As some of you may have already heard, UNISON Women’s Conference voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to support the Demand Change campaign, which calls on the UK government to adopt the Nordic model of prostitution. This is the model that is already in effect in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, and which decriminalises those who sell sex acts, and criminalises those who purchase them.

Unsurprisingly, I was at the conference, and I’m proud to say it was my region, Eastern Region, in conjunction with the South East Region, that submitted the original motion.

Now obviously you don’t submit a motion like that without putting some work into making sure it has plenty of support prior to the debate, so if anyone’s been wondering why I disappeared off the Internet again last week, well, now you know.

On Thursday afternoon I was privileged to chair a workshop on trafficking and prostitution at the conference, which was attended by over 60 women and in which the international expert and former advisor to the Swedish Government Gunila Ekberg, and the journalist and feminist campaigner Julie Bindel, talked about the realities of prostitution and about trafficking for sexual exploitation. And during the lunchtime break on Friday I co-facilitated a fringe meeting on the Demand Change campaign which was attended by another 50+ women.

Before that, on the Friday morning, members from the East and South East Regions got up at the crack of dawn and leafleted delegates going into conference with a document we’d produced outlining the arguments for the Nordic model. The very first person to have the document thrust in their hand was the UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, and I’m delighted to say that during his address to conference later that day Dave gave his full support to the Demand Change motion.

To be honest, when it came to the actual debate on Saturday morning I was expecting far more opposition. There had been a few dissenting voices in the fringe meeting and the workshop, by which I mean a few people had expressed some reservations, not that there were any ardent supporters of the so-called sex industry amongst the delegates, but when it came to it no one got up to speak against the motion, and I’ve been told that ultimately only two people voted against it.

The Morning Star has already covered the debate, although I feel I must point out a couple of errors in their piece – for example South East region delegate ‘Jenny Eaton’ did not tell of the abuse she had suffered as a teenage prostitute, because Ginny (not Jenny!) has never worked as a prostitute: what she did do was read out the testimony of a former teenage prostitute. And the bit where it says I  “pointed to international research showing that prostitutes, by enduring a high level of daily sexual activity, sustained long-term physical and psychological injuries similar to victims of torture.” Erm, no I didn’t. I’m sure someone probably did, but it wasn’t me. That aside though, it’s good to see the conference, and that motion in particular, getting some press coverage.

The Demand Change motion was selected by delegates at the conference as one of the two women’s conference motions to go forward to UNISON’s National Delegate Conference in June. But the June conference is a completely different beast from National Women’s Conference, in that there are thousands of delegates at that conference, and a lot of them are men. So, as you can imagine, the hard work isn’t over yet….

And for anyone who’s interested, here’s the text of the motion:

Demand Change

Conference is concerned by the fact that enshrined within the UK’s current legislation is men’s right to buy women. This is directly contradictory to a society based on gender equality.

Prostitution is not a job like any other. It is characterised by violence and abuse that has profound physical and psychological consequences for those selling sex acts – the vast majority of whom are women and girls. Studies indicate that the majority of women become involved in prostitution under the age of 18 and that childhood abuse, poverty, drug dependency and homelessness are key triggers for entry into prostitution. Once in prostitution, further studies reveal that sexual and physical assault is common, and 9 out of 10 women involved in prostitution say they would exit the sex industry if they could.

Conference believes that it is essential that those selling sex acts are completely decriminalised, and provided with support services to help exit prostitution safely and effectively. Furthermore, in order to see an end to the exploitative industry of prostitution, Conference recognises that legislation is needed to tackle the demand for prostitution which expands the industry and fuels trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Conference welcomes proposals to criminalise the buying of sex-acts from a person subjected to force as an important step towards tackling demand for prostitution by shifting criminal liability away from those who are exploited through prostitution and towards those who purchase girls, boys, women and men for sexual use. Conference therefore supports current proposed legislation in the Policing and Crime Bill. However, it is recognised that these proposals do not go far enough in terms of putting a halt to the exploitative industry of prostitution and preventing future generations from being coerced into prostitution.

Conference welcomes the work being done by politicians in Scotland to amend the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill which is currently being debated within the Scottish Parliament to outlaw “indoor prostitution”.  Women who sell sex in sauna’s and flats are abused just as much as street prostitutes yet the purchase of sex in a public place is illegal in Scotland but “indoor prostitution” is not.

To work towards an end to exploitation through prostitution, Conference supports the Demand Change! Campaign in calling for the government to apply the ‘Nordic model’ to tackling prostitution by decriminalising those who sell sex acts and supporting them to exit prostitution, whilst at the same time criminalising those who purchase sex acts. Conference believes that it is only through tackling the demand for prostitution and challenging attitudes which say that it is acceptable to buy and sell women for sexual use that it will be possible to end the sexual exploitation, violence and abuse inherent to prostitution.  This approach has been successfully adopted by Sweden, Norway and Iceland – countries that top the global charts in terms of gender equality – as part of their end violence against women policies.

Conference therefore instructs the National Women’s Committee to proactively support the Demand Change! Campaign by:

1)    Liaising with NEC and other UNISON bodies and using Demand Change! materials to raise awareness about the reality of prostitution as violence against women, and to highlight the need for an approach that tackles the demand for prostitution.

2)    Liaising with UNISON Labour Link and lobbying the UNISON Parliamentary group of MPs to actively support all proposals which decriminalise the selling of sex acts whilst criminalising the purchase of sex acts; and to proactively urge the UK government to adopt the ‘Nordic’ model to tackling prostitution

3)    Liaise with UNISON Labour Link and the GPF and lobby the various Trade Union groups in the Scottish Parliament to actively support all proposals which will criminalise the purchase of sex acts in private sauna’s and flats in Scotland.

4)    Encouraging all UNISON members to lobby their MPs to support the Demand Change! Campaign

5)    Encouraging all members to sign the petition to Number 10 which urges the government to adopt the ‘Nordic’ model to tackling prostitution

6)    Encouraging branches and regions to donate to help support the campaign (this can include donating ‘in kind’).