Letter:Market forces of prostitution

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Sir: The proposal for the tolerance and licensing of brothels made by Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire ("Police chief says legalise brothels", 29 July) is wise, pragmatic and one which should achieve improved public health and safety for both clients and customers in the context of brothels. It should be supported. He is also correct in his contention that the law operates in a fog of differential discretion and double standards.

However, what is less certain is his assumption that licensed brothels will "get prostitutes off the streets". Brothels, albeit illegal, presently coexist with street prostitution and legalisation may not change the situation. The licensing of brothels, with perhaps a levy of taxation, will increase marginal costs, and the advantage of the street trade is that it is relatively cheap. Much is casual and driven by the economic circumstance of the prostitutes. Few pimps have the entrepreneurial skills to establish brothels. They are likely to continue to operate below the legal margin. Above all, the street trade offers the significant advantage to clients of greater anonymity. Brothels and street prostitution serve different markets.

It might be argued that the existence of legalised brothels will give the authorities power to force prostitutes off the streets - but existing legislation has failed to achieve that, despite heavy sanctions in some areas.


Department of Professional Social Studies

University of Luton