Sex For Sale? The Argument
By Remya Mohan
21 January, 2006
Decriminalisation of prostitution, as suggested by the Planning Commission of India, institutionalises the abuse of human beings and is an obstacle to women’s emancipation. Most women enter prostitution involuntarily for survival or out of ignorance and are unable to move out of it because of the high exit barriers which are made even higher by decriminalisation. It is naïve to talk about women entering prostitution by ’choice’ as the average age of entry is around 13. We must analyse the disastrous consequences of decriminalisation policy worldwide before embarking on pseudo-liberal policies which are detrimental to society as a whole.
Many women under the legalization regime will not want to register and undergo health checks as it makes them more open to abuse by authorities and robs them of their anonymity. Hence, the clandestine black-market will flourish all the more. Legal prostitution that enforces health checks and certification for women alone makes no common sense and does not protect prostitutes from HIV/AIDS or STDs, as male “clients” go scot-free with no responsibility whatsoever. It is also impossible to ensure that all prostitutes use condoms and are protected from physical or verbal abuse, as services are rendered in the private domain and only a minority of women will dare to complain against powerful customers or employers.
In countries that decriminalized prostitution, competitive market mechanics ensured that ’sex without condoms’ is offered as a premium illegal service at higher rates. When the legal barriers disappear, the social and ethical barriers to treating women as marketable items are lifted. Under Germany’s welfare reform policy, any woman under 55 unemployed for more than a year can be forced to take an available job in the sex industry or forgo her unemployment wages. This resulted in unemployed Call Centre professionals being offered jobs on telephone sex lines and waitresses being asked to become prostitutes. Is this the utopia that we are looking at?
Decriminalised prostitution transforms international trafficking into voluntary migration for sex work. It exploits the helplessness and poverty of women worldwide and turns prostitution in to an accepted component of tourism spawning branded corporate brothels vying with one another.
Governments that legalise prostitution reap huge economic benefits from the sex industry which becomes yet another economic sector like manufacturing or agriculture. State-sanctioned prostitution ignores the responsibility of democratic governments for making available sustainable employment for women which does not rob them of their basic dignity and human rights. No state must condone any trade which crushes human lives under the pretext of inevitability. Does the state ponder on legalising slavery? When a woman chooses to tolerate domestic violence for lack of alternatives, does civil society sit back and ’legalise’ her plight?
Unionising sex-workers and providing condoms to them are beneficial short term steps, but does not take care of the long term ’big picture’ which must provide women with reasonable options. The practical approach to combat the sex industry is to prevent entry and remove exit barriers as much as possible. Successful regulation of prostitution has already been experimented in Sweden in 1999, where the buyer of sexual services is prosecuted, thus deterring demand. The failure of decriminalisation policy of the 1960s in Sweden led to this holistic approach which eases prostitutes out of the business by providing social services and alternative life-skills. As a result, street prostitution has declined up to 50 per cent in that country. Contrary to what sceptics may think, illegal prostitution has not burgeoned. This approach is on the legislative anvil in Finland, France and Norway where it has dawned upon has dawned upon governments that ’decriminalisation’ is a Pandora’s Box, which should never have been opened in the first place.
This article was first published in Indian Express