Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prostitution for food

Women are turning to prostitution to feed their children as welfare reforms hit the poorest and most vulnerable families in Hull. Staff at the Lighthouse Project, a charity supporting street workers in Hull, have seen a increase in women turning to prostitution as unemployment rates soar and benefit cuts take hold.

Anne Dannerolle, chair of trustees at the charity, said she recently saw a woman working on the streets for the first time to raise money for food and revealed they are now giving out food parcels to the women selling their bodies for sex. She said: "We have started to see women who are literally starving and they are out there to feed themselves.  Often, that is because of benefit cuts or sanctions, when their benefit cuts are taken away from them for a couple of weeks. I have a real concern about that. If they have no one to turn to in an emergency, they have to find a way to get money – and that often means crime or going out on the streets. I suppose it is seen as a crime that hurts nobody – it just hurts themselves."

Humberside Police PC Lorraine Summerfield said: "Some of these girls are desperate to feed and clothe their children and they are going out to do that, which is really sad. The number of girls working had reduced but, recently, it has flared up again and it is because new girls are going out, who have never done it before. There have been a lot more who have come to it recently later in life because they are so desperate for cash. They don't want to commit crime so they are selling themselves because it is an easy way to make money and feed their family."

But even prostitution suffers the effect of the recession. A website reviewing over 5,000 massage parlours and individuals, says that many are struggling. Sex workers say they have been forced to hold down prices.  Customer numbers are down as paying for sex is often a luxury and so prices are being cut.  Women increasingly report requests for discounts. Sophie, an escort in Edinburgh, says she is seeing an influx of “newbies” including students and the recently laid-off, many of them offering more for less.  Vivienne, an independent escort, explains the days of being able to make a full-time living out of prostitution are long gone, reckons Vivienne, at least in larger towns and cities. “It’s stupidly competitive right now”. Some working women in Westminster say they have halved their prices because the market has become so saturated.

Georgina Perry, the service manager for Open Doors, an NHS centre in east London that offers health services to sex workers, says that in the past few years some former prostitutes who had found low-paid work, for example as cleaners, have returned to the sex trade as other jobs have become harder to find. The women are back on the streets, charging £20 at most.

The danger in sex work is greater than in other industries. Sex workers are taking greater risks for smaller returns.

Prostitution can rarely be voluntary in any real sense. The degradation of women for sex is but a special aspect of the general degradation of humanity. The cause of this degradation is, as we have continually shown, the private ownership of society's means of subsistence.  Forced labour — not confined to sex work — is an important part of capitalism.  If we want to end prostitution we need to take the next step and build a broad popular movement to overthrow capitalism itself, not simplistically offer an occasional food parcel.

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