November 4, 2019

Can the Labour Party, the party I loved until Corbyn became leader, humiliate itself any further when it comes to women’s rights?

The latest controversy centres on support for stripping and lap dance clubs. Sophie Wilson, a 23-year-old Sheffield councillor who was last week selected as Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate for Rother Valley, has campaigned against feminists trying to close a notorious club, and for the “right” of women to “choose” to work there.

Last year, Wilson was carpeted by Sheffield City Council after a complaint about her online conduct was partially upheld. She had tweeted that the women protesting the existence of lap dancing clubs in the city — many of whom are survivors of sexual exploitation — were “trashy SWERFS”. Another tweet read: “SWERFS and TERFS are usually one in (sic) the same, aren’t they?”

SWERF (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) are both misogynistic slurs, and the recently thought-up acronyms have become merged to the point where you literally cannot support one without supporting the other.

Wilson joined a protest earlier this year to save the Spearmint Rhino club when its licence was under threat. Feminists campaigning for its closure had released film footage, obtained covertly, which allegedly showed dancers “sexually touching customers”. The club, according to the campaigners, breached more than 200 regulations.

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I have seen similar things at lap dancing clubs with my own eyes. In 2004 I visited a number of them, posing as the PA of a businessman who was persuaded to join him for a few drinks. I found that many of the clubs were fronts for prostitution, and that the women were routinely sexually harassed.

It’s especially poignant because if elected, Wilson will represent part of Rotherham, the South Yorkshire town notorious worldwide for turning a blind eye to endemic child abuse by organised gangs between 1997 and 2013.

Why, then, would any woman claiming to be a feminist fight to keep such a club in business? An open letter to Sheffield City Council, signed by pro-prostitution campaigners, argued that stripping is merely “sex work” rather than abuse, and therefore the “workers” need employment rights.

The signatories argued that the claim that Spearmint Rhino is harmful to its employees is mistaken, and “serves to refocus attention away from the real perpetrators of that harm (men who harass women, and who are subject to the already-existing legislation that prohibits that behaviour)”.

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The key argument for keeping the club open, however, is that closure would result in women losing their jobs, which could lead to them seeking alternative work under more dangerous conditions. Running through their argument was, as per usual, the notion that no one has the right to “take away women’s choice to do safe, legal work”, a position they describe as “anti-feminist”.

Unfortunately for Sophie Wilson, she has a formidable opponent in Sammy Woodhouse, who, if Wilson is elected, would be her constituent. Woodhouse has in the past courageously spoken about the abuse she suffered at the hands of grooming gangs in her home town, and has published a book about her experiences, called Just a Child.

Woodhouse was failed by the authorities, but nevertheless put heart and soul into helping police and prosecutors nail the perpetrators of the biggest sex scandal of modern times: the Jay Report uncovered the abuse of 1,400 children in Rotherham.

For Woodhouse, no abuse of women can be seen as “work”, and the notion that women “chose” to make money this way is “bonkers”, in her words.

“Fun feminists” have long supported the pro-prostitution lobby, buying the lies that prostitution can be “sexually liberating” for women, and this group somehow lends its voice to other campaigns against patriarchal control of our bodies. But prostitution, of which stripping is a part, is about the right of men to access women’s bodies, and to view and treat us as commodities.

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Woodhouse is furious with the Labour Party for selecting Wilson to represent part of a city that is notorious for sexual exploitation. “The fact that she has publicly called us SWERFS and TERFS,” she told me after the latest episode, when “some of the women protesting the club are rape victims and have been abused in those clubs and treated horrifically.”

Sammy Woodhouse has more direct experience of the issue than her prospective MP. After escaping the grooming gang, she worked as a lap dancer at Sheffield Spearmint Rhino, where she says the women were treated like “a slab of meat”.

Lap dancing, she says, is anything but feminist: “Rotherham is known all over the world for its exploitation, and we have a woman standing who is in favour of exploitation,” she said. “That lot say it’s empowering. But let me tell you, there is nothing empowering in sitting on some sweaty man’s lap grinding into his dick.”

What Wilson is defending is unconscionable, for as Woodhouse put it: “If you put a bloke on a street corner selling girls, we call him a pimp. Put him in a suit and stick him in a licensed lap dance club and we call him a businessman. He’s just a pimp in a suit.”

The Labour Party has trouble ahead if Wilson gets elected. Surely, there can be no room in leftist politics for the support of a trade built on some of the worst exploitation of women on the planet?