Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sex work or sex crimes?

A recent Guardian article raised the possibility that the British government may be criminalizing the purchase of sex, rather than its sale, in order to reduce demand for prostitution.

Two members of Parliament quoted in the article raised the following points:

Fiona Mactaggart MP...dismissed arguments that prostitution was an inevitable part of society, adding: "We have always had murder - that doesn't make it right. The price of prostitution is enormously high for women...[And] the more vulnerable the woman is, the cheaper the price is for men."
Denis MacShane MP, a former minister and campaigner against sex trafficking, added: "Until you have the Wilberforce moment when you say those who buy [sex] are just as guilty as those who are selling [women], it will continue to grow. It's not until there is a regular flow of men before the courts because they have paid for sex with illegally trafficked sex slaves that we will see a change in culture."

The question of sex work is a tough one for many people who work to end violence against women, with both the abolition and decriminalization camps making strong cases. If you view it as violence against women, then making a decriminalization case is pretty hard, but many argue, as this follow-up opinion piece points out, that "until women are given real choices in their lives, no amount of draconian legislation will change the current landscape of prostitution."

Both articles also reference Sweden's experiment with criminalizing the purchase of sex, and reached opposite conclusions, but this older piece from the New Statesman magazine suggests that it has been successful, at least to some degree.

I'm interested to see where this goes, and the strategy works. It's a debate I'm not hearing in the US, but think it's an important one to have. Regardless of the outcome, I'm glad there are so many great organizations out there working with individuals that sell sex to support them and ensure that they are safe and have resources. A few based in DC include:

Polaris Project
Different Avenues


1 comment:

  1. The whole issue of sex work and the "demand" for prostitution is an interesting one. It is, by and large, shaped around the wrong things. Take the new arrangement in Amsterdam for instance. 1/3 of the "windows" downtown were removed to decrease the growing "seediness" of the downtown. The city also said much of the prostitution promotes trafficking of sex workers - which, no doubt, it does. But by removing these spots, the city is further promoting the exploitation of women in this industry by keeping it more underground. This is a false and terrible paradox.

    Its one thing to address prostitution and the trafficking of women (which is more abundant than anyone realizes) by making it illegal (which makes their situation worse) and addressing our entire culture of objectification, whereby women and sex have become commoditized...turned into symbols of sexual gratification.

    Sex is used to sell everything around us, so we should not be surprised when our entire culture becomes obsessed with sex, having sex, being sexy, and devaluing self-worth achieved through more meaningful outlets.