I've just spotted an article in the Edinburgh Evening News from just over a week ago, about the owner of an escort agency who is facing a potential jail term, but who vehemently denies that his business has anything to do with prostitution. It has the rare distinction of including a quote from Labour MSP Rhoda Grant on the sex industry that I actually agree with -
"Escort agencies call themselves something different but it is well understood what people are really buying. No one pays that amount of money for companionship."
I think that's probably right. I know of no credible evidence that any escort agency truly makes money on the basis of non-sexual companionship. Escorts are certainly able to refuse to have sex with any potential client they don't want to have sex with, but the flipside of that decision is that no payment will occur, because everyone knows the payment is either wholly or predominantly in exchange for sex. The idea that clients are only buying companionship is largely a fiction designed for PR purposes and legal cover.
So 1-0 to Rhoda. Unfortunately she then throws it all away with this piece of mind-bending gibberish -
"What he’s basically saying is these people [disabled and vulnerable men] are lesser human beings and not entitled to or able to find a real relationship. I know plenty of disabled people in loving relationships. To say to certain categories of people that they have to pay for sex or company is discrimination at its very worst."
Dear God. Who exactly is forcing anyone to pay for sex, or denying them the ability to have a sexual relationship by any other means? If there was a law to that effect, and Rhoda was spearheading the fight to repeal that law, I'd be right there in her corner. Unfortunately she's not doing that. The legislation that she's proposing will have absolutely no effect on the ability or otherwise of disabled and vulnerable men to successfully form 'real' relationships. But for those disabled and vulnerable men who fail to form such relationships and then seek consensual paid sex as an alternative, Rhoda's plan is to throw them into jail, and treat sex workers who pocket a considerable amount of cash as 'victims' of disabled and vulnerable men. She regards this, astonishingly, as an 'anti-discrimination' measure.
The other word that leaps out at me is 'entitled'. It's very hard to escape the conclusion that Rhoda is implying that disabled men are literally entitled to a 'real relationship' - which presumably suggests a relationship that is sexual, even if it has many other facets as well. If so, that's extraordinary. After all, the basic premise of those like Rhoda who want to criminalise the purchase of sex is that no-one has an entitlement to sex. That doesn't just refer to the blindingly obvious point that an individual does not have an entitlement to sex if no-one consents to have sex with them - it also means they do not have an entitlement to sex even if someone does consent, but does so in 'the wrong way', ie. in exchange for payment. And yet Rhoda suddenly seems to be going to completely the other extreme and declaring that not only does everyone have a right to sex, but also to a fully-fledged relationship to go along with it. How exactly does she propose to enforce that 'entitlement'?
OK, she doesn't. It's waffle.
A useful analogy is the medical supply of blood. A person might need/want a blood donation, but that does not mean they have any right to demand that others donate blood. If no blood is made available, there is no right to the blood of others, and everyone accepts that. By the same token, disabled or vulnerable people have absolutely no right to sex if others are unwilling to consent to it. But if people are willing to donate blood for whatever reason, would it still be justifiable for the state to ban the process on the grounds that "nobody has the right to others' blood"?
Of course it wouldn't. So why does Rhoda think it's any of of her business to prevent women having consensual sex with disabled men, just because she personally finds their reasons for doing so distasteful? We already know what her response would be - it's that women only need the money because of poverty. So yes, rather than criminalising vulnerable people, let's end poverty. That would mean the number of people prepared to have sex in exchange for money would decrease dramatically, and that would be a good thing. It would constitute an enhancement of freedom, because people would at last be freely choosing their ideal way of life, rather than freely choosing the 'least worst option' available. But it would also mean that the number of people willing to work as cleaners or shelf-stackers would decrease dramatically, for exactly the same reason. Would Rhoda and the Labour party (so wedded to the Blunkett doctrine that even the most menial and unpleasant work is good for the human spirit and somehow "heals the sick") join me in celebrating that enhancement of freedom? I somehow doubt it.
We've arrived at the curious position where Labour still believe in socialism, but only when they talk about sex work.