Review – Belinda Brooks-Gordon – Sex Industry Myths, Olympic Rumours, and Criminological Cock-ups

Belinda Brooks-Gordon

Belinda Brooks-Gordon

How do you find out how many sex workers in the UK were trafficked? Well, you don’t assume all foreign sex workers are trafficked, call the numbers you find on cards in a phone booth, ask if they have any foreign girls, and extrapolate the number you get across the whole country. You are the punter, they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. But laws have been based on just this methodology.

Belinda Brooks-Gordon took us on a guided tour of the shoddy research which informs newspaper reports, public opinion (whatever that is) and government policy around sex work in the UK, and revealed an hysterically misogynist world where women are systematically endangered by the law.

Newspapers and politicians will appeal to whatever they perceive as the lowest common denominator in persuit of readers and votes, and unfortunately you cannot feed the trolls, sell newspapers or win votes with the undramatic findings of rigorously conducted research.  It turns out the truth is much more mundane: there are a mere few thousand sex workers in the UK, there is no evidence of traficking, and many sex workers are nurses, teachers or carers.  Public discourse places sex which is paid for as a threat to the family values from the 1950s, and implies it undermines married life and the fabric of society.  But when we re-position it along-side LGBT sex, threesomes or polyamorous  relationships,  swingers’ groups and a whole variety of scenes, it becomes just one of the many ways that consenting adults have sex.

If empirical research is not driving policy, what is? An unholy threesome has formed of groups who only have one thing in common: they prefer the warm comfort of dogma to the complexities of critical thinking. The anti-sex-worker agenda is driven by radical feminist separatists (who believe that heterosexual sex is exploitative) marxists (who believe work is exploitative) and evangelical christians (who believe that non-procreational sex is wicked).

Doctrine may feel good, but it produces shockingly bad laws. UK legislators over the past couple of decades have marginalised and endangered sex-workers, for example by making it illegal for two sex-workers to use the same flat for safety and companionship, and putting pressure on kerb-crawling which means sex workers have less time to evaluate the punters and negotiate their price in a (relatively safe) public space. Belinda Brooks-Gordon argued that this increased vulnerability contributed to the Bradford and Ipswich murders.

The talk drew a capacity crowd to the Banshee Labyrinth, including sex-workers and organisers of sex-workers’ advocacy groups, returning fringe visitors who’d discovered something more interesting than improv, and a smattering of EdSkeps regulars.

Ben Makin

[Edited on 17th August to add that it is wrong to say there are “no victims” of trafficking, and to clarify that Belinda Brooks-Gordon did not say there are “no victims”; she said there was “very little evidence” of trafficking, which is different. It has since been pointed out that documents such as this – http://legislationline.org/documents/action/popup/id/7041 – are clear indications that women are trafficked for sex.]

Live Tweets from Riddle Like

Edindburgh Skeptics Chairman Keir Liddle live-tweeted highlights throughout the talk – here are some of the more shocking facts and statistics: