The Prostitution Debate
, 25th Sept.2004
The Problems With Tolerance Zones
I WELCOME the article on prostitution in issue 362 of the socialist. The Liberal Democrat council in Liverpool, where I live, are currently campaigning for legislation to allow them to have Tolerance Zones for prostitutes.
For socialists the link between prostitution, poverty and its accompanying social problems and the exploitation of women under capitalism cannot be ignored. Clearly, the abolition of such social evils under socialism would result in a massive diminution of prostitution. But we also have to advocate policies that are relevant for the present day.
The call for decriminalisation needs to be carefully thought through, because of the way the law currently operates. At present, no law actually forbids prostitution in Britain and in certain circumstances sexual activity can be paid for quite legally. In practice, the issue is hedged around with laws that make it difficult for prostitutes to operate within the law (see box).
Faced with such a confusing array of often reactionary and repressive legislation, the call for decriminalisation has an attractive appeal. But it is more important to consider the effect of each piece of legislation and what we are seeking to achieve in order to repeal, amend or replace as necessary.
Whilst supporting the establishment of Tolerance Zones, for the reasons stated in the article, it is doubtful whether such zones could operate unless provided for by legislation, which would criminalise (ie not tolerate) prostitution outside such zones.
Another problem with Tolerance Zones is the backlash against them from residents of the zones. To avoid this they would have to be carefully sited away from residential areas - in city centres, industrial areas etc.
Finally, whilst primarily concerned with the status and welfare of women, our attitude to prostitution should also take account of male prostitution, which, like its female counterpart, generally recruits from amongst the victims of the harsher aspects of capitalist society. These people also need the help, support and advice that Tolerance Zones could provide.
- The Disorderly Houses Act 1751 forbids brothels, sex parties etc.
- The Vagrancy Act 1824 makes it illegal for "common prostitutes" to wander in a public street.
- The Town Police Clause Act 1847 makes it illegal for common prostitutes to assemble in a cafe, pub or similar place.
- The Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 forbids the marking of people via sado-masochistic sex.
- The Sexual Offences Act 1956 is aimed at pimps by making it illegal to live off immoral earnings.
- The Street Offences Act 1959 outlaws soliciting in public.
- The Licensing Act 1964 forbids landlords in pubs from serving anybody working as a prostitute.