Legalise brothels? There is a better way

// 20 December 2006

News about the Ipswich murders is still coming in thick and fast. But meanwhile, the case has provoked a flurry of debate over legalising prostitution.

In the Guardian today, Simon Jenkins adds his cry to the voices calling for legalising brothels, arguing that the murders “prove how badly we need Tory libertarians”. Yep, that’s right, Jenkins thinks its time to call in Cameron’s brigade. Setting aside the fact that it is utterly unbelievable that the Tories would ever support something like this, let’s hope they don’t.

The BBC is running a page of emails it has received from prostitutes around the world. Here’s an example from the top:

For all of you non-prostitutes out there talking about us women who have sold sex, you have to realise that the damage to us is massive. Financial help, a few encouraging words, won’t do it. Sticking us in ‘tolerance zones’ won’t do it. Maybe ongoing psychological care, over a period of many years, will help? I don’t know. Maybe there is really no escape from this rape prison called prostitution?

And if that doesn’t convince you, then check out the Poppy Project – which shelters trafficked women.

Joan Smith in the Independent has another idea: let’s follow the Swedish model.

In Sweden, it is the men who pay for sex who are criminalised, not the prostitutes.

I think it says something pretty profound about our society that men who pay for sex are not breaking any laws. Not only do prostitutes face society’s censure, but they face the full force of the law. The phrase “it takes two to tango” clearly does not apply.

They are often women who were sexually abused as children, who have spent much of their lives in local authority care, who depend on Class A drugs, and whose daily experience is degradation at the hands of violent, misogynist clients; according to a Canadian study, prostitutes are 40 times more likely to be murdered than the rest of the female population. It’s crazy to think the answer to this problem of systematic long-term abuse is to make it easier for men to buy women – but that’s exactly what tolerance zones or legalised brothels do.

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