Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking

afp prostitution
'Most women in prostitution I have interviewed over the years has been desperate to get out' Credit: AFP

I have been campaigning against the global sex trade for over 20 years. I have spent time in legal or semi-legal brothels in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Nevada.

I have also visited red light districts in many developing world countries, including South Africa and Asia where the same well meaning but misplaced liberalism has led local authorities to decriminalise prostitution.

In all these places, just as in Holbeck in Leeds, deregulation has not only failed on its own terms, condemning the majority of women involved to lives of appalling physical and mental degradation, but it has led to a surge in demand and greatly aggravated the problem.

In the worst instances, now evident in Europe and much of the developing world, it has led to a boom in the trafficking of young women and girls.

There’s a vast amount of mythology about the sex trade. There are many well-intentioned people who genuinely believe that decriminalisation will rid the trade of the violence, disease and coercion that has always characterised it.

At the international Aids conference in Amsterdam this week the myth of the “happy hooker” is once again being propagated, complete with a “sex workers opera”.

If you legalise and celebrate prostitution, the argument goes, you give prostitutes the “agency” they require to lead healthy lives. Prostitution, or “sex work” as it is now flatteringly called, becomes a job “just like any other”.

But as the Telegraph reports today, prostitution is not just another job. For every happy prostitute (if one really exists) there are thousands for whom life is sordid and dangerous.

Dozens of liaisons a day with down-at-heel strangers in alleyways, parks or filthy slums. Routine beatings, rapes and extortion. HIV and syphilis. Cheap spirits and ruinous drugs. These are the grim realities of prostitution, legal or otherwise the world over.

What the liberal analysis ignores is the market. Prostitution is seldom a simple transaction between two consenting adults. It’s a racket run for profit. Pimps, brothel owners, gangs and organised crime syndicates are behind every red light zone from Holbeck to Harare.

Their public face is a slightly more respectable lobby of sex profiteers, such as those running escort agencies and  strip clubs. They put themselves forward in the media arguing that the safest way to run prostitution is to legitimise it. Many of the so called “sex workers collectives” you my see quoted from time to time are funded by this end of the business.

Thankfully the tide is now turning. A sharp increase in people trafficking and a rash of child protection scandals here and abroad, are causing policymakers to think again. Across the political spectrum, politicians are finally starting to see that decriminalisation, far from preventing harms, is making them worse.

Even in Amsterdam’s famous red light district, the original ‘tolerance zone’ on which so many others have been modelled, the writing is on the wall. A third of its window brothels in which women are displayed like pieces of meat, are closing down after the city’s mayor admitted its presence was attracting drug dealing, pimping, trafficking and violence.

In Britain, it is a new approach known as the “Nordic model” that politicians are looking to. This is because strong data from Sweden where it was first introduced in 1999 suggests it gives prostitutes the agency they need to seek help, while at the same time restricting demand for prostitution generally and trafficking in particular.

Under the Nordic model, prostitutes are decriminalised and offered help. However, it also becomes a criminal offence to purchase sex. This flips the balance of power between prostitutes and those that exploit them on its head. It also stymies the wider market, effectively restricting the sale of sex to those rare instances where it is genuinely a transaction between two consenting adults.

The Nordic model is spreading fast and has been introduced in France, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Norway and Iceland. Even Nevada, the only US state where prostitution is legal, is now considering closing its bordellos. In Germany too, where brothels offer “a beer, a burger, and bang all you can”, policy makers are questioning the logic of legalisation.

But there is something else about the Nordic model as it is operated in Sweden that gives cause for hope. Those who introduced it do not see their role as merely limited to harm reduction, contenting themselves with distributing condoms and HIV tests.

Unlike many on the liberal left, they do not accept that prostitution is inevitable and pretend it is “just another job”. Instead they have instituted comprehensive exit programmes to assist women to leave prostitution for good.

People tell me it sounds “judgmental” to ask someone if they wish to exit prostitution. Yet everyone of the many women in prostitution I have interviewed over the years has been desperate to get out.

Julie Bindel is a leading feminist writer and commentator and is the author of The Pimping of Prostitution, Abolishing the Sex Work Myth

Article from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/23/decriminalising-prostitution-supposed-keep-sex-workers-safe/