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Why prostitution should be decriminalised

The law should be there to help sex workers, not hurt them.


I completely disagree with principles behind prostitution. I don’t think sex should be for sale, and I believe that the prostitution industry is terrible for women.

Here’s why it should be legalised.

As I have just said, I disapprove of prostitution very strongly. I would probably prefer a society where it was banned. Some other things I personally would like to ban include the BNP, the Daily Mail, spectator sports and The Only Way is Essex.  If the law were based purely on my personal preferences, I suspect a lot of people would be very unhappy. The law shouldn’t be based on people’s beliefs, it should be based on the impact a practice has on society.

It is remarkably hard to get a handle on exactly how bad the current situation is, but it certainly doesn’t look good. Estimates in 1999 suggested 80,000 people were working as prostitutes in the UK. Many believe the number has risen significantly since then. A 2004 Home Office report suggested that the mortality rate for prostitutes was almost 12 times the national average, and up to 95% of women involved in prostitution were problematic drug users. Up to 9 out of 10 women surveyed said they would like to get out of prostitution if they could.

The strange thing about arguing that prostitution should be legalised is that you find yourself fighting a battle that’s already been won. Prostitution has never been illegal in this country, and it is perfectly legal for two consenting adults to have sex even if one of the parties is paying for it.

Almost everything to do with it, however, is illegal. From solicitation to keeping a brothel, the whole industry is circumscribed so severely that it makes often vulnerable people live in fear of the law.

Laws that make social problems worse should be removed. Although laws against things like human trafficking play a vital role in helping people who are trapped in the industry, other laws are incredibly damaging. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, there are higher levels of violence against street sex workers than those working off the street. This has not been reflected in legislation, however, which strictly forbids two sex workers from even working on the same premises.

The main impact of these laws is not the prevention of prostitution. More often than not, they ostracise women from the organisations that should be there to protect them.

By forcing sex workers into isolation we make it far more difficult to ensure that they are protected from harm and impede their access to social services such as healthcare. What’s more, these laws mean that for those who wish to leave the industry often struggle to find the help and support they need.

There are alternatives. In places where we have seen liberalisation twinned with a focus on protecting women, the results have often been successful. In Nevada, where prostitutes are able to work as independent contractors in legal brothels, 84% of prostitutes said that their jobs felt safe. In the Netherlands, meanwhile, a government report from 2004 suggested that only about 10% of all prostitutes in the Netherlands were driven into high-risk prostitution by their addiction to drugs. An excellent drugs outreach programme has meant that they have been able to attack one of the main forces that lead people to pursue prostitution.

The picture isn’t entirely clear, of course. Some have suggested that in countries where prostitution has been legalised, trafficking has increased. The opposite is true in many Nordic countries, where they have actually cracked down on prostitution severely. These are major concerns, and should not be lightly dismissed; however, more innovative models may help us to alleviate the damage to society. In Nevada, for instance, there was no notable increase in trafficking after legalisation.

Legalised and monitored brothels could be established to ensure that women are there of their own accord and ensure they are safe at work. This must, however, be accompanied by a severe crackdown on those who break the law. Too many legalisation regimes fail because they did not crack down hard enough on those who still flouted the law.

By bringing the industry out of the shadows, we can shine a light on the truly awful aspects of it and try to eliminate them. We can attempt to ensure that workers in the industry are being protected from harm. What’s more, by decriminalising it we can make it easier to help those who want to leave the industry and allow them to retrain in another profession.

We need to find a better way to protect prostitutes, and the best way to do that is not by ostracising them from society. Decriminalising the industry could allow us to ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in society are brought under the protection of the law. Drawing on the experiences of other nations, we can attempt to find a way to fight prostitution without persecuting prostitutes.



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