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Prostitution in United Kingdom

This entry explores issues relating to prostitution policy and the commodification of sex, which, given recent Government reviews and consultations, is very much an issue exercising the public agenda at present. Typically, most discourse is driven by sociological perspectives. Complex social issues like prostitution demand a truly interdisciplinary analysis.

Sex as a commodity inevitably divides opinion on moral, religious, political and even feminist grounds, like no other. And in respect of criminalisation who should be culpable? The purchaser or the seller? Many of the authors challenge current thinking about sex as a ‘consumer activity’ and the universal ‘victimisation’ of sex workers. No doubt some of the contentious assertions made may find less favour with officialdom, but when similar messages echo across a range of subject boundaries and are supported by original empirical research, then perhaps those in authority can be persuaded to at least consider alternative perspectives.

There is recent government initiatives to reduce supply and demand by punishing those who seek to purchase sex while simultaneously facilitating ‘exit’ strategies for the women involved. The perennial impasse of whether ‘the oldest profession’ is an unacceptable, immoral and continuing patriarchal social practice that should be eradicated through criminalization; or a legitimate commercial transaction that should/could be decriminalised or permitted through appropriate (employment?) regulation and control underpins these abolitionist debates. Some authors argue that in failing to distinguish between forced and ‘voluntary’ prostitution; the Government’s ‘responsibilisation’ agenda assumes a normative victim trajectory; if official research more actively involved sex workers rather than being simply about them, a more informed basis on which to legislate would be achieved. Other authors assert that the division of women as victims and men as abusers is too simplistic and fails to recognise that men can be sex workers too. While more ‘benevolent’ and multi-agency based policing reduced police cautions by some 80% between 1989-2004 the alternative shift towards behaviour orders still fails to acknowledge that for many women, living in a ‘gendered survival strategy’ is far more complex.

After 50 years of the Wolfenden Report, the shift in reduction in state intervention as encouraged then to the current desire to completely eradicate (public) prostitution leaves less ‘space’ and opportunity for sex workers to engage in licit activities as they have instead been targeted to be ‘redeemed, rehabilitated and reintegrated.’

In France, state feminists have similarly equated prostitution with a form of male violence and insistence that ‘the body is not a commodity.’ The Domestic Security Act conflated prostitution with concerns about public safety and immigration targeting ‘foreign’ prostitutes (as opposed to the ‘stereotypical’ ‘native’ French prostitute) through arrest and detention as a protectionist means of ‘saving’ them from abuse and exploitation.

In the world, generally surges in client demand tend to localise in direct correlation to positive police activity and enforcement levels in the area. Paid sex markets are not homogenous and despite initiatives to regulate either as an ‘acceptable’ consumer activity or with a view to market elimination, may be unrealistic to expect all clients to reject the ‘search out and kerb-crawl’ approach.

The law on rape as it stands could not possibly uphold a conviction for clients. After DPP v Morgan, while such ‘clients’ may be guilty of having sex that is coerced, they have not in fact themselves coerced the service provider.

There is an intensification of recent United Kingdom policies to ‘tackle demand’ by ‘naming and shaming’ those that seek out paid sex. This may be used (according to some authors) to justify symbolic legislation which criminalises all clients rather than commit resources to seek out effective resolutions to understand why men buy sex rather than simply hating the fact that they do. Is state confiscation of driving licences and disqualification from driving an appropriate and proportionate punitive means to tackle such demand where there is no regulatory framework as compared to countries like Sweden?.

A largue number of authors said that current United Kindom criminal legal policy and its enforcement is counterproductive, hypocritical, offers little in terms of any effective resolution, and presents more problems and dilemmas than it seeks to solve.

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  • Article Name: Prostitution
  • Author: International
  • Description: This entry explores issues relating to prostitution policy and the commodification of sex, which, given recent Government [...]

This entry was last updated: July 26, 2015

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