Friday, December 15, 2006

On Prostitution Law........

Many well meaning folk on the blogosphere and in the UK press have been calling for a legalisation of prostitution in the form of State licensed brothels following the Ipswich murders.

They are wrong on several grounds.

To start with, legalising something does not automatically remove the stigma attached to it, at least not straight away. And in the case of prostitution it is debatable as to whether it ever can be totally removed, although society does seem to be taking a less condemnatory approach to sex workers than it has done in the past.

Legalisation of the sex industry will require more State regulation. Women will likely have to register as prostitutes with the British State, something many of them will understandably be loathe to do. This may also have the effect of institutionalising women in the sex industry.

Licensing sex establishments will not stop managers from charging extortionate 'rent' for the women to work on the premises. Compulsory medical examinations have been suggested as part of the package, a law which would in practice be discriminatory. The mentality behind the proposition is not unlike that of the 'Contagious Diseases Act' which was proposed in the Victorian era.

"The Acts made the assumption," Megara Bell points out,

that prostitution was a permanent and necessary evil. They condoned male sexual access to fallen women and were specifically directed at women in order to protect the health of men. If the priority had been to fight VD, then inspecting the prostitutes' clients would also have been required by the Acts. However, the assumption was that, while men would be offended at the intrusion, the women were already so degraded that further humiliations were of no consequence. ["The Fallen Woman in Fiction and Legislation"]"

She is right on that score. It has not been proposed that clients of sex workers be examined as they would indeed find it intrusive. The assumption is made that the women are already degraded to an extent where being 'rounded up' weekly or fortnightly by a doctor (as sex workers in Germany described it) would be of little consequence to them. The assumption is wrong as some women have, in fact, found it intrusive and discriminatory when and where it has been practised.

If prostitution were legalised a two tier system of workers would be the result. The law in Holland has not eradicated streetwalking. Women who do not register and work in licensed establishments do not benefit from the perks of being legal, but on the other hand they do not suffer the downside of having to pay brothel keepers on top of their taxes. They are hence underground, but they retain the ability to be freelancers. Neither do they have to register with the State as prostitutes.

Streetwalking will remain as many (not all) women on the streets have drug problems, and the indoor market is known to be highly intolerant of drug use. Due to the prohibtion of narcotics we can assume that State licensed brothels would be even stricter in this regard. Addicted sex workers would therefore have to find their income elsewhere and still fall victim to State persecution.

New Zealand has taken the step of decriminalisation. It is too early yet for me to say much about this, but expect this to be updated as I have arranged to meet the collective next week sometime. But from what I know so far this seems to be the most sensible route.

All laws regulating prostitution or consensual sexual activity should be scrapped, including the 'living off immoral earnings" charge. Women would then be able to work safely from home and have men on the premises for security reasons without fear of them being prosecuted. These men may or may not be their husbands or partners. Or women could work in groups of two or more for safety reasons. Sex workers should have access to services such as non discriminatory medical care.
They should be able to register as self employed with the taxman (not the same as registering as a prostitute with the Home Office or whoever the body would be) and therefore work as freelancers without having illegal status the way that their Dutch counterparts do.

The State should only intervene when it is a public order issue - hence there may be a case for limiting street prostitution to certain zones, which would be good for safety reasons too. I will have to find out more, but it appears that in NZ the level of street prostitution has dropped since decriminalisation, and more women are in fact working from home.

Watch this space.


Political Umpire said...

Liz, I'm not normally one for making trivial points (save when annoying the Periodic Englishman), but this passage needs a couple of corrections:

"New Zealand has taken the step of decriminalisation. It is too early yet for me to say much about this, but expect this to be updated as I have arranged to meet with the collective next week sometime. But from what I know so far this seems to be the most sensible root"

First, you mean "meet" not "meet with", and second, you mean "route" not "root". I say the second point primarily because in NZ the latter is a crude slang word for, well, an act one normally associates with prostitution. Hence I'm pointing it out before someone more puerile than me does so ....

Liz said...

Thanks, PU. That was a slip rather than an actual spelling mistake. Will correct....