Scotland: Taking a Punt on Men

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Scotland: Taking a Punt on Men

Postby sam » Fri Feb 04, 2011 1:15 pm

Excellent, concise retorts to the usual pro-prostitution nonsense from Glasgow's Ann Hamilton.

http://www.heraldscotland .com/life-style/real-lives/taking-a-punt-on-men-1.1082417
Stephen Naysmith
28 Jan 2011

Ann Hamilton is bullish about her role as head of Glasgow’s drive to end prostitution in the city.

It would be wrong to describe her as defensive, but she knows that she’s working in a context where many people still hold the view that prostitution is the “oldest profession” and that it is impossible to stop it.

There is also a common perception, she agrees, that people like her are humourless, perhaps prudish about nudity and sex, man-haters even.

“It is not like that at all,” she insists. “I have an optimistic view of the world. I believe women are damaged by prostitution, and I believe men don’t want to be abusive.

“We are characterised as serious, pessimistic, man-hating and so on. But we are the ones who are optimistic and have a very positive view of men.

“The policy we are pursuing in Glasgow is a positive approach. Otherwise I could be running services for women and children who have experienced male violence and abuse for 100 years and things wouldn’t change.”

As head of equality and women’s services at the arm’s length company Glasgow Community and Safety Services, Ms Hamilton is charged with delivering both services and policy for Glasgow City Council on its violence against women agenda. This includes the Routes Out Of Prostitution project, which has now been merged with the council’s Base 75 drop-in centre for women engaged in prostitution.

She is responsible for a newer scheme, Ida – Indoor drop-in and advice – for women in the growing sector providing prostitution from private houses, and Tara, which supports trafficked women.

Her department is also responsible for hate-crime projects in the city, and for the acclaimed Assist scheme – shortlisted for a Herald Society Award last year – which supports women who have been victims of domestic violence to bring their abusers to justice.

However it is the End Prostitution Now (EPN) campaign which is at the forefront of her thoughts.

A renewed effort is under way in the Scottish Parliament to address the legality of buying sex. Currently men who solicit sex on the streets can be charged with an offence, but not where sex is bought in a private home.

“We are asking for a fundamental review of that, so we get a view of prostitution as being very harmful for women, their families and communities and society generally,” Ms Hamilton explains.

The harm involved includes routine risk of rape, robbery and physical assault, she says. Meanwhile women suffer mental health problems as a result of the need to dissociate themselves from what they are doing. She attributes this ability to separate themselves from the deed as the reason why some women describe prostitution as a choice: “They are putting a brave face on it,” she says.

Labour MSP Trish Godman has lodged a private members bill which will change the situation regarding prostitution from private addresses. The bill is currently in a consultation period, which ends on February 18, and follows Godman’s failed attempt to achieve the same legal change through amendments to the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act last year. Her new bill would criminalise the buying, soliciting and advertising of prostitution.

Ms Hamilton hopes MSPs and the public will throw their backing behind the change this time. It isn’t just about prosecuting men, she says, but changing attitudes.

“There needs to be a public message as there has been with drink-driving or domestic abuse. Domestic violence used to be seen as a private matter, and something the law couldn’t address but nobody thinks that now,” she says.

She uses such metaphors and comparisons frequently to make her points. Discussing the influence of the sex worker lobby – although Ms Hamilton rejects the description of prostitution as “work” – she compares it to consulting on a nuclear power station and only listening to the people who work in the industry.

The changing of attitudes, particularly those of men, is key, she believes. “We need to start addressing the reasons for abuse.”

Hence, the EPN campaign, which was launched in December 2009. Ms Hamilton’s team will shortly launch a new phase of this. The detail is not yet confirmed but it is likely to target men and their attitudes, based on 2008 research into the demand for sex work, which elicited quotes from men about their ambivalence about buying sex, and the regret and shame some feel afterwards. The 95% of men who don’t purchase sex, Ms Hamilton suggests, could be asked to sign up to a campaign which asserts that “this is not part of what it means to be a man”.

Changing the law does have a direct impact too, she says. The criminalisation of kerb-crawling and soliciting sex has led to a decline in the number of prostitutes working on the streets. However there has been a degree of displacement of prostitution to private homes, supported by the use of mobile phones and the internet to advertise services and link prostitutes and punters.

The web has been “a huge factor” in the changing face of prostitution, she says. “In the past, women would stand on street corners and it was fairly blatant.

“Now men will give each other women’s mobile numbers and women are using websites. The downside is that family members and other people can see that, leaving women open to blackmail. We are also worried that very vulnerable women prostituting from websites don’t have any real protection.”

While the arguments about the individual and social damage caused by prostitution are convincing, some still worry about Glasgow’s campaign.

If people accept – as they surely must – that most prostitutes are not independent entrepreneurs, making a free choice to earn a lucrative living, then those same people would probably assume they are victims – desperate women, driven into the trade by debt, drugs and poverty.

If that’s the case, what is left when you ask them to stop prostituting themselves? Desperate women, deprived of their only chance of economic power?

Ms Hamilton agrees – partially – but has another ready metaphor. “People ask, are you going to do something bad to the women involved? I would say: there are people who are poverty stricken and so they go and shoplift. We wouldn’t say let’s find a way of allowing certain people to shoplift.

“The way we tackle that poverty is about increasing education and job opportunities, and looking at things like debt and previous experience of abuse. It shouldn’t be that the only choice is prostitution. It is up to us as service providers to look at ways of minimising the disruption to women’s lives.”

Ms Hamilton has been in her current post since it was established three years ago, but has been working on prostitution since the council first began to look at it as a policy issue, when she was principal policy officer for equality, and she’s in no doubt about the importance of the work.

“There is no quick fix,” she says, “but in over 30 years of working in the local authority sector, I’m very proud of what we and the other public authorities have managed to do in Glasgow.”
"Your orgasm can no longer dictate my oppression"

Trisha Baptie
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