So, as promised in last week’s post, I have been thinking about prostitution. I know, sunny.
The current debate here in the UK is where prostitution stands in the law. At present, punters who pay for sex are breaking the law if they sleep with someone who is forced into it, or if they pick up a prostitute in the street. The prostitute in this second scenario is also breaking the law. It is not illegal to work as a prostitute in private, so to speak, but it is illegal to keep a brothel and pimping. The debate is over whether we should, in fact, adopt the Nordic model. This is basically mirroring the law in Sweden, where it is illegal to buy sex but not to sell it.
Over the past few weeks, thanks to Woman’s Hour and various other current affairs programmes, there have been many views offered on this. To me, prostitution is always the exploitation of women. I know that most of us do not enjoy the job we do, but this is such an intimate job, and something that is so closely linked with love. There is nothing in it for the woman aside from money – despite what so many men appear to believe – and mostly it serves to keep them in degrading circumstances. My gut feeling, therefore, is that buying sex should be a criminal offence.
However, it is difficult to understand logically how it can possibly be illegal to buy sex but not to sell it. One should surely preclude the other. Plus, criminalising the purchase of sex would not necessarily lead to the outcome I want, namely, that no one has to work as a prostitute. In fact, it may even have the effect of driving it deeper underground. Just because it is illegal to buy drugs doesn’t mean that people stop doing it. One of the arguments against the Nordic model is that although incidents of prostitution and violence towards prostitutes has gone down in Sweden, it has escalated in the surrounding countries, indicating that trafficked women are simply being taken elsewhere. In addition, some of the women have argued that making it a criminal offence will only stop the decent guys, not the violent horrific ones.
I think that we have to look at prostitution sensibly. If it isn’t going to go away, then how do we want it to work. I personally think that the law should stay as it is in the main, but prostitution should become an actual profession,allowing for brothels. This would mean safer places for the women to work, obligations that their ‘employers’ have to stick to, regular STD examinations, etc etc. Men who visit them should be obliged to undergo background checks, use protection and generally be respectful. I also think this might help to bring down the number of trafficked women, although I’m not comfortable with the idea that they would simply be trafficked somewhere else. To me, this is the same as the war on drugs. If you are losing, which you are, then you need to make the best of the situation. If there are women so poor that they have to sell sex, then help them to do so in a safe and comfortable environment.
I’m sure there are some people that would say this will encourage women to be prostitutes. To my mind that is utterly ridiculous. I could decide to be a prostitute tomorrow. I have a home I could do it in safely. However, I won’t because it is not a career choice that anyone makes for fun, just as no one chooses to be a prostitute so that they can meet their Richard Gere. There are not thousands of women who would be prostitutes if the circumstances are different. The vast majority go into it because they have no other choice. There is no reason why we cannot make it safer and less unpleasant for them.