspaper adverts members will be reporting centrally and writing about to newspapers are from trafficked women or not. An advert is not going to have "trafficked woman for escort services" as a heading so how will WI women decide? Will they sit there and think "this sounds like a trafficked women, I better write" or will they think "it could be a trafficked woman so I will complain". If that's the case, it won't just be the women targeted that the WI claims it intends to target and the 'we have no position on prostitution' line that the WI gave on channel 4 news tonight is a nonsense.

I genuinely think the WI are motivated by good intentions but I fear they are further victims of a muddled policy set by the Westminster government.

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