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Archive for December 14th, 2011

It is the besetting vice of democracies to substitute public opinion for law. This is the usual form in which the masses of men exhibit their tyranny.  –  James Fenimore Cooper

Not only do laws on prostitution vary widely from country to country, but even the terminology is different; American and Australian advocates tend to use terms like “legalization” and “decriminalization” the same way, but as Wendy Lyon recently explained in the comment thread for “Across the Pond” they are used somewhat differently in Ireland and the UK.  In fact, she sent me this document showing no fewer than 21 different terminological schemes proposed by different authors!  So I’d like to explain the one I use, which is admittedly less than wholly satisfactory but is understood by most American and Australian activists without much explanation.  The following appeared in “It Is, But It Isn’t”, a guest blog I did for Nobody’s Business this summer:

First of all, you must understand that the way the terms “legalized” and “decriminalized” are used in reference to prostitution is the opposite of the way they’re used in regard to drugs.  When people speak of marijuana being “decriminalized” they mean that merely having it won’t get you jail time, but there are still all sorts of laws surrounding it (sometimes even fines for possession); “legalization” basically means what it sounds like.  In prostitution, on the other hand, “decriminalization” means that transactional sex is viewed as an arrangement between consenting adults in which the state has no legitimate interest (basically like any other sex), whereas “legalization” means it is viewed as a special case and therefore subject to all sorts of laws that aren’t applied to other professions.  For example, prostitution is legalized in Nevada; it’s legal if one does it in certain counties, in a licensed brothel owned by somebody else, and follows a slate of rules so restrictive that about 70% of Nevada prostitutes prefer to work illegally.  Nevada is also a good example of the highly arbitrary character of regulations under legalization schemes; in Canada and the U.K. brothels are banned, but in Nevada they’re the only venue for prostitution that is allowed!  Most European legalization regimes are much more liberal, and those in Australia aren’t tremendously different from full decriminalization (which is what New Zealand has).

As Wendy (and also Stephen Paterson) pointed out, this can be quite confusing because countries such as Canada and the UK (where prostitution itself is legal but practically nothing about it is) are in the same general group as much more liberal regimes such as Germany and Australia!  Take a look at these two recent news stories; both of them are from countries with “legal” prostitution, but what a difference!  The first article appeared on CNN on November 18th:

…Taiwan…is moving towards legalizing the world’s oldest profession, but in practice the trade remains largely underground.  Under the revised Social Order Maintenance Act, which went into effect in early November, prostitution is legal in designated red-light districts, but so far no local governments have been willing to create these zones, rendering prostitution anywhere illegal.  “You [the government] tell us that both the sex worker and the client would not be penalized within the district, but where is it?”  Chung Chun-chu, secretary general of the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters told the Taipei Times. “So far, none of the local governments have any plans to create red-light districts.”  All 22 county and city mayors have expressed concern that creating prostitution districts would lead to increased crime and plummeting property values…

The new amendment also overturns Article 80 of the act which criminalized prostitutes but not their clients based on its unconstitutionality.  Now, both sex workers and their customers could be fined up to NT$30,000 ($994) for engaging in prostitution outside of these designated areas. Brothel owners operating outside the red-light districts would also face fines of up to NT$50,000 ($1,655).  This law is aimed at protecting women in the sex trade, but Mei Hsiang, a prostitute working in Taipei is worried it will affect her ability to make a living.  “Punishing the clients is worse than punishing us because the clients will not come for fear of being caught and fined and we won’t be able to make a living,” she told  the Taipei Times…

Technically, prostitution is now legal again in Taiwan (after ten years of American-style criminalization), for all the good it will do anyone; some fanatics who want to infantilize whores are even still trying to push the Swedish Model there.  Contrast this asinine situation with the far more reasonable Australian discussion of allowable places for prostitutes to practice our trade which appeared in the November 16th Brisbane Times:

The sex worker whose $30,000 anti-discrimination case against a Moranbah motel was dismissed by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal has decided to appeal the ruling.  QCAT found no case for discrimination in the charges levelled by the sex worker, known as “GK”, against operators of the Drover’s Rest Motel, and established a precedent for like matters of on-premises prostitution that favoured accommodation providers.

Clashes between hotel and motel operators and sex workers have become more frequent in Queensland’s booming regional mining communities, as brisbanetimes.com.au reported in August.  Accommodation Association of Australia chief executive Richard Munro said the ruling meant accommodation providers now had clear parameters to refuse rooms to prostitutes…“This is different to short-term stays on business trips, this is people setting up their primary place of trade on premises,” he said.  “Members had been concerned about how to handle these situations without breaching anti-discrimination laws.  Now owners and managers have a clear precedent for taking action against conduct they don’t condone with the protection of the law.”

But Jenny King, chair of sex workers rights group Respect Inc, said affected prostitutes should not stop lodging complaints with the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland.  “We have seen many sex workers successfully seek compensation for discrimination from motel operators throughout Queensland,” she said…

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties President Michael Cope said that…under liquor laws, a licensee may take steps to ensure business other than the provision of accommodation was not conducted from the motel or hotel.  “It’s a difficult issue,” he said.  “You have a sex worker with the right to ply their [sic] trade, and motel or hotel operators with the right to control their business as they would like.”  And while the scales appear tipped in favour of accommodation providers, Mr Cope said there was still ambiguity surrounding interpretation of the Liquor Licensing Act…

GK brought allegations of discrimination against the Drover’s Rest in July last year on the basis of lawful sexual activity in the area of provision of accommodation.  She also complained that she was asked unnecessary questions about being a sex worker and that she was overcharged because of her status as a sex worker…

What a model of sane, reasonable treatment of prostitution, especially in comparison with the sort of medieval “sin and degradation” nonsense one hears in North America and certain parts of Europe!  The issue is being treated as what it is:  an issue of one businessperson’s rights vs. another’s.  There’s no “human trafficking” hysteria, no “degradation” dogma, no “associated crime” propaganda…just the same kind of give-and-take as one sees in any lawsuit without a sexual component.  Would that all countries could treat the issue so sensibly!

One Year Ago Today

Prohibitionists claim that prostitution is the worst way to make a living imaginable and generally tar it with such melodramatic epithets as “inherently degrading” and “soul-destroying”.  But “Bad Jobs” lists the ten most depressing jobs in America, and you may be surprised to see which socially-acceptable means of employment are at the top of the list.

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