Here’s why we need to decriminalise prostitution in the UK
More and more people are backing the decriminalisation of all sex work
As part of Women’s Committee’s 16 Days Against Gendered Violence, a debate took place in Coffee Revs over whether or not prostitution should be decriminalised in the UK. Despite excellent arguments from both sides, the audience were overwhelmingly in favour of decriminalisation.
It is not only Sheffield students who favour the decriminalisation of prostitution, over the past few years there has been a growing movement. Amnesty International and Jeremy Corbyn are both supporters and last year, Holbeck in Leeds became the first legal red-light district in the UK.
For a long time, prostitution has been viewed as inherent violence against women, but many feminists are backing decriminalisation. This is because women who are prostitutes do not currently have the same rights to healthcare and legal aid as women in other jobs. Successful decriminalisation would mean licensing laws, workers’ rights, legal protection and regular sexual health checks. All of this would make prostitution much safer.
It is clear that criminalising prostitution will not make it go away. It is one of the oldest trades in the world and it will probably exist in some form or other for hundreds of years into the future. Instead of tackling prostitution for its objectification of women, we must make sure that prostitutes are able to operate in the safest environment possible.
Out of all the men and women who work as prostitutes, the minority go into it through choice. Society has stigmatised the exchange of money for sex to such an extent that prostitution is seen as a sign of desperation. Those who enter the trade through economic need suffer most from its criminalisation. Much of society’s anger towards prostitution is misdirected. Surely we should be angry at a government that does not provide for women in need.
If it gets to the point where some women go into prostitution unwillingly just to be able to survive or provide for their children, then there is a problem with the overall system, not with the sex trade itself. Until we live in a society where everyone has enough money to live, how we can possibly criticise women who are drawn into prostitution? If the government cannot properly provide for these women then it should not criminalise what they do through necessity.
The strongest counter argument for decriminalisation is that, in country’s where prostitution is legal, human trafficking has increased, as demand has increased. However, legalisation could mean formal searches and licensing laws, as any legal brothel would be registered. Hopefully, eventually, this would bring more human traffickers to justice and reduce child prostitution.
Currently, when people are trafficked into the UK, they cannot seek justice if the work they are being forced into is also criminal. Furthermore, if they manage to escape their situation, they will lack access to mental health care or be unwilling to talk about their experience through fear and shame. If prostitutes get a criminal record, then it will be very difficult for them to move on, into a different line of work.
As long as prostitution is part of a criminal underworld, then it will always be dangerous. Prostitutes who are attacked and raped will find it more difficult to take their attackers to court. Decriminalisation would give prostitutes the same rights as all other workers. They would have the right to strike and the right to a minimum wage, meaning that corrupt pimps would no longer be able to operate.
In Sheffield, police are continuing to crack down on the red light district near Kelham Island, despite the success of the UK’s first legal red light district in nearby Leeds. Last year, a Sheffield massage parlour appeared on Channel 4 documentary “A Very British Brothel.” The parlour seems to offer a step towards legalising sex work. Run by women, the atmosphere is safe an accommodating.
Prostitution should be decriminalised in Sheffield, and the rest of the UK, to protect women and give prostitutes the same legal rights as other UK citizens.
(Featured Image: A Very British Brothel, Channel 4)