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Legalising prostitution : a lesser evil ?

by Agnes a Paris Tue Nov 29th, 2005 at 03:15:50 PM EST

A sub-committee within the Canadian Parliament is currently examining the possibility of making prostitution a legal trade, which would imply amending the criminal code. Depenalisation would either be applied to the whole "industry " (ie prostitutes as well as customers and pimps) or be limited to prostitutes, with the underlying idea of their being victims who need to be protected, a set of measures to punish pimps and deter  customers complementing this safety net.

The debate is still open, but some points can already be made : if a legal framework discriminates between the guilty and the victims, this will not cut the roots of organised traffic networks who will be prompted into clandestinity even further. It will be more difficult for authorities to measure and regulate the activity of prostitution networks, all the more so as the image of a prostitute working on a stand-alone basis (ie without a pimp) is a myth.

The Canadian think tank seems to take for granted that full legalisation involves a significant growth in prostitution, both legal and illegal, and allegedly causes an aggravation of women and children trade. Legalisation is accounted for a degradation in the "work" conditions and a growth in clandestinity (which does not appear very logical). In the Netherlands, for example, the number of clandestine prostitutes is quoted as making up as much as 70 % of the cases; under-age prostitution also soared: from 5 000 to 15 000 children between 1996 and 2001.

Sweden has taken the path of discriminating between responsibility, and potential prosecution, of the 3 key parties : the prostitute, the customer and the pimp. The penal code was amended in January 1999 towards penalising the "purchasers of sexual services", in other words, customers were the ones to be penalised. According to a survey conducted in Feb. 2005, 86 % of the Swedish population support this law. Opponents claim that hidden prostitution has eversince increased in Sweden.

As for France, clients are those who benefit from the victim status. Indeed, the Sarkozy law enacted in 2003 penalises prostitutes harassing customers who would not be interested otherwise (!)

It is difficult to find a fully adequate solution to a problem of such magnitude (and with so much tax-free money at stake), but all measures increasing the need for clandestinity are bound to prove unproductive.

Perhaps I have a libertarian side...but it seems like prostitution is going to happen, so why not legalize it and require a license, health checks, etc. Make it safer for the girls. (That's how it works in Switzerland, if I understand it correctly...)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Nov 29th, 2005 at 05:19:21 PM EST
total agreement. Making it safe is part of making it legal. The problem is not prostitution, but people illegally thriving on it.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Tue Nov 29th, 2005 at 05:55:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's all well and good. But how to ensure that the economically disadvantaged get their fair share? Or, in this case, are we to abandon the socialist model? ;/)

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
Czeslaw Milosz
by Chris Kulczycki on Tue Nov 29th, 2005 at 08:15:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
New Zealand legalised prostitution in 2003, and it doesn't seem to have led to any of the harmful effects above. What it has led to is safer working conditions for prostitutes, as well as prosecutions for the clients of those working under-age.  As a harm-minimisation strategy, it seems to have worked out OK.

No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog

by IdiotSavant on Tue Nov 29th, 2005 at 11:09:03 PM EST
...on the Dutch soar in under-age prostitution? Although the general consensus is that there is most likely an increase, reported by ECPAT, the conclusion was that exact numbers are incredibly hard to give, exactly because there is an increase of under-age prostitution now driven into clandestine working condition. (Report, not linked, is in Dutch.)

But is legalising prostitution the root cause of this? That's debatable. For example, the opening of the borders of East Europe also led to a surge of young people which were/are exploited in illegal sex-industry.

Legalising the prostitution is, so far, considered a relative success, even by the current, more conservative Balkenende government. In the zones where prostitution is allowed the law is relatively well abided: prostitutes are legal (aliens) and not under-age. They have also founded their own union to stand up for their rights.

Customers were and are not penalised, exactly to motivate them to report under-age prostitution when they see it. Whether that concept works, I don't know...

Anyway. What I find interesting is that more and more countries are experimenting with the concept of legal prostitution. So far, there wasn't much "competition" in finding the best policy; in the beginning, there was only the Dutch model. Which doesn't mean it needs to be the best model to become implemented.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 06:17:05 AM EST
this was quoted (verbally) during one of the sessions of the Canadian parliamentary sub-committee. Guess they should at least try and get their figures right, but apparently they are way off the mark ! As there is a strong opposition to a full legalisation, my assumption is that they just tried either to forge figures or picked some figures without the appropriate accuracy check.
That's why ET is useful : get the info right at the source. Thank you for your comment.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 06:34:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 06:19:34 AM EST
First off agnes thanks for taking the time to post on this subject. I am glad it is making it onto ET. I hope more diaries evolve out of these posts.

If there are no objections -and if there are I guess I will only hear about it after the fact, I would like to post several links on this subject, some to audio interviews on the site I maintain on human trafficking.

The first link is to an audio interview with Wim Vandekerckhove and Frank Cool discussing the distance between policy and reality. They discuss their perspectives on how different prostitution policies play out in reality. Wim is a researcher in ethics at the University of Ghent, I have linked to some of his writings on prostitution policy on the site. Frank is the founder of a grass roots group that assists women from Nigeria working as prostitutes in Antwerp; De Ketelpatrouille.

The second link is to an audio interview with Chris de Stoop. Chris de Stoop was one of the first journalist to break the trafficking story of women from the Philippines coming to Belgium. The publication of his first book resulted in numerous police raids on brothels and sex clubs, and led to the implementation of Belgium's anti-trafficking laws and protection infrastructure. Ten years after the publication of his first book, he wrote a second book on trafficking, out of the frustration of the direction the counter-human trafficking movement was taking. What he says, not all will agree with, but he hits me as a relevant voice in the discussion.

In regards to the choice vs. force discussion on prostitution, I wanted to throw in a quote from a group The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. They are again, one voice in the ongoing discussion. Not all agree with them.

"traffic in persons and forced prostitution are manifestations of violence against women and the rejection of these practices, which are a violation of the right to self-determination, must hold within itself the respect for the self-determination of adult persons who are voluntarily engaged in prostitution"

Finally, here is a link to a group in Paris Les Amis du Bus des Femmes. -it is in French...  I have spent some time with this group. They were one of the first groups aware of the trafficking for prostitution story in Paris -actually, as I understand it, members became aware of the situation before they were an actual organization. Agnes maybe you will find something of interest to write about in their 2004 annual report on activities of the organization -pdf

I post these "voices", not as arguments against what has been written, but as voices that possibly, in some way, might be integrated into the conversation. I believe this dialogue is a very important one to have. This issue affects possibly millions of people, many who I perceive to be in the most vulnerable positions in our societies.

Again, thanks for the posts agnes.

by aden on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 10:43:39 AM EST
The problem with prostitution is that it is not a very desirable profession, so we must assume that almost anyone engaged in it is doing so because there are no better economic opportunities.

So, while decriminalizing and improving health care are worthwhile they don't address the basic issue. I'm sure there are a few "escorts" who don't mind the work (too much) because of the high fees they command, but even there it is an economic issue. Where else could they get $1000 for a night's work?

It would be interesting to see what would happen if a government offered to provide (or find) employment for any prostitute that wanted to get out of the business at an income level equal or better to what they were getting from prostitution.

The fallacy is to assume that the employment is voluntary.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 10:56:54 AM EST
 rdf wonders: "It would be interesting to see what would happen if a government offered to provide (or find) employment for any prostitute that wanted to get out of the business...".

The German federal government's job agency (Arbeitsamt) does provide jobs to work in the sex industry. Job openings in brothels are advertised by the agency and unemployed persons are made aware of them. Prostitutes pay the same taxes as other employees, thus they have the same rights to healthcare, payed holidays, maternity leave, sick leave, unemployment cheques, job training programs, retirement and pension payments. Needless to say that the Arbeitsamt doesn't practise gender discrimination.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 04:35:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was suggesting that employment assistance would be towards getting out of the sex business and would be sufficiently lucrative that it would compensate for the undesirable aspects of prostitution.

Helping find work in the same sector is sort of counter productive to my query.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 04:40:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you think is more fun, working as a cartoon character at Euro Disney or as a domina in a Munich brothel? What pays more, where do you meet more interesting clients?

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 04:57:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A comment from Norway, by way of Aftenposten:

Article here

Prostitution is legal in Norway, but the brazen expansion of sex for sale on the streets of Oslo is finally getting politicians to react. One new government minister is launching a campaign to make young potential customers think twice before buying.


The article is longer of course, and while it doesn't focus fully on the point I wished to bring across, it's still worth the read.

Legalising prostitution without legalising pimping creates a market for illegal trafficking. But on the other hand, do you want to legalise pimping? The whole issue seems caught in a catch 22 situation. And don't look at me for answers, I want them myself.

Dub mentality

by Coug (me(AT]tommyb{DOT]info) on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 11:01:48 AM EST
imho we ought to merge these two threads into a Debate...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Nov 30th, 2005 at 04:16:11 PM EST

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