Penalising the punters

I think I can answer this question.

The home secretary has caused a storm with plans to change prostitution laws. She tells Julie Bindel why she is following the global trend to target men who buy sex.

She\’s telling Julie Bindel because Julie Bindel is one of the near hysteric lesbian activists* who have been pushing the line that all prostitution is rape, that all women are forced into it and that it should be abolished (as if we could!).

She explains that demand is one of the main reasons so many women are involved in the sex industry,

I suppose there\’s hope for us all then. At least one Cabinet Minister seems to have realised that "demand" is the reason that most things happen in the economy.

"We need to send out a message to men and to society in general, that most women do not choose to be in prostitution, whereas the buyers have free choice."

Again perfectly correct. Most women do not choose to be in prostitution. There\’s an estimated 80,000 "sex workers" in the country and some 35 million or so women of various ages.  I\’m willing to believe that 34,920,000 out of 35,000,000 is "most".

But that\’s not the question we want to know the answer to. We actually want to know what portion of the 80,000 have chosen prostitution as the least bad of their available options and there the water is murkier. I very seriously doubt whether there\’s more than a few hundred that have been forced into it in the sense of sexual slavery (such slavery obviously being a bad thing and something which is already illegal). I\’m perfectly happy to agree that many more will have been "forced" into it by economic pressures (seeing it as the above "least bad option") but then I\’ve been "forced" into writing for a living rather than riding the paddock ponies at F1 races by economic pressures too: my complete lack of skill at anything at all to do with cars being an unfortunate fact of my life. Similarly, at times I\’ve made my living by washing pots, sorting used ink jet cartridges, risking my life with the Russian metals Mafia, delivering newspapers and waiting table. All of which (at least most of them) earning me less than turning tricks would have done.

It should soon be a criminal offence to pay for sex with someone who is controlled for another person\’s gain – and it will be no defence for buyers to claim that they were unaware that a person was trafficked, pimped, or debt-bonded to their drug dealer or landlord.

We\’re actually at serious danger of debasing the language here. What does "trafficked" mean for example? There\’s what I think everyone would agree was such, kidnapped, smuggled in, held prisoner….a slave in fact. Here\’s what it seems to mean to campaigners like Bindel though….an illegal immigrant who works in the sex trade. And that\’s a much more expansive meaning. For example, somone might have paid to be smuggled, voluntarily, in order to enter the trade. Someone might have simply moved in order to do so: Gary Becker looked at this decades ago and pointed out that becoming a prostitute lowers your social capital. Thus people tend to do it away from home which is where your social capital is essentially located. While women used to move from hometown to next town (and anyone who has travelled on late night InterCity in the 80s and 90s would know that women would travel from S Wales to Swindon for example, the smoking carriages were full of loud conversations about the night\’s takings) with travel ever cheaper, why not country to country?

And "pimped"? Are these twits unaware that many working girls actually prefer to use a pimp? Not read Steven Levitt\’s research, showing that even after the slice taken by the pimp the nett earnings were higher for those who did? This is exploitation in the same way that an actor hiring an agent is.

According to government statistics, 4,000 women and children have been trafficked into prostitution in the UK at any one time, but the police suggest the real figure is far higher – studies have found that at least 70% of women working in UK brothels are trafficked from places such as Africa, Asia and eastern Europe.

This is where our definition of "trafficking" is so important. The use here is "imported" which is not the same at all (see Becker above) as the meaning of "sex slave".

Lithuania and Finland both have laws similar to Britain\’s new approach, making it illegal to pay for sex with a trafficked woman.

If "trafficked" means "sex slave" then this is already illegal in Britan as well. Sex without consent is known as rape, no? If it means imported then you\’d better not think of shagging that Spanish bird you met on holiday and invited over then.

but well over half agreed that paying for sex with a trafficked woman should be criminalised.

Indeed, our varied meanings of "trafficked" again.

In 1984, for instance, Victoria was the first Australian state to legalise prostitution, and the main arguments put forward for the move (including by pimps and brothel owners) were that this would sever prostitution from organised crime and make the trade much safer for the women involved.

The reality does not match that early promise, as underlined by the occupational health and safety advice that is handed out to women by states that have legalised the trade. Women are advised to pretend they have a stomach upset if a buyer "insists on anal sex without a condom"; they are told to be careful when injecting local anaesthetic into their vagina, as it can mask more "serious injuries". (The idea that anyone would inject anaesthetic into their vagina is a stark reminder of the trade\’s brutality.) Then there is the advice that women should "learn basic self-defence", "be aware some clients can be rough" and that, when visiting a buyer\’s home, they should check for signs of a planned gang-rape, including loud music and too many cars in the drive.

Are we to assume that none of these things happen in places where prostitution is illegal? In fact, if you go and scour the net (as I once did for a sadly unpublished book project) you\’ll find the blog of a black escort in London where she says she\’s very glad that it is legal for her to sell here: it means that if she is threatened with violence by a customer she has the same rights to call the police for help as anyone else facing assault does.

This reflects the situation in Nevada, the only US state to legalise brothels, where the illegal prostitution industry is currently nine times larger than the legal one.

That\’s simply shameless. Prostitution is legal in a small number of counties in Nevada. They happen to be the counties with very few people in them. Of course the prostitution trade in Las Vegas (illegal but many people) is larger than that in somewhere with 3 residents and a few horses.

"I am willing to accept that there are women out there who say they have chosen to sell sex, but they are in the minority, and laws are there to protect the majority."

No love, that\’s the part of your case that you haven\’t made yet.

*The phrase here is "lesbian activist", not "lesbian" activist. Bindel\’s not just arguing (correctly of course) that lesbians have as of right the same civil liberties we all do. She\’s arguing other things which come directly from a certain view of human sexuality.

5 thoughts on “Penalising the punters”

  1. Spot on. My view exactly.

    Harriet Harman, AFAICT, intentionally used the “brought in”/”trafficked” term on C4 News to give the impression to the audience and that little maggot in her cranium functioning as her brain that it meant “sex slave”. She is Lord Privy Seal, yet she willingly makes such disingenuous statements. For shame.

  2. Maybe there is something in this Labour idea that you have to have people who properly represent those whom they serve/MP it over, ie blacks, women, gays etc.

    ALL women should be BARRED from decisions relating to MALE sexuality – they simply cannot understand it.

    Only males have the understanding of men’s hormonal functioning.

    If that does not blow a fuse with Smith and HHarpie, nothing ever will.

    Alan Douglas

  3. “I am willing to accept that there are women out there who say they have chosen to sell sex, but they are in the minority, and laws are there to protect the majority.”

    To quote steepholm commenting on CiF:
    “So, we now have a Home Secretary who’s on record as saying that she doesn’t think the law should protect minorities!”

  4. “This reflects the situation in Nevada, the only US state to legalise brothels, where the illegal prostitution industry is currently nine times larger than the legal one.”

    I do not know how it constitutes an argument against legalization anyway.

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