Leading article: There are better ways to protect trafficked women

The Government's proposals threaten to do more harm than good

Share
Related Topics

The Government's latest proposals on prostitution are doubtless well-intentioned. Who could argue with a desire to increase protection for women who have been trafficked into prostitution against their will, or with the urge to shift legal culpability away from vulnerable and often brutalised sex workers and on to their customers? But there is a serious danger that what the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, proposed yesterday – creating a new offence of paying for sex with prostitutes who are "controlled for another person's gain", increasing penalties for kerb-crawling and new police powers to close down brothels – will not achieve those noble ends. Indeed, they could end up putting exploited women at greater risk than before.

The crucial point to bear in mind is that if it was possible to eradicate the sex trade through legislation and ratcheting up social stigma, it would have disappeared long ago. Prostitution has thrived in more censorious and judgemental eras than our own. It is an uncomfortable lesson, but history teaches us that as long as there is a demand for commercial sex, supply will spring up to service it. And demand is showing no signs of declining. That is the context, unpalatable as it is, in which we need to evaluate the new plans.

Increasing the force of law is not going to stop men from visiting prostitutes, but it will make them more wary of being caught. There will be an incentive for prostitutes to reduce the chances of their clients being arrested. That means they will be tempted to ply their trade in more secluded areas, to travel further from their homes and colleagues. The effect will be to help push the trade further "underground", out of the sight of the authorities. How would this help trafficked women, or any prostitutes for that matter? And how would increasing the powers of police to close down brothels help get women off the streets, which is the most dangerous environment for sex workers?

The Government would be better advised to shelve these well-meaning but misguided plans and instead consider a more effective method of protecting women involved in the sex trade: the establishment of "tolerance" zones and brothel licensing schemes. This offers no panacea. But such schemes would enable officials to monitor the trade, making it harder for traffickers to operate. It would also give sex workers greater "safety in numbers" and access to sexual health advice. The obvious objection is that few people will want their neighbourhood turned into a red-light zone. This is no idle concern and the Government does not have an encouraging track record in this area. The foolish decision of ministers to allow lap-dancing clubs to be licensed in the same category as cafés and pubs has resulted in a proliferation of these seedy establishments, often in wholly unsuitable areas.

But prostitution is different from lap dancing. Brothels do not tend to profit by attracting passing punters from the street. And discreet "massage parlours" can already be found in even the most outwardly genteel of neighbourhoods, above shops and homes. Tolerance zones would actually help to cluster them in more appropriate areas. The majority of residents would probably be pleased with the results of a licensing scheme.

The Government should certainly be doing more to raise general public awareness of the plight of trafficked prostitutes. But if ministers want to help such women directly, they need to examine ways to achieve the thing likely to do their captors and brutalisers the most harm: drag the sex trade out of the shadows and into the light.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: Blairites for and against a Miliband victory

John Rentoul
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in debt to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before