It is always painful the watch to slow demise of a once principled and liberating movement. We have had many examples over the past 20 years, but the current position of Scottish Women’s Aid is possibly one of the most heartbreaking.
Built by survivors of male violence, as a collective Scottish Women’s Aid stood proud and never swayed from its aim to support women and children to escape male violence and abuse.
The National office of the network of Women’s Aid in Scotland groups, its aim was to distribute information to and support local direct services and advocate on their behalf to government and legislators. Forty five years after its establishment, the organisation was yesterday required to release a statement to soften the claim, made in The Times, by their Chief Executive, Dr Marsha Scott, that to ban the exploitation of women through prostitution would “cause increased risk for the women involved in it.”
Which women she is referring to is not made clear, and we can only assume she means all women involved in prostitution. This, however, according to those who would defend prostitution as sex work, is more complex than that. According to them some women “choose” to be involved in prostitution and are empowered by the experience. We can only assume therefore that those that Scott would see as most at risk are those who already experience the horrors of male abuse through prostitution. Those who are already regularly raped, urinated on, verbally and physically abused, spat on and generally treated like shit on the shoe of the boot that kicks and grinds them down.
Women, many of whom, are the most abused in Scotland, exploited by men who use their access to money to demand the acts they would not ask of other women in their lives. Men who in research after research project are found to recognise fully the power they hold over the women;
“It’s a power thing really – being able to get a woman to give you sexual services by handing over money.” (Punter)
(Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution in Scotland, Women’s Support Project, 2008)
Women who have few, if any options. Survivors of child sexual abuse and other forms of male violence are over represented in this so called sex industry. Traumatised women who have often learned from an early age how to dissociate when men choose to exploit and abuse them. it is the men who have the options and make the choices.
These are women who experience high levels of addiction, a coping mechanism to overcome the distressful flashbacks and emotions linked to historical and current abuse and violence meted out on them.
Many of those who attempt to defend prostitution as sex work would have us believe that legislating again men who exploit women through prostitution would drive it further underground. In fact Scott claims this in the article, “We also know from research in other countries that operate from models of criminalisation of sex that it pushes it deeper underground”. What she does not say however is that she is choosing to ignore the multiple examples of research that has not only found reductions in violence and abuse, but also reduced trafficking of women, in countries adopting their own version of the Nordic model. Scott even gives examples of how it would force “women into positions and places which make it harder to risk assess” and herein lies Scottish Women’s Aid’s problem.
Anyone who has been involved in the domestic abuse movement, either as a victim, survivor or campaigner / worker, will know that we have had to overcome this very attitude. The sector was built on the understanding of the power dynamic between women and men, engaged before during and after domestic abuse incidents. This was a sector that did not recognise a hierarchy of abuse. All violence and abuse was and is unacceptable, regardless of where is took place, and the only people responsible for it was and is perpetrators.
Scottish Women’s Aid has fought to overcome the perception of women experiencing male violence as being women who had a penchant for violence as long as she loved her man. They fought “you made your bed you can lie in it” attitude that blamed women for not recognising the “risk” her partner posed in the early days of their relationship. If Scottish Women’s Aid accept that men in relationships are so manipulative and threatening that women cannot escape, how would they ever expect a woman, potentially with addiction issues, to assess and take action against a man she has potentially just met. The answer is they wouldn’t
Scott is entitled to her opinion of course. It is only through debate and discussion can we best represent the women whose voices are ignored, unheard or who are not quite ready to speak, yet. The question is how is she representing the many workers and campaigners in the violence against women sector, who are, ”feminist to [their] fingertips”, at government level. How is she representing Scottish Women’s Aid and the network of Women’s Aid groups? How is she consulting with those groups to ensure she represents appropriately the understanding of those who work directly with women and children? What guidance is she receiving from her board?
Frontline Feminists Scotland supports the introduction of a version of the Nordic model that reflects the needs of women and girls in Scotland, particularly those in the most challenging of circumstances. Any legislation should be based on the needs of those with the least choice, and should reduce the opportunities for those who would exploit, abuse and murder them.
“I don't think they should legalise it though. No. Definitely no … Who wants that? Who thinks that's a good idea? Legalising it all aint gonnae change what punters do. It's no gonnae help the women. They need more security, safety nets around the surrounding areas for the girls fae prostitution. Cos there's nae safety oot there whatsoever.” Natalia
(Preventing and eradicating prostitution: A proposed approach for Scotland, Encompass, 2018)