Questions and answers on the subject of prostitution.Question: One of the strongest arguments against criminalizing sex work is that it would force it underground and make life more dangerous for sex workers. But surely prostitution depends upon advertizing to exist, and if a punter can find a prostitute then so can the police?
Answer:You would think so. However, we know that selling drugs is underground. Drug addicts can find a drug dealer but the police can't. There is evidence that in the West African community prostitution is underground. Here information about prostitution is spread by word of mouth and not advertising. These women are invisible to the police.
Question: Do you think you have the right to buy someone else's body?
Answer: I have never bought someone's body. I have bought a service, or some time.
Question: Do you think you have the right to buy sex?
Answer: In one sense, yes. Buying sex is legal in Britain, so I do have the right. I have the right to buy a cup of coffee, but if I walked into a coffee shop and said "I demand a cup of coffee" they will say to me that if I ask nicely they might serve me, but they decide who they're going to serve. That's how it should be.
Question: So you think that a woman is like a coffee?
Answer: No, I think a sex worker is like someone who works in a coffee shop, but who is much better paid. Sex is like a coffee but I've never had a cup of coffee that I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Question: A sex worker is different though. She doesn't get the money you pay, the trafficker or pimp or drug dealer gets it. And their working conditions are horrendous.
Answer: Trafficking does exist, but in Britain it is rare. There are a number of ways that we know this. A couple of years ago a law was passed that said a man could be prosecuted for paying to have sex with a woman who had been coerced or deceived. Only about 50 people have been convicted in England and Wales, and in some areas no-one has been convicted. It's not even clear what these men have been convicted of - the statistics don't distinguish between Section 53A of the 2003 Sexual Offences Act and Section 53 which is something different. They were expecting far more men to have been arrested. There was a large scale police operation - Operation Pentameter 2 - looking for trafficked women that failed to prosecute anyone. Project Acumen did not find any women kidnapped, imprisoned or sold. Researchers like Dr Nick Mai found that trafficking and coercion are rare.
As for drug addiction, prostitution expert Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon of University of London has said "Lots of people mistakenly think that drug addicts form the majority of people in the sex industry. They do not. They are only a tiny proportion".
Some sex workers have unpleasant working conditions. Why is that? It's probably because although prostitution itself is legal, certain aspects of it are not. Two or three women are not allowed to work together for safety. That means that a woman has to work in a brothel (where there is a 'pimp' or a 'madam'), work alone in a flat (where she's vulnerable to attack), or on the street (where she's also vulnerable).
Question: Just because there have been no convictions for paying for sex with a coerced or deceived woman, it doesn't mean to say that it doesn't happen, and happen frequently. There have been no convictions in Britain for the genital mutilation of daughters, but many in France. We know it happens often. Sometimes the police and other authorities just aren't interested in prosecuting, whatever the law says.
Answer: The difference is that we have evidence that female genital mutilation often occurs, but we don't have evidence that trafficking or other forms of coercion occur often. We have to go on research and evidence. Also, it's not as if the police haven't tried to convict people. On the day the new law came into effect the police raided a brothel and managed to persuade a couple of men to accept cautions. Operation Pentameter was on an enormous scale.
Question: Don't you think that it's wrong to commercialise sex?
Answer: You could make an argument that that prostitution commercialises sex, just as you could make an argument that child minding commercialises motherhood. Neither argument makes any sense.
Question: Sex isn't just like any other pleasurable activity though, is it? Sex is about feelings. A woman can't just have sex with lots of different men without it damaging her emotionally.
Answer: People have always had sex outside the context of emotional bonds and they always will. People have affairs or sexual adventures, especially on holiday. People masturbate. You will never stop it, you can only make some people feel guilty about it. You can make them feel that they are 'predators' or that they have failed to live up to an ideal.
I have said that sex work is like other types of work, but in one way it isn't. Because of the large financial rewards, there are some women who do it who are not temperamentally suited to it, and that makes them unhappy. People are different when it comes to what types of work they find stressful. They shouldn't be doing it. They should put a few thousand pounds in the bank and work out what else they could do.
At the other end of the spectrum there are women who live in areas where there is little work. They become sex workers because that is the work that's available. However, in Britain we have social security so it's probably better to live on benefits than do a type of work that is stressful.
There are many women who can have sex with different men and it won't harm them emotionally. If they feel that it is not good for them, then they can stop and do something else. They're not being forced to do it. If they have a few thousand pounds in the bank then they have more opportunities to do what they really want with their lives, whether that means training for a career or starting their own business.
Question: Don't you think that you are objectifying women or not treating them with respect?
Answer: Most people don't understand what objectification means, even the people who use the word to criticise men. I have created a separate page for this subject. According to the radical feminists who developed this theory (Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon) the only way that I could avoid objectifying women is not to have sex ever. And not to look at pornography either. They believe that any heterosexual sex objectifies women. It's quite bonkers.
Another feminist writer who has made a major contribution to the development of the theory of objectification is Martha Nussbaum. She, however, believes that prostitution should be legalized, both for sex workers and their clients. So it seems that the theory of objectification cannot be used to try to ban prostitution.
It is often said that a man doesn't have respect for a woman if he has promiscuous sex with her, or that she doesn't have respect for herself. Or that a man is disrespectful of women if he enjoys pornography. I have respect for sex workers, it's the people who talk about respect in this way who don't respect them. I don't believe there's anything immoral about a woman who enjoys sex with strangers, or one who is prepared to do it for money. Or that she must be a victim.
Question: Some people say that prostitution isn't real sex. Real sex is about mutual attraction. What would you say about that?
Answer: If people choose to live their lives by this principle, that's fine with me. There are some people who say that ideally sex should be between two people who are in a relationship. Other people say that sex ought to have some possibility of conception to be valid. They are entitled to their opinion, but what they are not entitled to do is to force their opinion on other people. Also they should think carefully about whether they are asking people to live up to unrealistic ideals, and if this is going to make people happy.
If prostitution isn't 'real sex' then masturbation is even less real sex. Masturbation isn't about mutual attraction. In the past masturbation wasn't accepted, or thought of as falling short of an ideal, and that resulted in people living unhappier lives. Not only did people feel guilty, but they tried to form relationships for the wrong reasons and tried to have sex with in a relationship earlier than either of them was ready. In our modern world, where masturbation isn't frowned upon and pornography is freely available, young men don't feel the same pressure to get a girlfriend and start having sex with her. They don't try to find a girlfriend out of sexual frustration but for better reasons.
Sex can be different things. I could have sex without paying for it if I chose someone of about the same age as me or about the same level of attractiveness. But what if I want a 21 year old beauty? Both ways of having sex have their attractions. I don't think that one way is real and the other not. It's like saying that going to a restaurant is less real than having home-cooked food, or that having a massage from a masseur is less real than having a massage at home from your partner.
Question: There are other harmful effects of prostitution on society though, aren't there? The presence of prostitution, like the presence of lap-dancing clubs, makes women more afraid and brings down property prices.
Answer: Most prostitution goes unnoticed. I lived in a red-light district for years and it was only when I moved away that I learned that it was one. At many of the Chinese medical establishments you see on most high streets you can get a massage with a 'happy ending' and often a lot more. Sex workers who work from flats are usually very discreet. Even brothels often go unnoticed by passers-by. There's no evidence that there is an increase in crime in areas where there is prostitution. In Soho and Mayfair property prices are very high, and prostitution is common there and more noticeable.
Question: What do you think is the future of prostitution in Britain?
Answer: A simple change in the law would make life much safer for sex workers. Women should be allowed to work together from a flat or a house. There are two ways that you could do this. You could legalise brothels, or you could say that when women work together it is not a brothel.
I think it is much better if women work for themselves, they take all the profits and no-one tells them what to do. They don't need a 'pimp' or a 'madam'. Women who work in brothels, women who work alone from a flat and women who work from the street could all have their lives improved if it was legal for women to work together from a flat or a house.
Of course, there will be men (and a few women) who would try to pretend that they're not really running a brothel. There are already ways to stop people from running businesses when they're not supposed to. Directors are often banned from running companies. They try to get round this by pretending they're not in charge but they get caught out.
Near where I live there was a man who ran a takeaway. It was closed down for hygiene reasons, then reopened, supposedly under new management. There was evidence he was running the place so it was closed down again and now it's a betting shop. So it is possible to stop people from running brothels.
If you think what might happen if drugs are legalised, the state might provide pure heroin at a consistent strength for a reasonable price. Registered heroin addicts might be prescribed heroin. If that happened then the drug dealers would find their customers leaving them one by one. It's not that you would have to do anything to stop them, it's just that no one will buy from them any more. Similarly if prostitution was legalised then the prostitutes will have no need for pimps or madams.
There are some women who would not want to have the responsibility of running a business. But it's not really running a business, you don't need the same skills. A knowledge of the internet is useful for advertising but lot of people have that now. There's no more management needed when 2 or 3 women working together than a woman working on her own. It's a bit different for escorts who work for an agency where the agency takes a call from a customer and then decides which escort on their books is going to go to his home.
A woman working in a brothel is not breaking the law but if 2 or 3 women work together they can all be accused of running a brothel and possibly money laundering. That could be an important reason why sex workers might not want to ditch a pimp or madam and set up on their own.
I also like the idea of opportunistic sex work. I have been in places where men and women can go and if they like the look of each other they can approach each other and talk. They might talk for several minutes and the sex worker can establish if the man seems normal and pleasant enough. If the sex worker fears that she might be in danger or even if she just doesn't like him then she can walk away. She might only go there when she has rent or a bill to pay, just when she needs the money. Not all women who do sex work want to be professional sex workers, often they wish do do it to supplement their regular income. A nurse or a student might want to do sex work one evening a week.
Question: So you believe that pimps and madams exist?
Answer: There are men and women who organize the work of some prostitutes and make money from it, sometimes more money than the prostitutes themselves. I don't believe that there are many pimps or madams in Britain who use violence to control prostitutes. A lot of prostitutes work independently, some prefer to work together without a pimp or madam, and some work in a brothel where they have a boss.
Question: What do you think of the proposals of radical feminists, who would like to decriminalize sex workers but ban anyone who pays for sex?
Answer: It's just another way of forcing prostitution underground. Let's say you had three women working together from a flat. They can't find clients to come to their flat because the clients are afraid of arrest. So they have to make use of a 'pimp' who can get them contacts, or they have to go back on the streets. That makes them more vulnerable to violence.
In some countries there are laws against men paying for sex. Sweden has had this system for years. It hasn't had any effect on the majority of sex workers. It has affected street sex workers though. It is said that there the number of street sex workers has decreased by half. The problem with this is that street workers will have dispersed from recognised red-light districts, where they can protect each other, to go to more isolated areas where the police can't find them. So, I don't believe there are actually half the number of street workers, I think the number of street workers will have decreased, but not by half. Those that remain will have more difficult and dangerous lives.
Their best customers, the more law-abiding ones, will be too afraid to meet them. Street workers will be more isolated and thus vulnerable to attack. All it needs is another multiple murderer come on the scene and there will be deaths. Street workers will have to work for longer to get the money they need, and be willing to do things that formerly they would not have to have done.
It's actually quite easy to close down a red-light district. In the 1980s there was one in Argyle Square in London and Hope Street in Liverpool. In the 2000s there was one on Tooting Bec Common in South London. You won't see any sex workers at all if you go to these places today. My information is that there are some street sex workers in east London and a few near Kings Cross and that's it. So if the authorities in Sweden can still find half the previous numbers of street sex workers, I don't call that much of a success.
According to the researcher Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, the number of street prostitutes in Sweden has increased to what they were before the law came in. So it doesn't look as if there have been any benefits. Why try to implement a law in Britain or France that hasn't achieved anything but made women's lives more difficult and dangerous?
Also, it isn't true that sex workers are no longer criminalized in Sweden and other Nordic countries. The old laws are still there and still apply. If women work together for safety they can be prosecuted in Sweden today as in Britain. They will be treated like pimps, organizing sex work and pimping each other. Sex workers get evicted and have their children taken away from them.
Question: I don't know who to believe, you or the radical feminists. You can prove anything with statistics.
Answer: I'm not asking you to believe me, I'm asking you to believe the researchers who all say the same thing: that coercion is rare in prostitution in Britain. The vast majority of prostitutes are not coerced. You should believe that and not ideology that has no basis in fact. It isn't possible to prove anything with statistics. False statistics and lies can be challenged.
If someone says that there are studies that show that prostitutes 'suffer all kinds of psychological and physical health problems' - as Julie Bindel stated on a television programme - you need to ask what these studies are. There are no such studies. Prostitution isn't some dark world that we can know nothing about. Researchers have investigated it and they all say the same thing. The nearest the radical feminists have to research to back their claims is that of Melissa Farley who worked in America with street prostitutes whose flawed research has no relevance to Britain today.
Question: The existence of prostitution in society does nothing for gender equality though, does it?
Answer: This is often said, but it's difficult to understand why people think that the issue of gender equality has any link to prostitution. It's like saying that prostitution is 'violence against women'. The statement below is the only one I've seen that tries to make this clear.
Jacqui Hunt, London director of the human rights group Equality Now, said: "An increasing number of countries are recognising that true gender equality can never be reached as long as it is considered acceptable for one more powerful segment of society to purchase the bodies of those members whose options are much more limited".The prostitutes that I have met have more money than I do. I'm not part of a 'more powerful segment of society'. A prostitute can quite easily put a few thousand pounds in the bank. That gives them more options than I have. They can (and often do) start a business, own property, go on courses and have extended internships.
An author called Alison Wolf has looked at work practices in different countries and written a book about it. She said that Scandinavia is the most segregated society in terms of men and women's work. On Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4 she said "Well the interesting thing about Scandinavia is that it has - in gender terms - the most segregated labour markets in the world". So don't expect The Swedish Model of banning sex work to lead to 'gender equality'.
Question: That might be true of British women, but what about Eastern Europeans who come from poverty-stricken backgrounds?
Answer: Most Eastern European women who come to Britain have normal jobs. That is their option. The ones that choose prostitution also have that same option, but chose to do something else. Most people do jobs that they don't particularly like, you could say that they are forced into a job because of poverty, but people differ in what jobs they really wouldn't want to do. Many people think that no woman could consent to having sex with several different men each day unless they were desperate. They don't want to believe that there are lots of women who don't dislike having sex with strangers and that some of them get paid for it. That's not to be derogatory about some women, I don't think there's anything wrong with having sex with strangers.
Lots of people come to Britain to escape poverty. Most of them work in factories, on farms or in restaurants. Some of them become sex workers. If you go to a restaurant, think that the waitress is only doing what she does to escape poverty. Think that the vegetables you're eating are harvested by people escaping poverty. The ice cream you're eating are made in a factory full of people escaping poverty.
People are often told to work 60 hours one week and are offered no work the next week, and yet they still have to pay rent even when they have no income. It's not surprising that after a few years of attempting to escape poverty and not succeeding they give sex work a go. Maybe then they really do escape poverty, because they're not going to do that in a factory or a farm or a restaurant. Often they wish they had found out about sex work sooner.
Question: Women who are trafficked or pimped or addicted don't have these options though, do they?
Answer: That is true, but in Britain not many prostitutes are like that. And what does trafficking mean exactly? We usually think of someone coming into the country hidden in the back of a lorry with forged documents and then kept in a cellar somewhere. If a woman signs up with an agency in Eastern Europe, gets on a coach and is met by someone in London, does it make much difference if the agency is dealing with agricultural workers, shop assistants, child minders or sex workers?
Question: Is it not true that prostitutes are many times more likely to be murdered than women in other jobs?
Answer: This may be true of some parts of the world. In Britain murder doesn't happen that often so to say that one group of people are more likely to be murdered is problematic. Most sex workers are not street sex workers and there are far fewer street sex workers in Britain since ASBOs were introduced. If it is true that sex workers are more likely to be murdered then that is more likely to apply to street sex workers, but you have to ask why that is (or was). Women know how to make themselves safe but the law thwarts that. If two women choose to work together from a flat they can be prosecuted. If they try to be in a group while waiting for a punter then keep an eye on each other the police will put a stop to that too.
I don't think much of people who create the conditions where women are in danger by supporting certain laws and then use the fact that they're in danger to continue to support those laws. If they are sincere in their assertion that they wish to save sex workers why are they not interested in saving deep sea fishermen and other groups who are also in increased danger of death? The way you save people is by making their conditions better, not making them worse by trying to ban them.
Question: Is it not true that they are 12 times more likely to be murdered and half of them have been raped?
Answer: It is not true that 'over half of all sex workers have been raped or assaulted by punters or pimps'. What is true is that prostitution is a very segmented industry with a minority working on the streets (generally reckoned in this country to be around 10%) the majority work indoors. The experience of each of these sectors is very different. Those on the streets are the most vulnerable and many have suffered rape or assault - but not over half. That 'over half' figure comes from one small scale study of street prostitutes .Those prostitutes who work indoors suffer from relatively little violence. It is a common tactic of abolitionists to generalize from the worst incidence they can find of the experience of street prostitutes and generalize to all prostitutes.
The 12 times more likely to be murdered is simply wrong. The figure comes from a study of a cohort of sex workers at a London GUM clinic where it was reported that the overall death rate (FROM ALL CAUSES - not simply murder) was higher (some included AIDS - actually acquired from non-client partners of the sex workers). A follow up on the same cohort several years later showed that in fact although there was an excess of deaths it was around four times of an age matched cohort. The problem is that the 'control' sample was not matched for demographic factors (poverty, drug use and the rest).
Question: If prostitution becomes normalized in society and sex work is regarded as like any other type of work, does that not mean that some unemployed women will be pressured into becoming prostitutes?
Answer: A pacifist will never be made to join the army, a vegetarian will never be made to work in a slaughterhouse and unemployed women will never be made to work in brothels. Jobcentres don't offer people jobs, they don't even offer them interviews. If you say that you're an office worker, they won't make you work in a factory even if one opens on your doorstep. They won't make you apply for other types of jobs either. When I was unemployed I told them I was an office worker and I was always afraid they would suggest I applied for jobs in call centres, but they never did.
I don't like this word 'normalized'. We live in a society where there are many subcultures. We don't all believe the same things or behave in the same way. To some people prostitution is acceptable and to others it isn't. That's how it will always be. People can make up their own minds about how they want to live their lives, we don't all follow the mass media blindly.
Question: Is it not an indictment on our society that we can't offer women something better than selling themselves on the streets?
Answer: Society should try to create full employment with decent pay, work that people enjoy (without having to go on lengthy internships), and benefits for those that can't work. When we have done that, we can ask sex workers if they want to continue in sex work. Some will, some won't. It's never been all about poverty. What we can't do is not make progress to achieve these things and at the same time stop sex workers from making a living. That's not helping them. It might be difficult to make things better for them, but it's easy to make things worse for them. Don't pretend you want to help people who you are harming.
Question: Street girls? They're all junkies and teen runaways, aren't they?
Answer: When I started going to Argyle Square and Tooting Bec Common, half of the women there were not drug addicts. Some didn't take drugs, some took them recreationally, and some were addicts. A lot of the women in Arglye Square were well dressed and came down to London for the day on the train from northern cities. When the police started trying to stop them eventually the only ones who remained were the addicts.
On Tooting Bec Common there were women of all ages. I met one from Ireland who told me that she used to run a restaurant in Dublin, but then she started taking crack cocaine, and crack changes your life. She was typical of the women that I met on Tooting Bec Common. Heroin is not the main problem for them, they spend most of their money on crack. So I wouldn't us the word 'junkie' for them. Heroin addiction can be treated with methadone, and I support changes in the law that would allow doctors to prescribe heroin too.
I have only ever met one girl who I thought might fit the usual preconception of what as street girl is like. I met her twice, and on the second occasion I gave her some money without asking anything in return. I would have bought her something to eat too and talked to her about her situation.
Question: Men who use prostitutes are men who are so unattractive they can't get sex any other way aren't they?
Answer: The evidence seems to be that men who visit prostitutes are just ordinary men. Many of them are in relationships. Many of them have sex with women they meet without having to pay. There are some less attractive or older men who visit prostitutes and I wouldn't want to dismiss their needs too. If a middle-aged man saves up his money to have sex with a beautiful young woman, something that he might remember fondly for the rest of his life, then good luck to him.
Question: Isn't prostitution and erotic dancing a sad substitute for intimacy?
Answer: Sex doesn't have to be one thing, just like food and music don't have to be one thing. If a man feels hungry, he might go to see his mum who might cook him a meal with love. Or his partner might cook for him. Or he and his partner might cook a meal together and eat it together. Or they might go to a restaurant together. Or when he's walking down a street he might buy a bacon butty and eat it on his own. Each of these has it's own pleasures.
Similarly, we don't have to listen to love songs all the time. We can listen to thrilling rock music. Visiting a sex worker is like eating a bacon butty or listening to rock music. Sex doesn't have to be about intimacy all the time.
If a woman is alone in her bedroom with her vibrator you could say that what she's doing is a pathetic substitute for intimacy. I wouldn't say that though. I would say that she's enjoying herself and learning about her body and what arouses her.
Question: What is it like having a sex slave for half an hour or an hour?
Answer: A man can't do anything he wants to a sex worker. She will make it quite clear what is acceptable to her and what isn't. I'm used to paying for sex at the cheaper end of the market where oral sex without a condom, anal sex and kissing are not available. Penetration is always with a condom. If I was paying hundreds of pounds per hour it might be a different matter, but the places I go to are where the women are in charge and you follow their rules. So I would say it has never felt like I have had a sex slave.
Question: If you're a socialist, doesn't that mean you should resist the commodification of sex?
Answer: I'm not a socialist, but my understanding of socialism is not that something can't be commodified. Socialism means that the worker organises him or herself and takes the profits of their labour. I don't like the brothel system where the sex workers have a boss who tells them what to do and makes a big profit, but I do like a system where women are allowed to work together.
Question: Isn't prostitution a manifestation of a patriarchal society?
Answer: In the most patriarchal societies such as Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan prostitutes are flogged or executed. So I don't see how it can be said that prostitution is a manifestation of a patriarchal society. If they can't ban it, they try to make it as dangerous as possible in order to deter women. There is no reason why prostitution should not be as safe as any other type of work. Women know how to keep themselves safe but the law does not allow them to. When estate agent Suzy Lamplugh was murdered, the estate agent profession did something about it (ie not sending a woman alone to show a man around a house) and there were no more similar murders. For sex workers, however, they are not allowed to stop themselves being murdered by sharing flats. The Swedish model might allow women to share flats but if their customers are too frightened to come to the door then it's just another way of pushing it underground.
Question: If prostitution is so good, why don't you work as a prostitute yourself?
Answer: It's not my intention to show that prostitution is a good thing. I'm interested in the human rights aspect, about how the state shouldn't interfere in what happens between consenting adults in the bedroom. Even more than that, I'm interested in making sex work safer for the women (and men) involved. Sex workers shouldn't have to work in isolated situations where they are vulnerable. I want to reduce the number of deaths and injuries by Britain adopting the New Zealand model where women are allowed to work together.
As for becoming a sex worker myself, I have thought of that. If I thought anyone would be interested - I'm a middle aged man - I could become a masseur who offers 'extras' to men and women. I'm not gay but I would have no problem with providing a 'happy ending' to male clients - for the right price.
You might say that sex workers don't have the option of providing such a limited service. You might think that they would have to have full penetrative sex or even anal sex. That's not true though. There are thousands of women in London who offer massage and under the right circumstances a happy ending. Nothing else. Of course, they don't make as much money as the ones who provide more, but it's their decision.