Vice Squad
Saturday, September 04, 2004
Globalisation of (and Crackdown on) Prostitution

A friend of Vice Squad sends along a pointer to this editorial in the September 2nd Economist. The article suggests that there is a tendency now for countries to adopt a harder line towards prostitution, and that the reason for this increased severity is the globalisation of prostitution:
...the free movement of labour is as controversial in the sex trade as in any other business. Wherever they work, foreign prostitutes are accused of driving down prices, touting "extra" services and consorting with organised criminal pimps who are often foreigners, too. The fact that a very small proportion of women are trafficked--forced into prostitution against their will--has been used to discredit all foreigners in the trade, and by extension (since many sellers of sex are indeed foreign) all prostitutes.
I think that the Economist is right about how trafficking contributes to the further demonization of prostitution, but I am not so sure that the global tendency is towards harsher policies. Many places, from Thailand to the Czech Republic, from Taiwan to Las Vegas, have hosted serious debates about legalization in recent months. New Zealand and Australia are fairly recent adopters of legal brothels, and there does not appear to be any sentiment in Britain and Canada, where prostitution per se (as opposed to, for instance, solicitation or living off the proceeds) is not illegal, to increase the scope of criminalisation. The overall tendency, as I see it, is not so much towards increased or decreased severity overall, but towards reducing the harms suffered by prostitutes themselves. This can mean tolerance zones with social services provided (as in parts of the Netherlands, for instance), or legal brothels, or even the Swedish policy of criminalising the conduct of the sex buyer but not that of the sex seller.

Nevertheless, I second the Economist's longstanding position, that the private exchange of money for sex should not be a criminal matter -- though public manifestations of prostitution rightly can be controlled.


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