Prostitution is a dangerous business, most of all for the men and women who sell their bodies. They should know better than most the risks they run, both to their immediate safety and their longer-term health, and they have to assess those risks every time they meet a client. The largest survey of its kind suggests that sex workers fear that the law punishing their customers will make the streets a more dangerous place.
We do well to heed their warning, but we also have to work out what measures can be taken to minimise the level of prostitution (outright elimination of it has never been a realistic prospect, even in the most oppressive or theocratic of regimes). If we were to take a laissez-faire attitude to sex work, then the case for leaving their customers alone would be unassailable. But modern prostitution is not some Belle de Jour diversion, if indeed it ever was. It is a nasty, brutal business closely allied to and driven by people traffickers who prey on the very vulnerable.
One of the least well-covered and most disturbing aspects of the Syrian refugee crisis is the rise in trafficking for sexual exploitation that has accompanied the mass exodus from that country as a result of civil war.
So the right response is to beat the traffickers back, to provide plentiful sexual healthcare and to punish those customers who encourage the trade, whether they know they are helping fund people trafficking – sometimes involving children – or not.
In a world where some major disincentive to prostitution has now to be created, it is far better to have that fall upon its customers than its workers.Reuse content