The politics of prostitution

Britain's New Statesman have got some light holiday reading for you:

Why British men are rapists

In the world of stag-night excess, lad mags and lap dancing, paying for sex is losing its stigma and more and more men do it. These "clients" are responsible for a grotesque crime, yet they get away scot-free. By Joan Smith

A patriotic pants man
A patriotic pants man.

I first starting thinking seriously about the politics of prostitution last year when I was in a uni tute with a room full of radical feminists, and off-handedly mentioned that I didn't see anything wrong with prostitution if that was the occupation that someone chose for themselves. Little did I realise that my remark was such a controversial one. The looks of disgust in my direction were harsh and severe and made me feel like a butcher at a vegan's convention. Clearly not a popular position.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that I have an ultra-liberal position on prostitution. To me it is a perfectly legitimate choice of occupation, and one that should carry no stigma. Prostitution is ultimately no different from any other occupation - it is the selling of one's skills for the betterment of another in exchange for money. Whether you're laying bricks (no puns, please), answering phones or healing the sick, you're selling the skills that you have acquired (muscle, personality or intellect). The fact that prostitution involves the selling of an intimate and very personal skill does not differentiate itself from other occupations.

Indeed, in a free society, people ought have the right to trade with each other. Though it's not something that I think I'll ever be interested in buying (or, indeed, selling), I don't believe that the state has the right to intervene. With the usual caveats applying - that all participants are of age, that participation is voluntary - there is nothing wrong with people chosing to be, or to use, a prostitute. Far from prostitution being a human rights abuse, as some feminists argue, the restriction of freedom of choice is itself a violation of rights.

The fact that many prostitutes live and work in dangerous conditions is not an argument against legal prostitution - in fact, it's an argument in favour of it. If we accept that prostitution will always be with us (and it will) then if prostitution can be practiced legally and safely, with proper regulation, just like all sorts of other industries operate, then it would be an ideal outcome. Realistically, street prostitution can never be completely safe, so it's rightfully outlawed. As for registered and regulated brothels, leave them be. The present mix in Victoria - the regulation of brothels and the criminilisation of street prositution - seems about right.

The problem, and this is mentioned in the article, is that enforcement of regulation is slack. The fact that human trafficking and sexual slavery can occur is an indictment both on those who carry it out, and those who are expected to police it. Defending the right to prostitute does not entail defending the right to traffick or enslave. It is the enslavement and manipulation of trafficked women that constitutes the crime, both moral and legal, not the act of prostitution. The right solution is not to try to ban prostitution, but is to rigourously police and prosecute people traffickers.

Am I a sexist male? Perhaps. But part of living in a liberal society is giving people the freedom to make their own choices without the paternalism of the state constantly protecting them. If people of their own free choice decide to sell access to their bodies, then it's their choice to make. However, for those who traffick women, and those who exploit them, they themselves have breached a fundamental tenant of liberalism and their acts deserve nothing but undying scorn. There is nothing inconsistant in condemning trafficking and defending prostitution, and liberal values should support them both.

Update, 26/1, 12:45am: It was great to see a post from a new contributer, R Berman. RB, if you could send me your email or a phone number, I'd love to get in touch. Email addy is Thanks.


Anonymous said…
Hello Ari,
I'd just like to say I'm a secret admirer of your work, and we have brushed shoulders on some occasions. I was thinking of remaining anonymous, but on second thought I don't really care. It's R. Berman incase you're wondering... Hope you're having a good summer!

In resepect to prostitution and the political rhetoric employed on both sides, whether they be radical feminists, or ardent liberals, the fact remains that prostitution is a proffession where a prostitutes rights are never unequivocally met.

As someone who has frequented the brothels; and is familiar with Melbourne's brothel scene the srories are very sobering indeed and reveal a myriad of stories dealing with manipulation and abuse. For instance you mention the 'paternalism' in respect to the state and how it should be regulated. The fact is many girls are very much exploited namely by thier fathers. For instance one girl I heard about was working in a legal brothel owned by her father. Her father actually coerced her into working at the brothel at the age of 16 (which is obviously illegal). She was also repeatedly raped by her father and is now 22 years of age; still unable to extricate herself from it. Moreover there are girls who have entered the life of prostitution basically becuase its a cathartic exercise to purge their emotions and the crises they've been through by having sex

Society has to be cognizant of these issues , without resorting to violations of human rights.
One way that I believe would be beneficial is if all legalised brothels were to have or be affiliated with a counselling service. Obviously this would be tricky to employ since counselling, at least in the moral sense, might constitute trying to get the prostitute to relinquish her proffession completely. On the other hand if people like hard line feminists, and others who find prostitution abhorrent, are willing to accept a form of mandatory counselling that monitors prostitutes, and their situation, without any preconcieved agendas this would be optimal. Basically a counselling service that coaxes prostitutes gently to become independant, self confident, morally abiding, members of a community would ensure they are not manipulated or trafficked is a good way to avoid human rights violations. As for hard line Melbourne University the cohort of radical feminist activists runs rampant and I don't really feel they have an accurate picture of Melbourne's prostitution scene. One has to remember that prostitution is the oldest proffession and while it does allow employees to fall into disrepute this doesn't constitute a human rights violation. Rather it allows a different value system to be imposed on someone whose lifestyle might seem intolerable to others. In the end we all have to realise that sex and 'prostituting' ourselves(just a little) forms and intergral part of our ablity to form cohesive bonds, that are both intimate and fulfilling. It is an industry that deserves a little bit of reverence, and should be treated accordingly.
Anonymous said…
Let me just be clear... When I say 'prostitute' yourself I mean that we all have to get along with people who we don't necessarily like-yet we still sell ourselves to them even though they might seem unworthy of our attention. This forms an integral part of our ability to form relationships with others... (Sorry just wanted to clarify that) Lol I've been watching movies all night long and I just realised that prostitution also means selling yourself for an unworthy cause... Ok I'm going...Cya round Ari!
Anonymous said…
I too have seen these radical feminists try and put across their own points of view about prostitution. One thing almost universal about these evil feminists is they have a hatred towards men. We should be giving as much rights as possible to prostitutes, to make it safer for both the service providers and the clients. If someone chooses this occupation they should be respected, and we as a society should help facilitate to make it a safe environment for them to practice.

We need to band together to form a coalition against evil radical man-blaming feminists.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Ari in many aspects that it should be treated as a profession of choice. But the politics of this industry should not purge into other industries. I work in a large multinational software company, over the years most positions are occupied by prominent prostitutes. I know this only because i happen to work for one-only as a software developer! You have skipped the politics part, well i will call it an inter-industry politics as it intermingles both sex and software industry. To maintain a dominant position, they ensure imbalance in the environment. To enhance richer client base, they create disharmony with in well functioning families. More often they have a high reaching man to support- mostly on the basis of threat. This women whom i worked for had a baby of this powerful man and continued to threaten him since he was happily married. She has been doing so since 20 years! What amazes me in this politics is that not one person could stand against these "idiot boxes"or numskulls. I say so, as i agree that they are experts in their own field of providing amass pleasure in sex but are equally dumb in industries that use brain power. They seem to have deep network, well globalisation has not left this industry as well. They very well learn to play on mass psychology, they give people exactly what they their view all men want sex from women...
I have seen couple of good families fall prey to this women in particular. Most of them are caught unaware and so these happily married software engineers -women are dragged into this profession. To me it seems like a mesmerism. Like you said, i would like to think prostitution is a choice made by individuals. Would these women who have just entered unknowingly realize what they have lost? Unfortunately good men don't accept women who have moved into this industry. So they are left with no choice but to join force with these prostitutes to have a false sense of happiness. To my astonishment, this women in question has even coached-coaxed her 11 year old daughter who has just attained puberty to have sex with her clients. Not just that she uses office managers (as pimps) to spread word that her daughter is available! Well this daughter may be a illegal kid who was used to blackmail men in power, in my view a kid of this young age is definitely not in right state of mind to decide what is right for her. Well, i write this tired of fighting against this intermingled industry. And i hope someday someone will spot this and continue this fight for separation of sex industry from software industry.

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