The Queen’s endorsement of the exploitation of women is devastating

In giving official honours to women who have advocated for the legalization of prostitution, the Queen effectively legitimizes the sex trade.

Earlier this month, Her Majesty the Queen gave official honours to two people who have done more than most to hide the egregious violence experienced by women and girls trapped in the sex trade. A woman in her position should understand the impact of her actions, but many remain ignorant on this issue, so allow me to explain.

In making Catherine Healy, a founding member of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective — a group that lobbied New Zealand to decriminalize pimping, brothel-ownership, and buying sex in 2003 — a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and making Julie Bates — a founding member of the Sex Workers Outreach Project in New South Wales — an officer of the Order of Australia, the Queen gives a cloak of legitimacy to the brutally exploitative sex trade.

I have first-hand experience in prostitution and am now part of SPACE International, a global group of sex trade survivors. We know that when New Zealand and New South Wales in Australia decriminalized not only those selling sex, but also pimps, brothel-owners, and buyers, they threw all women in prostitution under the bus.

These are two of only a few countries or states wherein all aspects of the system of prostitution have been decriminalized. Women who have lived prostitution before and after the law changed say they went from fearing the police to fearing the pimps. Under the previous law it was illegal for women to be in prostitution in public places and they were frequently targeted by the police. After 2003, women were no longer criminalized for selling sex, but the power of pimps was drastically increased.

In fully decriminalizing the sex trade, prostitution came to be viewed as work — a job like any other. As a result, the many (mainly) women who find themselves stuck in the industry are given no support when trying to exit, while the men who buy sexual access to their bodies are given a sense of entitlement to do whatever they please.

Thirty years ago, when I was arrested in the UK for prostitution, the police knew who my pimp was but chose not to arrest him. I ended up with a criminal record while he went free. This is very typical of the way men are treated in a society where buying sex and being in prostitution is normalized and seen as harmless, while victims of the system of prostitution are left to deal with the repercussions.

Unless we acknowledge the massive power imbalance in the system of prostitution, we will never be able to support women who have no other choice but to sell sex and who so desperately want to leave the trade. The men who buy sex have absolute power and privilege over those who are sold, who have no desire whatsoever to be there and are merely doing everything they can to stay alive.

In saying that it is okay for men to buy sex, their desire to exploit is made more important than a woman’s basic safety and human right to be free from torture and slavery. It is a despicable slap in the face of women who deserve to live better lives than this, and who should be given support. The fact that even the Queen does not seem to understand this is something that I and other sex trade survivors cannot accept.

I would like the Honours Forfeiture Committee to recommend rescinding these honours, bestowed on women who helped conceal the violence which I and so many other women and girls have experienced in prostitution. It is pivotal that the Queen understand how horrific life in prostitution is, how the journey stays with you, and how difficult it is to really ever truly leave the trade and recover.

So many women I know are left with permanent trauma to overcome — both physical and psychological. It can take a lifetime to heal. I am lucky that I have support around me, but there are so many who do not and who are unable to speak out.

If we really do care about women’s lives and human rights, the only approach to stand behind is the Abolitionist Model (also known as the Nordic or Equality Model). First instituted by Sweden in 1999, the model — which decriminalizes those who sell sex and criminalizes pimps, sex buyers, and brothel owners, offering services and supports to those who wish to exit the industry — has since been adopted by many other countries, including Northern Ireland (a territory the Queen has jurisdiction over), as well as neighbouring France and the Republic of Ireland. The abolitionist model is supported by sex trade survivors and feminist activists around the world, as it is the only approach that is based on the principle of gender equality, and which recognizes the fact that the system of prostitution is harmful and needs to be eliminated.

As a sex trade survivor, I have sadly gotten used to having to constantly fight to live what should be a normal life after the horror I was forced to survive as a child. But I cannot continue to let women in such privileged positions ignore or fail to understand the excruciating circumstances that women and girls in prostitution continue to wake up to every single day.

I encourage Her Majesty to look more closely at this issue and the reality of the sex trade. She is in a position to take an important stand on women’s rights around the world, and has clearly been led astray.

Fiona Broadfoot is a sex trade survivor, a member of SPACE International and the founder of the Build A Girl Project, Bradford, United Kingdom.

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  • お茶

    Thank you for writing this. I was an independent high end escort but even then it was a horrible way to live. Knowing that others have that but worse is heartbreaking. It infuriates me whenever anyone is pro-prositution. What a naïve stance to take.

  • Can’tUnseeIt

    I have to wonder just how naive this is on the part of the Queen. After all, many marriage partners among royalty were not based on personal choice but rather deemed mandatory for political purposes. I am sure this majesty, as well as many others, were only too happy to have their spouses be serviced by another class of women upon whom they could then look down their noses. At least it relieved them of the burdensome chore of regular sex with someone they didn’t care for. I guess I wouldn’t be looking to any of them for support to abolish prostitution.

  • FierceMild

    Vive la Résistance!

  • FierceMild

    No kidding!! It was Britain and France who brought chattel slavery to the Americas.

  • Frilly Prosecutor

    Especially considering that many of the women were forced into prostitution when they were minors and at their most vulnerable; often young runaways whose very reason for being on the streets was due to escaping sexual abuse at home, only to be exploited and abused further by being forced to take drugs and endure being raped multiple times daily.

    • Maria Gatti

      I’m so glad that you recognise this. While I am grateful for the work on preventing young runaway girls here from falling into the sex trade trap, there is no mention whatever of the reasons at least some of them were so eager to leave home. Sexual abuse, also other forms of abuse and violence.

  • acommentator

    This sounds right to me. I doubt that the Queen has more than the most cursory information on who gets these awards. And, given her age, she may not even be involved that much. Particularly recipients from outside the UK.

    But perhaps additional accounts will shed more light on the subject of how these particular awards were decided upon.

    • Sine FourEx

      Info on “Order of Australia”.

      Seems this is completely local, decided by the Australian elite in some shady backroom (or well lit office) in a opaque manner.

      Australians keep saying that their low incidence of HIV/AIDS is due to prostitution policy. More prostitution, less supervision or regulation => less HIV. I can’t see how that makes any sense, but I think it was probably the basis for the recommendation (probably backed by a handful of pet academic punters).

      The Queen is completely hand-off even if the honours are doled out in the name of the sovereign. In the UK, the Prime Minister’s office has final approval (I believe), but I don’t know if any UK body has power to even comment on how Australian honours it’s own citizens.

      Rightly or wrongly, this is still viewed
      by many as an imperial award approved by the sovereign, even in the UK. This is just another sneaky little step to feign legitimacy.

  • Zoë Lafantaisie

    Absolutely fantastic article Fiona. Thank you so much.

  • yrba

    Thank you for this excellent, very personal, heartfelt article. It made me ache to read your story and how this injustice from the Queen, of all people, must feel.

    I request that on this, and any article about injustice, in Feminist Current, or anywhere else, that the readers be provided with one or more addresses to write to, and a short sample message from the article author, who has no doubt thought out the issue the most, to facilitate the readers being able to quickly and easily take action by writing a brief postcard to the parties who need to hear from us. If the addresses were included here, I guarantee I would grab some postcards and dash off some notes to pop in the mail tomorrow.

    Making it as easy as possible to take action results in the greatest number of people taking such action. If every reader must look up the Queen’s address, and the address of the organization to rescind, very few people will even think to take action.

    When we read about injustices toward women, it makes us feel victimized. When we are handed the information to quickly and easily take action, it empowers us. I urge Feminist Current to make it a policy to always have the author include one or more addresses of the best parties to write to on the issue, and a short sample 1 or 2 sentence letter.

    If the author would please provide those addresses here, and a suggested sentence or two, I guarantee many of us readers will take action on this. Please do so, for the sake of this important cause affecting thousands of women and children.

  • Independent Radical

    Yes, the monarchy is a conservative force, but conservatives aren’t meant to be for prostitution. They are meant to be for “traditional morality”, which isn’t good either, but if even the representatives of tradition are bowing to sex liberalism and all its horrors, than the sex liberals are going to feel pretty damn unstoppable, so the queen advocating their position is very disheartening to the opponents of prostitution. It would’ve been nice to have the queen as an ally on the issue of prostitution, whether she aligns with our values in other ways or not.

    I can’t imagine the queen being an enthusiastic advocate of prostitution. She may well just view giving people honours as part of her royal duty and something she should do without question or she may genuinely believe that these sex industry defenders are advocating on behave of poor, vulnerable women against those mean white, “bourgeois” prudes who want to throw them in jail and stop them from making a living.

  • LittleGreen

    Thank you so much Fiona for speaking up for the many women who cannot! Your voice is so valuable amongst the din of lobbyists including women paid or forced to speak in favour of decrim. Let us know if there is anything we can do to support you.