Decriminalising the sex industry is decades overdue
It’s known as the world’s oldest profession. Britain is home to an estimated 80,000 prostitutes, and ten percent of men are thought to have used a prostitute. But current laws on prostitution are illogical and grossly hypocritical. For example, there is nothing illegal about sleeping with somebody you just met. There are no laws forbidding having sex with somebody in after receiving from them drinks, a meal, or other trinkets (indeed, entire relationships are based on reciprocity). Yet exchanging cash for sex on a street is a crime. To clarify: paying for sex in the UK is not a crime, nor is selling sex, but various laws around the act make it difficult for prostitutes to operate safely: soliciting sex on the street is illegal, as is kerb-crawling, though pressing charges for both rely on there being persistent offences. Keeping a brothel, where more than one person is selling sex, is illegal.
Here, then, are five reasons to legalise prostitution
Today, only criminals prosper
And just a prohibition served as a catalyst for organised crime, illegal prostitution has gifted a vast industry (estimates from 2001 place the total earnings of British prostitutes at around £770m a year) into the hands of pimps, thugs, drug dealers and people traffickers. Money acquired from the sex industry goes not into government coffers, for all our benefits, but instead funds yet more criminal enterprises…which then have to be combated by the police and courts.
As Marajan Wijers, Chair of the European Commission’s Expert Group on Trafficking in Human Beings stated, “Criminalizing the sex industry creates ideal conditions for rampant exploitation and abuse of sex workers…[I]t is believed that trafficking in women, coercion and exploitation can only be stopped if the existence of prostitution is recognized and the legal and social rights of prostitutes are guaranteed.”
Better health for workers and clients
Despite a U.S. Department of Health report showing that only 3-5% of STDs are caused by prostitutes, the public health argument is perhaps the biggest hurdle to decriminalising sex workers. Yet the irony is that legalising prostitution would prove a huge boon to the health of the workers and their customers. Firstly, people forced to work outside the law are less likely to seek help. They are less likely to approach any agency of the State for check ups, and they will be less aware of programs and initiatives aimed at supporting them. Secondly, when sex workers are able to come out of the shadows, they can initiate a system of permits and licenses which would require sex workers to prove a clean bill of health before being allowed to work in a licensed brothel. Customers could even be required to prove their health status before stepping through the door.
The adult film industry has such a self-regulatory model, and there are ready made case studies in Australia, Germany the Netherlands where prostitution is legal and regulated.
Safety for the most vulnerable
No study of prostitution is complete without an acknowledgement of the danger sex workers face, workers who are overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, young women.
Sex workers are forced to operate outside the law, and outside the protection we take for granted. Through a combination of fear of arrest, and a legal established reluctant to devote resources to the protection of criminals, prostitutes are vulnerable in a way few others are. Gary Ridgway said that he killed prostitutes because he knew he would not be held accountable. The tragedy is that he was right – he confessed to the murders of 48 women, committed over nearly twenty years. That is truly criminal.
By taking sex workers off the street, we dramatically increase their life expectancy. As mentioned previously, they also go some way to escaping the clutches of the pimps and traffickers who are currently, their only source of protection. Further, according to one study, 95 per cent of street prostitutes are drug addicts. Another suggests that 87 per cent use heroin.
In addition, were prostitution legalised, it would provide an outlet for the sexually frustrated which was controlled by the workers themselves. It is estimated that if prostitution were legalized in the United States, the rape rate would decrease by roughly 25% for a decrease of approximately 25,000 rapes per year. (Kirby R Cundiff, PhD, Associate Professor of Finance at Northeastern State University
“Prostitution and Sex Crimes”
It makes business sense
Get past the paternalism, misogyny and social conservatism that lingers in the corridors of power, and prostitution offers a remarkable business opportunity. If in 2001 the illegal trade turned over £700, its not unreasonable to assume that in 2013 a legal sex industry could flirt with the £1 billion mark. In what would effectively be an arm of the entertainment and hospitality industry, groups of young would have an incredible opportunity at building a thriving, independent industry that they would control.
As Wendy McElroy, Research Fellow at the Independent Institute sad in “‘Solutions’ to Prostitution” on Ifeminist.com “Prostitution is not merely an exchange of sexual favors; it is a financial exchange. At this point, individualist feminists rise to defend the free market as well as a woman’s self-ownership. This is expressed by the question: ‘Prostitution is a combination of sex and the free market. Which one are you against?’ Feminists of all stripes should speak with one voice to demand the safety of these women by granting them the same protection as any other woman can expect. Only decriminalization can provide this.”
Smarter government, less waste
By legalising prostitution, not only are we taking the most vulnerable in society into the legal mainstream, we’re also removing the necessity for the State to engage in a hugely wasteful game of cat and mouse. The resources of the police, courts and prisons could be shifted to target the violent pimps, the drug gangs and the people smugglers who have been allowed to thrive in the shadows.
Nobody would claim that legalising prostitution would remove all of the problems associated with the industry. Criminality would still bled in and the vulnerable would still be exploited. But I will leave you with the words of Ana Lopez PhD, President of Sex Workers Branch of the GMB Union. “Sex work is legitimate work and problems within the industry are not inherent in the work itself. It is vulnerability, not sex work, which creates victims. Sex workers should enjoy the same labour rights as other workers and the same human rights as other people.”