Here's a picture of Sian Berry and me at last night's 'Reclaim the Night' march in central London. I hope the blurriness of the pictures conveys the energised atmosphere of the event - ! I attended the march last year and really enjoyed it. This year I took some Green Party placards along too, as you can see.
I wondered whether, by having the placards, we would get questioned about the Green Party's liberal policies about prostitution. I know that we've come in for some criticism in the past about this, and that some branches of feminsim, who would never want to see prostitution decriminalised/legalised, are very much against our standpoint.
We didn't get any comments, as it turned out, though the issue was very much in the air last night. Some sex workers, possibly from the English Collective of Prostitutes, took part in the march, much to some of the organisers' chagrin. (I overheard a heated discussion at the end of the event!).
When we passed the lapdancing club Spearmint Rhino on Tottenham Court Road (see top picture), the two rival groups chanted opposing messages to the tune of 'Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!"
Sex workers: "Sex Workers Riiiiiiights!"
Anti-prostitution feminists: "Women's bodies are not for saaa-aaale!"
It was quite a moment. For the record, I'm with the sex workers on this. As Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes wrote in a letter to the Guardian just this week, 'There is no sisterly understanding of, no identification with, women who for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of presssing economic need, work in the sex industry...Many clients are more respectful of the women whose services they pay for than feminists who claim to speak for us.'
It's a massively contentious issue, and obviously there's a world of difference between a woman who enters the sex industry of her own volition and someone who is forced into it, but wishing that prostitution didn't exist is pointless. It will always be there - we need to look at it openly and listen to women - and men, for that matter - who have experience of it - rather than trying to drown out their voices.