Lola has been a London call girl for 15 years, but it hasn't
gotten any easier. OK, so the police don't bother her much because
she's pretty discreet. But clients are getting more demanding, and
she says the law is even worse.
Britain has one of the toughest approaches toward prostitution in
Europe - a slate of more than 30 separate offenses on a statute book
unreformed for more than 50 years.
Recently there were signs that this would change, as the
government considered plans to license prostitutes and tolerate
"managed areas" in which women like Lola could work more safely. But
earlier this month it abruptly changed course, ditching plans to
help sex workers and deciding instead to target those who buy sex
off the street.
While some see this tough new approach as sheltering women from
the increased demand that would follow legalization of the practice,
others argue it endangers prostitutes. The government has, however,
made a vague promise to turn a blind eye to "mini-brothels" of two
or three women working discreetly together.
"This is a crackdown against street prostitution," says Ana Lopez
of the International Union of Sex Workers. She says this form of
prohibition merely drives the industry into the shadows where dark,
violent things happen. She points to more tolerant attitudes in
countries like Portugal, where she says a liberal decriminalized
approach means women are better protected.
"State intervention just helps to establish discrimination and
stereotyping of sex workers as victims," Lopez says. "Society should
be mature enough to make these choices without the state
But Julie Bindel, a women's rights activist who advised the
government on its new strategy, says far from making women safer,
decriminalizing prostitution would encourage higher demand, increase
sex tourism and trafficking in women, and make life easier for pimps
and traffickers. She says that countries like Germany and the
Netherlands, which have decriminalized, are now wondering if they
have done the right thing, as the industry grows.
Swedish-style: women aren't commodities
Instead, Britain is following an example set by Scandinavian
countries, which have aimed their crackdowns on "curb-crawlers" -
men who troll the sidewalks in cars, looking for prostitutes. In
Sweden, says Ms. Bindel, it's already paying dividends, with 80
percent of adults supporting the measure. "Children in Sweden are
now growing up recognizing it is not acceptable and we shouldn't see
women as commodities," she says.
British prostitution laws haven't been reviewed since the
immediate postwar era, even though attitudes and behavior have
undergone a sweeping transformation. …