Should prostitution be illegal?
UK government is contemplating on outlawing the kerb-crawling and solicitating for prostitutes on streets. Warning of the “blight” of prostitution, (Home Secretary Jacqui) Smith outlined a three-point plan at the Labour conference that will:
- Remove the requirement that only persistent kerb crawlers and men who solicit on the street can be prosecuted. The changes will mean that kerb-crawlers and men soliciting sex on the street can be prosecuted after a first offence.
- Give new powers to councils and the police to close down brothels for at least three months if prostitutes are being run by a pimp or have been trafficked.
- Change the law so that men can be prosecuted if they pay for sex with women who are exploited – “controlled for another person’s gain”.
As much as I try to see the positives in the changes suggested, I cannot help but think of the women who’d be pushed underground if the men purchasing sex from them start getting prosecuted. Women will become more vulnerable to abuse and violence as opposed to the direction the suggested changes want to take. I recently watched a documentary – Born into Brothels – based on children born and raised in Calcutta (India) brothels. The documentary maker is a lady who goes to the Calcutta Red Light district and teaches photography to children of prostitutes in hopes of getting them out of the environment that they’re stuck in. The film shows how these children are literally segregated from the mainstream society and are discriminated against because of their mothers’ professions. It is shocking to see the amount of bureaucratic work that the film-maker lady has to put in just to get them admitted to schools because they have no proof of birth and no proper documentation of their lives. The film also highlights a case of one of the children’s mother’s death. She was a prostitute and was put on fire by her pimp. No case was registered against the pimp though since she was a prostitute. So, no matter how much violence and torture these women have to go through, they cannot even go to police for help even though prostitution is still not illegal in India.
Prostitutes can practice their trade privately in India but cannot legally solicit customers in public. Despite that legality, prostitutes do not enjoy the same rights as rest of the citizens. They are already being discriminated against. I can’t imagine the implications for them if the sex-trade was to be banned. Most of the prostitutes don’t have a choice of not being prostitutes either especially in countries like India which is home to 33% of global poor. Some of the sex-workers are born into the profession. Others are forced into it and stick with it since they don’t know any other skill to feed themselves or their families. The rest choose to be prostitutes because it means being able to afford two meals a day. Whatever the reason might be, the truth is that all of them will be on streets and their families would not be taken care of if their profession (prostitution) was taken away from them.
Although Jacqui Smith is not suggesting a blanket ban on prostitution, there is effectively a gray area in her suggestions that can be exploited to suppress a woman’s right to choose. Besides that, women’s safety, that these changes are geared towards are more at risk if these changes are implemented.
While I am at it, I also want to discuss a complete ban on prostitution as it has been talked of many a times in various countries. I think that just like banning partial-birth abortions led to unsafe coat-hanger abortions in US, banning prostitution would do just the same by pushing women to work underground and be prone to more abuse than they are now. It’s often said (albeit a cliche) that sex trade is one of the oldest professions in the world. It is here to stay: legal or illegal. I understand that trafficking and exploitation of women for prostitution is one of the biggest threats endangering all societies across the world but I don’t think banning of sex-trade is a solution. Those who are involved in activities like trafficking or exploitation of people have no regard or respect for law anyway. They will undauntedly continue their activities whether they are legal or not. What will get hurt in the process though are women who are willingly in the sex-trade and want to remain in sex-trade on their own free will. Their choice of career will be take away from them.
The Guardian published a view of a prostitute a few days ago and I’ll quote her here:
Making criminals of all men who pay for sex would result in myself and thousands of other women who choose to work in this industry becoming unemployed, and thus instead of contributing to the state (through our taxes) we would be taking from the state in the form of income support, housing benefit and so on. This is how we make a living; it’s an industry that prevents many, many women and their children from living on the breadline. If you are going to take our livelihoods from us, the consequences will be devastating.
Read more of what she has to say here. It surely makes an interesting read.