Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hello Catherine Stephens

Sometimes when you're blogging it's like Christmas has come early. On Sunday I appeared on a show called Sunday Morning Live on BBC One. Yesterday a comment was added to this blog (to my post Two Interesting Reads and a Related Thought) by none other than one of the main guests on the show: Catherine Stephens. I've not published it on the post itself because it is a troll comment in the sense that it attempts to totally derail the discussion. My post is about rape convictions rates and deep-rooted misogyny in our society (you would think just out of politeness she would start with "really sorry to hear about the sexism you've suffered Kate" before launching into her attack, but no).

Now I've met Catherine Stephens before - I attended an event at the ICA at which she spoke. She was asked at that event about her own work and said that she ran an escort agency and worked as a dominatrix. Later in the debate when the discussion turned to violence against prostituted women she loudly bragged that she could count on the fingers of one hand the number of her "clients" who had even been rude to her and that she had never experienced violence. Yes, it was me who shouted "That's cos they arrive on leads!". I wasn't allowed to expand on my point but for the record it was that the experiences of a dominatrix could not really be considered representative of women and children who've been trafficked to the UK from third world countries and had their passports and paperwork taken away or been hooked on hard drugs.

More importantly she insisted that she represented the IUSW. This is supposedly a union for those in the industry but bizarrely is funded by the Conservative Party and allows managers and even punters to join. (Which is a bit like saying "I buy coal, I'd like to join the miners union please", "Well I'm the head of Southern Electric and I'm already a member, welcome aboard"). Cath Elliot has done a wonderful job of exposing their corruption and hypocrisy here, and explains why we should really see them as a rather sinister "astroturf" industry lobby group. Their attitude to the abuses suffered by prostituted women is for me embodied most clearly in their logo - pictured above.

Anyway lets take a look at Catherine's comments on my blog:

"Regarding the Sunday Morning Live debate, which resulted in a 71% vote in favour of accepting prostitution"

Yes indeed it did although if you listened to me I also said that I was in favour of decriminalising women who sell sex. What I thought was upsetting about the debate was that you went on claiming to be a prostitute. In the past you have admitted you run an escort agency. That makes you a pimp. And in turn it presents your views in a very different light. Personally I think the BBC should research more carefully who they have on and what they credit them as.

"I thought it was interesting to see you doing something that I’ve observed before in anti sex workers’ rights campaigners."

What are "sex-workers rights"? I'm into human rights. Things like the right to not be physically assaulted and gang raped, to not have your passport stolen, to not be smuggled across borders under false pretences. What additional "rights" do sex workers have? The "right" to sell sex? No - no-one has a right to do a job - I'd love to be an astronaut but I don't have a right to do so. Some people might want to be hired assassins or drug dealers but you don't have the right to do whatever job you want. So forget "sex workers rights" - lets talk about human rights and how best to protect them. Unlike you I have taken the time to talk to and meet women who have survived and escaped the industry in which you are a manager. I say "unlike you" because some of these women have told me that they tried to contact you and your organisation about their experiences, hoping you would represent them and you have refused to do so and been rude and aggressive to them. None of these women are concerned about their "right" to sell sex, they are concerned about closing down the industrial scale abuse of women and children. One fact you never seem to mention is that the average age in this country for entry into prostitution is 14. And a 14-year-old definitely doesn't have a "right" to sell sex. She has a right to be protected. And that's why I'm an advocate of the only model globally that has been shown to actually work - criminalising paying for sex. Criminalising the johns.

"I made a specific, factual statement that I see a number of severely disabled clients [at 16:43], which you misinterpreted or misrepresented as a claim that disabled people as a group are unable to find sexual partners without paying them [19:13]."

Well actually what I assumed was that you were suggesting that the fact that disabled people used prostitutes in some way justified prostitution. Well it doesn't. Neither able-bodied nor disabled people have a "right" to sex. If your remark about having disabled clients was just a casual remark then why make it. We were having a debate. What next? Two of my clients have bunions and one votes Lib Dem...? Its irrelevant unless you are implying that prostitution is justified specifically because it offers sex to disabled people which (a) they have a right to and (b) they otherwise couldn't get. Neither of these is true and in particular the latter is offensive.

"You then attempted to rebut a generalisation I hadn’t made with the information that your mates can get laid."

My point was that plenty of disabled people can and do have active sex lives.

"I see you describe yourself as a comedian, so perhaps you were trying to be funny,"

I did not come on the show to be funny. If I had you would have known about it. I'm quite good.

"...but ‘your mates’ are not actually a suitable basis for policy making: the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”."

Right but I was countering your point that you had "several" disabled clients. So I was providing "several" counterexamples.

"This kind of irrelevant fact-free vacuity is part of the reason the IUSW explicitly has a campaign aim that policy should be based in reality and on evidence* (academically robust research, for example), not on ideology, dramatic individual cases, stereotypes or assumptions."

But what's good for the goose must be good for the gander right? And you were on national TV lying about your job and making a case based on "several" examples.

"*This means a broad range of evidence, not cherry picking specific statistics from the few publications..."

Ha ha ha - or in other words if I provide data I'm "cherry picking" but when you provide lies that's "evidence". Nah.

"...that can be used to support a prohibitionist campaign for legislation that gives the state power to overrule a woman’s consent to sex."

Oh no - I'm not advocating that the state should overrule a woman's consent to sex - I'm arguing that the state should overrule a man's "right" to pay for access to women's bodies. If you want to have sex with all your johns for free - you go right ahead.

"Policies that solve problems are based in reality and on evidence."

Even your own job description isn't based in reality. And after I finished talking about the Nordic model (i.e. the criminalisation of men who pay for sex) you went on to say that three health reports had been inconclusive about the benefits of that model. Firstly I have read a lot of research about the Swedish model and never seen these three reports. I suspect like your backstory they're fictional. But even if they're not - "inconclusive"? The best you've got is stuff that's "inconclusive"? And you ignore all the evidence about a total fall-off in trafficking in to Sweden since that law came in?

"Betting myself 65:35 this comment won’t make it through moderation, in whole or in part."

You lose.

And while I'm on the subject... Dear the BBC, next time we discuss prostitution can we please please please have the interests of prostituted women represented by Natasha Falle? She is awesome in this piece from Canada!


Unknown said...


Proud Maisie said...

I am a dominatrix, and I know several escorts/ex-escorts. It astounds me that some people would think our experiences are in any way similar to victims of sex-trafficking, or indeed the children who enter prostitution at 14. I am also friends with two women who did indeed become prostitutes at 14, they did so because they were damaged, and no one was there to protect them.
One other thing, as a dominatrix, I can confirm that violent or rude clients are not that common, but they are slightly more common than Ms Stephens would have you believe.

chris read said...

Thanks for writing this excellent piece. I can't believe Ms Stephens comments which must have been either disingenuous (which is a chilling thought) or glibly self-aggrandasising. Her organisation sounds like astroturf par excellance, which seem to exist in increasing numbers as elites seek more sophisticated ways to cloud issues and divert attention.

Mary Tracy9 said...

"No - no-one has a right to do a job - I'd love to be an astronaut but I don't have a right to do so."


Two of my clients have bunions and one votes Lib Dem...?


If you want to have sex with all your johns for free - you go right ahead.


Kate, you rock so much. Excellent post. You have shattered her "arguments" to smitherins.

sianandcrookedrib said...

great post kate!
her arguments are ludricrious. i hate the way the 'pro sex industry lobby' try and accuse us of being against sex workers rights, when in fact i am against the total disregard for human rights that the sex industry holds dear.
the IUSW has somehow gained credibility even though it is corrupt, self serving and anti women. and people who are pro women, who are pro human rights, are somehow painted as in the wrong.