Prostitution has been a part of human societies for thousands of years. As an example, there is an account of such a transaction recorded in the Bible before money was in general use, the price being charged was recorded as being a domestic animal. As it turned out the woman was not a prostitute, merely pretending to be one. She was a widow seeking to enforce her right to a Levirate marriage, the obligation on a close male relative to marry a deceased man’s wife and continue his line. At the time he negotiated the price for the transaction, though, the man did not know this and thought he was negotiating the price of a “bit on the side”, as we might say today. Incidentally, this man is honoured in the Bible as one of the ancient patriarchs and an ancestor of Jesus.
The point is that prostitution has been practiced for thousands of years. It is not a modern phenomenon, but appears to be an integral part of human society. This is not really all that surprising since humans have strong sexual inclinations and any market is likely to have someone try to supply to it.
If that were all there was to it, there would be little problem. However, prostitution has become intimately bound up with religion, morality and social acceptance, and is closely associated with the spread of venereal diseases, which are a public health concern. The end result is that prostitution has been criminalised in many places. Some countries, generally those who closely follow the British legislative lead, do not make it a crime to sell sexual services, i.e. prostitution itself is not a crime. Instead they make it an offence to solicit the selling of sexual services. Under this approach a woman can sell her body, but she can’t ask anyone if they want to buy the use of it. The man doing the buying is usually not perceived as being involved in a criminal act, an attitude which is not unusual, although one would presume that if a man asks a women to have sex and offers to pay her to do so, that it would also be soliciting sexual services.
It should be pointed out that prostitution is not confined to women, if we are to define it as performing sexual acts for pay. Men are also sometimes paid by women for sexual acts, although they may be called a gigolo rather than a prostitute, otherwise there is no significant difference. Neither is prostitution necessarily heterosexual, and homosexual and lesbian prostitution is not uncommon. Whether sexual bondage without sexual intercourse qualifies as prostitution is a ponderable question, although when sexual bondage for pay is used to gratify sexual desires there is hardly any difference. The term “sex trade worker” is sometimes used to include all those engaged in providing sexual services of any kind to others for pay, and whatever is said about prostitution should be applicable to all sex trade work.
The fundamental question that needs to be answered is whether prostitution or soliciting for sexual purposes should be illegal for either men or women, or just accepted as a part of human behaviour. This discussion is about voluntary sex trade workers. It is not about any kind of forced sex work. Forcing people into any kind of sexual activity for pay is sexual slavery and should remain a serious crime with appropriate penalties. Repeatedly, I have said that individuals should have the right to live their lives any way they want providing it does not stop someone else from doing the same. Obviously, forcing people to engage in any form of sexual activity, for pay or not, violates that principle since it stops someone from living how they want to live and forces them to live how someone else wants them to live for the benefit of that other person.
Forcing someone into selling sexual services against their will is sexual slavery, and those who do it should be charged with slavery. In addition, they should be charged with theft of the fee paid, being an accessory to rape, and possibly rape as well if they have had sexual intercourse with the person involved. In these cases, since the woman does not freely consent, the customers should also be charged with rape. The onus should be squarely on the customer to ensure that any women he hires to provide any sexual service is old enough to consent to it and is voluntarily providing the service for a fee without being coerced. The argument, “I didn’t know,” should hold no sway since the customer should be obligated to check.
In December of 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that three aspects of Canada’s laws restricting prostitution were unconstitutional.
The reasons women become prostitutes vary considerably. Many times it is financial hardship coupled with a lack of employment skills, the only available source of income being prostitution. This is quite common for widows in many countries, particularly if they have no other relatives. Others may be children of prostitutes themselves and simply follow their mother’s example. Many times it has been shown that there are more victims of sexual abuse among prostitutes than are in the general population, leading to the presumption that sexual abuse lowers self esteem while also showing how to gain a man’s approval.
Many, perhaps most, prostitutes would undoubtedly prefer not to engage in prostitution with its related dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, physical beatings, rape, drug addiction and putting oneself in a position that even the customers treat with disdain and contempt. It would be far more satisfactory if there were other ways for such women to obtain money for normal living. It is also true that some prostitutes may be in that trade because they want to be, and prefer the lifestyle to that of other, commoner ways of making a living. I certainly cannot relate to that, but I have to accept that it must be the case.
Whatever their reasons for becoming prostitutes, they have the right to be safe. It is an obligation on both governments and society in general to ensure the safety of all citizens. Much is made of this with children, police, pedestrians, drivers and nearly all other groups in society, but prostitutes and some others are invariably shown considerably less concern. The attitude is that prostitution is a degrading practice and the prostitutes deserve what happens to them since it is their own fault. This attitude is predominantly shown by inaction rather than overtly, although some people loudly condemn those people unfortunate enough to have to live that life, preferring to insult, judge and condemn rather than help. When challenged on the issue, most people would probably agree that prostitutes should be kept safe, but almost no measures are introduced to ensure it, and actions speak louder than words.
Prostitution is not illegal in Canada. Many countries based on the British approach have kept a woman’s right to sell her property, her body, for sexual purposes. Instead they have made it a criminal offence to ask men if they would like to pay for sex, i.e. soliciting for sexual purposes is illegal. Often, offering to pay for sex is also illegal, but it is clear that the customers are not charged anywhere nearly as often as the women, who bear the brunt of this attempt to restrict the trade. Along with this, in a further attempt to restrict prostitution, it is illegal to operate a brothel or bawdy house. The effect of these restrictions has been to drive prostitution into areas of cities where police do not often patrol. This just increases the lack of safety and makes it more dangerous. It is apparent that anti-prostitution laws have systematically served to endanger the lives and welfare of women, and that is just not good enough.
The resolution is to accept that prostitution has always existed and is going to continue to exist and to legalise it. It could then be regulated in the same way that taxi services are regulated, another industry which has casual hire of a service by unknown individuals. If brothels were also allowed and licensed, prostitutes could be encouraged to work out of one, and perhaps even mandated to do so, with security personnel ensuring they remain safe. Phoning a brothel for an appointment or turning up at the brothel to purchase sex is far safer for both customer and prostitute than walking down dark alleys in poorly lit streets hoping not to be attacked. Rather than being a source of problems, brothels are the most valuable means of providing as safe a working environment for prostitutes as is possible and should be provided as for any other business. If they wish, municipalities could zone areas of their municipality for sex work to keep brothels and other kinds of sexual activity away from minors and any others who would prefer not to be reminded that such activities exist.
Legalising and setting up brothels does raise some practical business questions. Someone would have to own the building. Any licence to operate as a brothel, if they are to be licensed, would have to be assigned to a named person, who would not necessarily be the owner of the building. The question of whether the prostitutes should require a licence to practice, and whether they should be assigned and restricted to a particular brothel would also have to be decided. Legislation would also be needed to regulate the fees a brothel could charge, whether those fees should be paid by the prostitute or directly by the customer as a surcharge, and who would collect the combined prostitute and brothel fee. None of these are particularly difficult since business practices already in place could serve as models. The difficult aspect is overcoming society’s prudish and punitive attitude in order to see prostitution as the provision of a simple service for hire, rather than as a wicked sin which must be stamped out. Once it is seen as just a service, actions can be taken to ensure the safety of prostitutes and their clients from both exploitation and sexually transmitted diseases.
Due to the fact that prostitution has been illegal for so long it has become associated with exploitative criminality. That is, organised or semi-organised groups and individuals have exploited prostitutes to generate significant amounts of money, a large portion of which is kept by the exploiters, often through coercion and violence. It must surely be self-evident that the major beneficiary of hiring out her body for sexual purposes must be the prostitute, and the majority of the money paid must go to her. Reasonable charges for use of a brothel, security, health services and business expenses should be limited by law, and any violation of those laws which is exploitative should be met with severe penalties, including the confiscation of property owned by the exploiter and paid for by money which should have gone to the women involved.
There is another model for brothels, in which the brothel owner hires women to work as prostitutes and pays them for each client seen. The brothel owner sets the fee and is responsible for all other matters associated with managing the brothel. The prostitute simply provides the sexual service and collects her pay cheque periodically. This model is, perhaps, more open to abuse than to have each prostitute seen as an individual contractor paying for brothel services on a piece work basis. If the brothel owner sets the fee it could be increased without the prostitute receiving more pay, thus generating more income for the owner at the prostitutes expense, whereas with the individual contractor approach the prostitute sets the fee and the owner simply adds the brothel’s fee to her’s.
Whatever model is used, care must be taken to ensure that each individual prostitute genuinely wants to work in that field and is compensated fully for doing so, without being exploited for the benefit of others.
Where should brothels be located? Clearly, they should be somewhere away from areas where they would be antipathetic to residents’ customary expectations. Equally clearly, they would be more appropriately situated in areas where they fit in to the local ambiance. At its most obvious, this means that brothels should not normally be located in residential neighbourhoods nor close to schools, shopping malls, churches and the like. However, areas largely devoted to entertainment facilities, particularly if they include bars and night clubs, would appear to be a natural fit. In fact, these kinds of establishments might be the preferred locations for brothels, since establishing them inside buildings frequented by those who would be expected to provide many, if not the majority, of their customers would reduce the nuisance effect on others who may disapprove of such activity. It would also provide a measure of safety for the prostitutes, since they could arrange for security guards to ensure that unruly or abusive customers are kept away.
Since prostitution can be a major source for the transmission of venereal diseases it is important that provision be made for prostitutes to be checked for these diseases frequently and regularly, and doing so should be a requirement to keep their license as a prostitute. Developing a culture where a venereal disease is seen as just another curable disease would also be of benefit to society, since it would encourage other sexually active people who may be infected to pay closer attention to their sexual health. It should be understood that prostitutes should be required to provide condoms to their customers and require that they be used as a condition of their license, without exception. This is both to prevent conception of unwanted children and to protect the prostitute and the customer from venereal diseases, some of which are still difficult to treat.
Usually, when the topic of prostitution is raised, it is almost always within the context of men buying sexual services from women. In reality, of course, women can also buy sexual services from male prostitutes, and both gay men and lesbian women can buy sexual services from members of their own sex. In addition, all forms of prostitution may involve more than one buyer and more than one seller in a group interaction. In fact, if one widens the definition of “prostitution” to include all forms of sexual services, whether intercourse takes place or not, it becomes a wide ranging industry with many facets ranging from limited touching to sado-masochism. Who is to say what the limits of allowed purchases should be except those selling and buying.
Nevertheless, it is in society’s interests to ensure the safety of its members, and that must include the safety of both prostitutes and their customers of all kinds. This is a major reason that some form of licensing should be introduced and regular safety inspections carried out in much the same way as they are in other industries.
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