Amid recent successes for sex workers, as human rights and health organisations increasingly openly acknowledge that evidence supports what sex workers have been arguing for years, some confusion and controversy has arisen about the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW). To some extent, that controversy has been seized upon by anti-sex work campaigners as a means to tarnish the reputations of other groups who campaign for sex worker rights.

SCOT-PEP is not aware in detail of the inner workings of the IUSW, however, public statements made by that group indicate that the IUSW may permit managers to participate in the organisation.

As such, we wish to clarify that SCOT-PEP’s core purpose is to amplify the voices of sex workers - not managers, or clients. SCOT-PEP is not a member of IUSW, nor do we have an alliance with them.

SCOT-PEP is an organisation comprised of current and former sex workers, and some allies. Those of us with sex working experience have worked in many sectors of the industry, and from many perspectives: some of us are migrants, some are British; many of us work (or have worked) in criminalised conditions - for example on the street, or in working flats - and we’ve all worked for different reasons, at different times in our lives: to support our families; to support our drug use; for the flexibility; to fund our education, or simply because there has been no other work available, and we need to pay our bills.

We support - and fight for - the full decriminalisation of sex work, including the decriminalisation of managers and workplaces, because only when sex workers are able to work in a decriminalised context will they be able to claim the full human and labour rights due to them. The harm that befalls sex workers when third parties (such as managers) are criminalised is well documented; for instance, Norwegian Police used third party laws to extra-judicially evict sex workers from their homes, in ‘Operation Homeless’. HIV transmission increases when our workplaces and managers are criminalised - as the evidence in South Korea shows - because managers fear to keep sufficient condoms on the premises, as condoms will be used as evidence against them. Laws that criminalise managers are often used against sex workers, as was the case in Bradford four months ago, when three women who were working together in what the judge acknowledged as an “informal co operative” were each convicted of ‘brothel-keeping’ the others. Criminalising managers and third parties forces sex workers to work alone, rather than being able to choose to work together to protect themselves.

The criminalisation of managers has been shown again and again to cause real, material, serious harms to sex workers, and as such, we are in favour of full decriminalisation. However, we believe that the interests of managers and the interests of workers are not aligned, and as an organisation comprised of workers and allies, we purposefully exclude managers.

Sex worker rights organisations are often accused by those who wish to deny sex workers human rights, of being ‘fronts’ for managers. We wish to highlight that this is a profoundly misogynist accusation, relying as it does on the implicit premise that sex workers, a group comprised largely of marginalised women, are incapable of having a political analysis, or agitating for our own rights, and as such, must be the puppets of male ‘pimps’, to use the racialised terms most often used in such attacks. Furthermore, this accusation relies on discounting the voices and activism of sex workers. 

If journalists or others wish to expand their knowledge of the sex worker rights movement in the UK, we suggest they read up on our friends the Sex Worker Open University, the English Collective of Prostitutes, X:Talk, or, internationally, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), and the International Committee of The Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE). There are hundreds of sex worker-led projects around the world doing amazing, innovative work, implementing and expanding on best practice with regards to human rights, labour rights, and access to health.

We suggest that the few journalists and campaigners who have chosen to be on the wrong side of history, and oppose sex workers’ human rights, return to attempting to dispute our ideas and our evidence, as this would at least be more dignified for them. We suggest that organisations led by sex workers - not managers, or ‘exited’ women, or anyone else who doesn’t know the current reality for sex workers - should lead the debate about how to make sex work safer, as organisations led by sex workers are - uncomplicatedly - the experts on sex work.