The Rights and Wrongs of the Sex Industry
Hari, Johann, The Independent (London, England)
The attempts by most governments across the world to suppress the sex industry are ludicrous. Even the Taliban could not eradicate the fact that some men wanted to pay for sex and some women were prepared to sell it. Shakespeare was mocking the folly of banning "vice" and criminalising prostitutes in Measure for Measure four centuries ago. So the Home Office's announcement this week that it will, for the first time in 50 years, throw wide open the hodge- podge of regulations and jail sentences slapped down on sex workers - and consider "all the options", no matter how radical - is excellent news for the 30,000 prostitutes working in Britain.
Nobody suffers more from the partial criminalisation of the sex trade than prostitutes themselves. The very word "prostitution" triggers in most people's minds a world of pimping, obscenely high rates of violence, and - worst of all - the epidemic of human trafficking (in effect, sex slavery) that has beset the developed world in the last decade. Yet it would be possible to have a legal sex industry that was largely free of these problems.
Look, for example, at pimps. These are the men who take a share of a prostitute's earnings in exchange for protecting her from attack. (In practice, they are often drug dealers feeding the sex worker's habit.) Ana Lopez of the International Union of Sex Workers, a woman who represents thousands of prostitutes, has explained that "Pimps may be necessary [at the moment] for protection, since most of the police fail to do this for sex workers." Stripped of legal rights and driven underground, sex workers are turned into outlaws who cannot seek or expect protection from the police. In these circumstances, they get trapped in often abusive relationships with pimps because they have nobody else to turn to. Provide them with recourse to the law - in licensed brothels equipped with panic buttons, where working prostitutes can look out for each other and identify offenders - and the need for pimps disappears.
Or how about violent attacks? The English Collective of Prostitutes explains: "Because of criminalisation, street-working women take clients to dark, out-of-the-way places, to avoid the attention of police. It is at this point that most attacks take place."
The violent men who target prostitutes are helped by criminalisation. Complete safety can never be guaranteed. Sex work will always be risky and repulsive, a fact which should be (and, when prostitutes receive the money directly, is) matched by fairly high wages. But the best way to minimise violence is to allow prostitutes to work openly in licensed brothels and to make it as easy as possible for …
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Publication information: Article title: The Rights and Wrongs of the Sex Industry. Contributors: Hari, Johann - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 2, 2004. Page number: 15. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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