Just before Christmas, Harriet Harman MP said she wanted to outlaw paying for sex.
“I think we do need to have a debate
– ‘debate’ means we’ll listen but do what is politically expedient –
and unless you tackle the demand side of human trafficking which is fuelling this trade, we will not be able to protect women from it.”
Is trafficking “fuelling this trade”?
Ms Harman said she was convinced that a ban on paying for sex was necessary to halt demand for sex workers trafficked into Britain.
How on earth would a ban “halt demand” for prostitutes?! Surely demand would remain if there was a decrease in supply?
Last time I looked, in January 2007, there seemed to be just one ‘official published study on trafficking in the UK’ – a paper (245Kb PDF) by Liz Kelly and Linda Regan, entitled ‘Stopping Traffic: Exploring the extent of, and responses to, trafficking in women for sexual exploitation in the UK’ – and that seems to be the case still now, as the Government’s Crime Reduction Toolkit hasn’t been updated, which is surprising as the paper dates back to 2000.
But as I said then, read the study and it seems you’ll ‘officially’ know as much as anyone else. Probably more than Harman, anyway.
Off-street prostitution has traditionally been an area of the sex industry that has been subject to minimal monitoring.
So unless monitoring has increased, I’m not sure how Harman can say with any certainty if trafficking is “fueling” prostitution.
The toolkit also says (quoting the study),
Equally, it is a difficult area to bring prosecutions – victims are wary of providing evidence for fear of reprisals and through fear of the legal system. When prosecutions have been brought it has been difficult to gain sentences with sufficient deterrent to offset the potential gains for traffickers.
Internationally, and the UK is no exception, trafficking people is a less risky activity for criminals than trafficking in drugs. The maximum sentences in most jurisdictions are seldom as long for people as for drug trafficking. The lower potential costs and higher profits, especially where the traffic is for the purpose of prostitution, have acted as powerful incentives to organised crime, smaller networks and ‘‘enterprising’’ individuals.
So, assuming there is a problem (I’m sure trafficking does go on, I just don’t know how important it is or how much there is), is prohibition going to help?
Indeed neither the Toolkit nor the paper suggest prohibition – what they suggest is increased monitoring, higher sentences, helping prosecution witnesses, and so on, in other words reducing incentive to traffick and increasing incentive to help stop it.
Furthermore, the paper also claims that some women volunteer to be trafficked because they dream of a better life in the UK than the one they have at home – so it seems to me that helping to improve life in their homeland would decrease trafficking too.
Harman also asked,
“Do we think it’s right in the 21st century that women should be in a sex trade or do we think it’s exploitation and should be banned?”
Well, if we think of as liberty as the freedom to do as one wishes (without harming another), then yes, it does seem right that women (and indeed men and other genders) should be able to freely sell their ‘services’. I don’t see any harm in that.
It seems to me the harm comes when prostitutes are exploited by others, particularly when it involves violence (or threats of violence). I don’t believe a ban will help with that, but talking about banning something is much more exciting and interesting than “improving monitoring, crime detection and prosecution”, isn’t it?
I think that Harman is more bansturbating than genuinely seeking to solve this problem.
Indeed, Sweden’s solution (which she claims to be looking at) is rather more involved than a simple ban.
Someone pointed out that the claim people freely enter into becoming prostitutes is not true, that the majority are ‘forced’ into it by circumstance. I’m happy to concede that, without having any sort of survey or study, but noting that banning or prohibiting seems to be an inadequate solution, and indeed may make their lives worse – surely we should be addressing those circumstances that ‘force’ them into that way of life?
But it is so much easier to talk about banning things, isn’t it?
Funny how normally legal things become illegal just because money changes hands.