On Friday, the Criminal Justice (Sexual Services) (Amendment) Bill was introduced to the Dáil. This bill, if it is passed, will criminalise the purchase of sex from prostitutes. Thomas Pringle TD certainly has strong feelings about it, attesting that “gender equality is not achievable while women are for sale,” and that “when people make a conscious decision to purchase the body of another human being to do with it what they see fit, that is unacceptable human behaviour, which should not be tolerated or accepted as the norm”.
Discussing how to deal with prostitution is difficult. The debate very quickly gets hijacked by people who either miss the point or intentionally bury their heads in the sand and start grandstanding on the morality of the sale of sex as a commodity. This is a philosophical point. It does not matter. What matters is that people are being trafficked here and live out their lives in conditions too horrendous for most of us with a voice to debate to even imagine. It’s time to wake up and face the fact that most prostitution is sexual slavery. Sex with a prostitute is most likely rape. I have never heard the “it’s their choice” line from anyone who works with sex workers on the ground – in their experience the woman who 'genuinely wants to exchange sex for money' does not exist. There's always some level of coercion, addiction, desperation. And even if there are some women who do genuinely work of their own free will, helping them to find another source of income in order to protect the many women who are working against their will is what any decent society would do.
I used to be very much in favour of decriminalising and regulating prostitution. I thought it was the way forward into a society where women would be more empowered and that having everything open and legal would ultimately halt trafficking and afford sex workers more protection. That isn’t the case.
Prostitution isn’t about morals, or liberation, or particularly about sex. It’s about money. Sexual slavery and human trafficking will continue for as long as they are profitable, and the clearest way to mitigate them, and the best way to protect more women and girls from horrendous lives, is to decrease profitability. The only way to do that is to decrease demand by making sure there are consequences that will make people think twice before stepping into the red light district. On a purely moral level, we all know that to have sex with someone who lacks the capacity to say no is utterly wrong. There’s no way to be sure that a prostitute is acting of her own free will, which means there’s no way someone who uses prostitutes can say he is not guilty of rape. Being forced into sex, howsoever it is done, is humiliating and degrading, and in the truest terrible meaning of the word, utterly violating. Having sex with a woman, very likely underage, who has more than likely been forced into having sex with you – even if you are not directly doing the forcing – is rape. And paying for both the privilege of abusing her and the privilege of not having to admit that that is what you are doing is a crime worthy of far more than a four-week jail term, the strictest punishment meted out by this bill.
In 1999 Sweden, admirably progressive, criminalised the purchase of sex. In five years, trafficking fell 41%, and the price of sex fell – a sign that demand was dropping and profitability of exploitation was plummeting. How does Amsterdam, poster child of the leagalisation and regulation movement, compare? Very badly. Brothels were legalised in Amsterdam in 2000. Ten years later underage girls are still being pimped out, trafficking increased following legalisation, and despite a decade of free, regular healthchecks, STI’s including HIV have not decreased in brothels.
If we legalise the purchase of sex we will normalise it, and that will increase demand and profitability. The argument that this bill “will drive the industry further underground” is rubbish. It’s already underground. Sex traffickers already find their way around laws and regulations across international borders. It is hard to see an extra layer of regulation stopping them from redoubling their efforts if prostitution is normalised and the market suddenly increases. They will only stop when the profitability falls so low that it’s no longer worth the risk.
Even if regulation works, there will always be things that legitimate organisations won’t be able to provide, such as sex without a condom on punters positive for STI’s and HIV, and underage girls. Traffickers will specialise to these areas, making an already horrendous situation even worse. In fact, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Niall Collins noted that at a seminar organised by the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign, former prostitutes “often misrepresented their age to clients because the younger they pretended to be, the busier they became. The demand led nature of prostitution in Ireland creates a sinister market of men who desire underage prostitutes.”
I welcome this bill, but I am concerned it doesn’t go far enough. Much prostitution comes down to organised rape, and for punters to get at most a spot fine or four weeks in jail is grossly disproportionate to the wrong they do. Ireland has a history of making great laws which are never enforced, and of diluting down said laws with dubious loopholes. For example, since 2008, it has been illegal to buy sex from someone who has been trafficked – but with a handy loophole whereby the purchaser can claim that he didn’t know the person had been trafficked, it’s difficult to see this new regulation having any impact whatsoever.
And it won’t be enough to simply decrease profitability. We need to make sure we have the resources and the will to get women out of prostitution if they want out. Independent TD Mick Wallace said that for many prostitutes “sex work is their only source of income and their means of providing for their families. Criminalising their clients will put these sex workers at increased risk of poverty, and lead to further stigmatisation and marginalisation.” This is a completely unacceptable cop-out. Mr Wallace must surely know that if his government was functioning, no woman would be placed in such desperation in the first place.
His statement is an admission of failure.
by Naomi Elster
Naomi Elster is a scientist and a writer. She is currently researching more effective ways to treat breast cancer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, supported by the Irish Cancer Society. She is deputy editor of HeadSpace, a non-profit mental health magazine distributed for free to service users of psychiatric wards and mental health support centres. Her play "Scabs" will run as part of this year's 10 days in Dublin festival on the 4th, 5th and 6th of July in the Pearse Centre, Pearse Street. She blogs at http://nothingmentionednothinggained.wordpress.com.
6/5/2013 04:44:59 am
I don't understand his ( TD Mick Wallace's) concern about the income for prostituted women - where is the concern for the men, who's only income is theft, burglary and begging. Maybe it should be legal to commit theft, burglary and so on.
6/5/2013 07:21:34 am
Before reading this article, like Naomi, I too thought in terms of a woman's freedom to do what she wants with her own body. This has really made me think about that stance. Thank you.
Mia de Faoite
6/5/2013 10:15:30 am
Thank you Naomi, as a survivor of prostitution there isn't a thing you have written that I would disagreed with and I applaud your insight, , you are absolutely correct "vice cannot be regulated" & prostitution is the only vice that cannot exist any further underground because it needs a face. And yes we lose the capacity to say no & that's if you had it in the first place, once again thank you, Mia.
6/5/2013 07:43:35 pm
Thank you for your comment, Mia. I know of your work with SPACE International and have read your blog. I greatly admire your courage.
Mia de Faoite
7/5/2013 07:33:39 am
Thank you sincerely Naomi.
6/5/2013 11:55:32 am
You aren't a feminist, you are a whorephobe. Its embarrassing that you claim to know something about mental health, and yet are so prejudiced about sex work. And clearly you are not listening to the LOCAL sex workers, because they are saying the opposite that you are. It is incredibly sad that feminism has gone this way. You are not my sister.
6/5/2013 03:36:47 pm
Sounds good. Criminalize the buying while removing all penalty from the selling. Then take the property of the buyers and transfer it to the real victims, the sellers, and that peculiar institution will evaporate like last Summer's morning dew.
6/5/2013 03:57:12 pm
Oh shit. I just remembered you guys had a really wet Summer last year. I didn't mean to be sarcastic. effing climate change messing with my prose and all. In Seattle busting the 'johns' and letting the hookers go seems to be working better than the other way around.
7/5/2013 03:12:09 am
I won't deny that many sex workers are abused. However, making it illegal to purchase sex because some people are mistreated is basically like saying, "Having children should be illegal, because there's a chance their parents might abuse them." If we want to help sex workers who are forced into this situation, we should create programs to provide financial assistance and alternative occupations. That way, those who don't wish to sell their bodies won't have to, and those who do wish to still have the freedom to do with their own bodies as they see fit.
Clara (IFN Co-ordinator)
7/5/2013 11:38:16 pm
7/5/2013 10:43:30 am
We stigmatise everyone involved. Many are unaware that almost every small town with a family which has a member with MS or Down Syndrome has a prostitute visit their house a few times a year. I can seen no clarity in a debate where only rhetoric rules. The only scientific research I can find on this is from Denmark's sfi.dk . We don't identify and educate the vulnerable before they are put in harms way. We do take money from Germany to provide social welfare so women are not forced into prostitution. A Germany whose feminist section of their then ruling socialist party in 2002 decided that stigma, disgust and shame where the main flaws with society and so legalised it.
From Germany - your are right in all your points. Prostitution here has soared, brothels offer flat-rate-drinking + f****** for 70 - 90 € an hour to be competitive, 18 year olds from Eastern Europe are sold on streets no condom required, and virtually none of the expected improvements for the women (and few men) working as prostitutes have materialised. One of the parties that helped legalise prostitution (the Greens - people I used to vote for) tries hypocrisy now - trafficking to Germany they Claim has actually decreased (by a few measly percentage points), true according to statistics, because prosecutions in trafficking reflect police activity in this area rather than actual crime figures (it's not like burglary where victims come forward). Police activity is hampered by current laws claiming everything's just fine. The exploitation of women in the brothels is worse than ever, because now officials hardly have cause to investigate anything short of broken bones... The women break down at some point, but who cares with our traditional suppliers of cheap female flesh just beyond our borders ... (it's hard not to rant). The only way to stop it is to decrease demand, and that means addressing the (male) buyer side, not only and only and only playing around with what women should or shouldn't or mightn't or might do. (Welfare and training etc. aren't playing, empowerfulizing rhetoric is.)
16/5/2013 11:15:53 pm
I don't see the problem with consenting adults exchanging money for sex.
10/1/2017 11:22:04 am
here´s a proof that johns and alike must not to be heard in the issues,they don´t care with women,they create such disgusting excuse for our sexual exploitation.
3/9/2014 08:04:07 pm
Always thinking to do the same thing again and again , i am very thankful that i found this one..
11/9/2014 02:44:32 pm
I must say that while reading your post I found my thoughts in agreement with the topic that you have discussed, which happens very rare.
23/9/2014 04:33:40 pm
Always thinking to do the same thing again and again , i am very thankful that i found this one..
10/10/2014 04:30:16 pm
These are things that you could not survive without. They include, of course, food, water and shelter. Even here, these should be at a minimum. Thanks.
23/10/2014 03:14:39 pm
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11/11/2014 03:09:20 pm
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19/3/2015 04:13:14 pm
I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand. Unlike additional blogs I have read which are really not tht good. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he enjoyed it as well
10/1/2017 11:18:58 am
ok,but i think abolicionists waste too much time listening to scum who wishes us women to be exploited.I read very revolting comments here,one more time i had the proove we should never listen to people who want us exploited and hurt.It´s a waste of time,that´s not democracy or freedom of speech to defend cruelties against women and girls.
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