Why Prostitution Should Be Legal
Hello everyone. Yesterday afternoon I was scrolling through twitter and saw a friend of mine had shared an online petition (no not THAT one). Usually I scroll past these petitions as they’re often poorly thought out, and I don’t think the government ever takes them seriously.
This one however caught my attention and because its something that does occasionally get debated in parliament, I did sign it.
The focus of the petition is to decriminalize sex workers working together either on the streets or together in premises. The reason for this is to make work safer for sex workers.
If this were the only reason sex work should be made legal it would be enough, but I’ve long believed there are many reasons why prostitution should be legalised. So today I’m going to discuss my reasonings with you.
What is legal?
Before I go any further it makes sense to explain what is legal and illegal under UK law.
Currently it is perfectly legal for a man or woman over 18 to receive payment for sex. It is illegal however for anybody to advertise sex for sale or solicit someone to pay for sex.
It is legal for a person to work as a sex worker from a premises, either a house or a brothel. But it is illegal to run a brothel, and a brothel is defined as two or more people working in a premises selling sex.
So that is the law as it stands at the moment. Why do I think it should be changed? There are five main reasons
1- Prostitution laws are largely based on outdated moral judgements.
Going back in history prostitution was regarded as a legal activity. In medieval England brothels were often publicly owned, and in London it was the bishops who licensed brothels. Early prostitution laws were more to do with regulation of the trade, such as prostitutes had to wear identifiable clothing to protect respectable women.
Henry VIII banned brothels in the mid 16th century due to the spread of syphilis, but prostitution was tolerated by society up till the beginning of the 19th century.
Current laws relating to prostitution can be dated back to the 19th century and were informed by Victorian morality. Victorians believed that sex should only occur between married couples for the purpose of procreation. Sex outside of marriage, or sex for pleasure were concepts that were viewed as evil.
It’s worth noting that Victorian women who lived with men outside of wedlock, had illegitimate children or who worked as actresses were all called prostitutes.
These days it would be totally inappropriate to call actresses, unwed parents or cohabitors prostitutes. Yet much of society still holds the view that while sex for pleasure or outside of wedlock is acceptable, selling it sex still very wrong.
2- legalizing prostitution would free up police
The UK police force is stretched far too thinly these days. Thanks to austerity measures we have far fewer police than we need. Were prostitution to become 100% legal this would free up officers to work on other crimes.
These officers could then focus on specific crimes that happen around sex workers. Such as assaults and human trafficking.
3 – It would help raise taxes
I think the government is missing a trick here. They like nothing better than to tax people, and there are many taxes they could impose by legalizing prostitution. Income tax for every working woman is the most obvious one, plus business taxes from brothels.
This money could be ploughed back into policing to investigate cases of human trafficking and in health care for workers and their clients.
4 – It would increase the safety of working girls.
Going back to the aims of the petition, there is no doubt legalizing all sex work would vastly improve safety for girls.
For girls who work on the streets being able to do so in pairs or groups would reduce the risk of them being physically assaulted. Also if brothels were legal they would be less likely to have to work on the streets, further reducing the risk of assault.
5 – It would reduce the exploitation of vulnerable girls
Whenever I read articles about sex workers they predominately talk about exploitation of girls. This annoys me on several levels.
Firstly there are a lot of people in the sex trade who are not being exploited. I personally know a number of women who have been sex workers at some point in their lives, some of these are online friends, some real life friends. In every case these are strong, confident, independent women who made a choice. Some did it because the money is really good, others because they love sex.
Secondly exploitation and trafficking of people occurs in a many industries. In 2012, the International Labour Organisation estimated there were 21 million victims trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these 68% were exploited for labour compared to 22% who were sexually exploited.
In the UK modern-day slaves may well be the people who clean your car, the girl at the nail bar, the girls who come in to clean your offices, or the people who pick your fruit veg. In all these situations its easy to recognised that it’s the gangs forcing their victims to work who are wrong. There is never a call for these industries to be made illegal because they promote the exploration of vulnerable people.
However I have digressed, exploitation of individuals does happen in sex work. but it is counter intuitive to think that keeping it illegal is helping those girls.
legalizing brothels help in several ways. Currently brothels are illegal, so they are going to be by and large seedy backstreet establishments. By providing men with clean, safe legal places to seek out working girls, it will be far easier for clients to identify and avoid places that don’t seem quite legit. Thus creating less demand for gang run brothels.
It would also mean brothels would be subject to the same employment checks as any other business. The police would be able to check employees legal status to work the same as they would in any other business. Girls who are identified not legally working in the UK will then be flagged up as possible victims of exploitation.
So there are my thoughts on the current legal status of prostitution. Do you think I’m right, or do you think the laws should remain as they are?