Tackling prostitution

The issue of prostitution was raised in a Question in the Lords yesterday.  This is a subject I have previously blogged about.   The minister, Lord McNally, said the Government was in listening mode and that they were looking at practice in other countries.

As readers have previously noted, whatever one’s views on the subject, it is not something that is going to go away.  Recent events have shown how dangerous prostitution can be.   That was touched upon by the minister.  Given the dangers and given the Government’s commitment to localism, would not one solution be to empower local authorities to designate specific buildings which are not then subject to the existing criminal law on prostitution?  This would allow each authority to tackle the subject as it thinks appropriate to local circumstances, including the need to safeguard residential areas presently plagued by prostitutes touting for business.


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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7 Responses to Tackling prostitution

  1. Carl.H says:

    My Noble Lord, reading through the text I can see that the old stereotypical image of prostitution still exists within the House. In my experience in dealing with advertising for Massage Parlours/Brothels and meeeting many of the young ladies it is not a drug fuelled environment nor is it an organised crime enterprise.

    Most of these ladies wish to work in the industry, the pay is good and educational qualifications are not necessary. We tend to make it a big thing that these ladies sell their bodies whilst accepting other types of employment which can be equally telling on the body. The fact is our Victorian ways still exist and it appears moreso in politics, what is so sordid about sex ?

    Obviously some people find it disdainful to sell sex but is it any better to give it away ? If no money changes hands does that make it alright ? I know of many young ladies who exchange their bodies for cocaine and the like who are not prostitutes, I know many more who go out on the hunt nightly purely for sex.

    We are a capitalist society, if you have a skill or a product you make use of that. Why do we find the sex industry so difficult to deal with ? It appears to me it is the money we find sordid but why should we ? There is no cry for a clampdown on swingers, swappers or doggers, so sex does not appear the issue.

    The issue is that some think that the prostitute is someway abused because he/she becomes a commodity. So the issue appears to be allowing your body to be used for monetary gain…. Aren`t soldiers bodies used for gain ? What about sewer workers ? Prostitution is thousands of years old even in places where it was highly illegal there women marrying for money, it`s the same thing but glossed over.

    The Lords talk of helping women out of prostitution, most don`t want it, they enjoy the freedom the job gives and financial rewards. Yes there are drawbacks but let me say that working in Parlours puts the prostitute firmly in charge of what happens there and what they will and will not allow.

    There are some issues that legalising prostitution would bring, not least costs. Most of these Parlours/Brothels run illegally although in full view of the Police and Authorities most of the time. They pay taxes like everyone else on their earnings but if Local Authorities are involved they would rightly claim they need to pay business tax on premises and such, there would also be other costs involved if it were legalised, licensing, health inspections etc. The worry then would be would the cost be too much to be legal ? Would this create an alternate illegal world of prostitution ?

    If legalised we then have the problem of where, everyone wants transparency but no one appears to want this industry as a next door neighbour. Believe me you`d hardly notice if it were next door and it would surprise many to know how many leafy suburbs hide the industry.

    With the advent of the internet more girls are becoming independent but still want to work together for safety sake. They are forming small co-operatives and there are no pimps involved, they do have trouble with accomodation as legislation puts landlords in the realms of running a brothel. Those landlords who are willing to take a risk of course do so at advantageous rates…….The law as it stands increases exploitation of the women.

    I have a door into prostitution, I am not a pimp nor am I a punter if any member should like to approach me to use that door for a fact finding mission I am willing to do my best.

    Please, please do not stereotype these young ladies as herion addicted (and I hate this word) whores, they`re not most are sisters, Mums, Aunts etc., that you really wouldn`t know earn their money in this way.

    One of the things when legislation is mentioned is dealing with it from the demand side. Let me say that speaking as someone with close ties but no experience of it I can see that from a punters perspective it is an addiction, a powerful one. I know of men that spend hundreds of pounds a week satisfying their addiction, believe me it would be unfair if not cruel to penalise these addicts for doing something that hurts no one and is agreed to by both parties. What is happening in terms of the punter is that some are still accepting stereotypical values and saying they are men they must be abusers, believe me this is far from the truth.

    We have to be grown up, we have to accept that prostitution is not going to go away no matter the law. What we have to do is make it as safe, healthy and discrete as we can inside the law so that it is controlled as much as is possible.

    The only way to stop the occurences of abuse, of exploitation and trafficking, all of which are rare , is to bring the industry under control by legalising it. Making it illegal does not wipe it from existence.

  2. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    Is it entirely free of criminal penalty to be”looking at practice in other countries”. If they are doing this in listening mode is it an internet porn service in Westminster itself?
    I am not sure if prostitution always involves practice in the sense of rehearsal to prepare for the actual prostitution so perhaps the craft as practiced is meant. I suppose it is the lingering influence of our Puritan Yankee minority of founders but I am not sure the Congress would admit to voyeurism with the same level of honesty. As occupied as my mind is with the spill in the Gulf of Mexico I may have overlooked some fine point here.

  3. I do realise this was Tom McNally’s first appearance at the dispatch box in this capacity, but a number of things need pointing out. Neither ‘The Happy Hooker’ nor ‘Belle de Jour’ were works of fiction, for example: both were autobiographical. Holland legalised prostitution, it did not decriminalise it.

    For some reason, whenever New Zealand prostitution policy is mentioned to a Home Office minister, they invariably start talking about Holland. In the last government, Vernon Coaker, Vera Baird and Barbara Follett were urged to study New Zealand‘s prostitution policy. Where did they go? Amsterdam. Thank God they weren’t at the MoD, or the Iraq war would have led us to invading Cuba or somewhere.

    There is a world of difference between the prostitution policies of Holland and of New Zealand.

    But if Lord McN is right on one thing, it is that there’s no silver bullet.

    As to your specific proposal, I shall try to address it in the context of street survival sex workers, which I believe covers the Ipswich and Bradford victims, as I think you probably proposed it with them in mind. However, these are only about 15% of the UK sex worker population.

    I cannot see local councils falling over themselves to legalise premises. It may be worth a trial in two or three areas, with the very limited number of councils that are more broadminded on the issue – Liverpool comes to mind – but one has also to consider that a large proportion of the survival street worker population is addicted to heroin or crack cocaine. Exempting premises from prostitution laws would therefore have little effect if they could be closed and their inhabitants prosecuted anyway under drug laws.

    Unlike survival sex workers, the vast bulk of sex workers are not motivated by the need to feed a drugs habit.

    Back to the survival workers, and it may be possible to forge something that worked if it functioned hand in glove with a drug rehabilitation scheme. Even if the state failed to wean the sex workers from the drugs, and simply provided and administered them, this would have the advantages of denying the suppliers the income; of ensuring the drugs are pure; of ensuring needles are clean and properly disposed of (needles apparently being a larger transmitter of HIV to survival sex workers than sex); and of ensuring the drugs are not sold on by the sex workers.

    And there is also a significant minority of street sex workers that are not addicted.

    There would be clear advantages. Not only, within the premises, would they be able to support each other and raise the alarm if things went awry, but also a considerable amount of violence to street sex workers comes not from clients but from the public though stigma, from whom they would be protected by bricks and mortar.

    However, the consensus among sex workers on an international list I belong to, when I asked them about the street market sometime ago, was that there is a street market everywhere, and always will be, because it has the advantage of low cost and also of convenience.

    Lord McN mentions “the three issues that come up time and again in any study of this problem are drug dependency, homelessness and unemployment.” However, sex workers are not unemployed because they are sex workers. Indeed, the extremes to which street sex workers go to find work would surely be regarded as extremely commendable in any other field.

    We can all remember Lord Tebbit saying: “I grew up in the ’30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking ’til he found it,” don‘t we? I wonder if anyone’s asked him what his mother did to find work.

    Lord T made that remark as a response to the spate of inner city riots in the summer of 1981. One of the later results of these was the importation of kerb crawling laws from America, where they don’t work either. The net, and very obvious, effect was to remove the law abiding from street sex workers’ clients, making them dependent on those that are not law abiding.

    David Cameron’s proposal that a fitting response to Bradford would be further perpetration of kerb crawling clampdowns is patent nonsense. How many serial killers are likely to say to themselves: “Well, I really do fancy murdering some prostitutes tonight, but seeing as how there’s kerb crawling laws, I best stay in and watch Coronation Street“?

    If the police spent half the time monitoring men they know to be seriously violent that they do enforcing kerb crawling laws, the UK would be a safer place.

    Alongside drug dependency and homelessness, not unemployment, but criminal justice interventions such as anti-soliciting drives and kerb-crawling clampdowns have been positively correlated with increased violence to sex workers in this Vancouver study, which I think I’ve told you of before, but I would particularly commend the section headed ‘discussion‘.

    A much greater advance would be achieved if we simply provided a statutory definition of a brothel, which we’ve never done before, and enabled sufficient sex workers to work together to enable safety.

    This would not stop possible action to prevent nuisance, just as it is perfectly possible to stop someone turning their house into a fish and chip shop or a hair salon if it is unsuitable on planning grounds.

    However, what is needed is a complete overhaul of the criminal, civil and common law regarding sex work. Until we grasp that, we’re endlessly rearranging the proverbial deckchairs on the Titanic.

  4. How very interesting, ladytizzy, thank you so much. I am rather pleased Mr Burns’ cummupence was endorsed by the Court of Appeal, rotten sod! I shall spread the word…

  5. Carl.H says:

    Today a recently opened “Massage Parlour” was closed by Police. This was local police who stated catagorically the reason being he found the trade “filthy”. One girl a day operated from the premises.

    All the girls payed tax and NI, the owners too, the house was bought outright and not rented. There were no known complaints by neighbours or others.

    A parlour two miles down the road, of longstanding, is allowed to carry on it`s business unhindered. Two girls a day operate here.

    This grey area where certain Police forces, beat coppers tolerate some businesses but not others HAS to change. It is blatantly unfair and unjust.

    Whatever side your opinion is you can see that at present this is clearly wrong. Six girls are now seeking employment elsewhere and will find it, their employers next time may not have such a safe, healthy environment for them to work in or indeed be so caring as these were.

  6. Can we get the taxonomy of nomenclature sorted out?

    Democratic societies function on the principle that actions are allowable by default. If the State feels that it should be a party to the remedy of a harm it proscribes that activity within its criminal law (criminalises it). If attitudes change that activity can be removed from the criminal law (decriminalised).

    The concept of ‘legalisation’ is a confusing fiction. If an activity does not fall within the criminal law it may still fall within the scope of administrative and civil law, and therefore be regulated. For instance were sexual services establishments (brothels) to be removed from the criminal law, they would be considered commercial establishments. As such they would be subject to employment law, occupational health and safety regulations and zoning by-laws, in addition to taxation.

    When sex workers and researchers refer to ‘legalisation’ they usually do so in the negative, implying that the regulations within a non-criminal context are excessive in relation to similar businesses, intrusive, non-evidence based and discriminatory. Examples would be excessive licensing fees and mandatory health checks, for which there is no rational basis.

    This harks back to bad memories of the nineteenth century French Réglementation introduced by Napoleon and widely copied. This system was largely abolished in Europe in the early twentieth century (hence abolitionism).

    When the sex business is over-regulated, it invariably develops resistance, splitting off an “illegal” sector that is non-conforming.

    The principle of ‘De minimus’ should apply. New Zealand is generally considered a model of minimal regulation.

    Goodyear M: Controlling Loose Women: The regulation of sexual exchange. 2009

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