Journal

Parliament, follow Nevada’s lead and make legal, licensed brothels a thing

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Prostitutes are entitled to a safe workplace

Brothel

Hookers, prostitutes — there are many names, but one activity.

It’s an awkward topic to discuss, shied away from by most people. However, for the one in ten men who pay for sex — or, more importantly, the victims of sexual exploitation or those willingly working as sex workers — it’s something that deserves a full and frank discussion.

Theoretically, prostitution in the United Kingdom is legal. What is not is soliciting, brothel running (which means having two or more prostitutes in the same premises) and other associated activities. What this does is criminalise the prostitute. It seems strange to arrest who many would consider the victim in all this, and I believe this is because prostitutes aren’t victims.

The exact numbers of those exploited can never be determined, however the numbers are most probably small. In 2009, a large scale policing operation and inquiry failed to find a single person forced into prostitution. This looked for those traditionally viewed as victims: addicts, victims of violence and human trafficking. Of course this was a limited exercise — people may have been coursed into silence — but the failure to find a single victim suggests that the numbers will be exceptionally small.

It could be, and frequently is, argued that every prostitute is a victim. Perhaps you can argue that some or most are forced into this position by economic circumstance, and I would be sympathetic to that argument, however to categorise all prostitutes as being forced is patronising. Simply because people make decisions that you and I would not does not mean that they must have been coerced into it. Even if it did the current law that punishes the ‘victim’ is counterproductive.

Now I expect there will be much moral outrage at the suggestion prostitutes aren’t victims. Horror stories, references to tragic cases of exploitation where they were victims, and the standard dubious statistics and quotes that pervade any discussion of these ‘moralistic’ topics. Of course there will be tragic events that no sane, moral or halfway human person would wish on anyone — and to anyone who has had that experience I would extend my heartfelt sympathy and support. Though, to those of you keen to rely on statistics in the comments section — I would direct you here.

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These tragedies don’t change the fact the majority of prostitutes are not victims (well, not until the criminal justice system is involved). The severe punishment of the very people these laws are apparently there to protect is hypocritical.

The Street Offences Act 1959 makes it an offence to loiter for the purposes of offering services as a prostitute. Ss 33-35 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 criminalise brothel keeping, though this requires more than one woman to be present. There are also offences for advertising in phone boxes, though strangely not in newspapers. All of these provisions penalise the prostitute directly, and also indirectly as any attempt to organise for safety is branded as a crime. It does not do anyone any good to expose prostitutes to further risk, and the government agrees. There has been a public policy shift towards the Swedish model, criminalising the purchaser. While all these laws still remain, and are frequently used to penalise prostitutes, the government has made “kerb crawling” and paying for sex an offence.

This model is based on the best thinking: harm reduction. Not hurting the prostitute, but penalising those who take advantage of them. The nature of prostitution makes it risky, with the increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and physical and sexual violence.

The problem is this model actually increases the risk prostitutes face. In a classic example of the law of unintended consequences, forcing prostitutes to work in more secluded locations, with less access to harm reduction services, has put them at greater risk.

Some may argue that this is a moral stance, a stance to protect prostitutes from their abusers. I don’t agree — how can you put someone at greater risk, and claim to be protecting them at the same time?

I prefer the Nevada system. Brothels are legal and regulated. We could adopt, and I think we should adopt, a similar system that allows legal, licensed prostitution as a method of self-employment in licensed premises. This allows people to work for themselves, which would reduce harm by allowing security, and give the public and the government some control over the sex industry. It would force out organised crime, to the extent organise crime can be forced out of any market. Requiring the licensee to undergo a physiological evaluation and be over the age of 18, while criminalising those who do go to unlicensed prostitutes, will protect those with mental health issue or suffering abuse. It will move the industry into the daylight and protect the most vulnerable.

I’m not naive enough to believe that unlicensed prostitution will disappear as a result. However, criminalising those who pay for sex will help here — few will risk years in prison for the prospect of saving money by using an unlicensed prostitute if there is a brothel a few minutes’ drive away.

Though, given that around 40% of those in prostitution are there partly as a result of benefit sanctions, I’m not sure we can be regarded as caring about the people involved. These statistics are, and have been, readily available to policy makers for years, and yet nothing has changed.

Perhaps this is an unconformable argument — but if we actually care about the people involved in the way we claim to, don’t they deserve a safe place to work? Don’t they deserve the protection not the persecution of the police? Shouldn’t we at least consider it?

Peter Baker is a graduate from Aberystwyth University. He completed the GDL this year at BPP University and hopes to study the LPC.

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17 Comments

Anonymous

Dude, we already have brothels. They’re called ‘your mum’s house’.

(And deleted in three, two…)

Quo Vadis

Would you be happy for your daughter to work in a legal brothel? If not, why not?

Anonymous

The question should’ve been:

“Would you rather your daughter worked in a legal brothel or illegally in some alleyway?”
To which the answer is obvious.

Yours is a painfully obvious straw man.

Quo Vadis

There is a third option – to ban prostitution altogether. Why should I be able to buy a woman like a loaf of bread? A few clicks on my smartphone and I can have a living, breathing woman (or man) delivered to my apartment, ready for any cruelty that I might choose to inflict upon them. Putting prostitution on a legal footing would certainly reduce the risks associated with the job – most of all, for the tiny minority of prostitutes who work from the street (as opposed to brothels, private homes, Adultwork and so on). But the moral hazard which would be created through decriminalisation would be tremendous. Legalisation would serve as official recognition of the right to buy another person’s body. The right to have sex with them, regardless of whether they would consent without the financial imperative to survive. The right to expose them to pregnancy and disease, neither of which can be reliably prevented (even through the use of a condom). Why should anyone be granted those rights over another person, and least of all for money?

I suspect you believe in the fiction of the ‘happy hooker’ – some highbrow, liberated courtesan begging to satisfy your sexual desires in return for cold hard cash. The reality for most prostitutes is very different. The sex industry dehumanises its victims regardless of whether the trade is carried out in a dirty street or a plush boudoir. I would urge you to read ‘Paid For’ by Rachel Moran, a former prostitute from Northern Ireland (http://theprostitutionexperience.com/). The lines below are written by Moran to the ‘good’ punter, the ‘harmless’ punter, the man who might well nip into a legal brothel on an afternoon off work:

“I met many of you. So many. Too many. And I always wondered about you. I wondered, how could you justify this to yourself? How could you tell yourself – and believe it – that I was happy to have strangers’ fingers, penises and tongues shoved into the most private parts of me? How did you convince yourself that I’d be happy about something you’d never, in your wildest nightmares, wish on your own daughter? I wondered, most of all, how could you look at me and not see me?”

Hence my inspiration for asking the question over whether the author would be happy with their own daughter becoming a legal prostitute. No-one would, of course, and few would even pretend to admit it. Feminists are so buoyed up with the need to preserve female autonomy that they ignore the wholesale abuse of vulnerable women like Moran. The very last thing those women need is an official green-light to their abusers from the government.

Anonymous

See below.

Anonymous

But prostitution is banned and it still happens. The whole basis of what you have said is flawed as you are looking at banning prostitution to create this perfect society when even though it is banned it still happens in real life.

Anonymous

We’re all prostitutes, Quo Vadis. We all just sell different parts of ourselves.

Lord Lyle of Aghnacloy

Not a lot of you kids will know this, but prostitutes were routinely shot in the head and buried in a bog , in which part of the UK?
It still goes on.

Anonymous

You care so much for the moral repercussions, yet you want to make life worse for the prostitutes? You even concede it in your comment.

Surely what’s worse is whatever policy hurts them worst? Banning it wont get rid of it, so you regulate it to make it as undamaging as possible.

Anonymous

This was meant for Quo Vadis , sorry my phone is playing up.

Quo Vadis

You assume that banning prostitution will not remove prostitution only because our laws are so rarely and ineffectually enforced. Take cannabis – notionally a Class B drug, with heavy penalties for possession and supply. But if I look out of the window of my apartment, at most hours of the day, I can see a small group of men smoking (you guessed it) cannabis. Whether through inattention or Nelsonian blindness, the police passing by appear none the wiser. In other words, we have banned the drug, but we have not enforced the ban.

Prostitution is currently treated in a similar manner. We haven’t dared criminalise the act itself, and the selling of sex is legal. Most of the activities peripheral to the sex trade are illegal (kerb-crawling, brothel keeping), but the laws are rarely enforced. Prostitution also lingers on the edge of legality. Prostitutes are forever at the mercy of violent customers and abusive pimps. Their clients bear the main burden of criminality, and have to operate in a clandestine manner. They also don’t pay tax.

The answer then seems to be this – make the whole transaction legal. Prostitution is harmful, sure, but once brought out into the open we might try to reduce that harm. The problem with this view is that most of the harm done by prostitution is nothing to do with the setting in which the sex is bought and sold. The harm comes from the nature of the transaction itself. A person is bought, and paid for. They are commanded to have sex. Their consent to the encounter is irrelevant; their children must eat.

There is an alternative. Instead of removing the ban, why not enforce it? This would not mean criminalising sex workers – rather, we could provide them with the job and home and security which would allow them to transition into a law-abiding life. This approach would recognise that for most of them, their choice of career is a ‘choice’ made under duress. We could then turn the full force of the law upon those vile men who treat other human beings like chattels – to be bought, used, and thrown away.

Anonymous

The Author wrote previous piece that argued- I believe reasonably forcefully- that there is no connection between banning drugs and there usage rate It was also the conclusion of a parliamentary a report.

It’s a good comparison, but sadly making these things illegal doesn’t reduce there usage.

As is spelled out in the article, criminalising the prostitute doesn’t work, and criminalising the buyer makes there lives more dangerous. How can you Add to dictionary argue for prostitutes being the victims and for better law enforcement- as it makes there lives worse.

Even assuming prostitutes are harmed purely by the transaction- making there lives worse isn’t a solution to that.

Did you even read the article?

Matthias Lehmann

Question: how many sex workers have you spoken to in the process of doing research for this article? Or if you haven’t, which publications by sex worker-led organisations have you consulted?

Anonymous

http://prostitutescollective.net/2015/02/06/fact-fiction/ – this appears to be the source of much of the information. It’s a publications by sex worker-led organisations.

There are also a number of academic studies referenced- which involved talking to and working with sex workers.

Why does no one ever follow the hyperlinks?

David

Prostitution is fully legal in the UK, exploitation is not.

Any woman (or man) can rent a small premises in their local shopping centre, nestled between M&S and Boots perhaps, hang a sign outside that reads “Brothel”, post prices for services in the window, take out an ad in the local newspaper and she is in business. Safe, secure, open, visible, “above ground” and completely legal. As you say this “will move the industry into the daylight”. I can pop in and “have sex with” whoever happens to be working there while my wife browses around Boots.

Legalised prostitution is not a model to “protect the most vulnerable” or “protect those with mental health issues” because that is precisely the demographic brothels recruit from. It’s not necessary to issue licences, impose mandatory health checks or require police background checks as they do in Nevada, they are pointless because it is the prostitute that is always the one at risk .

If you do prefer a form of legalisation, come up with a system of licencing punters. One where they are issued penalty points for being abusive or violent, where prostitutes (girlfriends, wives, mothers, daughters, employers and police) can check his licence and his buying history. Bring it all out into the open, into the daylight.

Campaign for laws that would permanently remove abusive or violent punters from the the industry and from society in general, or render them harmless, if their penalty points exceed a set limit.

You say the government has made paying for sex an offence, maybe try reading the page you refer to. Since 2010, paying or attempting to pay for sex with a trafficked person has been illegal. If you want to simplify, attempting to pay for rape is illegal.

You say a large scale policing operation failed to find a single person forced into prostitution. Maybe you contest the police report that says 84 women were confirmed as trafficked victims, but you cannot ignore who was exploiting and who was buying the 12 children, aged 14 to 17. Please don’t tell me a 14 year-old girl is exercising her “agency” by being raped by random old men.

Years ago, I was involved in trafficking a girl. She was given to me for free in a legalised prostitution business. If you want to use emotive language, I was the punter who broke her in. I can guarantee you that she did not go to the police, she complied, she was trapped. She is not the only trafficking victim I’ve met, there are lots.

It is perfectly understandable that a once-off operation will not find many victims, but that does not mean they are not there. Even the punter’s new champion, Amnesty, says “Home Office research estimated that up to 1,420 women were trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation in 2000. Since this study was completed it is widely acknowledged that the problem of human trafficking has increased significantly.”

If you really feel that prostitution should be legalised, I suggest you go to Germany, seek out a man-brothel and work there as a prostitute for six months. Let us know how you get on.

Anonymous

You seem to have wilfully misread the article.

He referenced a major policing operation- with specialist officers and thousands of arrests if you bother to look it up. Hardly one study- even the one you selectively quote from Amnesty.

The article seems to be saying- “As making it illegal puts the prostitute more at risk, how does making it illegal help the prostitute? why shouldn’t we legalise and reduce harm?.” If you cared about prostitutes as much as you seem to, why aren’t you sympathetic to an argument on harm reduction?

Lord Lyle of Aghnacloy?

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

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