Prostitutes, UN, metric and others

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Reform must recognise the value of prostitutes' work

Reform must recognise the value of prostitutes' work

Sir: The latest proposals to change the laws on prostitution might look like compassionate and sensible solutions to the problems. When those problems are drug or alcohol addiction, violence or exploitation of unwilling women and children, then some of the solutions proposed do indeed appear to be sound ("Green light for overhaul of prostitution laws", 8 June). Unfortunately, taken as a whole, the new proposals still suffer from the same old error of regarding prostitution itself as a problem to be eradicated.

When the new tolerance zones are up and running, they will be peopled with "careers advisers", offering women a way out of prostitution. Curiously enough, there are rarely many vacancies on these people's lists for executive positions or middle management; but, as such happy helpers often tell a girl who's just switched from

whoring at £300 a night to scrubbing toilets or flipping burgers for the minimum wage, at least you've got your self respect back.

While no one would deny that a substantial proportion of prostitutes are suffering horribly at the hands of ruthless pimps and crazy punters, no one ever seems to be able to engage with the concept that selling sex is a conscious choice for a high number of women. We do, after all, still live in a society that encourages women to regard sexual favours as a form of currency: it's just that the "good" woman swaps them for a wedding ring or some sort of "commitment" rather than setting an hourly rate.

The clearest demonstration of poor understanding in the new legal proposals is the suggestion that any woman working outside a tolerance zone should be heavily punished: this is a direct attack on the type of prostitute least likely to want or need help getting out of the sex industry. Women who visit men in hotel rooms, say, at £200 or £300 an hour are the ones generally in charge of their own lives and destinies, and will rightly resent attempts to put them out of business.

Prostitution will never go away and there is no reason why it should. Though force, coercion and cruelty should be stamped out of the industry, the way to do this is to recognise the worth and validity of commercial sex work rather than stigmatising sex workers and their clients.

London SE8

UN legitimises the invasion of Iraq

Sir: So that's it then. The UN has finally been destroyed as a credible international force. By agreeing to legitimise the US invasion of Iraq, the organisation has lost what little credibility it had. Nobody in Iraq or in other Middle Eastern countries will now accept the UN as an "honest broker" in any conflict.

Our media help the legitimisation by talking of the "new Iraqi government", forgetting that it was essentially appointed by the US. As predicted, it has already requested the US to run Iraq's "security".

Again, the USA gets what it wants while the rest of the world stands by.

London E5

Sir: Mistrust of American exceptionalism is understandable. Equally, Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and even if it had had Bin Laden would never have got his hands on them. We were misled and felt betrayed. Britain and America did a worthwhile thing for broadly the wrong reasons and with them took international politics into uncharted pre-emptive waters.

But a year or so later it is clear that they were right and the whole world says so. How can the Iraq opposeniks now say that it was Bush who did not look far enough ahead into the postwar difficulties? When it comes to it the entire world has no option but to pull together and make this project succeed. The stakes are just too high for the sort of querulous grandstanding indulged in by some.

Perhaps in future the world will not pass up quite so churlishly the offer of a free policeman and perhaps you would like to take a sizeable slice of humble pie.

London SW16

A case for Europe

Sir: I share John Wright's frustration that our national politicians seem incapable of making a case for Europe (letter, 7 June) and his wish for a federal Europe, having long believed that closer association with modern continental ideas would make this country a better place to live. We are too near the bottom of relevant European league tables for it to be otherwise.

Having visited the European Parliament on several occasions, I have always been impressed with its conduct and procedure and the idealism of its members, a number of whom have expressed to me their pan-European sentiments - though mostly not the British ones, admittedly. It's all most unlike the barracking monkeys in Westminster, with their outdated procedures and partisan animosities.

Even our supposedly pro-European MPs seem not to grasp what Europe is about. They seem unable to find any better reason than our own domestic trade prospects for belonging in the first place. I can see no other reason why they repeatedly block legislation designed to enhance civil liberties, curtail commercial greed or protect people from exploitation.

Coggeshall, Essex

Sir: Sixty years on from D-Day may not be a bad time to remember that this country is not entirely wrapped up in "What's in it for us?", powerful as this legacy of the 1980s has become.

The world is now interdependent in a way never before seen in history. "Independence" is a myth, and a dangerous one. The last half century has seen the growth of the UN into a forum for the development of international law, which, for all its faults, is unprecedented; the EU is a noble ongoing experiment in voluntary grouping - again not seen before in history.

Together, Europe can be a great force for good. Separately, we are a collection of medium powers, at the mercy of superpowers and with no real control over our future. As we look back on the achievements of the Reagan presidency, let us look back much further to President Kennedy, who demanded of his compatriots that they ask not what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country. The world is ever smaller. Let's not ask what Europe can do for us; what can Britain do to strengthen the peace which the EU has helped to bring us?

What a historic opportunity we are wasting in all this bickering

Northam, Norfolk

Sir: As the European elections approach, I am becoming increasingly sensitive about the use of the word "democratic" to describe our society. Voting for MEPs is done by a form of proportional representation but my ballot paper only allows me to put my cross in one box despite the fact there are seven seats up for grabs in my area.

If I and everybody else decide to put a cross in the Labour box, Labour candidates would take all seven seats - they have seven candidates named in their one box. But if I and everybody else put a cross beside an independent, he would still only have one seat. That won't of course happen. There will be proportional representation of a kind but how representative can that be with all seven seats lumped together?

And then what happens next year in the general election when we have the even worse system of "first past the post". I live in a Conservative area. If I vote for a Green, an independent or a Liberal Democrat, I am throwing away my vote. What kind of popular representation is this? How can we hold ourselves up as a beacon of democracy?

Diss, Norfolk

Sir: Mike Dods (letter, 4 June) writes that the Treaty of Rome and its successor, the European Union, have ensured that Europe has remained at peace. These hoary old myths do take a long time to die, don't they?

The Treaty of Rome came into effect in 1958. By this time, the Second World War contending parties were all safely ensconced in the Nato military alliance, which made any warfare between them an absolute impossibility. The EU's contribution to world peace, on the other hand, has been the extremely dubious one of barring Third World countries from its agricultural markets and dumping unwanted food surpluses onto theirs, one of the major factors which obstructs the proper functioning of food markets in these countries.


Healthy metric option

Sir: The British failure to convert fully to general use of metric weights and measures is likely to frustrate the parliamentary select committee's very sensible recommendation that children should be weighed and measured annually and their parents advised of their Body Mass Index (BMI)("Obesity killing children as young as three, MPs warn", 27 May).

The BMI can be calculated only by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres. The target range is 20- 25. Anyone with a BMI of 30 is obese. Such calculations cannot be done by using stones, pounds, feet, inches etc.

Thus, unless the relevant authorities are prepared to educate the public to understand and use metric units, the probable result will be that children (who of course learn metric at school) will take home this important information, but many parents will not understand and act upon it because it is in newfangled metric.

Completing metric conversion (and discontinuing the use of obsolete imperial units) is therefore an urgent public health issue.

Chairman, UK Metric Association
Arrochar, Argyll and Bute

Poor smokers

Sir: I have never heard more contemptible words come out of a politician's mouth than John Reid saying the poor should be allowed to smoke because it is one of their few enjoyments.

Even forgetting about the revenue brought in by this cynical indirect tax on the poor, the thought that a government's only words of support to the less well off is "Stick a fag in your mouth!" beggars belief.

It is the Government's responsibility to offer people such as single mothers and others living in council estates a brighter future - legislating against junk food aimed at kids, giving kids some parks to play in, offering education and a way out so that young women don't head for early pregnancy because they see no other way of validating their lives.

Alternatively, here's a packet of fags, a copy of The Sun and a lottery ticket ... all the best me ol' mucker!

London N1

Sir: Hermione Eyre ("Talking about my nicotine-stained generation", 7 June) has made the vital connection between smoking the dirty habit and smoking the fashion accessory. Smoking is cool because, not in spite of, its dangers. And it's becoming cooler.

Whatever the decades of advertising, exhaling movie stars and down-and-out chic have done for the tobacco industry, it's not going to be undone with no smoking in public places, or "SMOKING KILLS" or even an outright ban. Anti-smoking campaigners come across like a parent-teacher association with their threats and ultimatums. They'll have to radically change their tune if they want smoking to become more of a drag.

London N16

Gloomy teenagers

Sir: Why do we find it so difficult to comprehend that Britain's young people are miserable and self-destructive (report, 4 June) when so many aspects of our culture thrive on demolition.

We flippantly and cruelly mock otherwise idolised celebrities when they don't measure up to increasingly unrealistic expectations, Big Brother has to "get evil" to get interesting, newspapers and magazines flaunt headlines that revel in the misfortune of whoever they choose as their hate figure and when children do well in exams we are instantly outraged at how easy they have become .

Criticism is a vital tool for our growth and development, but if we continue to predict and point out a sometimes fictional inadequacy in this relentless way we should not be shocked when we actually begin to fulfil our own prophecy.

Street, Somerset

Sir: Isn't it interesting that in the Netherlands, where there is a liberal attitude towards sex and drugs, relatively few 15-year-olds are guilty of using either?

London N16


East London hits back

Sir: Fashionistas slide easily into old-fashioned class snobbery. Why, Lucy Choppin (Fashion, 8 June), do blue mascara and frosty pink lipgloss look fine in east but not west London?

London E4

Obstacle race

Sir: Kathryn Salomon (letter, 9 June) expresses the view that urban cyclists should be confined to the pavement, and suggests both designated lanes to separate bikes from pedestrians, and a speed limit. The latter shouldn't be needed, though, since the continuous line of cars parked with two wheels on the pavement will serve as formidable speed humps to the less sporty cyclist.

North Yorkshire

British and grumpy

Sir: I've always managed to convince myself that we are not a nation of unforgiving and mall-minded people. Having, however, heard of two nationwide polls, according to which less than a quarter of the population want Prince Charles and Camilla to marry, and over two thirds of the population were against Schröder's presence at the D-Day commemorations, I can no longer do so.

London W14

Take no notice

Sir: In this county town, not known for its sobriety on Friday nights, a sign on a building undergoing renovation reads "This scaffolding is alarmed" - so it should be!