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With Belle de Jour and friends in a Westminster pub

An evening of free and open discussion about sex work.

There is something about discussng sex work which makes some people feel ashamed, and others angry. It seems it is not something that should be talked about openly or calmly.

However, Westminster Skeptics hosted a packed discussion last week about sex work. One of the leading academics in the area, Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, was invited to provide an evidence-based approach to sex-work law and policy.

Her slideshow (which is here, complete with audio) sought to provide a critical and factual approach to how sex work should be regulated by both policymakers and lawmakers.

This talk was followed by a reply from the research scientist Dr Brooke Magnanti (better known to many as Belle de Jour), providing insights from her direct experience of sex work, and her observations on failings in the relevant policy and legal debates.

Her reply in turn was followed by a lively and wide-ranging question-and-answer session, dominated by female questioners with various viewpoints. One of the questioners even mentioned she was currently a sex worker and that she wanted to feel she had her own voice, and to not feel patronised by those purporting to speak on her behalf. A number of questioners self-identified as feminists, but there was no one form of feminism being expressed.

Overall, it was an extraordinarily interesting and informative evening.

Of course, no consensus was instantly formed. It may be that no one – either prohibitionist or liberal – even changed their mind.

But to discuss sex work so openly – and to force those arguing for a position to show what their evidence base is – can only be welcome. This is not to detract from any sincerely held normative and ideological views, or to underplay the seriousness of the predicament of those caught in the sex-work industry.

It should not be shameful – or uncomfortable – for anyone to talk openly about this.

David Allen Green blogs on legal and policy matters for the New Statesman. He has recently been appointed a judge for the 2011 Orwell Prize for blogging, for which he was shortlisted this year. He is also founder and convenor of Westminster Skeptics, a non-partisan group promoting an evidence-based approach in policy, media, and legal issues.