Thursday, 12 July 2007

Tart Mart

In the interests of balance, as they say, I thought I'd put the case for prostitution being completely legal - or a Tart Mart on every high street.

Legalists would say that outlawing prostitution and all its associated activities - kerb-crawling, paying for sex, soliciting etc - simply worsens all the undesirable aspects of the work and makes it harder to help women who feel trapped in dreadful circumstances.

If it's all illegal, prostitutes shy away from offers of help for fear of alerting the authorities. Women thinking of becoming prostitutes won't voice their misgivings for fear of public odium.

Appalling working conditions and violence from pimps and customers go unnoticed and unchallenged because illegality keeps them hidden and the normal safeguards of employment law don't apply.

And it's harder for women forced into prostitution by people-traffickers and others to seek aid in escaping their captors and bringing them to justice.

Only if legal restrictions are lifted and prostitutes are able to do their work freely and openly without social stigma will it be possible to deal effectively with all the hellish problems they face, which in the case of HIV and other sexual infections spill over into the rest of society.

Only if they can identify themselves and talk frankly to others about their experiences and needs, without shame or condemnation, can we fully understand what they go through and why they deserve the same workplace rights that other employees take for granted, like health and safety measures, adequate holidays and rest days, and protection from violence and harassment. Or simply the right to walk out of a job they were tricked into and then shackled to by debts and threats.

There're no grounds for prostitution to be illegal apart from the squeamish distaste and snobbery of the general public, who want these embarrassing people swept away into a dark corner and forgotten about. There's no good reason why prostitutes should be treated differently from any other group of workers trying to make a living from whatever they're good at.

If you want evidence of how making it legal brings benefits, you only have to look at homosexuality. Once draconian anti-gay laws were lifted, the problems of persecution and self-hatred were greatly reduced and there was a huge change in social attitudes. And the dire predictions of sexual anarchy proved baseless. In the words of the pro-abortion lobby - Keep it legal, keep it safe.

(So convincing I find myself switching sides again!)

See also previous post, putting the case for banning prostitution.


Medbh said...

The whole business saddens me, but the long established laws against it have done nothing to protect women and children, so we need to try something else.
I'm not sure that I buy the comparison of prostitution and homosexuality, however, and it seems rather on the offensive side because you can't compare a job/profession with sexual orientation.

bye bye bellulah said...

I agree with this side of the argument. At the very very least it's worth trying for a couple of decades to see, and if it's no worse than the current situation then leave it legal.

Nick said...

Medbh - The comparison between prostitution and homosexuality was only in terms of whether legality or illegality was the best response. This was a comparison made by the IUSW (International Union of Sex Workers). Of course it's not exactly like for like except in terms of social stigma. Certainly no offence meant.

Bell - Quite right, why not give it a try at least since the present approach is achieving nothing at all.

Medbh said...

Oh, I saw that in the link and knew the comparison was made by them.
Well done, Nick, on the 2 posts.

Gaye said...

I hope that legalizing it will mean more and actually effective control over the "pimps" and "smugglers", as well as supporting the "workers". I guess I am much more concerned for those who are in this - industry - not because they want to because they are forced or conned into. Legalizing will help greatly, I agree, the women who actually has / had a choice. Acknowledging, accepting, understanding...
I still do not like the thought of buying and selling sex... It makes me cringe. It is also not healthy for either party, as a whole. And I only support and defend the rights of those unfortunate people who never intended, wanted to be prostitutes, sex workers, etc to start with. The ones that are threatened, forced, basically raped each time...
It is nice transition of thought process Nick. THank you for the posts, and also thanks you all for the comments. It's a debate that is necessary and relevant.

Nick said...

Thanks for that, I forgot that aspect altogether, Gaye. Very important point. Have added a couple of sentences to the post to include it.

Yes the business of buying and selling sex, commodifying it, is difficult to stomach, but we're used to other necessities like food, clothing and housing being traded so maybe it's just the trading of something so personal and intimate and joyful that makes us shudder. But I guess anything innocent and joyful can potentially be cheapened and tarnished.

Gaye said...

I think if we can isolate sex as an instinct, independent of emotions, then it would make perfect sense to categorize it as commodity.
I agree.

Nick said...

I tend to agree with the masculine idea that you can, but Jenny doesn't agree at all. She thinks sex is quite different from things like food and clothing precisely because you can't separate it from your emotions.

Wisewebwoman said...

Good post, Nick, plenty of food for thought.

As to isolating sex as a primitive instinct, h'mm, I don't think it can be done, intellect and emotion run along side of it, I think.
I'd be so interested to hear from actual johns, those who use prostitutes, their thoughts and feelings. Is it mindless, is there guilt? Do they personalize the woman or is she invisible? A receptacle?

I've gotten to know prostitutes the ones who survived to tell the tale. Many succumb to disease or addiction.

And regulating the 'industry?' I honestly can't answer that. I can't seem to move away from the concept of 'victimization'

Nick said...

Good point about not hearing from the customers. Again I suppose another consequence of it being illegal and them not wanting to 'come out' (as well as the ignorant wife/girl friend factor).

I suppose the prevalence of disease and addiction might also be reduced by legality as they would get the help they needed to prevent it. But yes the pervasive aura of victimisation is hard to get away from.

bye bye bellulah said...

Still enjoying exploring this issue.

When we talk about finding this difficult to stomach, who do we mean by WE? People who pay for sex and some of those who sell sex don't find it diffficult to stomach.
How more intimate could a relationship be between adoptive parents and child? Massage, The Samaritans, surgery? All intimate provisions to fulfill powerful needs. But 'we' don't have a problem with those? Does that suggest a moral position on sex?

I'm not sure what my point is here, but am raising it in the nature of debating the topic.

Is it a casual purchase? What would happen if no-one was willing to sell from tomorrow onwards? Would (mostly) men just shrug and say "oh well, I can do without, it's not as though I needed it, I only bought it because it was 'so easily available'" or would genteel society start to crumble unless/until those customers/users find an equivalent alternative?

Nick said...

As you say, Bellulah, other relationships just as intimate and emotional are traded but there's no objection to those so it can only be a moral objection.

I guess if sex workers shut up shop it would hardly be the collapse of civilisation, men (or women) would just find other alternatives, like DIY as I suggested earlier.

hitherto75 said...

Dear charity worker, you should be aware that prostitution is at its worst in countries where it's legalized, like Germany, Netherlands or Spain. Big "legal" brothels are perfect places for sexual slavery. I know the facts in Great-Britain, with illegal "massage parlors" everywhere, but the problem is that the more you legalize, the more you let men know that "renting" a woman's body is legal, the more this traffic is going on.It's not that easy a solution.