A new campaign that seeks to change British laws concerning prostitution could soon become official, as it continues to gather widespread support after its launch on October 22nd.
The ‘End Demand’ campaign is putting pressure on the British government to adopt the Sex Buyer Law, a concept which has traditionally been the Scandinavian approach to legal issues concerning prostitution. The law itself criminalises the buying of sex and decriminalises the selling of sex, with the idea being that by criminalising the buying of sex, the demand no longer exists and sexual exploitation through prostitution decreases. The Sex Buyer Law is currently used in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, with positive results.
The UK’s present legal stance on prostitution is that, while prostitution itself is legal, certain activities related to prostitution are illegal – “such as soliciting in a public place, kerb-crawling and brothel keeping.” Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that legalising prostitution, like legalising drugs, is the best way to prevent crime, the black market and more importantly the exploitation of vulnerable people. However, current British law seems confused about its stance on prostitution. The “legalised” rhetoric surrounding prostitution in the UK can lead to false assumptions that everything is in the public sphere and that exploitation, if it occurs, is there for everyone to see and isn’t happening behind closed doors. Here, is where British law is failing many vulnerable women and encouraging the increase of sex trafficking in the UK. The current law not only allows undercover crime and exploitation to occur but reinforces the most extreme and degrading stereotypes of prostitutes – that they are subhuman, deserving of any harm or abuse they receive. The UK has been at the centre of some of the most high profile murder cases against prostitutes, and these horrific crimes are enough to suggest that for attitudes towards prostitution to change, the law needs to be changed.
High profile child abuse and murder cases have forced changes in the law but crimes against prostitutes have largely failed to increase the protection of victims. Only in Ipswich, after the 2006 murders of five prostitutes were some of the principles of the Sex Buyer Law adopted, with police aiming to help those involved in the sex trade unwillingly, instead of throwing them to the criminal system. Patriarchal society means that many people continue to see prostitutes as workers who want to sell their bodies and not as victims of exploitation. Whatever a person’s line of work, it is expected they will have protection and safeguarding measures covered by their employer, so why should we think of prostitutes any differently? A common saying is that prostitution is the oldest form of work. However, as Green MP Caroline Lucas has stated, it is not the ‘oldest profession’ but the oldest form of violence against women.
Current UK law does not target those who exploit prostitutes but blames prostitutes for exploiting themselves. Legalised prostitution in the UK treats both the prostitute and client as equals and fails to identify that demanding sex from anyone is wrong and that paying someone for sex does not justify it. Therefore, the Sex Buyer Law would criminalise the buying of sex and prevent the perpetrators of crimes against prostitutes. However, the law also accepts that many women turn to prostitution out of desperate circumstances and this in itself is not a crime. Under the law, the selling of sex would be decriminalised, meaning exit options could be provided for women in this situation.
Chloe Anderson, a third-year Sociology student at Glasgow University, supports the introduction of the Sex Buyer Law, claiming it to be “a crucial step towards gender equality and one which has been proven to give those involved in sex work a greater quality of life. By forcing men to take responsibility for their actions, power is given back to women and will hopefully lay the groundwork for greater change in the future.”
If the Sex Buyer Law were to be introduced it would also reduce the amount of sex trafficking taking place in the UK. The increase in TV adverts and posters about ‘modern day slavery’ is just one indicator of the problems the UK has with trafficking. The Modern Slavery Bill is currently going through Parliament. If passed, it should bring important changes to help prevent the abuse and sexual exploitation that occurs through trafficking. If the Sex Buyer Law was also adopted then the UK would become a much more hostile society towards prostitution and this would shrink the prostitution market, limit trafficking and more importantly change attitudes.