Janet Street-Porter: Let's call a whore a whore - not a worker

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The Independent Online

I'm known for plain speaking, so please explain to me why it's politically correct to refer to women who charge for sex as "sex workers"? This mealy-mouthed terminology serves no other purpose than to denigrate all the people who seek real work in real jobs. Charging for sex is a choice, and it is hardly a career move, no matter how desperate you might be for cash.

The vast majority of women who charge for sex do it to feed drug habits. They may be coerced into prostitution. They may be threatened with violence by men who control them and demand money. They may be the most vulnerable and needy in society. But to call them "workers" as if they get up every day and clock on in a real job, just fudges what they do and why they are doing it. They are not workers, but victims - and they need help, not career advice. What's wrong with calling them prostitutes?

Prostitution is in the news again because in October parliament will decide whether to alter key legislation, when the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill is debated. Last year five prostitutes were murdered in Suffolk and, as a result, it was thought that in order to break the cycle of soliciting, those found guilty of prostitution should be offered mandatory counselling sessions with health workers and probation officers. If they don't turn up for these meetings, this new Bill gives magistrates the power to lock them up for three days.

While the English Collective of Prostitutes predictably expresses outrage at these proposals, are they right to claim that you cannot force women into rehabilitation? I've just been reading the marvellous Jack of Jumps by David Seabrook (Granta, £8.99), a brilliantly detailed account of the circumstances surrounding the so-called "nude murders'" between 1959 and 1965, when eight prostitutes were found dead, with most of their clothes removed, on waste land in West London. The culprit has never been identified, although Seabrook offers a culprit, who is still alive today.

Seabrook evokes a completely different version of so-called "swinging London", a parallel world inhabited by poor women who gave up regular work (at a time when there was plenty of it) and started selling themselves for sex, who frequented pubs, clubs, cafes and coffee bars, who masturbated men in cars for as little as £2, drank too much, took speed, got pregnant and dumped their kids with other people day in and day out. His detached approach initially seems antipathetic. Is he repulsed by these poor white working-class females, or fascinated by the detail of their chaotic messy lives? But it's clear the reason why women went on the game in 1964 is probably the same as in 2007 - easy cash, no qualifications needed, apart from a good line in chat, low self-esteem and false camaraderie with a whole procession of low-life men who maintain double lives.

It's probably one of the best social documents of an era that has been consistently glamorised by the media. Seabrook, by remaining emotionally uninvolved, places all the facts in front of us and lets us decide for ourselves. These women would have rocked with laughter had they been described as "sex workers".

Our prisons are full and locking up whores is no solution. We need to address the reasons why they go on the game, and that surely has to start at school. They need to value themselves and their children, be helped off drugs and encouraged to do real work. We should stop treating them like workers when they are not.

A bare Russian bear

The extraordinary sight of President Vladimir Putin's hairless torso invites more questions than it answers. Can you name any other head of state who would have the sheer chutzpah to be photographed topless? The fact that he's holding his fishing rod incorrectly proves that the Russian leader fully intended this shot to be a contender for pin-up of the year. It wouldn't look out of place in Attitude magazine, further proof that he realises his current iconic status in the gay community. Plus, the guy clearly waxes his chest, and only a chap very confident of his masculinity would reveal such a foible. Putin is a Judo black belt, but his body is verging on the fleshy. Is he auditioning for an action movie, or what? Matt Damon better watch out...

* The weather might be grim for holidays, but it's perfect for vegetables. Gardens and window boxes are bursting with runner beans and everything for a top salad, and demand for allotments is such that many local authorities are now offering plots a quarter of the size - which is still more than large enough to grow red lettuce and rocket.

It's a couple of decades since I last had a vegetable garden, and eight weeks ago I took possession of three raised beds. Now I'm well and truly hooked again and spend hours shooing away cabbage white butterflies, picking off caterpillars and destroying larvae.

I've got back pains from pricking out radishes and chicory, and packing in lines of cauliflower for next spring. Last night I ate my first turnips, and they tasted just as good as white truffles or caviar.

Obviously, a glut is looming, with chutney, jam, and soup-making destined to fill every spare hour in September. But is there anything more rewarding than picking your own lettuce?

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