It is very unfortunate that Stephanie has decided by tweet and by a blog post to have a completely unwarranted go at the Socialist Party and some of our activists who have a proven record of fighting against misogyny and sexism.
The post is full of fabrications or distortions, but one thing mentioned that is completely true and is very important to understanding this situation is that Stephanie has different views to the Socialist Party on the sex industry.
The Socialist Party is of course very concerned about the conditions and the safety of sex workers. We favour and would assist sex workers themselves to get organised and to fight to improve their situation.
We draw a clear and distinct line between sex workers themselves and the ‘sex industry’ as a whole. The ‘sex industry’ is a money-making, capitalist business, but it is more than that. It is grossly exploitative, oppressive and demeaning. It propagates the objectification of women and sexism and promotes the idea that women’s bodies and sexuality and subservient to that of men’s, an ideology that feeds into a culture of male violence against women in society. In the sex industry, the buyer is almost always male, and the seller a woman or LGBTQ person, reflecting oppression in society more generally, including class and race oppression as poverty and inequality push poor women and LGBTQ people, especially migrants and people of colour, into working in the industry through lack of choices.
In Sweden, legislation to outlaw the buying of sex, and decriminalising of sex workers, was put forward in the context of a feminist movement and a broad discussion in society on women’s equality and the sex industry. This social movement saw it as progressive if there was a reduction in the demand for the sex industry. Our sister organisation in Sweden critically supported that legislation in the concrete context of this social movement, and crucially supported measures taken to increase social spending to aid the safety of sex workers, as well as provide exit routes, should they want to exit the industry. Our comrades campaign vehemently against deportations and play a key role in the refugee rights movement. Of course, many of those in the sex industry are vulnerable migrant workers. Our comrades in Sweden are also are extremely critical of the neoliberal drive of successive Governments that has meant that there is an increased focus on a carceral approach linked to laws, and less investment in social services to aid vulnerable sex workers, migrant workers, and working class people in general. In these conditions, of course the sex industry will persist.
In other instances we would not support any such legislation if it wasn’t part of a serious approach or campaign to discuss and deal both with sexism in society generally, and sexist attitudes, and also crucially, if it wasn’t coupled with a very significant increase in social spending to directly aid sex workers safety, multilingual social workers, healthcare for sex workers, police liaisons that are specially trained to support sex workers’ needs, and also genuine exit strategies.
We are not part of a campaign to extend the ‘Swedish model’ to different countries, for the above reasons and also because we believe that a focus on legal change alone will not be enough to reduce demand. We do strongly oppose the legalising of pimping. Pimps and traffickers should be criminalised harshly. Where the whole industry including pimping has been legalised, including in the Netherlands and Germany, the consequences have been horrendous – with widespread violence committed against sex workers themselves in a brutal, dangerous and misogynistic industry, as well as a million men buying sex each day in Germany that has a broader negative social impact of increased sexist attitudes in society.
Here in Ireland, we are disgusted by the fact that the Sexual Offences Bill as it currently stands in the Dail, does not decriminalise the sex workers themselves. We will be putting down amendments to lift the continued criminalising of on-street prostitution, and also to change the brothel keeping measure that potentially criminalises two independent sex workers working together but not living off each other’s earnings, as well as other amendments. We are not convinced that this law will be accompanied by any attempt to spend hard cash on sex workers’ safety and services, nor on exit strategies for those who wish to utilise them. Coming from a Government that’s still delaying a referendum to lift one of the most Medieval and misogynistic constitutional clauses imaginable, the 8th, we also feel that the Government is completely hypocritical, and progressive changes in attitudes that mean less men will buy sex are much more likely to come from the movement from below, than from legal changes by this sexist Government.
We do not oppose the sex industry in isolation from our overall policies and campaigning. We are opposed to capitalism, which by its very nature is unjust and oppressive. We argue and fight for a socialist solution to the problems of ordinary working class people. That would include the majority in society taking control of the vast wealth and resources that exist and using them in a planned way so as to provide opportunities and a secure future for all. That obviously includes the vast majority of sex workers who are forced into sex work through difficult economic circumstances, or other oppressive factors.
These are the considered and genuine held views of the Socialist Party arrived at through discussion in the party. Clearly this approach is legitimate and has a basis and rationale to it.
We accept that some people won’t agree with us. We completely accept that Stephanie strongly disagrees with these views. We also respect her right to have different views and to publicly oppose the position the party puts forward. All that is more than fine and proper.
What is not fine is for Stephanie to feel that because she really dislikes and vehemently opposes the Socialist Party’s view that she has a licence to just fabricate and distort stories about the party and one of its leading women activists in order to damage us and our credibility so that people perhaps won’t listen or reckon with our ideas on the sex industry.
If Stephanie had taken up and tried to defeat our ideas and political position on the sex industry and in that way through political argument weaken the party and its position that would have been fair enough. Unfortunately Stephanie has taken some minor complaints made by one member, which we will show were not reasonable or fair, and try make them into a defining issue so she could write off the party and in particular Laura Fitzgerald who plays a very important role in the party but also in the broad women’s and repeal movement.
Stephanie says that the party and Laura have sided with abusers over the abused and that this demonstrates obvious misogyny. We will very briefly outline the issues in the situations that Stephanie is referring and show that the idea of a string of abusers is completely untrue and is just more mud that Stephanie hopes will stick. Just to say that these instances only a few weeks ago now were referred to by Stephanie as ‘exaggerated’ and ‘blown out of all proportion’. Unfortunately that is what is happening again.
A female member felt uncomfortable about the behaviour of a man who expressed an interest in joining the party. This is being used to say that the party is sexist, whereas the party branch didn’t pursue this man’s interest in joining the Socialist Party precisely because there was a danger it would affect the atmosphere in the branch, and would negatively affect the female member mentioned. This is an example not of sexism, but of sensitivity to women and an active opposition to sexism in the party.
A young female member said she didn’t feel safe in the city centre at nighttime, after branch meetings. This is now been used to indicate that the party and Laura Fitzgerald didn’t take seriously the safety of women members. However, again the opposite is the case as Laura either walked this member to her bus stop and waited with her or arranged for someone else to do so.
A female member said she was considering doing sex work due to serious financial constraints in her family. Laura tried to assist with the immediate situation by connecting her with professional assistance to alleviate the financial situation so she wouldn’t be economically coerced into sex work. However, it was also explicitly said by Laura that if she decided to go into sex work, that she and members of the Party would always be here to help and talk and support her personally, as well assist her political engagement. Again the reality illustrates the opposite of what the Socialist Party and Laura is being accused of. Stephanie knows the reality of these things, so her distortions are grossly unfair.
These incidents came up in the conversations that took place around a left conference that members of the Socialist Party attended. There was one other instance where without any evidence Stephanie believed a young male member had harassed a young female member. This was looked into twice and it was found that no harrassment or abuse whatsoever had taken place, which was agreed with by the young woman herself.
Details aren’t given in the post, but these are the incidents that supposedly lead Stephanie to say we continually side with abusers rather than the abused, that we discriminate against women in the party. It isn’t credible, it doesn’t add up and so we are left to conclude that she is distorting incidents utterly, in the hope that the party’s status will be damaged primarily because she deeply dislikes the views we have on the sex industry.
The main problem that Stephanie had in the discussion that took place after the left conference is that she was asked why was she putting forward accusations that were baseless and were known by her to be baseless. Did she not consider that to be unfair, she was asked. We hoped that element of the discussion would be over with quickly, that there would be agreement that what had happened was regrettable and that we would move on. Many positive points were made about the role that Stephanie could play.
There was no question of a Stalinist type approach of re-education as implied in the post but it was clear that more discussion was necessary in order to build a good relationship when Stephanie commented that she was very suspicious of the party and left parties in general.
It became clear that Stephanie had actually joined the party knowing she strongly disagreed with the party regarding the sex industry, which is clearly a very important issue for her, and with deep suspicions of the party. This is clearly very unusual, subsequently as she says herself she decided to leave the party for this reason.
It is clear that when any rumour or point came up in conversation, regardless of how baseless it was, once it was against the party and an organiser in the party, Stephanie had a predisposition to believe it was true.
That’s how a person who is recognised as a strong voice and dedicated organiser in the broad repeal and women’s movement, who was one of the central people behind establishing ROSA, who has played an important role in developing the socialist feminist element to the burgeoning women’s movement in Ireland, disgracefully gets transformed into an oppressor of women and an undemocratic, untouchable. This is a very unfair way to treat a fellow woman activist and it is also a disservice to these vital issues. It’s also very unfortunate that Stephanie is sharing screenshots from Ruth Coppinger taken utterly out of context to try to tarnish Ruth’s reputation too and to wrongly create an impression that the Socialist Party’s strong stance in opposition to the Sex Industry, ie the sex industry pimps and bosses, equates to an opposition to those working in the industry, which it absolutely does not.
This is not unique in our politics – the Socialist Party campaigns for an ending to the burning of fossil fuels and is opposed to extremely harmful industries, like the coal industry. We want to see this industry phased out and replaced with green renewables. This in no way contradicts our fulsome support for coal workers organising for increased safety and better pay. Furthermore, just like with sex workers, the needs and interests of coal workers are tied up completely with a broader left challenge to global capitalism that ensures the guaranteed right to a quality job, a living wage, a home and a good standard of living for all, as part of a green socialist economic alternative to the fossil fuel guzzling, poverty and wealth-inequality perpetuating, profit system.