Yet again the males on the left have let women down, while kidding themselves that they are being progressive. Jeremy Corbyn has said, during a talk at Goldsmiths University, that he is in favour of decriminalising the sex trade. “Let’s do things a bit differently and in a more civilised way,” he said.
But there is nothing civilised about legitimising one of the most exploitative industries on the planet.
It is apt that Corbyn made his admission at Goldsmiths. Any feminist in support of criminalising sex-buyers is instantly accused by members of Goldsmiths’ feminist society of hating prostituted women, or “whorephobia”, as it is known. This twist of logic is quite something considering the law that criminalises demand also decriminalises those selling sex.
I cannot believe that Corbyn is so misinformed as to see the blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade as necessary to uphold the human rights and safety of those selling sex. In Sweden, the first country to introduce the sex-buyer law in 1999, not one prostituted woman has been murdered by a pimp or sex-buyer since then. In New Zealand, where the sex trade was decriminalised in 2003, there have been five murders.
What decriminalisation actually means is that control is taken away from the criminal justice agencies and given to local authorities. Under this model, pimps become managers, and brothel owners are business entrepreneurs.
The only difference between decriminalisation and legalisation is that under legalisation the state becomes the official pimp by making certain aspects of the trade legal. This way it can collect taxes and impose compulsory health checks on prostituted women – something the great feminist abolitionist Josephine Butler campaigned against in the 19th century.
Many on the left believe any criminalisation of the industry stigmatises those who sell sex, and that the selling of sex should be regarded as a job like any other. But there is a growing body of research showing that in Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Nevada and the Netherlands, where prostitution has been legalised or decriminalised, there is an increase in demand, which in turn has led to an increase in people coerced into prostitution. Such regimes lead to an increase in the legal as well as the illegal sex trade.
In researching my forthcoming book on the international sex trade, I have spoken to a number of women currently and formerly involved in the sex trade in New Zealand, the country hailed as nirvana since the disaster of legalisation in Holland became public.
One interviewee began working in a New Zealand brothel just after she turned 18, prior to decriminalisation. I asked her what decriminalisation had changed. “I don’t think it made any difference,” she said, “because the boss still does everything really dodgy, and I think that’s how he did it when it was illegal.”
The idea that pimps and other exploiters would suddenly turn into considerate employers who pay taxes and abide by the law simply because they are no longer technically criminals is ridiculous.
The sex workers’ rights lobby that has targeted Labour with its propaganda on the benefits of decriminalisation minimises and denies harm. The only harm it is prepared to acknowledge is caused, according to this logic, by feminists and police officers.
One sex workers’ rights activist recently claimed in her blog: “No sex worker I know reports clients as being the biggest problem … It’s always the rescuers, the police and the state that do them the most harm.”
What utter rubbish. While police brutality is prevalent towards women in prostitution in a number of countries, the rapes, homicides and violence from pimps and punters is well documented. In the UK alone, there have been 153 murders of prostituted women since 1990 – none committed by feminist abolitionists or police.
Why the left supports the rights of pimps and brothel owners is a mystery. It is akin to supporting tobacco industry profiteers in order to destigmatise smokers.
Corbyn and his colleagues would do well to listen to survivors of the sex trade before taking such an uninformed line on the best way to regulate prostitution.
As Rachel Moran, sex trade survivor and author of Paid For, remarked: “Males of the left defy every principle they purport to stand for when they contort their own political values to view women’s bodies as commercial products subject to purchase in free market economics. No other social group is treated this way by the men of the left.
“It is only women who are deemed so worthless as to be denigrated with this indignity, and it is only women whose equal human status is so unthinkable as to motivate them to turn their backs on their own politics.”
QotD: “Yet again the males on the left have let women down”