24 January 2010
Sex, shopping and the law
“Some men think it’s just like shopping,” said Fiona Mactaggart, Labour MP for Slough. “But it’s not, is it? It’s buying the right to interfere with someone else’s integrity.”
I heard Fiona speak yesterday at the AGM of OBJECT, a charitable organisation that challenges ‘sex object culture’ – the ever increasing sexual objectification of women in the media and popular culture through lads’ mags, advertising or lap dancing clubs.
Many years ago, Fiona encountered extreme misogyny when she spoke up for feminist issues at her university – she appeared in her student newspaper accompanied by the caption ‘Would you rape this woman?’.
Now she is a strong supporter of the recent change in clause 14 (formerly clause 13) of the Policing and Crime Bill, which criminalises the purchase of sex from a pimped or trafficked woman (ignorance is no defence).
Applauding the determined campaign of OBJECT and EAVES (a specialist provider for women in the sex industry) which led to the change, Fiona (who was proudly carrying a Virginia Woolf 'A Room of One's Own' bag) said we now have to campaign to encourage the police to develop strategies to target punters, and to use the law to make people think.
What can we tell people to make them think?
• The reality of prostitution is that most of it involves exploitation of vulnerable women (see my blog post below). Nine of out 10 prostitutes would like to exit but feel they can’t (Farley, 2003).
• It is a very unsafe profession. Prostitutes are much more likely to die than other people – in London, for example, their mortality rate is 12 times the national average (Home Office report).
• If the status quo is not changed, this kind of exploitation – this degradation of human beings – will become normal and we will not get a society in which everyone respects human rights.
• There is no benefit of legalisation. It has been shown to increase abuse and exploitation by fuelling demand and endorsing the activities of pimps, traffickers and attracts sex tourists. In Holland, it was a failed social experiment. Exploitation and organised crime has rocketed, to the point where Amsterdam started to close down brothels in 2006. Latest plans are major policy reversals, such as the proposal to criminalise the purchase of sexual acts from unlicensed people and to raise the minimum age for selling sex from 18 to 21.
In Germany, the government has admitted that its aims to improve working and living conditions of prostitutes have not worked. In New Zealand, there are increasing numbers of people drawn into prostitution. And in Australia, the illicit industry – far from being eliminated through legalisation – has flourished untaxed alongside the regulated sector.
• After all this, if people still insist on the ‘prostitutes have choice’ argument, ask them if they would be happy if their own daughter were to become a prostitute, or if they know of anyone who says: “I want to be a prostitute when I grow up.” They will quickly realise that it is not a desired job with desired working conditions and they will be forced to confront their own dishonesty.