. Socialist Party - Debate on Prostitution

The Prostitution Debate

The Socialist, 25th Sept.2004

Here's the original article by Sinead Daly and a further one from Rodger Bannister in Liverpool

Prostitution: The Debate Continues

Legislation Offers No Lasting Solution

SINEAD DALY'S article on prostitution in last week's socialist raises some very important issues around legalisation and decriminalisation. The debate in Scotland has centred on Tolerance Zones because this is the main proposal in Margo Macdonald's Bill to the Scottish parliament, as Sinead outlined.

Eleanor Donne

Tolerance Zones are a form of decriminalisation of street prostitution but only in very limited areas. Under the proposed schemes the government would allow local authorities to set up zones (areas) - most likely in non-residential areas such as industrial retail parks after hours - where prostitutes would not be arrested for soliciting.

I think Sinead is right to say that, without condoning or legitimising the sex industry, we should support measures that make life less dangerous and harmful for prostitutes. The Scottish Bill on Tolerance Zones could be one such measure as, in addition to decriminalising prostitutes in the zones, it puts a duty of care on local authorities to provide CCTV, lighting and support services.

However, I don't think that we should give 'blanket support' to the idea of Tolerance Zones. What comes out of this government's consultation document, Paying the Price, could be quite different from the Scottish model. We would have to look carefully at exact proposals by local authorities, whose agenda is likely to be as much about removing the problem of prostitution from town centres and residential areas as offering real support or routes out of prostitution.

Without proper resources the zones could simply become dumping grounds - a kind of 'out of sight, out of mind' approach. The government's rough sleepers' initiative, 'solved the problem' of homeless people in central London by simply moving them on.

Whilst prostitutes within the zones would avoid arrest, those operating outside for any reason could face a harsher clampdown. Amongst these are likely to be women from abroad, brought here illegally, either as desperate economic migrants or literal 'sex slaves'.

It isn't yet clear what direction the government will take regarding the sex industry. The worry is that the reforms being touted in the consultation document, such as licensed brothels, would be like recent ones on drinking and gambling: good news for the multi-billion pound industries involved but bad news for working-class communities.

Prostitutes should be allowed to use off-the-street venues and work in groups for reasons of safety and comfort. However, we should completely oppose attempts to integrate prostitution into the entertainment and leisure industry. New Labour is big on talk about anti-social behaviour. They are willing to use legislation to punish individuals via Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and Parenting Orders. They have introduced lessons on 'citizenship' in schools to teach our children how to be responsible. Yet the government has shown a slavish acceptance of the market in all aspects of society, whatever the social cost.

On this basis, it is possible that they will allow the development of licensed brothels to take advantage of 'The Sex Sector' that Sinead referred to in her article.

Whatever the outcome of the consultation, and whether or not the government changes the law, it is clear that our present economic and social system offers no lasting solutions to the underlying problems of poverty, inequality and sexual exploitation which drive women and men into prostitution.

The socialist party would welcome readers' views on this issue, email us.

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