In brief, the current legal framework is neither helping the people it sets out to help nor solving the problems it sets out to solve. Under the current legal structure too many people are being criminalised for activities that, if legalised and regulated, could be a benefit to society. The whole topic of the legislation surrounding Sex Industry needs to be intensively reviewed, so that the real criminals are suitably punished, those who need help can be traced and helped more effectively and those seeking to voluntarily involve themselves in the industry as either sex workers or customers can do so without suffering abuse, neglect or criminalisation.
There are several issues to consider when talking about this matter:
1 – The Sex Industry isn't just about women selling sex – men also work as prostitutes so any laws that are introduced or amended will have to be studies and will have to ensure gender-neutrality. Just as a note, I will refer to girls or women from now on, but please take that to mean men as well – I just can't be bothered to he/she the whole time I am writing 🙂
2 – The current laws are designed to hit a large number of targets, but some of those targets are more valid than others, as is the effectiveness of the implementation of the laws. Example – traffiking. It happens, we all know it happens and it is a sad statement on our society that most of us don't really care unless we personally encounter it (a punter visiting a girl and realising she has probably been put to work against her will, or a parent whose daughter/son is duped into going abroad to work as a 'dancer'). The issue is not the law, which is clear, but the implementation of it. Making keeping a brothel illegal means that the police have to spread their nets too wide to trap the few brothels with traffiked workers. If all the legitimate brothels were legal, licensed and regularly inspected, then the police could concentrate on seeking out and shutting down the underground illegal unlicensed brothels, which would be the ones most likely to hold the traffiked workers.
3 – Street prostitution – currently there are two sets of laws to tackle this, one set to try to discourage the girls from working on the streets and a second set aiming to discourage the punters from going onto the streets to look for them.
a – The reasons why those laws are in place are mostly not to do with the protection of the women from harm – they are usually in place to drive the girls out of residential areas where the residents have complained about the activities occurring on their streets. Most street girls do not want to be out there; it is not the glamorous career that your average girls thinks of when she is considering her aspirations in school. Most only turn to working the streets when they can see no better alternative (to feed their or their partner’s drug habit, to put food on the table, to buy nappies for their kid, to pay the rent etc). Given the choice, paying a small fee to rent a 'kabin' (Amsterdam style) for a day/night in a safe, regulated environment would be a much more attractive option. Each large town or city should, therefore, have an area where single girls can safely and legally work and where the punters know they can go to find what they are looking for.
b – Punters go out on the streets to look for girls for various personal reasons, but the behaviour of a small minority who accost women who are not working or who assault the women who are leads to the introduction of draconian laws that do nothing to make the women safer and indeed encourage the meeting and judgement phase of the encounter to become as brief as possible, so as to avoid police attention. A safe, regulated environment would benefit the punters too, since they could go about their business without risk of being mugged, ripped off or generally abused. The only punters who would suffer would be the thugs and psychos, who would find it harder to find prey – I can’t see that as a problem.
4 – Underage sex workers – this is a very touchy subject, but the current laws make it harder for the police and the various other organisations setting out to help these vulnerable individuals to do their work, because there are too many establishments for them to check. A safe, regulated environment with a variety of establishments (from single-girls working in a 'kabin' to groups working in a bar with beds upstairs and all the other possible variations on the theme) would reduce the number of places that the underage girls could work (or be forced to work), and therefore allow the various organisations to more effectively concentrate their efforts on seeking out and shutting down the places where the underage girls can work/be worked.
5 – Drugs – Sex workers spend billions of pounds each year on drugs; it is one of the reasons why they enter the oldest profession in the first place. I am not saying all sex workers are junkies or all junkies are sex workers, but there are only a limited number of ways for addicts to feed their habits, almost all of which are illegal. While a few addicts can hold down regular jobs with six-figure salaries, they are the almost vanishingly rare exceptions. A girl working the streets can make a thousand pounds a week (if she works hard and is lucky), but nine hundred or more of that will go straight into the hands of the dealers. Often it is only when the girls are committing more serious crimes (when their addictions have been going on for years, mostly) that help is offered, and even then it is often done in such a way as to make the girl less unhappy to be out on the streets than in treatment. Drug related crime costs the country billions each year, but we only spend a fraction of what we need to on helping the addicts get clean. Often the psychological reasons why they became addicts, or go back to being addicts, are not even looked into as part of the treatment. Addiction treatments are not one-size-fits-all – every addict has their own deep-seated reasons why the life of an addict is preferable to a ‘normal’ life and the longer those issues are left unresolved the harder it is for the addict to break out of their addiction cycles. Sadly many addicts destroy their health, their minds and often end their lives before they are able to free themselves, which is a scandal that has been overlooked by our society for too long.
6 – Public offence – One of the main problems we have in this country is that a substantial number of people consider that the sex industry is a problem that can just be legislated away. Or worse it offends their particular moral sensibilities so much that anyone involved in it is considered to be contemptible, morally corrupt and generally sub-human. Sadly addicts, homeless people and the mentally ill are often lumped into this same ‘outcaste’ group, that so-called good, normal people can smugly consider themselves superior to. This them and us attitude is particularly damaging to society and only serves to make the outcastes themselves less than willing to become normal, since of course no person of such dubious moral values can possibly become acceptable to ‘normal’ society again. Legislation can only go so far to tackle such attitudes and legislation that even tacitly supports them is damaging to social cohesion as well as the individuals affected by it.
I hope these thoughts on this subject prove useful..