Sunday, 8 July 2007

Banning prostitution

I've been prompted to explain why I think prostitution should be banned rather than tolerated. Isn't that a bit draconian, a bit heavy-handed?

For years I took the classic libertarian position that if there was a demand for prostitutes then let them get on with it and make a living out of foolish sex-obsessed customers.

Okay, so the working conditions might not be too good - pimps, violence, sexual infections, freezing streets - but lots of jobs have shitty downsides. You have to decide whether the grunge is worth what you get out of it.

But then I thought, hang on, who gains anything at all out of prostitution? Does it produce any benefit whatever (apart from cash)? You can't say the dreadful conditions are the price you pay for something essential like coal or clothing or medicine.

Despite what men say, they won't turn into psychotic savages if they don't get sexual release and burn up their testosterone. In any case, they're free to do it without paying anyone else.

And working conditions for prostitutes aren't just poor, they're barbaric. Many prostitutes nowadays are at the mercy of people-traffickers who control their every move, and having sex with these women is effectively rape and torture.

For many men, visiting a prostitute is not just sexual release but a display of power over women, a way of humiliating them and showing who's boss. Anyone who thinks it's prostitutes who have the power should try doing the job themselves for 24 hours.

That's why I now think this whole sordid trade should be banned, as it has been in some other countries. Yes, there's a risk it'll just go underground, but that's not a reason to accept something utterly uncivilised.

Wishy washy liberalism is out of place here, some tough-minded radicalism is more appropriate. Men should keep it in their pants and women should have decent, fulfilling jobs.

(And for the record, I've never been to a prostitute in my life and never saw the attraction)

Thanks to Bellulah for her prompt. See also this excellent overview of the international sex workers' movement pointed out by Medbh. See also next post, which puts the case for legalising prostitution.


Gaye said...

I used to think, also, that what they call "world's oldest profession" was something that was part of life. Demand - supply. Keeps the weirdos (I actually thought and still think there is something fundamentally wrong with men or women who pay for sex) happy and if women "choose" to do it, then it's benefits both sides. But then I taught self-defence to street sex workers for a period of time. Most of them came to the sessions drugged out of their mind. When we were chatting they would say, "if not for the drugs, we wouldn't be able to do this." They -somehow- got sucked into this life and they can't see a way out. Also, most of them believe that noone would want them, that they are stained/scarred. They feel like outcasts, not fitting in with the society. After seeing how most of the women are kidnapped, threatened, blackmailed, conned, trafficked into another country to become prostitutes, I changed my mind. Just like drugs. Guns, drugs, prostitution. I do not see a justification for any of these to remain legal (in parts of the world). I am sorry, I have to add to this cigarette companies as well. They are allowed to poison young and old alike and get rich, stay rich doing so. Saying, well, it's personal choice doesn't cut the mustard for me. Especially when the smoke that comes out is inhaled by some unsuspecting second hand smoking victim. Oups, almost longer than your post. I guess I am passionate about it, too. "well said Nick" And I will leave it at that.

Wisewebwoman said...

Funny - this post at this time, as in 'funny peculiar'. I had been formulating something on pornography, about the demeaning nature of it, the voiceless women, the brutal men, (BTW I'm not talking erotica by any stretch of the imagination!) and here you have this blog on prostitution, some of the same thoughts I was having.
Well done!

Medbh said...

Making prostitution illegal does not make it disappear, it merely makes it more covert and prone to exploitation. Sex workers suffer much more when they are marginalized by the law and society.
I don't like it, but I think it should be legalized.

bye bye bellulah said...

I agree with medbh. Isn't it 'effectively' illegal at the moment? I don't take issue with what people choose to do to or with their own bodies, although I know in reality that choice is far from the true situation on the streets. But I think many people will be unwilling to part with the extra taxes it will take to arrest, prosecute and detain/rehabilitate all of the prostitutes that would be caught.
It's Utopian but I'd prefer to see prostitution legalised, licensed upgraded and glamorized. Closing the gap between the media images of women as vacant, willing or gentle, willing or fiesty, willing sex toys/arm candy and the reality of prostitution, hike up the prices charged, create swish Whore Hotels, make prostitution without a license illegal. Licences dependent on drug- and health tests. Create a Sex Industry Uni course. Take away some of the power aspect, portray it as a privilege for the men involved. Make it into a wannabe profession. Added value and scarcity of supply.

I know how many things are wrong with this aproach, but I want to see how it could be worse than the current situation.

Nick said...

Wow, that's really interesting - one for, two against and one unpositioned. Gaye, from her experience with sex workers who say they can only do it because they're drugged, also thinks it should be illegal. Medbh says if it's illegal it just gets worse. But could it be any worse than it is now? And aren't prostitutes already marginalised?

Bellulah's idea of swish whore hotels is appealing for a moment, but you'd still need extra taxes to monitor all the hotels and make sure everything was acceptable. And as experiments on these lines have shown, there'd still be black market prostitution with the same horrific conditions.

It's a nasty situation with no easy answers. I look forward to your thoughts on the subject, wisewebwoman.

Medbh said...

Here's a link

I would not presume to tell other women how to live or what to do with her body even if I don't like what she's doing. Since prostitution does exist lets's take care of the people involved instead of pretending they don't exist, creating the conditions for their abuse. It should not be punished with prison sentences. Emma Goldman wrote an essay arguing that in the capitalist patriarchy all women were prostitutes, selling themselves to one man in marriage or many outside of it.

Annie Rhiannon said...

I don't like it either, but banning it will just make these women's situations worse, as more and more get prosectuted. There should be more care and support in this community, not less.

Nick said...

Phew, that's quite a link. The IUSW's 14 demands would be a good basis for Bellulah's whore hotels. You've got a point about respecting women's autonomy, but does that mean anything should be legal if those involved want it to be? Like suicide bombing? Infibulation? Vote-rigging? I think not. But I agree jail sentences would be pointless, practical help is what's needed.

Nick said...

That was a reply to Medbh, just missed Annie! Looks like I'm outnumbered here. Of course if illegal prostitutes are caught they don't have to be jailed, they can be given practical help the same way as drug addicts. I'm well aware jails are stuffed solid with people who need help and not punishment.

bye bye bellulah said...

"does that mean anything should be legal if those involved want it to be? Like suicide bombing? Infibulation? Vote-rigging?"

I don't have a choice in being suicide bombed but I can choose to be or visit a prostitute.
I think it's a different sort of 'crime'? Who else gets hurt once buyer and seller are able to make a relatively genuine choice? The problem at the moment - for me - is not a question of right or wrong of the actions taking place but the circumstances in which the choices are made.
If there was no demand for this there would be no supply, but taking away the supply doesn't get rid of the demand.
I think we need to take control of the supply on behalf of those who have little power at the moment, give them power in that situation, or to walk away to other options. Get Tesco or M&S involved.

Great debate, nick, thanks!

Nick said...

But if the seller is a prostitute is she making a genuine choice or does she usually feel compelled to do it? Or are you saying that in the right circs (the Hilton Whore Hotel) she could make a genuine choice? Surely the demand is for sex rather than prostitutes and if the prostitutes were gone men would just have to switch to cash-free, exploitation-free sexual outlets (though if Medbh also rules out marriage there's not much left). And what's the Tesco/M&S role here? A handy mini-brothel in you local supermarket??

Gaye said...

If it were illegal, why does it mean automatically that the women will be punished for it? If it were illegal, the first people I'd lock up would be those who smuggle the women, lure them into another country with the promise of finding them waitress jobs, etc. It wouldn't necessarily be the women. But then again I don't make the laws. I have no objection to the personal choice of how one wants to use their body and how another wants to pay for using someone else's body. Yet for some "odd" reason, i.e. experience spending time with streets workers for months, I believe strongly that not every one of them woke up one day and willingly made the career move and became a prostitue. I am not ignoring the fact that there would be those who freely made this choice and kudos to them, whatever makes them happy, pays for their kids education. Free-will is the question here. Do we even know what percentage of these women are in this "business" because they WANT to? I suppose we can be positive and assume they all had a choice. Banning is not the ultimate solution, I agree. There has to be education, punishment (for traffickers), preventative measures so young girls who wouldn't otherwise become prostitutes remain safe in their own countries. I think it is a human rights issue more than restricting personal preferences....

Gaye said...

Oh, I forgot to write, I agree with bits and pieces of everyone's thoughts. I just don't think it is as simple as just banning or legalizing it, though. I believe legal decision making by itself hardly ever solves social issues.

Medbh said...

Before the nineteenth century, in Britain, for example, prostitution was labor that women often engaged in only for a temporary period of time, transitioning in and out during periods of economic necessity. Then do-gooders, reformers, and authority of the police and medical officials stepped in to eradicate the business. What happened as a result is that women got trapped into it for life, and written out of the social safety nets that protected women. The stigma kept them from getting married. All modern attempts to keep it illegal have only been to the benefit of those who traffic sex workers or control the trade. If we move it to a unionized, above board profession, then women can get protection and the services that they need to decide if they want to stay in the business or move on to something else. I'm not arguing that all sex workers choose to do that for a living, but if it's kept as outside of law and order and the ackowledgement of the worker's welfare then millions of women and children stay powerless and vulnerable to move from being sex worker to sex slaves.
It's illegal status has done nothing but exacerbate global rates of exploitation.

Gaye said...

I see what you are saying, on the other side of the equation, do you seriously think legalizing it will help discourage the people who engage in human smuggling and sex-slavery business? There will be even more loop-holes and circumventing the system to go on about what they do.
I suppose the main issue is really the pros and cons of legalizing vs. banning anything that society as a whole perceive good vs. bad for you. I don't know whether either end of the spectrum is a solution. As a fellow human being I completely agree with argument for the freedom of choice in what we do to ourselves (drug, smoke, selling sex, etc) as long as it doesn't adversely affect others in any way. Although, can we truly say what we choose to do really doesn't affect others besides ourselves in some shape or form?
On another note, us the affluent, bilingual, articulate women can argue how we should be able to pay for sex or get paid for sex, because we have a choice... The fact is we HAVE a choice and we CAN argue all we want. Those of us who sit in our cosy little homes, sipping wine with friends and googling "prostitution" while doing online shopping, are at risk of mistaking fantasy with reality. As someone who went out there worked with these people, worked with youth who were involved in prostitution, had to chase a middle aged creep out of the room of the young girl I was working with, had to deal with freaks trying to lure the girls and me (!) into their cars for a bit of fun, seeing my self-defence student/sex worker coming to our next session with a black eye after being raped for not wanting to give something her client wanted, I am not in a position to really support the rights of bored, hot, little pretty bilingual escort girls with an IT degree charging 10,000 dollars for 3 hours in a luxury hotel. I personally believe I have a duty of care to consider everything with a bit more of a social conscience than philosophical rights and wrongs. I apologize if I offend anyone around here, but it really shits me so I will stop trying to be polite about something that is a real danger to mental health and well-being of many young girls, and potentially their children and loved ones in their future, if they have one. There are a few things I am passionate about, social injustice and negligence are one, intellectual ignorance is another.
I go back into my little orange bubble now. Nick, sorry for this rather logic-turned-emotional post.

Gaye said...

"There should be more care and support in this community, not less."
Well said.

bye bye bellulah said...

"should be" yes, 'will be' I doubt it. Just because it hasn't happened that people started to care about prostitutes in the past doesn't mean, like slavery, that we will continue to ACTIVELY not care in the future, but I have my doubts about, certainly The West's capacity to do so. 0.5% tax increase to deal with this problem, voters? I can't see it happening.

I agree a pre-decision education and care and provision of real, worthwhile alternative opportunities would be ideal. Nothing comes close to that as an option for reducing human misery. And we might get there. But it needs an impetus and as long as the vast majority of people are allowed to not notice or not care it'll not get any higher on the list of things to be addressed. Children, animals, the elderly are seen as more worthy, entitled and blameless - regardless of the way the, mostly girls and women and boys are almost bred and herded into the situation.

Selling sex at the supermarket (assuming we don't have a moral objection to selling sex - which is a different argument, then we would just ban it) would change the image (if not the reality for all), bring it into the public consciousness, it's already being commoditized but would add to the percieved value of the commodity. Sex Industry studies as an educational course too would start to chip away at the blind eye that we as a society choose to turn to the horrific lifes/existencies that other people have to live.
If we ban it without education and viable alternatives for the pimps and the prostitutes I can't see that working. What are we doing for the increasingly hopeless underclass of poor and criminal at the moment, how would those inside this 'industry' be any different from the others we currently don't care about?

Of course there are people who do actively care and work tirelessly to help others, and many who would care if prodded hard and often enough, but there are also many people who currently aren't prostitutes who live horrendous lives as Sex Slaves or sex slaves, with no income and with no escape at the end of the day when they're not on duty - it's their whole life - and what are we (as a society, not individuals or some organisations) currently doing?
How many times was Diana seen holding hands with a prostitute - sadly they're too far down our list. I sit here caring, then in half an hour I'll forget till something reminds me again, I think that's the reality for many people, no charity has the funds or is prepared to use them to keep this in the public consciousness long enough.

If I remember to do the lottery more often, and win the jackpot, I will donate 10% to the charity that can raise awareness effectively. Or why don't we all start and contribute to an internet site to raise and maintain awareness of the issue? Start a greater debate...

Gaye said...

Good one Bells! I enjoyed reading your thoughts.
I would love to contribute to an internet site, I would not be able to do anything technical about it though.

Nick said...

It seems to me the big issue emerging here is care and protection - how to help those women who are prostitutes and hate it to escape into something more fulfilling and dignifying and how to prevent other women from being forced into a job they don't want. Or alternatively to raise the standards of the job to the level of more reputable jobs so it's equally fulfilling or at least not dehumanising.

Whether all this is best achieved with total legality or total illegality is the thorny question. I was interested in Medbh's argument that before prostitution was restricted women went in and out of it and it wasn't a big deal. But was it the illegality that made things worse for women or the stigma? There are plenty of things that are illegal but aren't necessarily a stigma, like speeding or tax-dodging.

Certainly there are not enough high-profile charities/pressure groups/internet sites etc pushing the case for giving prostitutes and potential prostitutes a lot more help and support to avoid screwing up their lives. If Prostitute-Aid was as fashionable an issue as breast cancer, we're be getting somewhere.

Nick said...

Have finally read the report that Medbh linked to, the overview of the international sex workers' movement. Very interesting and enlightening, particularly about the negative consequences of illegality. Was struck by the comparison with homosexuality - when anti-gay laws were removed, this not only helped homosexuals but changed social attitudes to them. Will return to this subject....

amanda said...

I don't agree with your reasoning.

If you judge a "profession" by its value to society there are many of us who should not be doing the job we do. I sell overpriced clothing to women who have more clothes than they could ever need. It's made in 3rd (and some 2nd) world countries under unknown conditions. What social good is produced? Increased greed? Increased cash?

I've worked fast food- of course- sure it provides cheap quick "food" at the cost of everybody's health and our eating/buying habits, etc. etc. for what? The production of cash for the franchise owners.

Lemme see, I've worked at an answering service where the vast majority of what I did was tell people that the office was closed- an answering machine would have had done the job. I added no value for anybody.

I've worked in a law firm where 90% of my job was unimportant catering to people's completely unnecessary whims. I've worked in higher education which is useless the vast majority of the time. Insurance-- hahaha.

The one useful job I've done in my life was in teaching a few kids to read. The pay was basically non-existent for that.

Of course all that really has nothing to do with prostitution upon which I do hold the classic libertarian perspective.

Nick said...

Amanda, I take your point. As you say there are umpteen jobs with no tangible benefit to anyone and catering only to greed, fashion, consumerism, keeping-up-with-the-joneses etc. I think now I would take the libertarian viewpoint myself, as a result of the passionate debate on this and the following post, which took the opposite position.