Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 05 Mar 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Prostitution

I hope, whoever you are, that we’re still going to be friends after this, or that you’re not at least, going to think I’m appalling and inhumane. This post is about prostitution or, more particularly, the so-called Nordic Model, which I think has much to commend it. And now I’m going to try and make a decent fist of saying why I both support it and recognise that it’s unworkable.

A tolerance for prostitution seems to be capitalism carried to its logical conclusion. If you can buy and sell commodities, then it follows that you should be allowed to buy and sell people, or at least, buy and sell access to their bodies. This appals me on almost every conceivable level, largely as the people involved are women and society has always valued women less highly than it values men and sees to view the buying and selling of them as being just something that happens. If you want to buy access to one of them, well, it’s fine.

Except handing over money to access someone else doesn’t seem fine. It seems hideous. I might not like the idea of any future child of mine working as, say, a coal miner or crewing an oil rig, but at the same time, I have to trust that their health and safety at work would be protected and they wouldn’t be physically violated. If my notional daughter came home and announced that she would like to become a sex worker, the same controls don’t apply and her safety, no matter what anyone else says, would be entirely dependent on the whims of her clients. If one of them decided to cut up rough, or kill her, there’s not much that anyone else could do.

This is without factoring abuse or addiction into an equation that is already weighted on the side of physical harm. People turn to drugs to make being a sex worker bearable or are already on drugs and are using it as a way to fund a very expensive habit. Similarly, people who have been sexually abused might see it as the only way to mend the brokenness inside them or the only available substitute for affection. Just as there are, maybe, ‘happy hookers,’ to use an appalling phrase, I think the damaged people outweigh them many times over.

So what to do? The people who argue for decriminalisation stand where I should probably stand, at the junction of pragmatism and idealism, arguing that harm is being done and the best way is to seek to minimise that harm is to try and make the act of selling yourself as safe as possible. They argue, eminently plausibly, that as prostitution has been present in all societies, seemingly since the beginning of time, which suggests that all efforts to eradicate it will be unsuccessful. Men, and it is largely men, will be men. Their behaviour can’t be changed so it must be accommodated.

Again, this appals me. Giving up on one aspect of male behaviour, in this case, paying for sex, seems like a massive admission of defeat, which fails to tackle that dark heart of capitalism. If you grow up thinking that you can pay for access to people’s bodies, then you’ll always think that. Nothing that you have ever encountered will be a challenge to that assumption so it becomes accepted as a truism. Want sex? Just pay. And in this way of thinking, sex becomes a human right. You’re entitled to sex just like you breathe and shit. If someone wants to sell you sex, then go ahead and buy it. There are no prohibitions.

This is buttressed by a libertarian argument about freedom of choice. If people choose to sell sex, and people choose to buy it, then it is no business of the state’s to intervene. It does not, by this metric, moralise about choices and anyone who wishes to interfere is a puritan of the worst stripe imaginable. This is completely and utterly wrong. While sex workers do have agency, that agency can be said to have been either removed or diminished by abuse or addiction. You aren’t just choosing a shampoo from a list of available shampoos, you’re choosing a lifestyle that will increase your risk of harm and abuse and buttress your addictions. All choices are not, I’m afraid, equal. Choosing to apply for a part-time job in Burger King is one thing. Choosing, insofar as it could be said to be a choice, to inject heroin is another.

The Nordic Model asserts that men who try and buy sex are criminals and should be prosecuted. And I agree. Anyone who tries to buy access to another human being is a criminal. There is no other word for it. You could say that disabled or socially gauche people wouldn’t otherwise be able to have sex, but I’m ugly, which minimises my opportunities to have sex. I don’t think this state of affairs gives me the right to pay for access to someone else. If I did, I would regard myself as being a criminal worthy of prosecution if I was caught. Where we struggle is that countries that adopt the Nordic Model do, in my opinion, have a clear moral obligation to provide a route out through housing, education, retraining and alternative employment. This is the ideal.

It won’t have escaped your attention that we don’t live in an ideal society. One that denies benefits to sick people and penalises those who live in a house with one room more than it considers it needs can’t, in any way, be considered to be ideal. We live in a diseased society where bad men and women make bad decisions that make the lives of people who have already had disastrously bad luck once, or a number of times, incalculably worse. Expecting this society, if that is even a fit description of it, to help people away from damaging lifestyles is a forlorn hope. The best you can do, to return to the top of my argument, is to minimise harm.

Those who say this are, of course, right. Priorities are perverted, the system is wired to reward sociopaths and, as we work towards the New Jerusalem, harm reduction will have to do. I know this but, I also reject it. I reject absolutely and categorically the libertarian argument that individual choice is sovereign, when it can be weighted by need, addiction and damage, and I reject the view of men as incapable of change. So what will I do? The answer is nothing. Society will never adopt the Nordic Model and fund exit routes, because sex workers are nowhere near a priority. Even if it did adopt the Nordic Model, the chance of taxpayers’ money being used to fund people escaping sex work would be zero. Can you imagine the Daily Mail?

Like Pilate, I want to wash my hands of this. I can’t, of course, because I pay taxes and am involved in society whether I like it or not. But I will never, as long as I have breath in my body, vote for a government or a prospective government that accepts paying for access to women is legitimate. If that means not voting, then so be it. I won’t vote. But I can’t knowingly participate in something which I know to be horrific, and pragmatism be damned. Today, I stopped seeing myself, after a brief, Corbynite dawn, as a Labour voter in waiting. Decisions have consequences, however small and my trust and faith in the political system is hereby withdrawn.

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