Prostitution in the UK. Do our laws need to change?


2019 will hopefully be one of the many years where equality between men and women can be enhanced. It has already been over 100 years since the Representation of the People Act first allowed some women to vote, and now we must now talk about a modern day issue which hugely effects women’s equality. This issue is prostitution.

The majority of sex workers in the UK are women and the BBC reported that “there are more than 70,000 sex workers in the UK to which nine in ten of which are women,”. It is vital that we at POI look into the arguments surrounding prostitution.

As a brief overview this is the UK’s current legal stance on prostitution:

“In England and Wales, the sale and purchase of sexual services between consenting adults is legal.” However, “various activities related to prostitution, such as soliciting, kerb-crawling, brothel-keeping and various forms of exploitation, are illegal.”

The majority of countries have laws making prostitution illegal however, now some countries are starting to reverse these rules. Few have passed laws which either fully legalise prostitution, or update their laws to what they see as 21st century standards.

Should the UK follow suit with countries such as New Zealand by fully legalising prostitution or, do we keep things as they are? Let us see what our writers have to say.

Written by Conservative writer, Jack Kane.

Fewer STDs and less violence: decriminalising prostitution protects the vulnerable – Labour article

Even though we don’t see women posing in windows on the streets of London, beckoning to unsuspecting passers-by, the UK sex trade is booming. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of ‘prostitution procurement websites’, making access to sex services easier than ever. As outlined in the introduction, the UK’s legislation on prostitution is fairly black and white; the running of brothels is illegal, however, buyers of sex are not prosecuted. However, just a short flight away in the Netherlands and Germany, the law is radically different; prostitution is completely legal, and a visible part of city life.

As a feminist, the question of legalising prostitution raises a variety of (often contradictory) opinions. In the introduction, it is noted that most prostitutes in the UK are female, therefore I consider this, overall, a ‘women’s issue’. On the one hand, the premise of normalising the ‘usage’ and commodification of women’s bodies repels me. The concept of exchanging money for sex seems to debase womanhood, rendering females as objects of sexual gratification. Furthermore, it establishes male pleasure as superior to female sexual satisfaction.

Combined with the frequent exploitation and enslavement of women in the profession, these hesitations give rise to a personal dilemma; should prostitution really be legal?  

Having considered the issue at depth, I am inclined to support legalisation. Being one of the oldest occupations in the world, prostitution isn’t going to disappear any time soon. Decriminalisation, however, can result in making the life of prostitutes more secure, from legal, wellbeing, and social viewpoints.

In the UK, the criminalisation of sex workers can result in dangerous working conditions. In 2002 it was reported that 73% of the UK’s prostitutes had faced violence in the previous 12 months. The relationship between sex workers and law enforcement will remain fragmented as long as prostitutes are ‘breaking the law’ with their work; to make a charge about a violent crime would be outing oneself as a criminal, hence most aggressions are not reported.

If prostitution were to be legal, however, this risk would be diminished, as sex workers would feel empowered to report violent crimes committed by punters, or denounce exploitation by ‘pimps.’ Glasgow is a clear example of this, where several prostitution ‘safe zones’ were established, in which the occupation is legal during set hours, and police-monitored CCTV is present. This change followed a spate of murders from 1991 – 2005, whereby 10 prostitutes were killed. Since this move, there has been a dramatic decrease in violence towards sex workers.

Decriminalisation would also render the life of a prostitute more stable; if it were to be considered a legitimate occupation, sex workers would have a legal frame work to rely upon. A contract of employment and rights would ensure far greater security, as well as allowing workers to apply for social housing and benefits with greater transparency. Another interesting point, is that prostitutes would have to pay taxes on their income, as is the case in the Netherlands. The BBC found that taxing prostitutes could raise at least £250m a year for the Treasury – food for thought.

There would also be an impact upon public health if sex work were legalised, at the 2014 International AIDS conference, a study was presented which claimed that the transmission of HIV could be cut by 33-46 percent in a decriminalised system. This premise is based on laws which often accompany legalised prostitution, such as the mandatory use of condoms, and regular blood and smear tests; Nevada is an example of such a system.

Overall, a system which decriminalises the sex worker would result in far greater protection of both the worker and the population; it would lead to a decrease in STDs and violence. A model to reflect upon is that of Sweden, in which selling sex is not considered a crime, but buying it is. This changes the rhetoric, placing the onus on the procurer, rather than the worker. I believe that this model could effectively tackle the issues of female objectification and misogyny, whilst also reducing levels of prostitution; an approach which appeases my feminist conscience.   

Written by Labour writer, Isabella Jewell

Point of Information

It is easy to just look at the positives, Miss Jewell glosses over the negatives – a Conservative response

Miss Jewell in her article uses evidence from medical journal The Lancet which claims that “decriminalization could avert 33 per cent to 46 per cent of HIV infections across all settings globally.” I am not surprised that Miss Jewell has quoted it due to it being used by Amnesty International and UNAIDS however, this is all hypothetical. Experts such as Julie Bindel and Professor Susan Bewley dispute this claim. The claim forgets to take into account “what might happen to the size of the market in prostitution if you took the legislative lid off.”

Furthermore, Professor Susan Bewley who is a member of “the 2017 WHO Guideline Development Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of women living with HIV,” disputes this as “dubious”. She points out that this is all hypothetical and that there are no facts backing this claim up. Professor Rich Byng also points our that their little evidence to back Miss Jewell’s claim that decriminalized zones will reduce sexual violence and increase condom use. It is “unrealistic and not supported by evidence.” I recommend next time Miss Jewell looks closer at her evidence.

Finally, in my own article I argue that criminalising has actually increased sexual trafficking. If this isn’t a good reason enough not to support criminalising prostitution, I do not know what is. Furthermore, the mental health issues caused by prostitution can be serve so why are we allowing more women to join an industry which can cause serious mental distress. I can not have this on my conscious so I ask Miss Jewell to look on hers.

Written by Conservative writer, Jack Kane

The correct response but perhaps misunderstands why it is needed – a Liberal response

Miss Jewell’s article this week is perhaps her best work with POI since starting. Everything she says I completely agree with. However, I think she doesn’t make a good enough connection between her dislike for prostitution and the Swedish model (or as I call it the Nordic Method).

Miss Jewell makes a sensible comment about how prositution can cause women to be viewed as a sex object, or an ‘alluring mistress’ as Wolfstonecroft would say rather than a person. The legalisation of prositution however can have an affect on men causing their perception to regress to one of a past attitude.

Miss Jewell does note this, but does not link it with why the Nordic method should be the one of choice, something I feel i should add. Due to the Nordic method making the purchase of sex illegal, it shames men who would view women in this way rather than reward them.

I can not fault Miss Jewell too much for her article this week, as I can see we are on the same wavelength on this issue, but I felt this minor issue should have been raised.

Written by Liberal writer, Max Anderson

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Let’s stop living in the past and sail forward with the Nordic Method – Liberal article

Prostitution is something that has been ingrained in society since the beginning of civilisation. It is something that most wish would never happen due to the harm it can bring. However, despite all efforts by countries or especially religions to shame prostitution, it still thrives in most countries around the world.

Prostitution will always be something that young adults buy into even if it is illegal. Britain compared to the EU has one of the strictest laws against prostitution, and still estimates to have 70,000 as the BBC reported with nine out of ten being women. Many now call for changes and Liberals believe that the Nordic method seems be the best method available, which as a Liberal I tend to agree with.

Young girls and boys can be very easily forced into the care of a Pimp or brothel. It is easy to be led into their care with enticing offers of protection and luxury. These 18 year olds soon find out the reality that ‘sex workers suffer so much violence’.

I believe that more support is needed for young adults to help them avoid going into the industry and to help those to easily quit the career once they have perused it. However, as we have seen in this country that is not the case. Women are being prosecuted even when they are being held in brothel houses, with a staggering 54% of prosecutions being against women defendants. Something must be introduced to able women to quit without the fear of being prosecuted.

The EU has dealt with prostitution far more effectively, especially Scandinavian countries. They have adopted an approach called ‘The Nordic Method’, which as a Liberal I agree with.

The Nordic Method reverses the criminal charges of prostitution. It makes purchasing sex illegal but selling sex is not. That means the buyer is open to prosecution whilst the seller is safe.

Ending prosecution against the escort means she can what she does in safer location of her choosing, no longer be left open to needing a pimp or brothel house to work, therefore protecting her against abusive bosses and clients. In addition, it means she can seek help without the fear of being prosecuted by the authorities.

With the authorities on their side it means that these young adults can be helped with a range of support from ‘housing, legal advice, addiction services, long-term emotional and psychological support, education and training, and childcare.’

The Nordic Method, ‘want to change behaviour.’ Banning people buying it, telling them it is unacceptable will make that change.

This approach was used in the United Kingdom but for tobacco smoking. Before 2007, smoking inside clubs, bars, any public place was legal. Since the law change in 2007, people have been forced to go outside to smoke, not only has it cut the smoking population in the UK, it has added to the research that smoking is bad. The Nordic Method has the same impact but through prostitution and from a Liberal prospective, I believe that it is something that should be implemented in this country.

Written by Liberal writer, Max Anderson

Point of Information

Our current system fails prostitutes, the onus should be on the procurer – a Labour response

I fully support Mr Anderson’s argumentation: the rhetoric of shame is deeply damaging. By placing moral judgement upon the female prostitute rather than the procurer, one is condoning male sexual ‘promiscuity’ whilst condemning women.

The Nordic model, as I mentioned at the end of my article, does provide an interesting solution to the problem. It seeks to reduce prostitution by changing societal norms, rather than by prosecuting prostitutes. In this way, it destigmatises sex work, rendering the woman more empowered in society.

His paragraph detailing how legalising the selling of sex gives prostitutes legal rights and social support highlights the problems of our current system: prostitutes are social outcasts left to fend for themselves.

The only aspect of Mr Anderson’s article that I take issue with, is his comparison of prostitution to smoking. On the surface, it seems to be an irrelevant and inaccurate comparison. However, perhaps the underlying link is how sex procurers view prostitutes; a consumer object to use once and them throw away. Through the Nordic model, this dynamic can be reversed, empowering sex workers.

Written by Labour writer, Isabella Jewell

Mr Anderson claims we can set sail to the promised land of the Nordic Model. I’m not sure we will want to go there – a Conservative response

Mr Anderson is confident that the Nordic Model is the way forward however, we must ask what the Nordic Model is. The one Mr Anderson refers to is only used in three countries with many countries adopting different styles to suit their legislative needs. In the future it would be great to see Mr Anderson being more accurate on what style of model the UK should have.

Yet the Nordic Model has not been as plain-sailing as Mr Anderson suggests. The Nordic Model aims to lower the amount of people in the sex trade yet “research over three years reported that there is “no convincing empirical evidence that the law has resulted in a decline in sex work in Sweden.” This was the law’s key goal and it is unlikely that it has achieved it.

The Nordic Model has also failed to reduce the stigma of prostitution. “In a 2014 survey, 63% of sex workers said the sex purchase law had created more prejudice from the authorities; over a quarter, 29% had reported violent attacks from clients but only two said they would report an attack in the future.” These are worrying statistics and therefore, should be more cautious about the Nordic Model.

Even more worryingly is that in Ireland, who have adopted a Nordic Model approach has seen a dramatic increase in attacks on sex workers. “Reported incidences of violent crime against sex workers, from threats to assaults with weapons, have risen by almost 50% from 900 in 2016 to more than 1,300 since. It is clear that if the UK was to ever attempt to apply a Nordic Model, it must learn from the mistakes of others and must tailor it to British needs.

Written by Conservative writer, Jack Kane

Current laws on prostitution are far from perfect but we must not de-criminalise prostitution – Conservative article

Now this might come as a shock to our readers but I will be the first to point out the inconsistency of the UK’s laws on prostitution. The police struggle to implement parts of the law and we still have over 70,000 people working in prostitution. This has resulted in groups arguing for the de-criminalisation of prostitution or for the UK to adopt the Nordic model. It is vital that we do not get too carried away by these options as when we look closer, things aren’t all what they seem.

In countries that have legalised prostitution, there has been a vast increase in the number of people entering prostitution as well as an increase in trafficking. In New Zealand for example, trafficking has not decreased and what we have actually seen is a “rise in reports of under 18-year-old girls from vulnerable communities, such as Maori and Polynesians, being prostituted; as well as a rise in the number of brothels owned by gangs.” Due to criminalisation we see heavy trafficking in Holland. “More than 6,000 people in Holland are the victims of human trafficking every year, two-thirds of whom are coerced into the sex trade, according to first joint UN-Dutch report. At least 1,320 of them were Dutch girls aged 12 to 17.” Trafficking is a vitally significant problem and legalising prostitution does not solve it, but enhances it.

In addition to all of this, the University of Marbury has been conducting research into the effects of liberalising prostitution between 2001 and 2011. The evidence has shown that “liberalising prostitution laws increased demand for prostitutes, which led to more trafficking and not only failed to reduce the violence and suffering of women, but could actually make it worse.Why should we support criminalising prostitution when the evidence shows that it does not help reduce trafficking and furthermore, it actually increases the number of people in prostitution? The “European Commission analysis estimates significantly higher rates of prostitution per head of population in Germany, which is 30 time higher. As well as the Netherlands which is nine times.” Also, the number of people in prostitution in Germany could range from “150,000 to 400,000.” This is an enormous rise in the number of prostitutes and we should not be proud of this. We must be supporters of laws and legislation that try and get women out of prostitution. Legalising it will only help more people into the trade.

Finally, with there being an increase in trafficking in Germany due to legalisation allowing more Eastern Europeans to join the sex trade. There has been an increase in brothels “advertising unprotected sex and flat-rate offers of 99 Euros for customers to have sex with as many women as they wanted from 4pm to dawn.” Morally I feel disgusted by this finding yet this is all allowed due to Germany new laws. We must not allow women to be exploited in this way. Therefore, I cannot support the legalisation of prostitution. Briefly on the Nordic model the UK should consider looking into it and how it could be implemented however, this model must be looked into carefully. It is far from perfect but it could a right stepping stone to changing UK law.

Written by Conservative writer, Jack Kane

Point of information

A great article which notes the dangers ahead, it is a shame it does not produce a guide to avoid them – a Liberal response.

Mr Kane’s article is one that really compliments both myself and Miss Jewell’s article. It raises the problems that a government can face when decriminalising prostitution. Despite his complimenting article, I do worry with his lack of answer to tackle the current problem we face.

Mr Kane summarises the negative impacts that decriminalising prostitution has, he very intelligently notes that it can lead to increases in the disgusting trade of sex trafficking. I applaud him for doing so, so well.

The concerns that his article points out about the Nordic method are understandable and must be noted and taken into account when implementing the policy into British law.

Despite these facts, there is no other solution as yet that has proven more effective in tackling the issue of prostitution. The concerns raised of course must be focused on and prevented but even still, the Nordic method is brilliant in helping young women to avoid, quit or continue the practice of prostitution, in a safe environment and that at the end of the day is the most important thing.

Written by Liberal writer, Max Anderson

Decriminalising allows greater regulation – a step towards tackling exploitation – a Labour response

Mr Kane’s disgust at the levels of human trafficking is something I echo – as I explained in my article, the moral question of legalising prostitution is complex. He has cited many shocking statistics, however has overlooked the levels of trafficking in the UK… Probably because it doesn’t fit his argument.

In our current system, whereby prostitution is illegal – and thus hidden – exploitation is soaring. The state of the law in the UK forces prostitution into the black market, leading to an unregulated sector where underaged teenagers are often exploited and enslaved.

One key cause of exploitation in the UK, is the victim’s inability to come forward without copious amounts of shame, and the danger of prosecution. We should be pursuing a system in which prostitutes have the authorities on their side, therefore they are empowered to report criminal behaviour.

In addition, as I detailed in my argument, by making prostitution a legal occupation, the sector is open to regulation by the government. As such, use of condoms and mandatory testing could be law, and thus advertisements for unprotected sex would become illegal. Regulation could also be a means of assuring workers are of a legal age, if their contract depended on proof of identity.

Overall, I support Mr Kane’s fear of exploitation, however I believe that if the UK adopted the Nordic model and decriminalised prostitutes, then trafficking could be reduced. A more transparent system would move prostitution out of the black market.

Written by Labour writer, Isabella Jewell

Isabella Jewell
Labour political writer at Point Of Information | Website

I have just finished my second year at The University of Manchester studying French and Italian and am about to leave the Northern Powerhouse for a year abroad.

Jack Kane
Conservative political writer at Point Of Information | Website

Hello, my name is Jack Kane and I am third year undergraduate at the University of Exeter. I am a studying Politics and will graduate Exeter in the summer of 2020. I have been interested and engaged in Politics since a very young age.

Max Anderson
Publisher/Founder at Point Of Information | Website

I am currently in my second year of reading Politics at the University of Exeter. My first interaction with politics was at the tender age of four years old.

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