Sex Work May Have Been Around Forever, But So Have Efforts To Restrict ItWith the loss of San Francisco's Proposition K, which eliminates funding for the police to prosecute sex workers or educate their clients, and the announcement that federal government declined — in accordance with its long-standing guidelines — to prosecute Eliot Spitzer on prostitution-related charges, it is clear that this country — like many others — is rather schizophrenic about sex work. Joan Bakewell of The Times of London thinks that maybe we ought to throw up our hands and just let sex workers have at it and blithely dismisses all the reasons we shouldn't.Bakewell's argument is that, since time immemorial, men liked to fuck women without actually having to deal with them, and making it into a monetary transaction suits those needs pretty well. She says:
There is, whether we like it or not, a compelling need for many men to have sex without strings, sex with a stranger that is over and done with once the cash has changed hands. Throughout history they have found ways of doing so, whether with sacred temple maidens or in the garrison brothels set up to serve fighting armies. We can chase it up and down the legal ladders, hound it down dark alleys and squalid bedsits, but its persistence tells us that we won't eradicate it. So let's face up to the fact and make paying for sex legal.
Bakewell takes issue with the British government's initiatives to crack down on street prostitution (arguably the least-regulated form with the highest incidence of coercion) and on their efforts to ramp up penalties on men that patronize trafficked women. In her mind, making the whole thing legal and then regulating it is the best (and most feminist) way to go about it, objectification-objections be damned. Of course, she undermines her argument on two counts. First she argues that regulating brothels will allow residents to keep prostitution out of their neighborhoods — though she points out that a law that deregulated the lap-dancing cafes ended up doubling their number and giving locals little control over having them in their neighborhoods. Second, she says, "I want to see a world where women have enough self-esteem to stand up for themselves against exploitation and abuse." Is sex work not exploitative? Does decriminalization prevent abuse? Does legalizing what some argue is the objectification of women lead to less exploitation and abuse of women in society? Those are difficult arguments to make. Bakewell, having met a handful of regulated Dutch prostitutes and having found them not terribly fucked up, thinks that such is the case. The women at Nevada's brothels might tend to disagree with her description of regulated sex workers:
These particular women - like those I met at a lap-dancing club - weren't the sad dregs of humanity. They had a robust attitude to their lives, a lively street intelligence and an eagerness to better themselves.
Apparently, since Bakewell has found a clatch of well-adjusted strippers and sex workers, we can decriminalize it and stop worrying so much about trafficking and the reasons (or abusers) that drive women into prostitution? That said, I think there are plenty of good, solid reasons to decriminalize the selling of sex, not the least of which is the ability to then regulate sex work (which Bakewell touches on, albeit briefly). There are also good arguments in favor of the state's interest in criminalizing the buying of sex, and in favor of ramping up punishments on the men that patronize women without giving a thought about whether they are being coerced (since, let's be honest, they're already treating them as objects). But let's not argue that feminists are wrong that sex work is part of the objectification women — because we're not wrong — or that trafficking isn't an important issue that deserves lots of attention, or that there aren't sex workers who are exploited and abused even within legalized systems. That's just willful blindness and unhelpful to the argument — sort of like the men that have sex with trafficked women. Paying For Sex — What's So Wrong With That? [The Times] Related: No Federal Prostitution Charges for Spitzer [NY Times] Election Summary - November 4, 2008 [San Francisco Department Of Elections] Earlier: To Regulate, Or Not To Regulate: Regarding Prostitution, That's Still The Question UK Suggests That Men Who Patronize Trafficked Prostitutes Be Prosecuted Recession And Sex Work