Monday, 11th February, 2008
The first public meeting of the Feminist Coalition Against Prostitution (FCAP) was held at Amnesty International’s UK Human Rights Action Centre and over 100 women attended from all over the country.
The speakers were Aravinda Kosaraju from the Coalition for The Removal of Pimping (CROP) based in Yorkshire, Denise Marshall from Eaves Housing 4 Women, Jan MacLeod from The Glasgow Women’s Support Project, Gunilla Ekberg, Co-Executive Director of Coalition Against Trafficking In Women (CATW) and advisor on the Swedish law, and Fiona McTaggart, MP.
Aravinda Kosaraju spoke first about CROP’s work with children who have been sexually exploited and abused by male pimps. Ms. Kosaraju showed that in fact it is predominantly pre-teen and teenage girls who are targeted by male pimps and their cohorts. Ms. Kosaraju detailed some of the various ways male pimps manipulate and entice young girls until such time as they are totally under the control of the male abusers.
Increasingly boys the same age or boys slightly older than the girl make the initial advances. The girl is often flattered that someone is taking a friendly interest in her and she may be given presents such as a mobile phone, jewellery, clothing and other presents. Male pimps then work to isolate and alienate her from her family and peers. The reason is to make a girl totally dependant and reliant on the male pimp(s). Eventually “payback” time arrives and the girl learns she has to repay the male pimps by becoming a prostitute and sexually servicing older and/or adult males.
There have only been two successful prosecutions of male pimps despite the fact increasing numbers of girls are being targeted. Unfortunately many Social Service officials as well as some of the police still adhere to misogynistic beliefs wherein the girl is perceived to be sexually provocative, sexually promiscuous or a ‘Lolita.’ Adhering to these myths ensures that girl victims of male sexual exploitation and abuse are not treated or perceived as ‘true victims’ since they supposedly have brought the situation on themselves by their ‘sexual promiscuity.’ Male pimps target girls from all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures. Ms. Kosaraju told the meeting, ‘these male pimps know precisely what they are doing and they are utterly ruthless.’
CROP supports the girls and their families because not only do the girls suffer but also their families. Society though in general still does not have a full understanding of how the male pimps operate and instead continues to blame young girls not the men for their sexual victimisation.
Jan MacLeod of The Glasgow Women’s Support Project spoke next. Ms. MacLeod told the audience the project is currently involved in working with Rape Crisis Scotland in order to raise the issue of the increasing commercial sexualisation of women and girls for men’s sexual use/abuse. The Glasgow Women’s Support Project are also currently involved in ongoing discussions with various Scottish MP’s in respect of prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. All of which are driven by male demand and are a continuum of male violence against women and children. The Glasgow Women’s Project have just produced a leaflet entitled ‘Prostitution – Fact or Fiction? The leaflet deals with various myths surrounding prostitution including the fables ‘prostitution is just sex’ and ‘women choose to get involved in prostitution.’
The next speaker was Denise Marshall from Eaves Housing 4 Women. Ms. Marshall began by confirming that the ‘Happy Hooker’ does in fact exist, probably, but to date Ms. Marshall has not been able to locate her – but she probably exists! Ms. Marshall told the audience acknowledging a ‘Happy Hooker’ does exist should not outweigh the overwhelming numbers of women and girls who are forced into prostitution and who want to exit but cannot because of lack of societal support and understanding.
Ms. Marshall told the audience the Poppy Project, a subsidiary of Eaves works with women who have been trafficked into the UK for the purposes of male sexual exploitation and abuse. Unfortunately Poppy can only support women who have been trafficked from their own countries into the UK and they cannot support UK national women who are trafficked internally within the UK. Trafficking of women for the purpose of male sexual exploitation occurs within the UK as well as internationally. Pimps and other male owners frequently move prostituted women around the country from one brothel to another with impunity.
Ms. Marshall informed the audience that it is quite likely all London boroughs have premises masquerading as ‘massage parlours’ but are in fact brothels. Many of the premises are ‘trading’ illegally since massage parlours have to be licensed but they are not. Ms. Marshall suggested that as and when individuals see such premises they can contact their local council and ask if these premises have been given a licence to operate as a ‘massage parlour.’
The next speaker was Gunilla Ekberg from Sweden. Ms. Ekberg is now one of the co-executive directors of Coalition Against Trafficking In Women. Ms. Ekberg told the audience how she worked with the Swedish Government in drafting legislation criminalising men who buy women in order to sexually use/abuse and decriminalising women involved in prostitution. Ms. Ekberg gave details on how the legislation once passed was implemented and also includes in-depth training of the police and legal system in order for the law to be effective and implemented. It took a very long time for the police who are predominantly male, to understand that prostitution is male sexual violence against women and an abuse of all women’s human rights. Ms. Ekberg told the audience not only was the male buyer criminalised but also comprehensive support programmes were set up to provide specialised support and assistance to the women who wanted to exist prostitution. Prostituted women’s needs were not only financial, other needs include providing women with support as they tried to adjust to life outside prostitution, help with medical issues as well as the psychological damage prostitution causes women.
Ms. Ekberg informed the audience that recently there has been a change in Government within Sweden and the new government is now a ‘conservative’ one and already cuts have been made in respect of the various exit programmes set up for women wanting to exit prostitution. Ms. Ekberg told the audience that she foresees further cuts within this area because the current Government’s position is not favourable towards women’s needs and lives. She and all women and women’s groups working to end prostitution are saddened by this move and do not support it any way. Money and resources must be dedicated to exit and support and safety services for those involved in prostitution.
Fiona McTaggart MP was the last speaker and she told the audience of her long standing commitment against prostitution in any form. Ms. McTaggart told the audience that although she participated in the Government’s report on ‘Paying the Price’ in fact it was Caroline Flint who wrote this document. Ms. McTaggart told the audience that the English Collective of Prostitutes ECP – a subsidiary of Wages For Housework, a long standing organisation, and their allies have lobbied MPs in respect of decriminalising and/or legalising prostitution and the whole of the ‘sex industry’ and it is essential that individuals lobby their local MP’s and let them know ECP’s position is not universal, that it does not represent the voice of all women or all women’s groups – that prostitution should not be decriminalised or legalised. Unless MP’s hear from their constituents they will assume the ECP position is an accurate reflection of popular opinion.
The meeting ended with the audience being informed that soon a Fact Sheet will be made available on FCAP’s website giving factual information concerning the harms of prostitution and why it is an abuse of all women’s and girls’ human rights. This fact sheet will assist individuals and organisations to more effectively challenge widespread misinformation and propaganda around the issue of prostitution.
A model letter will also shortly be available in order to assist individuals when writing to their MP’s and asking if they support the Swedish legislation of criminalising male buyers and decriminalising women who are involved in prostitution.
The meeting ended with informal drinks and networking.
20th February, 2008