Friday, June 1, 2012

No, a sham consultation is not 'proof' of anything

Rather like Arnold Schwarzenegger refusing to die in the Terminator films, the one slice of Marxist-inspired thinking that Scottish Labour remains quaintly wedded to has just reared its ugly head again. The Highlands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has picked up where Trish Godman left off, and embarked on yet another attempt to impose on society the dogmatic and faintly ludicrous notion that the buying and selling of sex, no matter how consensual, always constitutes "violence against women", and that it is somehow possible by legal means to "end demand" for prostitution, thus eradicating the "violence". Her bill would introduce the discriminatory Swedish model, which criminalises the clients of prostitutes, but regards sex workers themselves (even those acting entirely independently and earning a decent living from their chosen form of work) as "victims" who don't know their own minds.

I develop a bit of a headache every time I try to work out how on earth infantilising women in this way, and telling them that they alone are incapable of taking rational decisions for themselves, is supposed to assist the cause of gender equality. The explanation from radical feminist groups would doubtless include the all-purpose get-out clause of 'patriarchy' rather a lot. But are we really expected to believe that a patriarchal system, in Scotland in the year 2012, makes it so impossible for women (but not men) to have access to money that they literally have no choice but to become prostitutes? That is the only way that sex workers acting independently could even conceivably be regarded as "victims of male violence against women", but it just doesn't describe a world I recognise. Many people of both genders have money problems, and I'm quite sure that many sex workers would in an ideal world rather be doing another job or no job at all - but then so would many cleaners and factory workers. Are those people all victims of violence? In many cases, sex workers have simply looked at the range of options open to them and chosen the one they most prefer, or least dislike. That is indistinguishable from the choice made by the vast majority of people in the working world - the only gender difference being, frankly, that some women may feel that an extra (and potentially lucrative) option is open to them that is not open to men. But even the latter point is far from an absolute - men pay men for sex, women pay men for sex, and women pay women for sex. All of those facts make the claim that paid sex is always a form of male violence against women, somewhat problematical to say the least.

Indeed, if Rhoda Grant's proposal became law, one of two things would be bound to happen -

1) Women who paid men or other women for sex, or men who paid other men for sex, would be convicted of a criminal offence on the implicit grounds that they had committed "male violence against women".

2) The law would be implemented selectively, in order to maintain the ideologically-driven fiction that the only form of prostitution that exists is women being "forced" to have sex with men in exchange for money (often rather a lot of money).

Call me cynical, but scenario 2 seems far more probable.

The greatest absurdity of all is that Ms Grant is seeking a waiver that would allow her bill to proceed without a consultation process - on the grounds that the outcome of the consultation on Trish Godman's doomed bill in the last parliamentary session has already "proved" the need for a change in the law. For the uninitiated, that consultation would have been a strong contender in any 'Sham Consultation of the Year Awards'. It made the UK government's recent consultation on the independence referendum look like a model of neutrality and open-mindedness. The first question enquired whether respondents wanted to criminalise both the sex worker and the client, or just the client, and simply took it as read that no-one in their right mind would want to maintain the status quo of criminalising neither. That wording was presumably intended to 'lead' anyone opposed to the criminalisation of sex workers, and nudge them towards the Swedish model as the 'only' option available. Many of the other questions related to 'barriers to enforcement' of the proposed law, which again was intended to communicate the message that the only objections any reasonable person could possibly raise would be technical and practical ones, rather than objections to the whole principle of a discriminatory law.

A tiny number of responses was received, mostly from groups and individuals with a fierce ideological commitment to the Swedish model. When news leaked out that two-thirds of respondents had answered 'yes' to a question which essentially made 'no' impossible, one of the respondents tweeted "Yay!". Which is as much as to say "Yippee, we all agree with ourselves!".

Of course a consultation is needed if this bill is going to see the light of day, and a genuine one this time.

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