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Open Letter to the BACP in response to "Working with Students Involved in the Sex Industry"

Below is a response from Traveller Pride to this article in the BACP (British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy) which, in our view, gives a terrible and one-sided understanding of the issues with sex workers accessing therapy and should never have been published as a piece of uncritiqued advice.

Dear all

I am writing in response to the article published in your University and College Counselling journal “Working with Students involved in the sex industry” as I am appalled that it was published in the first place. The Nordic Model, as proposed by the author, has been criticised by many current and former sex workers because it serves to eliminate the autonomy of those who sell sex. History shows us that prohibition only leads to further risk to those who are involved; in effect it makes sex workers less safe.

The author states that she has “lost count of the number of women” who are frustrated that they have been let down by therapists who didn’t view prostitution as inherently traumatising; given that she works for Nordic Model Now, it is no surprise that she comes across women who have had a bad experience of sex work, in the same way as a bible salesman tends to meet a lot of Christians. Although a common accusation directed towards sex workers who support decriminalisation is that they are “Happy Hookers” who haven’t experienced the reality of how dangerous or unpleasant sex work can be, there is no correlation - Many people who support full decrim have direct experience of abuse and trauma at the hands of clients, and most of the loudest proponents of the Nordic model have never sold sex.

The arguments put forward in the article about sex work in the therapy room hold little water. She complains about therapists who don’t enter the clients’ frame of reference which then belittles the experiences of the women being spoken about. This is clearly an outrage and is an example of terrible counselling. However it sounds like her response to this is to want therapists to enter with the assumption that someone’s experience of sex work will have been negative, will have been traumatising and is doing them damage; she seems perfectly happy for sex workers who don’t feel like this to have their therapists not enter their frame of reference but to instead come in with presuppositions- what seems important is not that we are unbiased but that we are biased towards the author’s viewpoint.

It is almost a comic parody, to complain about the autonomy of clients being ignored but to also advocate a position which excludes the large number of sex workers, past and present, who don’t feel this way. She gives some shocking and sobering examples of bad therapy, but then advocates for the same, but from the other direction.

Of course, for some the industry is horrendous and traumatising and vile but this article seems to wilfully ignore nuance in favour of a partisan rant. Unfortunately, the Nordic model would only make it worse for those who stayed in the industry, as has been shown in Ireland, Norway and Sweden, where sex workers report higher levels of violence and poverty after the Nordic Model was implemented. There are terrific organisations such as National Ugly Mugs, SWARM or Decrim Now who advocate for decriminalisation of sex work and an implementation of good robust services to help people safely leave the industry, for any reason. As much as proponents of the Nordic Model would like to imagine otherwise, usually the largest barrier to leaving sex work and finding employment in another industry isn’t a predatory manager within sex work, it’s the judgement of their new employer- Criminalisation forces them to leave years of work out of their CV, and stigma means that being outed as a former sex worker to their new coworkers or customers can result in losing their jobs, or being harassed at work. Decriminalisation is the humane approach, whereas the Nordic Model advocacy is nothing short of neo-puritanism which will undermine the autonomy and rights of the women it pretends to advocate for. I’ve had clients and friends who are current and former sex workers. Some found it to be traumatising, some found it to be liberating, some felt as indifferent to it as they would to any other job. Most have reported that it being criminalised currently is one of the biggest challenges; putting these vulnerable women in the hands of the police is far more frequently traumatising than the work itself. The arrogance of the Nordic model is to assume to know better than the individual.

Again, decriminalisation is the only option which seeks to protect the rights, wellbeing and autonomy of sex workers. This is why I am surprised that, uncritically, this was published by the BACP, which holds “Non Maleficence” as a core value. It is a joke that on the front page it has the tagline “a call for empathy and understanding”, when the article called for empathy and understanding for those who feel the way I do.

I hope that you seek to give space to one of the many current or former sex workers who work as therapists to advocate for a more humane approach.

Tyler Hatwell


Founder & Executive Director- Traveller Pride

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