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How good a parent would I be?

I’d be Ozymandias pushing a Maclaren pushchair one-handed.

From the moment I knew I was having a baby, I wanted to be brilliant at it. I like being good at things more than I like most things for their own sake, and, having failed at not getting pregnant (which was the original intention), I was going to ruddy well ace the back-up option. If there was a right way to do a thing, I was going to find out what it was and do the hell out of it. I imagined myself sitting atop my exceptional gestational knowledge as if straddling a show pony, riding it to the gold cup in the Giving Birth gymkhana.

Actually, there was no trophy. Turns out no quantity of wide-eyed questions addressed to the midwife regarding the application of sweet almond oil to intimate areas can stop labour from turning into an anguish of grunts when things go off the birth plan. “No, I don’t think that will make much difference,” said the midwife, with the air of someone who knew much more than I did about the proportions of babies’ heads – and knew also that I would be finding out for myself soon enough. I did find out, and sweet almond oil did not help.

Stuck on homework

Not being brilliant at giving birth was annoying, but that was OK, because there was still the possibility of redeeming this child project by being really good at parenting. My kids were going to be so well adjusted, you’d need a set of atomic scales to appreciate fully the subtle ways I’d calibrated the exquisite balance of their personalities. They would be disciplined, yet playful. Wise, yet rumbustious. Affectionate, yet independent. And they would be confident in seeking out new experiences, all because of the studied perfection I was going to bring to raising children.

Oh, and I wasn’t going to be showy about it. There would be no try-hard engagements with the NCT where I proved my parental prowess, no anxious muttering to my peers about how tired I was – because the evidence of my excellence would be in the fact that I wouldn’t even look like I was trying. My seeming lack of effort would be my monument to myself. I’m Ozymandias pushing a Maclaren one-handed. Stoppard, Spock, Ford: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair, because I can do this childrearing malarkey with my eyes shut.

Actually, there was . . . well, you know. It just didn’t work out as quite the dazzlingly effortless success I’d hoped. As my children got older, they seemed somehow wary of failure, which was odd, given the huge effort I’d put into them being well-balanced and fearless in their embrace of the new. I mean, this cautious perfectionism couldn’t be anything I’d done wrong because I’d been very careful to project unfailing excellence in my relationship with my infants. So that was disappointing.

Then there was the work ethic. Obviously I have the standard parental eye defect that makes my children self-evidently the most charming, most beautiful, most intelligent children in the world, but there was no denying this: they didn’t seem to like making an effort. Homework was an ongoing struggle. “What’s the point? Either I know it or I don’t,” said the boy, in answer to my earnest treatise on the value of self-improving labour. Meanwhile, the girl perfected a form of early reading that involved not looking at any of the words in the books that came home from school and then rolling off my lap at the first chance to escape the narrative exigencies of Jane’s Car (Jane had a car, it wouldn’t go, oh dear said Jane, a man came to fix Jane’s car, thank you said Jane, Jane fitted a hosepipe to the exhaust of Jane’s car and ended her dreadful life in the tyrannical kingdom of high-frequency words). “I don’t think you’re trying at all,” I hissed at the girl, supportively.

Later, I trilled to my partner about how I just didn’t understand, because I’d been a natural reader and never really had to try. (Whatever face you’re pulling now is probably the one he did when I actually said this nonsense.)

That’s it! I quit

Finally came the first big rejection, when a much-wanted, hard-fought-for place in some football trials couldn’t be converted into a place in the squad for the boy. We broke the news gently. We impressed on him what an achievement it was even to have made it into consideration. He made heart-aching self-reproaches and threats to quit playing for ever. So we said, “What matters is that you tried your best, and even if it wasn’t perfect this time, you can use what you learned in other trials.”

This kind of stoicism doesn’t come easily to me – I have to learn to embrace my lack of stoicism stoically. I’m not an effortlessly brilliant parent, but I’m a better one for realising that and trying to be better.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the political cartoon?

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.