ProstituteI believe in legal prostitution.

Or, rather, I believe prostitution should not be illegal. Statements like this tend to raise eyebrows. Yet almost everyone expects that, separately, their sex lives and how they spend their money should be left alone by the government; it’s only when they come together – mixing money and sex, exchanging one for the other – that everyone gets horrified and wants to keep it illegal. As I’ve argued many times before, that is wrong. It’s wrong in principle, and many people know it. There exists a vibrant sex industry in every market in the world, a fact which defies not only the law and efforts to enforce it but also defies, in practice, every one of the arguments people make in efforts to keep prostitution illegal.

An article appeared to that effect in today’s Guardian by Diane Taylor, regarding the prostitution industry in London:

The new research by the Poppy Project, Big Brothel (PDF), a survey of the off-street sex industry in London, has generated shock and headlines that sex can be purchased in London for as little as £15 and highlighted the fact that sex without condoms is available.

However, closer inspection of the data reveals that only 2% of brothels contacted by phone by researchers offer sex without condoms. This leaves a very impressive 98% of establishments insisting on condom use. … [And] according to the research, the average fee is more than £60, with some charging up to £250 for sex. The survey found no concrete evidence of girls under 18 working in brothels – the average age was 21.

In other words, the free market for sex has proved itself capable of self-regulation and self-government even in the absence of a legal mandate for its very existence! Yes, trafficking and other forms of abuse take place, but how much more so now, in the existing black market, than in the case where the government would legalize the industry as it should? How much trafficking is necessary in a perfectly legal commodity? Trafficking occurs because a commodity is illegal: drugs, for example. Nobody ever gained from trafficking in something otherwise entirely legal. Want to disarm traffickers? Legalize prostitution! This is so blatantly simple, but what’s happening is that those who wish to keep prostitution illegal for other reasons are using ‘trafficking’ as an excuse when their other arguments fail. Taylor agrees:

The government and the Poppy Project conflate the horrors of trafficking with prostitution in general. Yet the scenario of a woman being forced into prostitution, treated abysmally and denied access to her earnings is very different from that of a woman who works in one of the establishments surveyed by Poppy of her own free will, chooses her clients and working hours, insists on condom use and earns £1,000-£1,500 per week.

Exactly. Nobody is arguing that people should be coerced into doing anything they don’t want to do; to the contrary, we’re saying that people should be allowed to do exactly what they want to do, and nothing less! Trafficking is an appalling practice, but it’s wrong for precisely the same reasons that banning voluntary prostitution is wrong: because people should be free to conduct themselves in whichever way they want to. Both trafficking and government law are responsible for curbing the freedom of women to act according to their own desires.

Those who are ideologically opposed to prostitution in all its manifestations may not like the fact that tens of thousands of women working in the industry have made a choice to take up sex work because of the money they can earn. Nonetheless this is the reality.

And it’s none of their damned business. Those who are “ideologically opposed” to prostitution are free not to sell sex, if at the same time those who are not “ideologically opposed” are permitted their freedom to sell sex if that’s what they want. With regard to the law, that is the simple dynamic of a free people. Any discussions of prostitution beyond that must take place without appealing to ‘criminalizing’.

The government poll asks if people are prepared to criminalise the buyers of sex (from all sex workers, not just those who are trafficked) in order to protect the most exploited.

Fuck off! That’s the equivalent of asking if it should be illegal to buy cellphones because some of them are used by drug dealers, or if it should be illegal to buy groceries because some of them were picked by exploited workers. It’s patently absurd, and the very question is an insult to the average free citizen, let alone the average sex buyer (who is living a peaceful life and is simply engaged in civilized transactions between consenting adults).

Victims of trafficking need all available help to get out of prostitution. On the basis of the evidence provided by operations like Pentameter 2 they are a minority of those involved in prostitution rather than the norm.

Indeed, and – again – trafficking is as different a practice to prostitution as smuggling is to immigration (nobody thinks we should stop all immigration on the basis that some smuggling takes place). A lesson is needed, perhaps, on which criteria may be used to decide whether something should be legal or illegal.

If men are criminalised for buying sex, the women selling it will be driven underground, making them more vulnerable to violence, with less control over what they do. For a government that has pledged to protect women in prostitution from exploitation, this could be a spectacular own goal.

Of course: that’s what’s happened in every single instance where anti-prostitution laws have been rigorously enforced, and it certainly doesn’t stop prostitution (even if that were a laudable goal, which it isn’t).

For the rest of the piece, click here. For a related article on how the internet is proving to be the greatest custodian of freedom in this regard, click here.