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Outrage after Welsh Government offers sex industry career advice

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Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones has launched an investigation into the careers guidance offered on the Business Wales site, which until very recently included advice for hopefuls eager to enter into the sex industry.

Recommendations included setting up an escort service catering for businessmen, and offers of earning up to £48,000 a year by working as a stripper. Politicians, such as Jocelyn Davies of Plaid Cymru, have been quick to judge the site and the guidance offered: “Stripping is degrading for women and the Welsh Government should not be promoting the view that sexually exploitative work is an acceptable career.” 

This moral outrage is understandable, given of course that we as a society wholly condemn the sex industry as immoral. Going to a strip bar for example has never been viewed as a rite of passage and prostitution certainly has never been tacitly accepted or viewed as entertainment in TV shows, blogs or novels or even glamourised…

Despite the undeniably distasteful nature of stripping and prostitution, assuming that clientele have to view their supplier as a mere body or object, we should first admit that we ourselves have a very troubled relationship with the sex industry.

Mixed messages

The advice given on Business Wales, a Welsh government backed scheme that aims to “provide business support to people starting, running and growing a business”, offered tips on how to become a stripper as well as running a lap dancing club and escort agency. Amid recommendations, there were also claims that strippers and lap dancers could "expect to earn an average £232 per evening", with annual incomes that "can range from £24,000 to £48,000". It was also claimed that clients of escort agencies typically include single businessmen who hire escorts to accompany them to events and on holidays. This objectionable representation of the sex industry led Jocelyn Davies to raise the question as to whether the Welsh Government should “be effectively facilitating these activities by putting information on their website?” particularly in the current context where “jobs are difficult to find and money is tight”.

Although these are justified concerns, the image of the sex industry as glamorous and exciting has been a long accepted myth. Media representations of the sex industry tend to favour the “Belle du Jour” breed of escort; the middle class, well-educated and palatable face of prostitution. Brooke Magnanti’s Diary of a London Call Girl blog was voted Blog of the Year by The Guardian in 2003 and was made into a popular television series that starred Billie Piper in 2007. When the former New York governor Eliot Spitzer was discovered to be using prostitutes in 2008, this actually led to a career boost and a surge in interest for one of the prostitutes he visited, Ashley Dupre, who later posed provocatively for Playboy. It is therefore unsurprising that the advertisement focused on the possible monetary benefits of the sex industry.

Stigma

It does seem however that young people have to navigate between the extremes of glamorisation and marginalisation when faced with the sex industry. Despite our enjoyment of media representations of the industry as light-hearted entertainment, we are also presented with the harrowing realities of prostitution as a means of fuelling addiction, or as a way of escape in the case of human trafficking. Furthermore, as part of the advice posted on Business Wales, links were provided to websites offering "transsexual post-operation and submissive escorts", again highlighting the uncomfortable link between marginalised groups in society and the sex industry.

Furthermore, although prostitution is often touted as the world’s “oldest profession,” there is little mention of violence against sex workers in human rights dialogues at the United Nations with regards to violence against women. It appears violence towards those in the sex industry is a commonly neglected issue; a recent murder of a young woman in Australia committed by Adrian Bayley pushed prostitutes working in the area to break their silence about the sexual violence they had also suffered at his hands. Regrettably however, their bravery was not justly rewarded; he received only eight years in jail for 16 rapes, thus raising the question as to whether sex workers have the same status as “normal” men and women.

Therefore, although the advice given on Business Wales is inappropriate, given its role as a government backed initiative that aims to encourage young entrepreneurs, do we really have the right to be outraged by it? Are we justified in judging career advice encouraging young people to enter into the sex industry as outlandish when we find ourselves in a climate where Katie Price, who is primarily known for glamour modelling and using her body as currency, is respected as an enterprising business woman and is often hailed as an inspiration for young women? Or where prostitution is glamourised? Sadly, this incident should not be viewed as an outrageous anomaly to be quickly corrected but rather as a sad reminder that we need to address the neuroses, the stereotypes and the stigma that still surrounds an ever growing sex industry. 




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