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Moralistic insanity on prostitution

As someone who follows such things I had expected the latest Home Office consultation exercise to go according to the standard pattern, thus:

  1. Home Office makes suggestions for changes in public policy…
  2. …’evidence’ is taken from interested parties including police in search of promotion, contractors in search of contracts, and researchers seeking posts on the new quango to be created…
  3. Home Office considers, announces its plans have ‘general support’, ticks box marked ‘public consulted’ and carries on with making legislation for parliament to approve.

So I was gearing myself up to write a piece on the repulsive sight of a department torn between the desire to regulate everything and to maintain PC social norms. Citing the ignominious failure of the Victorian Contagious Diseases Acts, I was going to pour scorn on the futility of a regulatory regime that licensed brothels while denying the most basic economic rights to prostitutes, and created ‘zones of toleration’ in an effort to buck the market while punishing the streetwalkers it purported to protect.

The Goverment has shot my fox. And it turns out the fox was packed with explosives. Someone has overturned the (paradoxical) regulatory liberalisers and has decided puritan prohibitions are what we need. The move is instead to be to “Zero Tolerance” of ‘kerb crawlers’ – and quite without comment, the continuation of zero civil-law rights and next to zero criminal-law protections for prostitutes themselves.

The Home Office minister Fiona McTaggart was quoted yesterday on the BBC as saying that prostitution “is child abuse” because many prostitutes begin selling sex below the age of consent. That is an insane argument driven by the demands of moralism. By the same token unpaid sexual contact must also be child abuse, because most people’s sex lives begin before that arbitary, if increasingly rigidly totemic, mark. Someone, somewhere, is making David Blunkett, who was responsible for the original pseudo-tolerant proposals, look like a liberal.

Does the devil’s name begin with B? The emphasis on cleaning up public untidiness by bullying is of a piece with the respec’ agenda. And there have been suggestions that the inate liberalism of the Home Office – not something spotted by many commentators before now – is interfering with the operation of the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit.

Just another brick in the wall, perhaps. But turning the public agenda on a sixpence, and producing plainly mad arguments for doing so, are ominous. The Head Boy is ever more a dictator, and ever more the apostle of social conformity.

18 comments to Moralistic insanity on prostitution

  • Dave F

    While on the subject of the Blessed Hazel’s missionary fervour, what about the move to make ANY offence arrestable? For example, littering (and presumably smoking in a non-smoking area) among many others that most would see as misdemeanours. We are entering the territory of Rowan Atkinson’s overzealous policeman who arrested people for such offences as “wearing a shirt that was much too loud”.

    And how will the police reconcile it with the guideline that they are not supposed to go around arresting people? Remember the “too successful” South African-born copper who was told to stop cleaning up a housing estate?

  • John East

    It’s been fascinating watching the tortured struggle within the liberal and feminist movements over the years on this one. On the one hand it’s a “good thing” that women are empowered to sell their bodies in defiance of the old patriarchal morality. On the other hand it’s the most evil things on the planet, “men”, and often white middle class men to boot, who benefit from the trade.

    An impossible circle to square for ideologues such as Fiona McTaggart.

    I heard one of the Nulab women interviewed on the radio yesterday, and she said that the government doesn’t buy the argument, “It’s the oldest profession in the world.” The silly cow really believes that she can stop prostitution.

    One might have thought sex will be one of the few compulsive/addictive behaviours left to tax once the zealots have eliminated drinking, smoking, and obesity. Perhaps Fiona should have a word with Gordon Brown on this one.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    This government is starting to make Oliver Cromwell sound like Hugh Hefner.

  • To quote an anthrapologist (sp?) i know….. “Women will always sell it, men will always buy it.”

    That aside im getting very worried – i have a number of vices (prostitution isnt one!) and its getting harder to enjoy them in peace!!

  • Dave F

    It’s really indicating that Labour has wrested from the Tories the mantle of upholder of “family values”. Now, people, you must, must must behave!

  • guy herbert

    Dave F:

    While on the subject of the Blessed Hazel’s missionary fervour, what about the move to make ANY offence arrestable?

    It isn’t a move. It has happened. It was one of the provisions of the Serious Crime and Police Act 2005 that went through on the nod, while people were distracted by flashier evils such as the exclusion zone preventing unapproved demonstrations in Westminster and Whitehall. It comes into effect on 1st January is all.

    There are several interesting consequences, one of which is to make it possible in practice for police to demand one’s ID card–for as we know from Home Office propaganda “there will be no new police powers” introduced by the Identity Cards Bill–by combining your latent arrestability with PACE identification powers. Another is that police will have the effective power to take DNA samples and fingerprints from anyone they like, because this is a power they acquire on arrest.

  • Patrick

    Whilst generally agreeing with the futility and perversity of such regulation, the argument that prostitution should be confined to licenced premises is not that bad, particularly given the shocking abuses your continent is susceptible to with regards to prostitutes.

    And a necessary part of making that work is making it hard for unlicensed practitioners, especially those who work very informally, ie on the streets.

    Also meritorious is simply giving more money to religious charities (my favourite kind 🙂 ) and ‘outreach’ groups if the government really feels obliged to intervene.

    Or…what about completely legalising the practice?? ???? ???? ?????????????

    ps did that ‘your continent’ bit upset anyone? I thought it was quite clever, myself.

  • andrew duffin

    Patrick, we don’t care what you say about the continent because we don’t live on one. You must be talking about the French or something.

    Or maybe you think Britain IS part of the continent. After all, only 20% of you have passports.

    Did you like that snidey comment about passports? I thought it was rather clever myself.

  • guy herbert


    Britain is, pace andrew duffin, on the European continental shelf, but Europe is so varied as to make your generalising comments meaningless. US states are more uniform than European countries in their treatment of prostitution, and their treatment of prostitutes is generally pretty bad. (The US has gangsters, too, in case you hadn’t noticed.)

    In Britain, on the other hand, the services are legal. But marketing, managing your business, working with others, employing people in it, being employed by a prostitute, making contracts in the course of it, getting paid other than in cash, or enforcing a debt, are either criminal or invalid or both, while the Inland Revenue hates self-employed people and given a chance to demand someone prove they don’t make £250,000 a year in the sex industry (while they are effectively forbidden from keeping records) will joyously do so. So the business is largely underground and traders are constantly threatened by officialdom, criminals and unscrupulous clients or business partners.

    So yes, the sane solution is simple decriminalisation–not regulation. A reversal of the public policy that makes immoral contracts unenforceable; repeal of the Disorderly Houses Act (incidentally benefitting gamblers and swingers too); and removal of all the dozens of specific prostitution-related offences from the statute book, ought to be a start. But one would also have to keep an eye on local authority licensing and planning powers being used to suppressive effect–as they are currently with respect to massage and strip-clubs, both of which are treated with great suspicion, by the City of Westminster in particular.

  • mike

    Now now children – play nice, we don’t want any asbos around here!

  • Julian Taylor

    Dave F

    Hazel Blear is unfortunately, for her at least, on record yesterday in the Evening Standard as saying that she thinks David Cameron is a good guy. I would hazard that that is something guaranteed to have Our Little Tony kicking his toys out of the pram, given that Ms Blears is also the sucker minister responsible for shepherding the ID card bill as well.

    One point that I find very sinister in Guy’s later link (” Curfew plan to control unruly children”) is at the end where it states that,

    The Prime Minister has wanted for some time to remove responsibility for the anti-social behaviour unit, headed by Louise Casey, from the Home Office so that it can report directly to him.

    He believes that the Home Office is too cautious and reluctant to embrace radical ideas to tackle anti-social behaviour.

    I wonder if Hazel’s little meander from the straight and narrow was perhaps inspired by this?

  • Julian Taylor

    Jonathan wrote,

    This government is starting to make Oliver Cromwell sound like Hugh Hefner.

    Now there’s a Quote Of The Day if ever there was one.

  • Verity

    Absolutely, Julian Taylor! I was going to comment on this myself. The picture it conjures up is too funny. And the notion has the bitter sting of truth.

    I am all for decriminalising prostitution but I think whorehouses would have to be regulated in some way, because of their nuisance value. But certainly, they should be allowed to exist. If people want to rent out their bodies, that is entirely their own business and no concern of Tony Bliar’s. God, the economy’s tanking and he’s fretting about prostitution? The man is demented.

  • Julian Taylor

    No doubt Labour MP’s are queuing up to go on yet more factfinding missions to Melbourne, Berlin, Hamburg and Amsterdam – all of which have now successfully regulated prostitution – before St Tony of Nowhere Special decides to ban it completely.

  • Robert Alderson

    Worries about women being forced to work as prostitutes against their will are probably legitimate but attempting to eradicate the profession won’t work (can anybody point to somewhere the trade has been eliminated?)

    A fairly simple measure to stop women being forced to work against their will would be for the police to have the power to immediately close down any premises where the women do not have the physical means (outdoor clothing, access to an exit, no intimidating enforcers, some cash and passports if not British) to leave the building anytime they want. This should be a light enough touch to minimize unintended consequences and remove the incentive to move the trade completely underground and out of the reach of any regulation.

  • Luniversal

    Every whore from Eastern Europe who gets busted shoots this ‘I was forced into it by gangsters’ line, as if word had never got round that ads touting well-paid jobs for ‘hostesses’, ‘waitresses’ etc might not mean literally what they say.

    Do me a favour. Lying is what whores do for a living– pretending to enjoy themselves. And the girls with enough initiative to get the hell out of the Ukraine or Albania are not the dopiest. Throwing yourself on the mercy of a British court by playing the victim card costs you nothing.

  • guy herbert

    Keeping up the community standards of harshness and lack of empathy, nicely, Luniversal… It is of course not possible that any unfortunate young women are enslaved by gangsters, nor that the illegal conditions of the trade make this more likely.

  • Andrew Milner

    Observing the local whoring scene in downtown Vientiane (as you do), you realise that the local girls being passed around short time are modestly dressed, quiet and well-behaved. While native English-speaking female tourists are loud-mouthed, coarse, crude, showing enough bare flesh to cause offense. Hence the throwaway remark: “I’ve known classier whores.” Despite the potential maximum $5,000 fine for sexual relations between Lao and non-Lao, the cops have been squared, so no worries. Cops on one side of the square, girls with punter arrive by motorbike on the other, paid off in full view. Then depart on the back of another young gentleman’s machine. You even see a well-drained john shopping with a hooker, guiding him towards the jewellery store, naturally. But you date a girl from the local coffee shop or hotel receptionist and the cops are on you like a ton of bricks. Looking for a nice little earner, no doubt. The tourist and NGO scene has distorted the Lao economy, the impact being particularly apparent in Vientiane. The political intent is to stop the spread of sexually transmitted infection from Thailand, just across the Mekong River. Better health care would help, but there’s no percentage in that. What do you call 1,000 politicians chained together at the bottom of the ocean?