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UK government policy, poverty and prostitution

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Professor Philip Alston, official visit, extreme poverty, human rights, prostitution, NordicModelNow!, government policy‘Prostitution should never be considered an acceptable solution to women’s poverty’.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, is undertaking an official visit to the UK from 6 to 16 November 2018.

He is investigating the interlinkages between poverty and the realisation of human rights.

Before his visit he made a call for written submissions to help him prepare for the visit.

Nordic Model Now! made the following submission about how extreme poverty and widening inequality between the sexes is driving many women into prostitution, in violation of their human rights:

There is overwhelming evidence that policies implemented by the UK government since May 2010 have had a profoundly negative impact on society, with women in general hardest hit, and lone mothers, and Black, Asian and disabled women hit the worst of all.

This is a violation of Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

It is increasingly difficult for women, particularly mothers, to survive independently. Women are once again being driven into economic dependence on male partners. This gives the male partner disproportionate power within the relationship, and makes it more likely he will be abusive and violent. Welfare changes and defunding of services for abused women make it hard, if not impossible, for women to leave a violent partner.

This is a violation of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

This has happened alongside an increase in the availability of pornography – most of which features brutal misogynistic violence – and the pornification of the wider culture.

This legitimises and normalises the sex trade and male violence against women and girls generally.

It grooms girls to think what’s important is how they look, pleasing men and attracting male attention, and grooms boys to become “users, takers, and pornography makers”.

It should not be a surprise therefore that many women and girls are turning to prostitution, often in ignorance of the likely long-term consequences and out of financial desperation. For example, in Sheffield a 400 per cent increase was noted in women entering or returning to street prostitution under the duress of extreme poverty.

Few women leave prostitution in better shape – financial or otherwise – than they entered it. Research has found that violence is a prominent feature of prostitution in all settings and that it tends to entrench women’s disadvantage and social exclusion, and shore up the inequality between the sexes.

The 1949 UN Convention on the Suppression of the Trafficking in Persons recognises prostitution as incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person.

While the UK has not ratified this convention, its adoption by the General Assembly means the UN recognises prostitution as a human rights violation. So prostitution should never be considered an acceptable solution to women’s poverty.

Prior to May 2010, the Labour Government was taking seriously its obligations under Article 9 of the Palermo Trafficking Protocol to address the poverty and inequality that make women and girls vulnerable to entry into prostitution and being trafficked, and to discourage the demand from men for prostitution that drives trafficking.

Since then the government has abandoned these obligations.

Not only have women’s poverty and inequality deteriorated rapidly, but National Policing Sex Work Guidance now advises police forces against using the law to target sex buyers and brothel-keepers (unless neighbours complain).

The guidance also claims – without evidence – that “experience suggests that enforcement does not resolve the issue, but rather displaces it, making sex workers more vulnerable.”

Policing of the sex trade is now mainly focused on “organised crime” and the plight of British women who have turned to prostitution out of naivety, financial desperation, or coercion from “boyfriends,” is largely ignored.

This suggests the government understands that prostitution is serving as a last line of defence against destitution for women, and that it wishes to institutionalise that.

In this climate of rapidly worsening poverty and inequality between the sexes within a pornified culture that glorifies consumerism and consumption, and police tolerance of prostitution, men are turning to pimping and sex trafficking as a way of making easy money.

All of this is a catastrophe for women and children and for the possibility of equality.

The government’s austerity policies that have disproportionately impacted women, and their laissez faire approach to prostitution are in clear violation of binding obligations under the Palermo Trafficking Protocol, CEDAW, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Lanzarote Convention.

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