LEAVE ASIDE for the moment the question of
whether or not they should do such a thing. What hap-
pens when you set a gang of men - any men - to roam the
streets as vigilantes, harassing, bullying, and intimidating
They will soon be harassing, bullying, and intimidating
women who are not prostitutes - women who by their gait,
clothes, make-up, or behaviour, or where they happen to
be on a street or in a neighbourhood, look to the gang of
men "like prostitutes".
Already here we have crossed the line from facts — women
known for certain to be prostitutes — to the judgement of
types of women and types of women's clothes, make-up, and
behaviour. For, of course, it is not always possible to "know",
especially in a large, busy city area.
Already we are in the realm of preconception, prejudice,
and social judgement. Inevitably, and quickly, the
gang organised to intimidate prostitute women and their
clients or potential clients will come to be felt as threatening
and intimidating by large numbers of women in the area.
Inevitably there will be incidents where they pick on the
This would happen with any group of self-righteous men
organised as vigilantes for such work. Natural selection
would ensure that at least some of those taking part
would have prejudices against women "of a certain
type" - "tarty", "brassy", "flashy" women — and would
be only too quick to act as police, judge and jury against
In Balsall Heath, Birmingham, where the vigilante gang
organised to harass local prostitutes is made up entirely,
or almost entirely, of Muslim men, it is a great deal more
likely to happen; and it is happening.
Many of these men are religious Muslims, which means
that some of them will be very religious indeed. As
fundamentalist Muslims, they will disapprove of the
normal behaviour of the typical women of Birmingham
— including the behaviour of young Muslim women
kicking over the traces of family and community control.
Some of them, as committed Muslims, will even
think such behaviour differs very little from the
behaviour of prostitutes. If you find that hard to believe,
then you have never talked on this subject with a
hard-line Muslim man.
These will be men of a Muslim community whose
women are the least liberated and among the most
oppressed of the women of Britain. The vigilante
activity of the men will indirectly be intimidatory for
these Muslim women and reinforce the demands
on them for submission and conformity.
Not to say this for fear of appearing "racist" is simply
to be gutless. We fight the racists as racists when
they raise their ugly snouts. We also fight for women's
rights —even against those who are themselves
targets of racism.
I repeat: the much-publicised, mainly Muslim,
vigilantes of BalsaII Heath - and they have
had remarkably favourable press publicity - do
not strike me as men who should be encouraged to
harass women in the street! No men should.
No group of men - whether Muslim, Christian, or
card-carrying atheist - should be allowed to operate
such a vigilante squad against women.
And Balsall Heath, though the most publicised, is not
the only example of this sort of thing.
Of course, it is no fun living in a "red light" area,
but the prostitute women too have rights.
The act of prostitution is not illegal.
Prostitutes are usually working-class women who
can find no better way of staying alive or of raising
a family — for example, the fifty-year old Balsall
Heath woman interviewed by Maggie O'Kane
in the Guardian recently who went "on the game"
nine months ago because, with no hope of a
regular job, it was the only chance she had to get
the money to stop her home being repossessed.
Bullying vigilantes are no solution to anything.
"Against the Tide" Column
Socialist Organiser 28 7 1994