The ground for taking ignorance to be restrictive of freedom is that it causes people to make choices which they would not have made if they had seen what the realization of their choices involved. - A.J. Ayer
In prohibitionist regimes all over the world, the first feeble rays of light are beginning to creep into the brains of those who, while perhaps not actually prohibitionists themselves, have always gone along with government policy on the matter. Judges, legislators, police, journalists, academics and other “pillars of the community”, secure in the status quo, have long accepted prohibitionist rhetoric about the “necessity” of suppressing the sex trade, whether that rhetoric is traditional (social morality and “public health and safety”), legalistic (“neighborhood deterioration” due to streetwalkers and the self-reinforcing “associated crime” argument), hysterical (“sex trafficking”) or neofeminist (prostitution as “inherently degrading and exploitative”). But now the internet has made our once-invisible world (the demimonde as the French call it) far more visible to outsiders, enabled articulate sex workers to write about our lives and views, restricted the ability of prohibitionist governments to hide the truth from those who care to look beneath the propaganda, and enabled intelligent, informed citizens to criticize repressive policies and expose misinformation. And because of this, many of the aforementioned pillars of the community are beginning to realize that, whatever personal discomfort they may have with prostitution, either the prohibitionist laws themselves or at least the ways in which they are enforced are in violation of basic civil rights and create dangerous conditions for real, living women. In today’s column I’d like to look at a few recent examples of writings by such people; none of them seem to like whores very much, but all of them apparently recognize that attempting to abolish prostitution altogether is not the answer.
I first started thinking about this last Tuesday morning when Kelly Michaels called my attention to this article by a retired New York City police detective (on a police technology website, no less!) which, though it mentions the same old tired excuses for criminalization, also contains this paragraph:
I had seen his face hundreds of times before, but never knew his name until now. He lives in a beautiful house, just off the “Members’ Tees” at the 11th hole at my golf club. A pleasant looking chap in his mid-sixties…after seeing his name and photograph in my local newspaper I seemed to recall that his wife had died a couple of years ago. Sad, but death is a natural part of life. Sad, too, was the reason that his name and picture were in the newspaper: patronizing a prostitute. Yes, a police “sting” operation had finally brought him to justice. This depraved individual was now off the streets. Society was now safe from his need for companionship, or simple sexual satisfaction. We were all safe, now that his crime was exposed for all to see. All it took was some hot looking babe with big breasts and a short skirt, and, oh yeah, a badge.
I think of this story every time I get to the 11th Tee. I must admit; I do have mixed feelings about investigating and enforcing the prostitution laws. There are some very good reasons behind the various state statutes…[but] there is also a very good, time proven reason for prostitution to exist: the human need for sexual contact.
Considering the source, that’s practically a shout of “Decriminalization now!” But he’s not the only cop who’s beginning to recognize the damage done by criminalization; in England, the Association of Chief Police Officers has called for a debate over prostitution laws so as to change them to protect prostitutes from violence. While some local jurisdictions in England (such as Liverpool and Merseyside) have adopted a progressive approach to reducing violence by tolerating prostitution, others (such as Blackpool and Bradford) prefer American-style antics which endanger women by forcing them onto the street; decriminalization (or at least law reform) would put an end to such irresponsible and asinine behavior by prohibiting it from above.
Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, the Western Gazette of Canada published an editorial supporting decriminalization; though the editorialist seems to consider it a given that most women want to leave prostitution and makes the absurd statement “It would be ideal if society had no prostitutes or sex trade industry,” he also places partial blame for the murders of prostitutes on prohibitionist laws and includes the following paragraphs:
Laws criminalizing prostitution do more harm than good. By striking down these laws, Ontario has modernized its view of prostitution, putting the province more in line with European countries. Governments overseas abandoned the perspective that criminalization was the cure for society’s woes long ago.
The United States has taken that approach for years with their infamous War on Drugs. The country poured billions into criminalizing drug addicts to no avail. This not only forced addicts into even more peril, but it failed to stop the drug problem. Addicts, like prostitutes, often have few alternatives once they enter their situation. Making laws to deny them safety and protection just adds fuel to the fire.
Though comparing whores to addicts is both ignorant and insulting, the author at least recognizes that prohibition is not only dangerous but also ineffective in accomplishing what it was supposed to accomplish. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, a group named “FIRST” has become the only mainstream feminist organization in North America to advocate decriminalization; this article not only advances that position, but also debunks the ridiculous myth that vast numbers of prostitutes flock to major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, Olympics or World Cup:
However, there is no evidence of dramatic, let alone “explosive,” growth in sex industry activity at large sporting events. In 2006, we saw headlines that 40,000 women would be trafficked into Germany for soccer’s World Cup. The Swedish government funded an independent report that conclusively found that an increase in human trafficking did not occur, either during or after the World Cup. The report concluded, “The 40,000 estimate was unfounded and unrealistic.”
After the last four [Olympic] Games (Turin 2006, Athens 2004, Salt Lake City 2002, and Sydney 2000), there were almost no confirmed reports on the numbers of sex workers, level of violence or other associated factors. Notably, almost all anecdotal reports suggested no obvious change in level of activity. During the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, where sex work is legal, only a marginal increase in prostitution was reported. In Salt Lake City, one confirmed report indicated that city licenses for escort services increased by only 12 per cent in the period leading up to the Winter Games.
A few individual mainstream feminists outside Canada have also seen the light. This article about Wendy Chapkis, a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Southern Maine, makes many of the same points as I and many other whores make about the advantages of our profession and the reasons for decriminalization. And in the Philippines, legislator Susan Yap advocates that prostitution be decriminalized and police resources directed toward chasing the “pimps” who “lure prostitutes into the business.” Yap’s stated goal is to eradicate prostitution by hunting the men she assumes force most of the women into it, which probably means anti-brothel and “living off the avails” laws as in the UK and Canada, but that’s still a step in the right direction from Manila’s current policy of US-style criminalization.
Slowly but surely, anti-whore attitudes founded in ignorance and maintained by propaganda are beginning to erode, and even some who would prefer to see our profession abolished are beginning to realize that prohibition is not the answer, and indeed endangers the women it claims to be interested in protecting. Reluctant allies like Susan Yap and the editor of the Gazette may not be as helpful as educated advocates like Wendy Chapkis and the women of “First”, but I’ll take them over trafficking fetishists and Swedish Model proponents any day of the week.