Sunday, 30 December 2007

Ending paid sex

A British government minister wants to bring in a new law stopping men paying for sex. She thinks that's the best way to cut prostitution and sexual trafficking.

Harriet Harman, the Women's Minister, is to visit Sweden with other ministers to find out how a similar scheme works over there.

She says: "Unless you tackle the demand side of human trafficking which is fuelling this trade, we will not be able to protect women from it.

"Do we think it's right in the 21st century that women should be in a sex trade, or do we think it's exploitation and should be banned?"

It's estimated that up to 85% of the approximately 50,000 prostitutes in Britain are foreign, and large numbers of them are brought here illegally.

Many face appalling conditions, violently and brutally treated by the men who've smuggled them into the country and keep them in a state of virtual imprisonment.

I've written about prostitution before, putting the case for banning it and the case for legalising it. It's very difficult to decide which is the best course to follow.

Already Harriet Harman has her critics who don't think banning payment is the way to go. They say all that will do is push the business further underground, which in their opinion is what's happened in Sweden.

Some people favour the opposite approach of totally decriminalising buying and selling sex, as was done in New Zealand.

Others again say the legal position is beside the point, what prostitutes really need is practical help and support to give up prostitution and get into a more dignified and worthwhile occupation.

But it's encouraging that a government minister is concerned enough about the situation to look for new ways of dealing with it and ending the misery and degradation it so often involves.

PS: I'm off to London this afternoon to visit my 85-year-old mum. Back in a few days. I look forward to reading all your comments!


  1. Good luck with the Mum trip, Nick, I hope you find all is well.
    As to the post, we have all debated it before and as we unravel the whole business backwards we find the degradation of women and the commercialization of the most intimate of human acts. As to further commercialization as in Sweden along with health and safety measures and (collection of income taxes), I personally don't believe it a solution.
    Then I ask what is? It is the oldest profession and one of these years I must stop being a Pollyanna and accept there is demand and supply and a severe cost on society as a result.

  2. So lovely that you're going to get to spend the New Year with your mom.

    I always feel like there should be much harsher penalties for people who solicit prostitutes. For example, if folks knew that if they got busted for solicitation that they'd have to pick up trash for 48 hours, or that they'd have to register as a sex offender, that might make them think twice.

    And on that note, Happy New Year to you and yours.

  3. Well, I come out on the side of legalization.. primarily because that will reduce the criminal element. It would also control disease. Places like the Mustang Ranch in Nevada provide the service in a controlled and monitored environment.

    I like what wisewebwoman has to say about it in terms of commercialization.. but tell me one thing that isn't commercialized in this culture.

    Better to have it safe.. at least until the culture evolves beyond the buy-and-sell model for everything under the sun.

  4. Hi Nick. I've been a stalker for a while but thought seeing as it's New Year's day here in Oz, I'd take the opportunity to wish and yours (and you're mum!) the very best for 2008. Love the blog.

    It's the oldest game in the world. We have a very relaxed attitude towards it here. It's not exactly legal and occasionally prostitutes are trawled into court and fined for their indescretions but it's far from a 'punishable' offence. I'm for the legalise it argument, make it a viable business to improve the health and the wellbeing of the sex workers within it and be able to screen the clients. However, this will never stop the streetwalkers who are usually in it for different reasons and take enormous risks with 'unknown' punters. It's a toughy alright . . .banning payment? I think this will definitely drive it underground.

  5. I hope your mum is doing well, Nick.

    Prostitution is a particularly ugly way to live ones life, but I have always believed that legalization is the most realistic solution.

    It's a scourge on society but it will always exist, so making it legal would help to control some aspects of it.

    Sex workers would be required to see a doctor regularly, and some of the horrors for which pimps are responsible would also be eliminated.

  6. Thanks for all the good wishes. My mum is just fine except that at her age everything takes her longer and longer!

    www - I'm sure further commercialisation would just expand the whole industry but then again banning paid sex could drive it all underground, so every solution seems to have drawbacks.

    liz - personally, never having been to a prostitute, I can't see why it's necessary, but if it was completely banned I'm sure there would still be men who wanted prostitutes and women prepared to cater for them in some back room.

    chani - legalisation sounds like the common-sense approach but critics say you still get illegal brothels alongside the legal ones run by people who refuse to comply with the law.

    baino - the situation in Oz sounds like the current one in the UK, where prostitutes get fined and then go straight back on the streets to raise the fine money. Obviously a useless strategy!

    heart - legalisation certainly seems to be the consensus view among people writing on the subject. As you say, the women's health would be protected by proper monitoring and there would be more control over the pimps' behaviour.

  7. Have fun with your mom, Nick. She sounds like a firecracker.

    I don't see how this is any different from the current law, which did nothing to protect women who work in the sex trade. Nor will it stop women being sold into sexual slavery.

    Happy New Year, btw.

  8. My mum's not exactly a firecracker, Medbh, but she's very independent in her quiet, resilient way. At 85 she goes on coach trips to the South of France and as I said, refuses to get lumbered with another husband. And she always complains vigorously about shoddy goods or services.

    I guess you're referring to the criticism that banning unpaid sex won't stop prostitution but just drive it out of sight and make the exploitation worse. That could very possibly be the result.

  9. Happy New Year Nick.

  10. And happy new year to you too. May your cup runneth over with untold blessings!

  11. Nicholas? Who he? A happy new year to you too, Annie. New Year in Iceland sounds absolutely amazing. We've just had a huge snowfall in Belfast - everything looks truly magical.

  12. I hate that pink top she's wearing, btw.

  13. Happy new year Nick. Here's to a wonderful 2008!

  14. Medbh - yes, it's hideous, isn't it? Presumably its main function is to catch the punters' attention.

    Con - Happy new year to you too, you wee rascal. Wishing you a positively divine 2008!

  15. Coming late to this discussion but it's one that needs addressing so here's some more thoughts: I would think that legalising prostitution is the 'better' way as that gives the women/men involved the same rights as other workers. It's naive to think that banning the industry will make all the clients think 'oh yeah, it's illegal, I should stop paying for sex'. If only life was that simple. Prostituion is illegal in Thailand. A fact which would surprise most people and demonstrates the power of the social needs driving the industry. There's a new group in Ireland formed by workers in the industry which is an interesting development - a united voice could have a great impact on future government rulings.

  16. Niamh - I know there are huge problems with making prostitution illegal, given that so many men are addicted to it and given that many male police officers support it. But I still think prostitution is unacceptable given the huge incidence of post traumatic stress disorder among the women involved. Anti-prostitution laws just have to be properly enforced.

    The new group in Ireland is interesting, I must find out more about it.