31 December 2007

Don't punish men for the evils of sex slavery?

This article is an interesting one. It starts well, with Henry Porter acknowledging that the current laws in this country, which criminalise the woman selling sex, but not the man buying it, are unfair and wrong. He then goes on to outline some of the ways in which countries like New Zealand and Canada have tried to change this, as a response to changing attitudes. So far, so good.

However, this is unfortunately where things start to unravel. Denis MacShane MP plans to takcle the serious problem of sex trafficking in this country by trying to introduce new amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which would allow Police to prosecute men found paying for sex in certain designated areas. Porter outlines this in his article. However, he goes on to say that we should be very sceptical of MacShane's motives, because he may well be anti-prostitution! Therefore, we can't believe anything he tells us about the problem of sex-trafficking, and we should disregard any changes which he tries to make to reduce the number of trafficked women suffering in this country, because basically, he is just trying to stop prostitution! (Or something like that).
MacShane and his supporters may have a strong moral revulsion for the sale of sex, but they insist that their approach is a strictly practical one to deal with trafficking. What they cannot say is that this amendment contains a tacit admission of the government's failure. There are already laws to deal with trafficking and enslavement and it may be that MacShane's figure of 25,000 trafficked women is hugely inflated. In a letter to the Guardian last week, Professor Julia O' Connell Davidson of the University of Nottingham called it preposterous. She pointed out that in the police Operation Pentameter last year 515 establishments were raided and 84 victims of trafficking were found. At this rate, there would need to be 150,000 establishments for MacShane's figure of 25,000 to reached.
Now, I don't have any exact figures regarding the numbers of people who are trafficked in this country, so whilst I can't comment on the accuracy or inaccuracy of the figures discussed, I would like to call Henry Porter out on some shocking journalistic sloppiness. In the same paragraph, whilst he points out that the government is failing to tackle trafficking effectively (which actually, I agree with), he also then quotes Police statistics to demonstrate why it is that we should not believe MacShane's statistics. I thought you just said that the government is failing? Therefore, why are you using Police statistics to advance your argument against MacShane, when you yourself acknowledge that these are unlikely to reflect the scale of the problem in this country?

So we must conclude that the government does not view the act of buying sex is wrong in principle. This is a shaky position to start from if we are about to introduce yet another criminal offence, because it will be clear to everyone that the exchange that takes place between a man and a woman and a man and a man is exactly the same. The same levels of revulsion, pleasure, release, exploitation, abuse, regret and despair may exist in both transactions, yet only in one will an offence be committed.
I don't view the act of buying sex as being wrong in principle. However, this is a ridiculously simplistic way of looking at things. It is naive, and frankly stupid, to claim that selling sex is simply a choice which someone has chosen to make, and so the person buying sex has no culpability. You must look at the reasons behind why people buy and sell sex. Do men need sex? Of course not. Sex is a positive and enjoyable part of life, but men do not have an entitlement to sex, simply because they want it. However, if one is impoverished, trafficked, a drug addict, or otherwise disadvantaged, then money is a necessity. Therefore, the exchange of money for sex is not a fair transaction, made without any kind of duress. The prostitute is in a position where to refuse sex would result in great hardship and suffering. The man is in a position where to not buy sex would result in walking around feeling a bit sexually frustrated for a while. Not the same thing.

Actually, I agree with Porter's final point here, although I don't agree with his reasoning, because I think that either it should be illegal to buy any kind of sex, or it shouldn't be. This part of the law would add unnecessary confusion and complication to the law.

There is clearly a feminist drive to this measure. Nothing wrong in that perhaps, but it does account for the singular bias of the MacShane proposal. Columnist Joan Smith has suggested that critics responded hysterically to it because they have a vested interest in a man's right to buy sex from a woman. That is hardly fair. The objection is not that it deprives men of the ability to exploit women, but that it is ill thought out.

The same feminist voice would no doubt argue that every woman has a right to dominion over her body in matters such as abortion. It follows that a woman has the right to sell sexual services and, if that is true, someone has the right to buy those services. You cannot allow the principle of sale without at the same time consenting to purchase.

So Mr Porter, we start to see your true colours! This is an article ostensibly about legal reforms intended to reduce the number of people who are trafficked in Britain each year. Yet, you rebut any suggestions that one of your concerns about making buying sex illegal is that it would no longer allow you to exploit vulnerable women with impunity. In order to support this point, you use the example of abortion as a way in which feminists argue that women should have bodily autonomy. Of course, I agree with you, and I agree with the fact that in an ideal, egalitarian world women should be free to decide to sell sex for money. But we are not discussing those women Mr Porter. We are looking at these legal reforms through the lens of a country which has increasing numbers of women trafficked into it each year. At this stage, I don't think anyone is able to advocate for a 'perfect' law. We need to introduce reforms which will allow prostitutes the protections which they need, and punish the people responsible for perpetuating the cycle.

Your final point "You cannot allow the principle of sale without at the same time consenting to purchase", is particularly interesting. Again, I agree with you. Are you then arguing that men who have sex with women who are unable to consent are guilty of rape? After all, if women are in a position whereby the are not able to agree to any sort of transaction freely, and you have sex with them, then you are not buying something which they have offered of their own free will. You are raping them.

And what is payment? Most often, it is cash or a credit card, but payment comes in other forms - holidays, goods, jewellery, advancement, property. Many shy from an openly acknowledged transaction; some are candid about a business arrangement in which the parties hope to emerge with profit or satisfaction. We would like it to be otherwise perhaps, but that is the way of the world.
What are you saying here Henry Porter? Are all women who rely on men for financial support prostitutes? Does that make going off to buy a fuck from a trafficked woman ok because you believe that you indirectly pay your wife for sex? Maybe you feel resentful about the leeching bitches who steal mens money, but if you grew a brain and looked around you, you might understand why women become financially dependent on men. Women get paid 17% less than men for the same work. If they are married, or (shock-horror) have a family, then they are less likely to be hired in the first place, because they are perceived to not be committed enough to the job. In most relationships, women do the majority of the child-care and other domestic duties, which allows men more time to focus on their careers. Furthermore, supporting your wife does not mean that you are entitled to fuck her whenever you want. Since 1991, getting married does not mean that you can rape your wife with impunity.

Tougher penalties might be an answer but let's not forget that the police already have powers to deal with every aspect of prostitution, from kerb crawling to enslavement. Instead we need to tackle what drives so much prostitution - poverty and drug addiction. It is right that newspapers are beginning to refuse adverts for escort and massage services but as the cabinet ministers who recently admitted to drug use know full well, making the demand for drugs illegal does little to stop supply.

Denis MacShane may be well-intentioned but his amendment is bad and confusing law because it seeks to remedy a failure by police and immigration officials - which may not even exist - by attacking the choice made by two consenting adults.

So, despite earlier claiming that the government's current policies are failing, you now support your argument that buying sex should remain legal with the the point that the police have all the powers they need in order to be able to deal with prostitution, "from kerb crawling to enslavement". Coherent, consistent, and well thought-out I must say!

To go back to my earlier point, if women are deeply impoverished or addicted to drugs, then they are not able to make a free choice about whether or not to engage in prostitution. In a choice between having sex with a man and being able to eat/shoot up, or not having sex with him, but starving/suffering horrendous withdrawal symptoms, I think I know which option I would choose. However, that does not mean that I am making a free choice to be a prostitute or to have sex. Actually, there are a million other things I would like to do far more. Therefore, it is not a "choice between two consenting adults" that we are discussing here.

I find that I am often very conflicted about my feelings about prostitution. On one hand, I do think that it should be up to women to decide what to do with their bodies, and of course this extends to selling sex. However, this argument is frequently used as a get-out clause by people like Henry Porter who want to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the realities of life for the majority of prostitutes in this country. There are a small minority of women who do freely make the choice to be prostitutes, but as Henry Porter himself acknowledges, the vast majority of prostitutes in this country are there because of poverty or drugs. As I have already argued, this is not a free choice, and these women need to be protected rather than criminalised. Men (and indeed women) do not have an entitlement to sex. Therefore, if one of the things which we have to do in order to protect vulnerable prostitutes from exploitation is to make the buying of sex illegal, which means that punters will no longer be able to exploit people with impunity, then we should take that step. After all, we all have the right to live lives free from exploitation.

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