Decriminalisation of prostitution v legalisation

Since it was founded in 1975, the English Collective of Prostitutes has been campaigning for the abolition of the prostitution laws which criminalize sex workers and our families, and for economic alternatives and higher benefits and wages — no woman, child or man should be forced by poverty or violence into sex with anyone. 

Summary: Decriminalisation is the removal of criminal sanctions for prostitution as we see in New Zealand. Legalisation  is strict regulation through, for example, municipal and health acts with criminalisation for noncompliance as we see in the Netherlands. The ‘Nordic model’ criminalizes sex workers that work together plus all third parties, landlords and clients.

Decriminalisation means the abolition of all the laws on prostitution.  Although exchanging sex for money isn’t illegal, in practice it is virtually impossible to work without breaking the law. Women working on the street are charged with loitering and soliciting (and increasingly ASBOs and compulsory rehabilitation orders).  Two women or more working in premises can be charged with brothel keeping.  Anyone who associates with a sex worker (lover, friend, partner) can be done for controlling. Raids and prosecutions are increasing and hundreds of women who are working to survive and support their families are having their lives wrecked by a criminal conviction – as a result they will find it almost impossible to get any other kind of employment.  And most importantly, women’s safety is seriously undermined as sex workers are deterred from coming forward to report rape and other violence for fear of arrest (and for immigrant women, fear of deportation) – violent men know that and are quick to take advantage.

Prostitution was decriminalised in New Zealand in 2003 and as a result: sex workers are more able to report violence to the authorities without fear of arrest; attacks are cleared up more quickly; there has been no increase in prostitution.  Any legislative change here in the UK has to, like New Zealand, include the decriminalisation of women working on the street who are most vulnerable to violence and arrest.

The English Collective of Prostitutes opposes the legalisation of prostitution because where it has been introduced (Germany, Netherlands, Nevada, etc.) it has not improved working conditions or safety and has further segregated sex workers.  Under a legalised system, sex work is legal only in certain zones or brothels.  If women work outside those areas they remain illegal.  Sex workers have to register with the police.  Most are mothers, mainly single mothers supporting families, and cannot afford to be public.  Women fear that once on a police or local authority computer, they will be stigmatised even further.  What if the school finds out, how might your children be treated?  How will they treat you if you are raped?  Where legalisation has been brought in most sex workers prefer to remain illegal than be subject to those conditions (only 12% of women in Germany work in the legalised areas).

The movement for decriminalisation is gaining ground. In September 2010, in response to a legal challenge brought by sex workers in Ontario, Canada, the court abolished the prostitution laws (which are modelled on the British ones).  Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled that sex workers’ constitutional right to “life, liberty and security” were being violated: “I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public.”

2 thoughts on “Decriminalisation of prostitution v legalisation

  1. I probably didn’t make it clear egonuh prostitution shouldn’t be legalised, it should be decriminalised. Will edit the page.2 reasons why I personally don’t want health checks to be mandatory (I’m not saying they shouldn’t be, I’m saying they shouldn’t be forced).First of all, when a builder/ radiologist/ power station worker goes to work in the morning, their neighbours are unlikely to point a finger at them and say to their children: See that man? Never talk to him, and run back home if he comes up to you in the street. I’ve seen him down at the local GUM clinic second time this month, he’s a bad, bad man! And secondly, as I’ve pointed it out already, a professional sex worker always looks after their health (I’ve never met anyone who offers unprotected sex (and most withdrew unprotected oral recently, too) and we still have regular check ups because our life and livelihood depends on it). But there are amateurs who work in bars and clubs every week-end, they charge far less (I’m not saying they are free as you still have to buy at least one drink for them) and unless the man they pick up that night insists on protection (and let’s face it, what man will think of such things when he’s about to get laid?) there will be nothing of the kind. These amateur sex workers might have fewer sexual partners than me (or they might not), but who, do you think, will spread more disease? I’ve had only one case of STD in my life and it was way before I went into this business, it was when my then boyfriend brought it home after a one night stand.And so, if you want to force check ups on us, shouldn’t you force check ups on amateurs, too? Otherwise, you’re discriminating us based on our occupation.There shouldn’t be unprotected sex full stop. And punters who are stupid egonuh to look for it, deserve the consequences. But I’d prefer it to be made illegal within the business this way even the densest punters might get the point.

  2. In any discussion I am inolvved in for the IUSW I use my real name. I am therefore very easy to find . If I was in anyway ashamed of being a sex worker I could easily hide my identity. I am however very proud of being a gay male sex worker for ten years and also in my civil partner who runs a N East escort agency representing women and sometimes men who employ him to do a specific job as an agent. If some persons did their research correctly they would know that we are not a nationwide agency nor do we have franchise elsewhere. Nor are we sadly millionaires.As a sex worker and with a partner employed by self employed escorts to represent them I am I believe in a better position to talk about the adult industry than many on here. Some commentators find it far easier to deal in caricature than to acknowledge real people. The fact that real people do a real job of their choosing is obviously anathema to people who prefer to talk of caricatured victims and abusers.I expect the abuse from some quarters because I choose to be public but it is insulting to the escorts represented by my partner that their self agency should be questioned and their choices dismissed and abused. It is insulting that genuinely trafficked or abused victims are used with total disregard to their genuine circumstances to support state sponsored persecution of women and men by the use of bad law.Only the recognition and acceptance of voices and choices that may differ from yours will result in the recognition of human rights and it is only the recognition of human rights that will ever stop abuses in this industry or any other.Those who cry rape in relation to sex work are choosing to ignore the voices of women and men and trangender persons who work in this industry and they are endangering those who through various circumstance are inolvved in this work unwillingly.The IUSW represents every sex worker regardless of the position they have in the industry and we are active in protecting and promoting human rights for all and making the industry safe for sex workers. We support exit strategies for those who wish to leave and support fully any trafficked victim. We do this as a human rights based organisation.The IUSW is entitled to inform and to ask for donations from those who work in and who support human rights of sex workers.Douglas Fox ( IUSW and Amnesty International activist)

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