Keith Vaz’s sex life does not matter

Yesterday, the UK media was all of a flutter on hearing that Keith Vaz, the MP who chaired the Home Affairs Select Committee and its investigation of prostitution laws, is himself an alleged client of gay escorts.

This soon turned into calls for the Committee’s recommendation to decriminalise sex work to be discounted. More proof (if proof were needed) that the prurient British press is a fucking embarrassment and holds no one to account on anything that matters. If you think Keith Vaz is singlehandedly responsible for sex workers being treated like human beings, you are very stupid, stop writing now.

The “Swedish Model” favoured by anti-sex work campaigners throughout the Home Affairs investigation (including Keith Vaz) is known to kill women. Yet all anyone cares about today is who puts a consensual dick where and when. It’s 2016 and the UK media is still outing gay and bisexual men to sell papers. The money governments spend on anti-trafficking puts women in abusive jails and detention centres worldwide. But LOL, hooker jokes.

I’m not even mad. This is the way things are. Press, public, and governments put ideology before lives. Go ahead and cosign it. I see you.

In the wake of the news there are a lot of people saying uninformed shit. People who weren’t there trying to rewrite Home Affairs Select Committee’s hearings on prostitution. I was called to give evidence. Maybe you remember; it was in a lot of papers. Here is what really happened back in May.

It was, as the press reported at the time, tense as fuck (I’m paraphrasing). All of the contact with the Committee before that hearing had been skewed heavily towards the Swedish Model (sometimes erroneously called the Nordic Model, which implies all Nordic countries agree on criminalising clients; they do not). Again, this is because the chair Keith Vaz and other committee members openly supported it. I didn’t want to talk to the Home Affairs committee and wasn’t given the option to refuse. Watch the video. This was not softball. Paris Lees and I went loaded for bear.

We got into actual arguments with MPs who, among other things, don’t seem to believe they answer to taxpayers or need input from sex workers, you know, the very people who would be affected by any changes to the law.

99.9999% of the people commenting on Vaz today weren’t in that room, and if they are saying the investigation was biased towards sex workers, they are lying. The first evidence session included Kat Banyard, who fabricated the ‘case studies’ in one of her books, and Mia de Faoite, who never worked in the UK. Also Laura Lee - who might have been the only sex worker the committee spoke to at all, if not for outrage about how biased that first session was. Folks trying to rewrite history now to promote the woman-killing Swedish model are lying liars.

What is it about the HASC recommmendations that they disagree with, I wonder? The idea that people saddled with criminal convictions should be allowed to move on? That sex workers should get better protection from exploitative bosses? That prostitutes should be able to report crimes against them to the police without fear of arrest or attack?

All media coverage from May noted how me and @ParisLees had to stomp hard on bullshit lines of questioning from hostile MPs to get any of our points across. We went there fully expecting, and pretty much got, a beasting. Compare to the easy questions lobbed at Kat Banyard at the first hearing, who was never a sex worker and has never worked with a prostitution charity or outreach — as far as anyone can tell, her only firsthand experience with sex workers is having met me in a BBC green room once.

When I called out the committee for visiting Sweden and Denmark without meeting local sex worker-led orgs, Keith Vaz had the audacity to claim that they had. I know he was wrong; sex work organisations were shut out of the consultation visits. Why? Because Vaz had been a vocal supporter of the Swedish model. Now people are trying to imply Vaz gave us a helping hand in the results? As if.

Sex workers influenced the outcome of the inquiry in spite of, not because of, Keith Vaz.

People twisting the Vaz story to suit their agenda are the lowest of the low, and their preferred policy kills women. Also no journalists came that day; they all sat at their desks and did the bare minimum just like they’re doing now. Why get to know the topic and the issues involved, when you can cobble together snide little thinkpieces instead and watch your clickthroughs soar?

The people sitting behind me and Paris in the video? @NationalUglyMug and @ProstitutesColl — the people whose persistence and unsung commitment to justice got any sex workers into the room at all. If not for them, the only face-to-face the committee would have had would be from pearl-clutching moralists like Banyard. If Keith Vaz had a secret reason to be sympathetic to us he did a pretty great job of hiding that fact throughout.

Vaz actually supported the same side as Ditum. I know she’s only a journalist — facts are not her long suit - but you’d hope she would at least try and keep up.

The government website contains all of the submitted evidence, from consultation to decision. This was no stroll in the park for sex workers. Vastly qualified individuals and organisations with more recent and relevant information than me or Paris were shut out, in favour of inviting “media stars.” If you wish to argue the finer points of sex work policy with me, you’ll have to read through every bit of this first — just like I did. The evidence for decriminalisation stood for itself and continues to. Just like it did for Amnesty, UNAids, UN Women, World Health Organisation, Human Rights Watch, and countless other groups that support sex work decrim.

The final report was nothing like anyone expected. From the All Party Parliamentary Group to the written submissions to the first oral session, supporters of the Swedish model dominated the discussion. They thought they’d slam dunked it. They were blindsided when the report actually took some evidence from sex workers into account and suggested — shocker — that we are also human beings with rights. We refused to be talked over, we refused to be spoken for. We refused to be voiceless.

Meanwhile a lot of the public suddenly have an opinion on something they took no notice of til yesterday. If the committee chair had been on our side the way people are claiming now, this wouldn’t exist:

Now ask yourself, why was the Vaz story released one day after the lobby that tried to bring Swedish model to Parliament launched it again in Scotland? Could it be the same reason why the same cabal of people slapped a nuisance libel suit on me the day my book The Sex Myth was released? Could it be that the evidence so clearly supports decriminalising prostitution, they have to resort to monstering people to make headway? The well-funded interests making money out of anti-sex work, anti-trafficking panics don’t like competing data, so they go for the low hanging fruit: sex scandals. And y’all bite when this kind of derailment happens. You fall for it hook, line, and sinker.

Here’s a sample from my Twitter direct messages talking to activists about the Scotland situation four days ago (three days before the Vaz headlines).

We weren’t talking about Vaz specifically, for what it’s worth. We simply knew from experience how this cycle always goes. That someone is always going to be outed, shamed, monstered. Why? Because the bare facts on how best to reduce harm for sex workers just aren’t sexy enough for the media, whose agenda is strongly anti-sex work. And Every. Single. Time. the Swedish model comes up somewhere, they find someone to humiliate. Just usually it’s one of us - the sex workers.

As I said: not even mad. I finally lost my filter, the one that keeps me from telling everyone they’re gullible mooks all the time.

You are being had. Your eye is on the wrong person in this little game of Three Card Monte. I don’t really think the Great British Public is yet ready to admit they are so shallow and so easily led.

Sex workers’ rights will continue to roll on regardless.