Friday, November 21, 2008

Jacqui Smith and prostitution: where Old Labour prurience meets New Labour cowardice

There has been much talk about the new proposals that make paying for sex with someone who has been trafficked or are otherwise exploited. They are, without doubt, entirely laudable in terms of intent, and any reasonable person would want to see such people protected.

However, as Evan Davis put it so well on the Today programme on Wednesday morning, the new proposals put the emphasis on those using prostitutes to ascertain, beyond doubt, that their 'partner' is taking part of his/her own free will. What that might actually entail is yet to be made clear, probably because it will prove virtually impossible to define what is actually sufficient.

Labour have generally had problems in terms of dealing with human sexuality. They acknowledge that it exists but would rather not talk about it. On one hand, they talk about legislating to ensure that individuals are not discriminated against on grounds of their sexuality (a thoroughly good, liberal notion), yet tend to try to discourage the actual practice of that sexuality. And don't even start on the notion of frank and open discussion of sexuality in its many and varied forms...

Yet again, Labour have come up with a proposal notable only for its attempt to address an issue of concern without actually having the courage of their own convictions. Jacqui Smith believes that prostitution is, in itself, bad, and that most people fall into the sex industry because they are forced into it. The latter is true in many cases, and society has an obligation to help such unfortunates by providing them with the means to escape such an existence.

However, the New Labour approach appears to overlook basic human nature. Using sex workers is risky for most of those using them, and many of those who fear exposure are already likely to avoid temptation rather than takes such a chance. That leaves a hard core of, predominantly but not exclusively, men, for whom need, or the love of risk and/or adventure, makes the use of prostitutes essential in their eyes.

If prostitution is bad, Jacqui should have the courage of her convictions and ban it. On the other hand, if she wants women to be safer, she should crack down on the trafickers, the pimps and those who attack sex workers. Of course, she could always do something that might reduce the risk of driving prostitution underground, provide a safe environment for those in the industry and put things on a legal basis.

Prostitution is known as the world's oldest profession, and the chances of Labour overcoming the laws of supply and demand are remote. So, if I had to give Jacqui some advice, I'd suggest that she legalise prostitution, put it on a proper footing, tax the profits, and provide proper support for those coming into the industry so that they can make a life for themselves doing something else should they wish to.

Instead, they have chosen a piece of legislation which will criminalise people for doing something that they probably won't be aware that they're doing. Given the rate at which Labour criminalise things, the likelihood of anyone leading an entirely innocent life is now so remote that, if the laws were enforced, we'd all be behind bars.

Take that as a no then, Jacqui...


Costigan Quist said...

I agree with you (as you might sort of guess from my blog post on the topic) and I'll add one thing.

An attack Jacqui Smith makes on the legalisers is that it doesn't work that well. She's right - up to a point. The Netherlands still has a big problem with trafficking, illegal prostitution and criminality.

Her argument is along the lines of these liberals say legalising prostitution will make everything better, but the clear evidence is that it won't.

She's right that it won't, and sensible people like your good self aren't claiming it will. But just as Gordon never tires of claiming that the Lib Dems will slash £20 billion in public spending, doubtless Jacqui will continue to raise it as a strawman to beat her opponents with.

Jennie said...

This is another case of New Labour creating a badly drafted law to deal with something that the existing law is fully equipped to deal with. I don't understand why men who "utilise the services" of prostitutes who they KNOW are trafficked (of which there surely are a few) are not charged with rape? The traffickers themselves are guilty of kidnap, and false imprisonment, etc.

The worst bit about this is the nasty implication that most prostitutes are trafficked women, and that all of their customers know this and don't care.

Fully agree with your proposals re: legalising and taxing.

Anonymous said...

Britain isn't isn't liberated, that's just a myth. See what this guy says about it:

Even the Sixties queried the limits of female liberation.