Calls to legalise prostitution during football World Cup in South Africa.

// 12 October 2009

The Observer reports that prostitution may be made temporarily legal in South Africa during the football World Cup in 2010 in order to try and “limit HIV infection among millions of fans visiting the country for the tournament”. Nice to see that football fans’ desire to use sex workers is so much more important that the health and safety of the sex workers themselves, huh?

Those who support the proposals are calling for the registration and mandatory HIV testing of sex workers – 50% of whom are estimated to be infected with the virus – meaning only those who pass the test will be able to legally engage in sex work. South African sex workers’ rights and advocacy group SWEAT explain why mandatory HIV testing is not in sex workers’ best interests:

Window periods in which infections cannot be detected

It is common knowledge that certain diseases, such as HIV, can exist in the body for a certain period without being picked up in medical tests. The virus can be transmitted during this period. A client who expects a sex worker to be free of STI’s because he/she has a health certificate stipulating this, may be more likely to insist on unprotected sex and may become infected. Mandatory testing thus increases the risk of contracting HIV rather than minimising this risk.

Violation of rights

The South African Constitution guarantees the right not to be unfairly discriminated against, the right to dignity, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom and security of the person. All these rights would be violated by laws requiring sex workers to have compulsory checkups.

Furthermore, compulsory testing for HIV contravenes the HIV/AIDS Charter.

Sex workers are made responsible for the spread of HIV & STI’s

Requiring sex workers to undergo mandatory health checks places the responsibility for the transfer of STI’s solely with the sex worker. The medical fact that male clients are more likely to infect female sex workers is ignored.

By requiring only sex workers to have check ups, authorities are stating that they are not interested in the health of the sex worker but are merely concerned with the health of the client.

Furthermore, by criminalising sex workers who are infected, authorities discourage sex workers from being tested.

More here.

HIV/AIDs campaigners have spoken out against the proposals, arguing that the government should not be prioritising concern for foreigners over its own citizens:

“The clear way forward to help tackle the tens of thousands of women forced into prostitution through poverty is to legalise it now, not to make it a temporary measure for the World Cup,” said Vuyiseka Dubula of the Treatment Action Campaign.

“We need prostitution decriminalised now so we can start to help these women, many of whom have been abused and brutalised from a young age.”

I guess it’s too much to ask that football fans try and find it within themselves to keep it in their pants and not risk perpetuating that abuse.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 12 October 2009 at 2:05 pm

Definitely not Laura because as we all know it is men’s innate right to have sexual access to any woman or child whenever they wish. Also, it is always women who are supposedly the ones responsible for transmitting HIV/Aids to poor innocent men, rather than reality HIV/Aids is predominantly transmitted from male to female via penetrative sexual activity, but that fact must not be mentioned.

The usual myths surrounding prostitution are being promoted yet again – how to end male sexual exploitation of women and girls? Why adopt the Nordic model of course – criminalise male buyers and provide sufficent exit strategies to enable prostituted women exit such exploitation.

Reminder – no one, but particularly men, has the innate right of sexual access to another human being. Slavery was finally seen for what it is – exploitation of certain groups by white dominant males and it is high time prostitution is seen for what it is – male sexual exploitation and male sexual violence against women and children.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 12 October 2009 at 3:36 pm

but… doesnt that pretty much mean they want to legalise sex with HIV negative sex workers so that they can get AIDS from football fans, then ban them from work again, having likely contracted the disease? what is that? show us who you are and we will infect you with a disease? they trying to get rid of the women or something? 0.o

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 12 October 2009 at 7:52 pm

Dear Laura,

I would agree with much of what you have written here. The problem as I see it is that there are so many contradictory voices in contemporary feminism surrounding prostitution that it has become a veritable minefield.

To begin with, a significant number of higher-end prostitutes identify themselves as feminists and are proud of making a very good living out of their sexuality on their own terms. Indeed many would describe their experiences as “empowering.” As you might guess my personal view is quite anti-prostitution and I find it quite hard to accept their arguments although I suppose we do have to keep an open mind about it. Many of these higher-end “voluntary” prostitutes would also probably take issue with your last paragraph that seems to hold their punters in contempt.

Jennifer here is in favour of the Swedish model although I do not agree with her for reasons of basic economincs. Criminalising clients results in fewer punters and so reduces the bargaining power of prostitutes, who are forced to sing louder for their supper.

I think the “liberal” model of legalising and regulating prostitution is the best compromise, whilst ensuring that there are services in place to help any women that want to move out of the job.

Regarding the health testing of prostitutes once again I have mixed feelings. I think regular testing of health workers does help control the disease. Ideally clients should be tested as well but how is this going to be enforceable or practical? Remember that if a client contracts HIV from a prostitute he will also probably pass it on to many other uninfected prostitutes.

gadgetgal // Posted 12 October 2009 at 8:34 pm

@ Daniela

Good points, and I agree with you about the Swedish model versus a more liberal one – if it was made legal with services for women who want to leave the profession it could even have the beneficial effect of increasing their bargaining power – they would be in a better position to call the shots, be able to insist upon protection, maybe they could even make it a requirement for punters to get tested beforehand. That way it takes the onus off them, and if the stigma is removed then I reckon most of them would want to get tested anyway – you need free and easy access to sexual health services, not weird draconian laws forcing people to get them!

Rita // Posted 12 October 2009 at 9:15 pm

Not to forget that they are reaffirming that AIDS /HIV is for black people. ugh

Do not have unprotected sex, that’s all i can say, to both fans and sex workers.

Stuart // Posted 12 October 2009 at 9:48 pm

The fundamental difference here to me is between those who believe a better world is possible and those who think that all we can do is make the best of a bad situation. Prostitution is no more natural or inevitable to me than slavery was and there is no reason why we can’t abolish it if the right measures are taken and our society moves in the right direction.

It is possible of course that in the short term adopting the Nordic model could make it harder for women in prostitution to achieve an income. But I don’t believe that a certain group of often highly exploited and vulnerable women need always be set aside to sexually service men for money. According to all available research nearly all of the women in prostitution want out and our society needs to support them by helping them deal with any underlying problems they have and to find alternative employment. Considering how many prostituted women have serious drug addictions an extremely extremely important step would be for the state to provide drugs such as heroin free to addicts.

The Nordic model (which is currently in force in Sweden, Norway and Iceland – three of the world’s top countries for gender equality) is the only approach which actually works when it comes to reducing the scale of the sex industry and reducing sex trafficking. It’s also of immense importance with regards to sending out a message as to what type of society we want to live in and the place of women and men within it. If we want to tackle the sense of entitlement which men feel over women’s bodies then we need to make clear that buying and selling human beings is wrong.

Kelly // Posted 12 October 2009 at 10:48 pm

Why is news from South Africa constantly concerning some piece of misogyny? You know what ‘temporary’ legalisation leads to.. Why is it ok for the football games? A bit of fun for the masses, bending legalities?

My position is, I agree with prostitution needing to be safer and kept from the streets; but women’s bodies being purchasable, the only consent being for money, and the misogynist attitudes in prostitution (read anything on PUNTERNET UK) mean it’s a bad thing through and through.

I love the double logic used to oppress women. Nasty assortments of drugs are in bounds on the streets, but do we legalise that to keep it ‘safe’ in its contents? No! Because drug use is apparently inherently bad. Only yobs do it. Whereas of course we all know there’s something natural about the ultimate oppression of women. And nice gentlemen use prostitutes. It’s always more about keeping it safe for these ‘nice gentlemen’ than the women themselves.


Knitted Brow // Posted 12 October 2009 at 11:53 pm

This kind of treatment of prostituted women is fairly typical of government when there is an expected influx of men (think comfort women in WW2 and the concern about venereal disease for Japanese soldiers for one example). It says a lot about how male sexuality is perceived: it is uncontrollable and needs to be placated by local prostituted women in the absence of wives and girlfriends. It is the same thinking that propels the belief that men have to have sex otherwise they will rape someone. It is a shame that not much has changed.

It is not surprising that this regulation is suggested in relation to sports fans also, when being a macho sports lover (and fighting as soldiers too) is just as bound up in this version of masculinity as the mythic ferocious libido is. I wonder if the same sort of government regulations would be bought into play it were to be a large conference of computer programmers or teachers instead.

In response to legalised prostitution, I think it really is the state’s way of condoning the abuse and rape of women, and profiting from the taxes it receives from registered brothels.

Claire // Posted 13 October 2009 at 9:05 am

I think there are useful parallels to draw between prostitution and the way most countries are now evolving in the legal handling of bribery and corruption. The UN guidance on anti-bribery is to make the giving of the bribe illegal but the receiving legal (with a caveat). So the man (or woman) engaging the prostitute would be commiting an illegal act. The acceptance of the bribe is legal provided it is declared within six months. So if a prostitute wants to run a business then it must be run as such, above board and legitimately, paying her taxes like the rest of us, and with health and safety provision or she runs the risk of criminal penalties. I prefer this model to the current model (though I have real misgivings about women making prostitution a career decision). I suggest this half-sarcastically. What I like about it is that the criminal onus is put absolutely where it ought to be – on the person who pays. Why not withdraw tickets to games to people found out to have been engaging prostitutes during the World Cup. Make men make a straight choice: either enjoy the matches or engage in criminal activity, but you can’t do both. Raid the brothels and imprison the men long enough so that they miss the vital matches. Associating sex with football give it a sleaze which professional clubs ought to want to disassociate themselves from. Let it be in people’s employment contracts too – footballers and supporters alike – if you are found to have engaged in the criminal act of engaging a prostitute, you will be fired.

ros // Posted 13 October 2009 at 10:32 am

contagious diseases act all over again, no? c’est ridicule..

Rita // Posted 13 October 2009 at 11:40 am

And the need to legalise prostitution around only that time makes me wonder who exactly is going to benefit from this trade. I am guessing that they are going to pu safe places but the ones benefitting will be the so called ‘pimps’. And if this trade is approved, i can imagine women being forced into selling themselves against their will, just for others to earn money.

People need to be responsible for themselves and use protection or keep it in thier pants if they do not want to get HIV/AIDS.

And i have heard that in south africa the rates of female rapes are high. My question is,


Laura // Posted 13 October 2009 at 11:50 am


From what I’ve read, there’s a whole range of prostitution research with a whole range of conclusions dependent on researcher biases, the country in which the research was undertaken and the sample size and type used. At least some of the research which concludes that nearly all women want to exit prostitution was carried out on street sex workers, who are in a different position to other sex workers. I’m not an expert on the subject, and have never engaged in sex work or worked with organisations that support sex workers (which is why I quoted a sex workers’ rights organisation in the post rather than using my own uninformed arguments), but it’s clear to me that sex work comes in many forms and affects women (and men) in many different ways and there’s no one correct “solution” that can help and support those who are engaged in it.

It’s all very well to say that we should believe a better world is possible, but right now women and men are suffering, and simply making what they do harder and potentially more dangerous by criminalising either them, or their clients, or both, is not going to help, in my opinion. I think the Nordic model sounds great in theory, but it assumes that all sex workers want or are able to immediately stop engaging in sex work. Some either don’t or can’t, and criminalising the people they make money out of can force them to work in more dangerous conditions as the clients need to ensure they are not caught by police. There have been positive reports from Nordic countries as well – again, it’s hard to decide what to believe because there are so many biases involved in prostitution reporting and research. From what I’ve read these are focused on a general reduction in the use of sex workers and in trafficking (some argue that traffickers are simply taking women to different countries), but if this comes at the price of sex work getting more dangerous for those who are still engaged in it I don’t think any kind of victory can be claimed.

Kath // Posted 13 October 2009 at 12:34 pm

I agree with Jennifer Drew and Stuart on the merits of the Nordic model.

Laura, you are right to point out some of its shortcomings, no system is perfect, but it is disingenuous for you to suggest that anyone here is talking about criminalising prostitutes themselves as the only systems that have been mentioned are those that criminalise clients, or no-one.

Laura // Posted 13 October 2009 at 12:43 pm

Kath – Stuart mentioned abolishing prostitution, so I briefly referred to criminalising prostitutes because some people would argue that complete criminalisation is necessary in order to do so. I didn’t mean to imply that anyone here had suggested it.

Claire // Posted 13 October 2009 at 12:44 pm

Actually I did suggest criminalising prostitutes – but only to the extent that they do not operate proper businesses in accordance with a belief (which I don’t agree with) that some women may choose prostitution as a career. Careers require people to pay taxes, follow health and safety guidance etc. To the extent anyone in business, whether prostitution or not, fails to comply with the law on taxes and other company/sole trader legislation then I would criminalise them, but the crime is a business crime and not the crime in itself of being a prostitute – like mini-cab drivers should be licensed for example.

gadgetgal // Posted 13 October 2009 at 12:52 pm

I think maybe we need to adopt a more combined approach rather than the “either/or” situation we’re in now – it seems that most people are arguing for one model or another but not considering the possibility that they’re not mutually exclusive.

For example, adopting a liberal model of legalisation would be a bad thing unless sufficient measures are adopted to make sure the women (and men) who want to leave are able – there are many studies to suggest different numbers of women in particular who want to leave and, although the numbers themselves can turn out fairly different depending upon circumstances, it seems this is a job that has a much higher rate of people who want to leave it than most other professions I know of, and a higher rate of people being forced to do it in the first place. As I said, just legalising it won’t help, but combining that with the help that they want and the testing services they need might go some way towards it.

Also I think if this model is adopted that doesn’t then exclude penalising the punters (who create the industry) as well – I’ve not been a huge fan of the way smokers are being marginalised recently but you have to admit it has interesting possibilities. At the moment there is a ban on smoking in most public places, with businesses even being allowed to dictate whether or not a person smokes in front of the building or behind. Massive disgusting health warnings are put across all tobacco products to put people off buying it. New laws might be going through to remove them from public view at shops and also bar their sale in vending machines. And by all accounts this could work – smoking was already decreasing anyway, and I know a whole bunch of smokers who would never have considered quitting before who are trying now, and even mentioned the warning labels as one of their reasons! As I said I think it’s unfair that they’ve been singled out over and above anyone else, especially since it IS legal, but if we can do it protect people’s health then why can’t we do it to protect people’s overall well-being? Imagine restrictions that force people to get tested prior to using sexual services – that in itself would be enough to put a lot of people off, either because of the hassle or the fear that someone might find out about it. And then all the laws covering child prostitution, human trafficking, sexual slavery, etc. etc. can finally come into force – they’re already there, we just need to make sure they’re enforced, and not at the expense of the people they’re supposed to be protecting!

Actually, I only just thought of this now – nearly everything we do is regulated. If I want a job my employers will do a criminal check on me, they’re allowed to drug test me if they want or fire me if I say no, I’m only allowed to buy certain things in certain places – why can’t it be the same in prostitution? If it’s not illegal but by the same token not as easy to obtain then it could be a way forward?

Don’t know, I’m babbling now because I only just thought about it – am going to google it and see if anyone else has suggested it, or done studies on it.

Stuart // Posted 13 October 2009 at 1:36 pm

Like Kath I’m totally opposed to any laws that criminalise women involved in prostitution. While I don’t disagree that every system has its potential drawbacks I believe the Nordic model is the only one that begins to tackle the sense of male entitlement and which sees prostitution as something that can and should be ultimately abolished. I know that talking about building a better world can sometimes sound utopian and removed from the concrete problems which exist at any given time but what I mean is that a division often exists between those who want to fundamentally and collectively challenge the patriarchal, capitalist system and those who believe that all we can hope for is to gain the best life possible for ourselves as individuals within a system which is ultimately stacked against us.

I’ve followed the introduction of the new law in Norway (since the 1st of January this year) quite closely and there have indeed been some concerns expressed about the situation worsening for some of the women remaining in prostitution. But the largest worry, as far as I can see, for Norwegian feminists is that the law has not been properly enforced and that not all of the promised resources have been made available to help women leave the industry. In Oslo where the police have made a reasonable attempt to apply the new law there’s been an estimated reduction in prostitution of up to 80 or 90%. In Bergen on the other hand where they’ve adopted a more lax approach there hasn’t so far been any significant fall.

That conditions could become more dangerous is certainly a real concern to me and simply criminalising the purchase of sex while leaving prostituted women to fend for themselves is of course never going to work and risks making a bad situation worse. So any new law needs to combined with a comprehensive range of services and forms of support made available to the women (and men) affected. As I said we need to do something radical when it comes to helping those affected by drug addictions since the majority of prostituted women in the UK are themselves addicts.

Finally as I also mentioned in my last post I think the potential effects of the law on public attitudes is perhaps one of its greatest merits. Like in Sweden we should be educating children about the sex industry in schools and about the social harm prostitution causes and its wider consequences from a gender perspective. If by contrast we were to adopt a legalisation/regulation approach we would be sending out the message that buying and selling women’s bodies is a legitimate and acceptable way for men to satisfy their so-called sexual ‘needs’.

Holly Combe // Posted 13 October 2009 at 5:48 pm

Stuart, I think the problem with the Nordic model is that, as Laura says, criminalising clients could actually -as far as I understand it- make sex workers’ lives harder. You say conditions becoming more dangerous is a concern for you and, to follow on from the reasons already outlined by Laura, I think it’s worth considering what kind of clients would be more inclined to think twice about their behaviour if the law was harder on them. Would an increase in risk instil a greater sense of responsibility in clients to try and assess each situation ethically and not proceed if it seemed like there was something wrong or the sex worker was in a state where they may not be able to actively give consent? I doubt it. Surely, if paying for sex is seen as a degrading and disgusting thing to do under any circumstances, there’s little incentive for clients to be decent at all?

I disagree that “all available research” on sex work draws the conclusion that “nearly all of the women in prostitution want out” and am uncomfortable with any sweeping reference to “the majority of prostituted women in the UK”. As Laura says, there is a range of prostitution research out there and the biases of the researchers have to be considered. It just seems to me that there are a lot of people, including “experts”, with a lot of things to say about the apparent reality of sex work and they all seem to make big generalisations according to whatever their agenda is. I don’t think anyone should attempt to speak for all sex workers. Surely the reality of sex work is often far more complicated than anyone who has never engaged in sex work could ever really understand?

I have to say I’m uncomfortable with your seeming assumptions that 1) all sex workers are “set aside” passively by those with power and 2) the history of sex work tending to be about the sexual servicing of men for money (or conservative assumptions about men’s sexual needs) means it can only ever be this.

I would also suggest we need to think about why sex work should be seen as automatically so much more degrading than other kinds of work. You talk about “helping” sex workers to find “alternative employment” but is the alternative work available necessarily going to be so much better or somehow less exploitative? EDIT: What if a sex worker doesn’t want that kind of help? What if s/he doesn’t want to exit?

Holly Combe // Posted 13 October 2009 at 5:58 pm

Claire, if you don’t agree with the belief that women may choose prostitution as a career, why make things even more complicated and fraught for those who haven’t entered into it wholeheartedly? Such scepticism seems, to me, to make your suggestion come across as something of a warning/punishment to anyone who might, in theory, dare to choose to become a sex worker. In principle, I think it’s fair that any genuine business should be taxed and follow health and safety guidance but taken in the “half sarcastic” context of what you say, the proposal does seem a little like a punitive case of “you can’t have it both ways so maybe now you’ll think twice about doing it!”

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 13 October 2009 at 8:02 pm

Dear Stuart,

Although I appreciate your concern about women’s issues I feel you are being misguided here. I agree that the world would be a better place without any prostitution. The impetus for not engaging in prostitution, however, should come from a free personal choice and not by a legal obligation, as that would just mean imposing our moral values on everyone else.

Holly and Laura correctly point out that reliable data on the sex industry is not available. There are however many higher-end prostitutes who have the skills and resources to maintain their own blogs and online appointment lists, tour dates, etc. I find it difficult to believe that these women are coerced into the job and their advertised hourly rates suggest that they are making much more money than the average wage, even if they see just one client a day. As a feminist, I am certainly not going to parade their lifestyle as a sisterhood triumph, but I still feel it is my duty to fight for their right of self-determination.

Let us move on to the prostitutes in the lower end of the scale who want out but can’t afford to quit. Surely the way to tackle the root of the problem is generous welfare and more job opportunities. The need to ban prostitution would then be superfluous as they could afford to just stay at home or choose another job. Of course these options cost money and Scandinavia is a rather rich part of the world, which means it can afford to grin smugly from its socialist high horse.

You correctly point out that drug addiction is a major driver of the street prostitution scene and you seem to advocate a relaxation of drug laws with free state supply of heroin to addicts. Later on you argue that relaxation of prostitution laws sends a wrong message to society. I sense a contradiction here … wouldn’t more relaxed drug laws also send a wrong message or are you simply switching principles to suit your agenda?

I would also like to ask you a question regarding to this quote of yours:

“…I believe the Nordic model is the only one that begins to tackle the sense of male entitlement and which sees prostitution as something that can and should be ultimately abolished.” Is it prostitution per se that infuriates you or is it the fact that prostitution is largely unidirectional (men buying and women selling)? Quite a few feminists would say, at least off the record, that the main issue they have with prostitution is that it is always the men that rent out the women, and they would be happier if women would feel less inhibited on renting gigolos as the situation would be more egalitarian.

The Nordic model would make sense to me if reliable data pointed that a large proportion of prostitutes are trafficked or coerced into the job. If someone shows me a link to a study that convincingly demonstrates this I will change my tune. Till then I support the liberal model coupled with help for those prostitutes who want to quit, as this increases their bargaining power from both ends of the stick.

Feminism to me means that a woman’s right to her individual choice is more important than her responsibility to act according to our perceived superior dogma.

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 13 October 2009 at 8:12 pm

Dear Holly,

You seem to be taking quite a radical third wave stance here. Basically I gather you would like to see prostitution more legitimized and assume a status of “just another job.”

Personally I am not quite comfortable with this and would prefer if the feminist movement campaigned for a denormalisation as well as regulation of prostitution. I think it needs a well defined legal framework but should be kept out of the public space and restricted to certain well policed districts.

Julie // Posted 13 October 2009 at 9:02 pm

adopting a liberal model of legalisation would be a bad thing unless sufficient measures are adopted to make sure the women (and men) who want to leave are able ”

The sentiment that the legalization of prostitution would include sufficient funding for those who want out AND that this funding would always be available no matter how tight funding becomes — is wishful thinking.

Please stop endorsing any plan which is contingent upon wishful thinking.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 13 October 2009 at 9:07 pm

id like to think that in the future prostitution could be abolished if we had a more socialist state and very good education around gender and respect and relationships, but so long as there is a heavy demand i think the women involved and their health and safety has to come first, and giving them options and not driving it underground to be abused.

Stuart // Posted 14 October 2009 at 7:48 am


I don’t see anything wrong with bringing in statistics when they largely all point in the same direction. I haven’t seen any research which has found that a majority of prostituted women want to stay in the industry but plenty which finds the opposite. Some basic statistics here from a range of sources:

And from the same site a research paper on the Swedish model which may be of interest:

The studies I refer to have not just been into street prostitution but into other forms as well. To point out that prostitution is a highly exploitative and dangerous industry largely controlled by organised criminals, in which the average age of entry is often just 12-14, and in which most prostitutes are addicted to drugs or have gone through immense social or economic difficulties, is not a generalisation or a misrepresentation/exaggeration of the truth, it’s a fact. There will always be a small minority of women of course who feel differently at an individual level but state policies I think must be aimed at helping the vast majority to achieve their ambition of getting out of the industry and bringing about the positive social change needed to limit and ultimately abolish the buying and selling of human beings.

While as I said it’s a concern that in the short term conditions could become more difficult, especially if at the same time adequate support is not made available to help those involved, I don’t believe there will ever be a positive or safe way in which women can be abused. One thing I don’t understand is this argument that if we criminalise it individual men will necessarily become more violent and why, if that was the case, we should be giving in to their terrorist crimes against women. You talk about the ‘decency’ of clients but in my view there will never be anything decent about men buying women’s bodies. Surveys have found that most of the men who pay for sex are largely not bothered about the welfare of the women involved so relying on their decency and humanity to report cases of enslavement and abuse is unlikely to produce many concrete results.

With regards to your last question on how prostitution compares to other forms of employment then of course as a socialist I’m hardly going to jump in to defend the pay and working conditions in McDonald’s or Tesco (or in third world sweatshops) and exploitation is indeed rife throughout the capitalist economy and labour market. But there is a fundamental difference in many respects between selling your labour in exchange for a wage and selling away, often out of economic desperation, the need to pay for a drug addiction or because of threats from violent criminals, your bodily integrity and right to any genuine physical or sexual autonomy.

If a prostitute genuinely doesn’t want to leave out of free choice then it’s of course up to her (or him) alone and I’m certainly not calling for them to be penalised in some way. But the state should not in any way be supporting an abusive industry based on the buying and selling of human beings and should, as I said, be adopting policies aimed at helping the broad majority (who clearly want out) and at steering our society in a positive direction ie. towards increased gender equality and away from the sense of male entitlement to women’s bodies.


I don’t see anything wrong with morality provided it is the right type, ie. not based on any form of conservative religious puritanism but instead centred around a belief as to how humans should and shouldn’t treat each other, which stresses the importance of a society based on equality, dignity and mutual respect. We already have laws that emerge out of a certain sense of morality – for example laws against murder, rape, theft etc. and I don’t see why we can’t also have laws against other phenomena which can also be proven to cause real material harm. Paying for sex in my view causes a lot more harm than many of the other activities which are already illegal in our society.

When it comes to drugs I am not advocating complete legalisation, but that those with a registered addiction should be provided free, clean drugs by the state as part of a programme ultimately aimed at reducing their dependence – which I certainly wouldn’t see as an endorsement of drug taking. In addition I don’t really think drugs and prostitution can easily be compared since taking drugs harms only oneself while the buying of sex harms others.

I agree with you that perhaps the most important thing if we want to get rid of or minimise prostitution is to eliminate the factors which drive women into it in the first place. Full employment, an adequate welfare state, a police force and legal system who take trafficking and organised crime seriously and adequate programmes to help drug addicts are all a vital part of the solution. But in addition I think that criminalising the purchase of sex is extremely important with regards to tackling the demand side of the problem and making clear that society believes the actions of men who pay for sex to be unacceptable.

With regards to your question I believe it will always wrong for one person to buy access to, and control over, the body of another, regardless of the gender of those involved. But we need to look at how prostitution is situated within a particular patriarchal context and what wider consequences it has in today’s society from a gender power perspective. We need to look at how it ties in with what I described as the sense of male entitlement to sex and to women’s bodies. And we need to ask what we can do to ultimately break the link which exists between power and sex and money and sex. Because for as long as it exists none of us can ever be truly liberated or free.

Doris Day // Posted 14 October 2009 at 10:11 am


“Reminder – no one, but particularly men, has the innate right of sexual access to another human being.”

This is a highly disturbing thing to say. Why particularly men???? It should be no one FULL STOP. Surely women don’t have that right either. Let me refer you to (amongst many other things) the recent appalling child abuse by nursery workers

Kez // Posted 14 October 2009 at 10:48 am

Doris Day – yes, you are absolutely right. I assume Jennifer Drew was meaning that (some) men are more likely to feel they have that right of sexual access, because men’s “right” to access women’s bodies is more legitimised by society. But of course no-one, male or female, has such a right – to say “particularly men” has the potential to mislead.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 14 October 2009 at 10:58 am

lol yeah bad choice of words? especially men do it and need educating against, but im pretty sure when its being done noone has more or less rights to other peoples bodes like that!

gadgetgal // Posted 14 October 2009 at 11:02 am


What I was saying was more of an open discussion for opinions to perhaps FORM a plan, not an actual plan – if it was I would have included figures and stats of some kind. And technically ANY plan at a discussion phase involves a certain amount of wishful thinking, so do you mean that we should just stop talking about this altogether? Because I don’t see much getting done to improve anything ever if we do – whether you agree or disagree you shouldn’t just dismiss, something a bit more constructive might be more helpful in the long-term, like an alternative suggestion?

And @ everyone – this debate has made me really vacillate between a whole bunch of different viewpoints. I still reckon the only practicable solution at the moment is the one suggested by Daniela, but I really do agree with certain elements of what Stuart keeps saying – that there is the problem with the legitimisation of something that overall seems to be so very damaging to large numbers of people. And I’m not just talking about the people that come to mind first, as in the prostitutes, clients and pimps – no one ever seems to mention the damage it does to others and their relationships. Many of the men who use the services of prostitutes will not be single, so what about the women/men/children on the receiving end of it? The gradual pornification of everything has put an awful lot of women in the position where they’re forced into accepting it, as in “boys will be boys” and “it’s a natural part of the male biology”, and I don’t think the pain they suffer should be forgotten in the discussion. And the issues with the affect on children are just too great to even go into here!

But whichever way we go we need to take a stance on it and go somewhere – this wishy-washy system we have in place now just isn’t enough, and has too many contradictions in it to really be effective at reducing it or at least improving conditions while we’re trying to!

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 14 October 2009 at 6:50 pm


I accept that many legislation is indeed founded on moral principles but prostitution is different to your examples of murder, rape and theft. No philosospher or ethicist would argue that murder or theft is morally valid except under rare exceptions of self-defence or extreme poverty, respectively. On the other hand there are widely varying opinions about the moral merits of prostitution, and many people, including some feminists, think that prostitution can take place under morally acceptable circumstances. Given that there is a wide range of opinions, my view is that a legal ban is not the way forward at this point. For me, legislation should follow a moral consensus and not the other way round. There are also some situations, for example adultery, which the vast majority agree are immoral but do not want to illegalise, since we consider it to be a private moral choice. I think that to a certain extent prostitution falls within this parameter.

I note that you make little effort in distinguishing between economic necessity and coercion when discussing why women end up in prostitution. This distinction is vital in my opinion because the soultions for it are very different. We seem to agree that the most important measure to help those with economic necessity is the provision of welfare and job opportunities. If this system was perfect these women would not have to prostitute themselves even if there was a huge demand and the banning of prostitution would be irrelevant. However we both seem to admit that no system is perfect and some women will still need cash. This is where me and you part ways. You see the next step here as attacking demand with the Nordic model but for me prostitution is now the the safety net for these women once they have been failed by the welfare system. At this stage their alternatives would be theft or hunger. The Nordic model reduces their base of clients and deters the more law-abiding punter whilst doing little to dissuade the more dangerous type of man. More importantly, the Nordic model reduces the prostitute’s capacity to haggle. The punter notices he has less competition and increasing power to call the shots. The prostitute might end up having to agree to anal sex for £25, perhaps without a condom, rather than protected vaginal sex for £50. I can’t understand why, as a feminist man, you seem to think that sending a message to society is more important than practical measures to protect the welfare of these disadvantaged women.

Where genuine coercion is involved we need different solutions and here better police resources and enforcement of anti-trafficking laws are vital. If these methods fail and we end up with a large proportion of women that are still genuinely coerced once again I repeat my stance that the Nordic model starts to make sense and I would support it.

Incidentally, I feel we really need to listen to sex workers themselves here. Laura, I think it is worthwile to publicly reassure them that you can guarantee their anonymity if they want to contribute to this post.

Douglas fox // Posted 14 October 2009 at 6:57 pm

I was not going to comment but the gross assumptions being made with regard to sex work are infuriating. Sex work is varied and diverse and one persons experience is very different fro another’s. The studies and stats quoted are primarily taken from research on street work which is representative of between 7 and 20 % of sex work depending on which report you read or believe. The truth is very little is known about the number of people involved in sex work or in which sector they work. As a sex worker who has been in the industry for over ten years I would argue that the vast majority of sex workers are neither high class escorts or street workers but are indoor workers who work through a variety of medium from independent, agency. brothel etc. The choice made on how to work depends on the individual circumstances and requirements of each sex worker. The idea that one definition or description of sex work covers the experience of every sex worker is indicative of the prejudice that surrounds our labour.

One of the most insulting ideological mis representations of our work is that we are bought and sold. Sex workers sell a service that is bought by another human being from another human being. Our clients are people who for a variety of reasons use our services which we as sex workers make a choice to sell.

The assumption that poverty is the reason why people become sex workers is also based on an ideological and political assumption about sex workers which infantalises and invalidates any form of self assertion or determination. Many people are poor but few become sex workers. Sex workers come from every social and economic back ground. The desire to make money reflects society but assuming that poverty forces choices re doing sex work or not sex work is simply wrong on so may levels.

If anyone really cares about sex workers rather than about ideological propaganda thEn do so by defending the civil, social and labour rights of sex workers. Legislate positive laws that allow sex workers the same rights as any other worker and work with sex workers to gradually eliminate abuses that are more the fault of bad laws that stigmatise and criminalise sex workers than of sex work itself.

The assertion that sex work is violence toward women and undesirable with in society is an ideological position which can be argued. Sex workers almost unanimously reject this position and refuse to have their autonomy compromised because of political and social prejudice. The Violence against women argument is fine however provided it is not used to incite bad laws that endanger lives which is the result of present bad laws and proposed bad laws. I doubt sex workers and those who oppose our work will ever agree but lets agree on one thing that making sex work safe and not more dangerous by forcing it underground is vital.

Laura // Posted 14 October 2009 at 8:07 pm


Anyone can comment under a pseudonym if they so wish. I agree that sex workers’ voices should be heard; the irony of a group of (largely) non-sex workers discussing what “should be done” about prostitution is very much apparent. I also agree with your balanced views above, well said.

Laura // Posted 14 October 2009 at 9:11 pm

(You can also give a false email address if you prefer.)

beanphed // Posted 15 October 2009 at 12:43 am

I’m not sure how if we penalize johns and not prostitutes, it will somehow leave less bargaining power for prostitutes. To me it seems it gives MORE power to prostitutes.

A john doesn’t want to use a condom. The prostitute can call the police. Doesn’t want to pay because he finishes too early, She can call the police. It would seem the Nordic model provides much more power to prostitutes because they are no longer penalized and the johns take all the risks of getting arrested.

Stuart // Posted 15 October 2009 at 8:19 am


Nothing can be a private, moral choice alone if it affects others and certainly not if it can be proven to cause them real material harm which I believe paying for sex does. Prostitution isn’t just about sex, it’s about power as well – it’s about one person buying the right to do whatever they want to the body of another. It’s an inherently abusive relationship in which the customer is in a position of power over those whose bodies they decide to purchase. That our society seems to see this as acceptable is evidence of just how little progress we have made towards real gender equality, towards a society where no one group is considered to have the innate right to or need for the bodies of another. We shouldn’t, in my view, have to wait for the moral consensus to change by itself before we can consider introducing new and better laws.

You ask why, as a feminist man, I “seem to think that sending a message to society is more important than practical measures to protect the welfare of these disadvantaged women”. I don’t accept this claim that all I’m bothered about is sending out certain ideological messages and of course I care about the welfare of disadvantaged women. However they themselves, in the most part, believe their welfare would be best served by leaving the sex industry (which is something that most available evidence also points to considering the physical, mental and psychological harm which prostitution has been proven to cause). I don’t see how we can best protect the welfare of disadvantaged women by allowing the sex industry to keep growing and for even more to the subjected to the dangers and risks it involves. The best solution is in my view to introduce working measures, such as the Nordic model, which have been proven to significantly reduce the scale of the industry and therefore the numbers of women (and men) whose lives it places at risk.

As I said earlier I do agree that criminalising the purchase of sex alone without introducing adequate support programmes and exit strategies could indeed risk making things worse and I certainly do not want to see anyone driven to either theft or hunger. So before such a law is introduced a detailed strategy would need to be drawn up which included a range of radical and comprehensive measures aimed at helping precisely those who it would aim to protect and at ultimately eliminating, as much as is humanly possible, the numerous social causes of prostitution in the first place.

You’re right to draw a distinction between those who have been coerced into the sex industry economically and those who have been physically forced into it by traffickers and organised criminals and yes the provision of welfare and jobs is the most important thing for those who fall into the first category whereas the reliable enforcement of laws is the most important for helping those who fall into the latter. But the Nordic model is useful in both cases as the smaller the scale of the sex industry the less chance vulnerable people will have of ending up in it. In Germany prostitution was legalised about 10 years ago. Now an underclass of up to half a million women are stuck in the German sex industry with little chance of finding alternative employment. German women have even been told they risk losing their benefits if they don’t take sex industry jobs. So the types of laws that exist play a very important role here.


It’s an interesting question as to who actually does represent the voices of ‘sex workers’ because there’s plenty of reason to believe that escort agency businessman Douglas Fox’s ‘International Union of Sex Workers’ is nothing more than a con set up to provide false legitimacy to powerful capitalist and patriarchal forces. Read for example this excellent post on Too Much to Say for Myself:

What sort of genuine trade union I would like to ask makes no distinction between workers and bosses, not only that but is in fact run by the bosses? A real union for those involved in the sex industry would set itself in opposition to the pimps, pornographers, strip-club owners etc. who abuse and exploit women and it would actively expose and challenge the appalling conditions which so many are subjected to. The IUSW has never done this and therefore has no right to call itself a ‘union’ of any sort.

Personally I’m far more interested in the silenced voices of the dispossessed than in the pro-patriarchal, pro-capitalist, extreme libertarian propaganda constantly put out by a few well-off self-appointed sex industry representatives. I’m interested in the voices of the 90% who want out, in hearing what victims of trafficking, enslavement, rape and physical violence have to say of their own experiences in the industry. There’s no shortage of powerful voices of women who have experienced the horrors of the commercial sex industry first hand. But sadly it’s people like the IUSW who get all the coverage from the mainstream patriarchal media.

Laura Agustin // Posted 15 October 2009 at 9:37 am

The variety of jobs and diversity of persons working in the sex industry is so immense that generalisations about ‘high end’ versus impoverished workers does not hold up. In the past year on my blog I’ve published a large number of news stories from around the world that show the complicated ambiguities, and how easy it is to ‘do something’ to help that sounds good but ends up backfiring on the workers. I always advise people to inform themselves better before proposing solutions.

Laura Agustín

Border Thinking

Laura // Posted 15 October 2009 at 9:42 am


I think the idea is that because there is a smaller pool of clients (as some are put off by the legislation), sex workers in need of money have little choice but to take what is available. If s/he calls the police, s/he isn’t going to get that money.

gadgetgal // Posted 15 October 2009 at 12:18 pm


Cheers for the heads up about Douglas Fox – I knew I’d seen his name somewhere before!

delphyne // Posted 15 October 2009 at 12:22 pm

One of the problems of feminists using the euphemism “sex worker” instead of prostituted person, woman man or child, is that it lets pimps like Douglas Fox join in the debate:

Is that really the best the F-word has to offer women? Offering a platform to pimps? The GMB trade union has done it already allowing Douglas to write its policy documents on prostitution that they in turn sent to all GMB sponsored MPs. Feminists doing the same kind of thing is just shameful.

Why aren’t you listening to and linking to women like R Mott, who got a standing ovation at the recent Feminism in London conference when she stood up and spoke about what being in prostitution had meant to her and to other women:

“I need that some of you do small things to change attitudes to the sex trade.

I don’t need to do big things, if that means it is too hard and you yet again abandon prostituted women and girls.

Do something however small – for each small action mounts up.

Do something – for women and girls are being tortured now.

Do something – for girls are being recruited now.

Do something – because women and girls are being raped so often now, that they cannot name it even as abuse.

Do something – for exited women have to live with extreme trauma without no specialist help, or so little they feel guilty asking for it.

Just don’t turn away.”

Don’t turn away F-word and don’t pander to pimps. It is the worst betrayal of women.

Laura // Posted 15 October 2009 at 12:46 pm


‘Prostituted person’ implies a complete lack of agency on the part of the individual concerned and that they were forced to engage in sex work. This is true for some individuals and not for others, so I’d rather use ‘sex worker’ and add an adjective or descriptor if the post in question is specifically referring to this group of people. I imagine the situation in South Africa encompasses a wide range of people engaged in sex work – whether forced or not – so I used sex worker in this case. What other people use is up to them.

I hardly think allowing Douglas to share his viewpoint in one comment is the same as asking him to write policy documents on prostitution. I agree that the IUSW cannot claim to speak for sex workers and advocate for their rights and safety (or help those who wish to exit) when it includes employers and johns/clients among its membership, but I don’t think Douglas’ association with the IUSW means he should be banned from commenting here when he does not break the comments policy. His link to the IUSW has been made clear and readers’ can draw their own conclusions from that.

I didn’t link to RMott because the post was on South African sex workers, hence my link to a South African sex workers’ group. If RMott would like to write a feature or guest post for TFW she is more than welcome to do so (and comments can be disabled if she prefers).

Laurelin // Posted 15 October 2009 at 12:47 pm

The more we allow ourselves to be fooled by the pro-pornstitution brigade into chirping niceties like ‘not-a-monolith’ (who said it was?!) and ‘hear-all-voices’ (pimps? rapists?) the more we sit around and do nothing. The fact that the rape industry oppresses women and girls on a pandemic scale, the fact that rape and other forms of torture are crucial to the maintainance of this system (which survivors of the ‘industry’ will tell you if you bother to listen), is brushed under the carpet by us all deciding to be nicey-nice and try not to offend anyone. For every voice telling us how wonderful the sex trade is, there are hundreds, thousands of women and girls being tortured in it. But so long as we talk about ‘agency’ we can make it look like we are nice feminists who never judge (as if anti-pornstitution women were judging women!), and continue failing to do a damn thing.

As Delphyne says, Rebecca Mott got a standing ovation. Because she spoke for herself. Because she spoke on behalf of others who will never have access to public space – women and girls in the ‘industry’. Because women understood aspects of their own lives in what she said.

Because the audience were unwilling to say ‘this is acceptable collatoral damage’.

Because women deserve better.

Laura // Posted 15 October 2009 at 12:54 pm


I’m not sure what you are responding to..? No one here has said the sex trade is wonderful, refused to listen to RMott / survivors of the industry or tried to be ‘nicey-nice and not offend anyone’.

Holly Combe // Posted 15 October 2009 at 1:07 pm

What Laura said. Also, isn’t all this talk about the correct way to talk about sex workers/prostituted people rather othering? Personally, for the reasons Laura outlines above, I feel uncomfortable with the word “prostituted” as a catch-all term. However, that actually counts for very little because I’m not a sex worker myself and the same generalisation of perceived agency in the term “sex worker” is equally problematic if it’s used across the board to even include people in the sex trade who are not there of their own volition.

But surely, the most important thing is that, as Renegade Evolution suggests, people in the sex trade have the same right as everyone else to define themselves?

I mean, if someone says to me, they are/were a prostituted woman, well then, that’s what they are, as defined by…well, them, the person who has lived the experience. If someone says they are a sex worker, well then, they are, as defined by the person who has lived the experience….

Any terms that anyone who isn’t actually a sex worker uses to describe people in the sex trade are, in my opinion, far less relevant.

Laurelin, off-topic // Posted 15 October 2009 at 1:26 pm

General comment on the topic- born of frustration and grief, really. If you think it’s off-topic you can always delete it.

I think it is important to remind others of the consequences of the sorts of arguments we see porn apologists making. Having a big mouth and much anger, I tend to do that wherever possible. I just hope to reach women.

Laurelin, bluntly // Posted 15 October 2009 at 1:31 pm

I’m gonna be blunt here (but un-rude, hopefully): I’m not interested in the nomenclature. I’m interested in ending violence against women and girls. All this talk of self-definition, afaics, takes us away from the real issue.

delphyne // Posted 15 October 2009 at 5:51 pm

Well the nomenclature is important because “sex worker” allows pimps like Douglas Fox to represent himself as a voice of prostituted women when he is anything but. It also allows those who use it to erase the enormous harm that prostitution does to women and girls, as Rebecca Mott says – industrial rape.

Laura, I didn’t say Fox shouldn’t be given a platform because he’s a member of the IUSW, I said he shouldn’t be given a platform on a feminist blog because he is a PIMP. He and his partner John Dockerty run Christony Escorts out of their townhouse in Gosforth in Newcastle:

Please read that article and think of its implications.

Once again, what brand of feminism is it that gives a platform to pimps? How do you expect any women who have been in the industry and who don’t follow the rah-rah prostitution line that those who live off the profits of selling women’s bodies promote, to feel comfortable in this kind of hostile to them but pimp-friendly space?

v // Posted 15 October 2009 at 6:26 pm

The f-word twice linked recently to a new blog co-owned by Douglas Fox, claiming to speak for sex workers. That blog is a pretty obvious platform for him, and its full of pro sex work writers – for people who like to claim its ‘not a monolith’ theyve made a big effort to keep certain voices out, eh. They recently referred to the ex prostituted women who spoke at the Feminism in London event as “survivors of abuse-disguised-as-sex-work.”

Its convenient to dismiss, on a ‘sex workers voices’ blog no less, those of us who have a negative story to tell about our involvement in the sex industry. They deny traffiking too (its either made up or exaggerated by feminists allegedly), and simply relabel all of us as ‘abuse survivors’. They deny or attempt to hide the fact that the abuse occurred in prostitution, or that its a central part of what prostitution is. In this way they shut out most ‘sex workers’ – but its okay, theres plenty of non sex workers to represent us there instead!

But the f word isnt telling them, hey thats erasure, thats denying womens lived experience, thats disrespectfully denying women the right to ‘choose’ their own ‘identity’, or to speak for themselves! There are no secrets here about who the f word favours, and who you dont.

Im really really pissed off at this. You make out like the voices of the women in the industry matter, but I got to say, your actions declare something very different. On top of that, your reluctant invitation on this thread to Rebecca Mott is insulting. Why should she search you out or ask to write here, youre privileged people using your platform to support those who deny or encourage the abuse she has had to live through. Its kind of like, if an MRA blog made an offhand gesture of vague inclusion to a one of you – would you feel that the offer was genuine?

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 15 October 2009 at 9:22 pm

I have managed to find this blog from a currently active Swedish prostitute that discusses some of the problems that have arisen. She is clearly against the Nordic model.

Has anyone managed to find a blog from a prostitute that is in favour of the Nordic model? I haven’t managed to find one yet.

zohra // Posted 16 October 2009 at 12:04 am

The term ‘sex worker’ is used for a variety of reasons, including by women in prostitution to describe their lives and experiences. The fact that some of the people who use it express anti-feminist or problematic viewpoints is difficult, but not entirely relevant to this post.

What we haven’t discussed is the power dynamics at play against *South African* women in prostitution, which is part of the point of the post. Laura has highlighted how the question of legality is becoming an issue because ‘the world’ is coming to South Africa for a football match. South Africa’s existing approach to prostitution is being challenged because non-South Africans – and rich white English men in particular – are coming to town.

Knitted Brow raises an important point about the links between masculinity, macho culture and sporting events: I wonder if the same sort of government regulations would be bought into play it were to be a large conference of computer programmers or teachers instead.

I would add: I wonder if the same sort of government regulations would be debated if this weren’t about white men from the north buying sex from Black women in the developing world.

Laura // Posted 16 October 2009 at 9:27 am


I’ve approved one comment by Douglas Fox, and the Harlot’s Parlour blog was highlighted when it opened because it was started by a woman who identifies as a feminist and has other feminists writing there; it could therefore be of interest to some of TFW’s readers, regardless of what members of the collective feel about it. The post on FiL had not been written when we linked to HP, and I agree with your assessment of it, though I hardly think we can be held responsible for all that is written in any blog we ever link to.

I have raised your concerns to the rest of the collective, but personally I think it is unfair to characterise TFW as ‘favouring’ one ‘side’ or ‘supporting those who deny or encourage abuse’ based on an extremely narrow and select reading of all that has been written on TFW regarding prostitution.

I didn’t mean my comment to be an invitation to RMott, obviously a comment tucked away among a big thread does not constitute an invitation, I was just pointing out that – like anyone else – she can submit work to TFW if she wants, we’re no more ignoring her than we are anyone else. I have linked to her blog in the past and although I can’t remember the details of the emails I sent, I’m pretty sure I said that she’d be welcome to write something for TFW if she wants.

I’m going to close comments on this now as discussion has turned so far away from the original post.

Laura // Posted 19 October 2009 at 10:41 am

beanphed requested I publish a link to this Swedish sex worker blogger who is in favour of the Nordic model, in response to Daniela’s question:

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