The Home Office is proposing the biggest overhaul of prostitution
laws since the 1950s. So far, if the leaks are any guide, the
ambivalence woven through existing legislation is also likely to
embed itself in the new strategy.
At present, of course, a woman can sell herself for sex in a house
without risk of prosecution -so long as there isn’t another woman
on the premises also engaged in prostitution. She can discreetly
sell herself on the street except that her trade is difficult to
ply because so many related activities, such as soliciting and kerb
crawling, are constrained by law. So, as we all know, women are
arrested, convicted then go back on the streets to raise the cash
for the fine. Instead of a deterrent, the penalty becomes a tithe
that goes with the job.
Any overhaul should first confront the hypocrisy that envelops the
issue. Prostitution should be legalised while every effort is made
to reduce the number of fresh recruits.
The new Home Office exit strategy – which if properly funded for
long enough to make it work should be welcome -will provide housing
linked to drug and alcohol addiction treatment, basic skills and
Managed zones, in which prostitutes are allowed to operate,
monitored by police and provided with health facilities, have been
rejected because they are deemed “highly resource intensive” and
they “normalise the concept of street prostitution and presuppose
its continuing existence -assumptions we need to challenge”.
So far, the developing policy is clear. The Home Office wants to
clean up the streets by tempting women away and increasing
penalties on the punters. But if that is the case decriminalising
brothels as well as effective police protection against pimps –
male or female – must also be part of the package.
According to Home Office research, licensed brothels in Europe and
Australia have not stopped the trafficking of women and children
nor produced a safe working environment. That is no reason to cross
them off the list. Instead, look for best practice (usually found
where there’s no police corruption). It does exist.
In addition, the government has to more vigorously tackle the
reasons why women are attracted (or forced) into the profession in
the first place -and find ways to intervene positively in the first
The Home Office might even consider consulting the professionals
for some truly constructive advice.