Wednesday 23 May 2007

Pimping an alternative

I notice the Home Office are now running radio adverts against kerb-crawling for prostitutes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of prostitution at all - it is degrading, exploitative and often dangerous work for the people (mostly women) involved. However, I am extremely sceptical about whether cracking down on prostitutes, or even their prospective clients, is really the answer.

Prostitution is hardly their first career choice. Rather, they are desperate people - according to the Home Office's own web page on the subject, "up to 95% of those involved in street-based prostitution are problem drug-users" (ie drug addicts) ", and many are homeless". Many are desperate for the income they receive from prostitution, and are unlikely to stop - rather, the problems will be driven underground.

The dangers associated with prostitution were highlighted in December last year, when 5 prostitutes were killed in Suffolk. Any crackdown will make prostitutes and their clients less likely to co-operate with Police and give information regarding violence (in the extreme case, murder) towards prostitutes. Indeed, it is often stated that in the Netherlands, where prostitution is tolerated, the incidence of violence towards prostitutes - and sex crimes in general - is much lower than in the UK.

The radio adverts emphasise the fact that kerb crawlers can be caught on CCTV. Now if we are to believe the propaganda in support of CCTV, it is supposed to make people safer. Surely, then, chasing prostitutes into relatively secluded or remote areas without CCTV, will make them more at risk!

What, then, is the answer? One possibility is for licenced brothels, preferably run as sex workers' co-operatives. In addition, regular health checks - notably STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) checks - and safe sex education, free condoms etc for prostitutes would greatly improve the welfare of prostitutes, as well as helping to reduce the incidence of STD's in the wider population.

I also think there should be efforts to bring sex workers (prostitutes included) into trade unions. This would not be unprecedented; in the USA in the 1910's and 1920's, the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, often known as the "Wobblies") was the first to organise prostitutes. (source: The Lucy Parsons Project - Women in Textiles)

Then again, when the current government sometimes seems nearly as hostile to trade unions taking industrial action as its Tory predecessor, I don't think they'll support that idea. They'll feel much more at home taking a moralising stance against prostitutes and their clients :-(

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