Congress backs call to lobby government to decriminalise prostitution

Sexual health nurse tells members this is the model backed by evidence – and sex workers

Sexual health nurse tells members this is the model backed by evidence – and sex workers

 Louise Cahill, who proposed the resolution, addresses RCN congress. Picture: John Houlihan

Members of the English Collective of Prostitutes lobbied RCN members arriving on the first day of congress, urging them to support a resolution on decriminalising prostitution.

Later, congress voted overwhelmingly in favour of the call for RCN council to make representations to the government on the issue.

‘Advocate for those who need us’

Proposing the resolution, Louise Cahill, a sexual health clinical nurse specialist in Somerset, said the term ‘sex work’ made some feel uncomfortable.

‘But we do what nurses do best: we follow evidence-based practice and advocate for those who need our voices,’ she said.

Ms Cahill said the evidence was clear that decriminalisation was the right path. ‘It is the only model that is backed by evidence of improvement in health, safety and welfare – and sex workers themselves are calling for it.’

Jason Warriner: 'Some people choose to work in this profession, so let’s not judge them.'
Picture: John Houlihan

RCN public health forum chair Jason Warriner, who seconded the motion, said even if sex work was decriminalised, health professionals could still help people move away from it. ‘But some people choose to work in this profession, so let’s not judge them for that.’

Rod Thompson from the RCN mental health forum said he been asked to look at the issue of prostitution in Liverpool following the murders of two women. But a proposal to pilot a managed sex work zone, similar to the model adopted in Holland, was rejected by the government.

‘So, sadly, the risk to women in this city, and every city in the UK, has continued,’ he said.

‘Much the same as legalisation’

The only speaker to oppose the resolution was staff nurse Ellen Grogan, who said the move would mean decriminalising pimping and brothel-keeping, ‘the very activities that harm the women we all want to support’.

She added: ‘Decriminalisation is much the same as legalisation.’

Ms Grogan is co-founder of a group that campaigns for the implementation in the UK of the Nordic Model, which decriminalises street-based sex workers and criminalises buyers.

She said there had been just one murder of a sex worker in Sweden since it introduced the Nordic Model, but many more murders of prostitutes in countries such as the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, where prostitution is decriminalised.

‘Lets not endorse prostitution as a solution to women’s poverty,’ she urged.

Experts by experience

But York university student Rowan Kitchen argued that the evidence showed that the Nordic Model did not work or keep workers safe.

‘Sex workers are the experts by experience and they are crying out for decriminalisation. Brothels keep sex workers safe.'

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