Pros­ti­tu­tion and gen­der equal­ity

We have, it seems, em­barked on a dis­cus­sion about pros­ti­tu­tion. I would like to put for­ward a few ideas which may seem weird, or down­right un­re­al­is­tic.

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

This is not a cam­paign in any way; what hap­pens re­gard­ing the pros­ti­tu­tion laws will make ab­so­lutely no dif­fer­ence to my life. My main in­ten­tion is to chal­lenge stan­dard ways of think­ing about these is­sues, so that we can all un­der­stand bet­ter the im­pli­ca­tions of what the gov­ern­ment even­tu­ally de­cides to do.

First of all, let me get some things straight:

I am against the ex­ploita­tion of the hu­man body, in­clud­ing its ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion as a sex­ual com­mod­ity. I rec­og­nize that there is a prob­lem of hu­man traf­fick­ing here in Malta, and there is an ur­gent need to ad­dress this. All forms of slav­ery need to be stopped, of course.

How­ever, there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween traf­fick­ing and pros­ti­tu­tion. It is pos­si­ble, if un­likely, that some sex work­ers are in their trade vol­un­tar­ily.

Also, there are strong ar­gu­ments for keep­ing pros­ti­tu­tion le­gal, since some peo­ple, for ex­am­ple the dis­abled, are un­able to ob­tain sex in any other way. For this rea­son, Amnesty has ar­gued that pros­ti­tu­tion is a hu­man right. If there are ar­gu­ments for le­gal­iz­ing drugs for the sake of drug ad­dicts, then per­haps there should also be le­gal pros­ti­tu­tion avail­able for the sake of sex ad­dicts.

Even if we wanted to, pros­ti­tu­tion would be very hard to erad­i­cate com­pletely. If the gov­ern­ment de­cided to make it il­le­gal (cur­rently, pros­ti­tu­tion is le­gal, per se) with­out strong en­force­ment, this is un­likely to make much dif­fer­ence. Malta does not have a very good record when it comes to law en­force­ment. Pros­ti­tutes will con­tinue to op­er­ate on the black mar­ket, with­out any pro­tec­tion by the law.

Those were my gen­eral points. With re­gard to the cur­rent de­bate, there is a link, it seems, be­tween pros­ti­tu­tion, gentle­men’s clubs and mas­sage par­lours. We have heard of back­rooms in gentle­men’s clubs where pa­trons ne­go­ti­ate sex with the dancers. Jokes about ‘happy end­ings’ in mas­sage par­lours have be­come com- as men­tioned above, it is prob­a­bly within hu­man rights for two con­sent­ing and free adults to make their own ar­range­ments and ne­go­ti­a­tions for sex. Who are we to judge?

We are go­ing to hear a lot about the ‘Nordic Model’ in com­ing days. Briefly, this de­crim­i­nal­izes sex work but crim­i­nal­izes their clients. In other words, be­cause the sex worker is seen as a help­less and ex­ploited vic­tim, he or she is not pun­ished. On the other hand, the buyer is seen as the ex­ploiter, and his or her ac­tiv­i­ties are a crime.

I do not think we should au­to­mat­i­cally as­sume that all sex work­ers are vic­tims. Per­haps, com­pared to the sit­u­a­tion he or she was in before, work­ing at a strip club might be seen as an im­prove­ment. Yes, to us per­haps their sit­u­a­tion is pitiable, but we will not em­power them by treat­ing them so con­de­scend­ingly. Let us in­stead give them ac­cess to med­i­cal and so­cial ser­vices so that if they want to change their life­style, they can find the help they need.

Se­condly, by crim­i­nal­iz­ing his or her clients, we will sim­ply be mak­ing the sex worker’s life more dif­fi­cult. This has hap­pened wher­ever the Nordic Model was adopted.

Fi­nally, crim­i­nal­iz­ing the buyer but not the seller seems to me a rather per­verse ap­proach. With drugs, it is the ex­act re­verse. The Nordic Model as­sumes that sex ad­dicts, peo­ple who per­haps can­not con­trol their las­civ­i­ous de­sires must be stopped through pun­ish­ment. Given that most sex work­ers are women and their clients men, it re­in­forces the idea that women are help­less vic­tims and men their evil preda­tors.

Why don’t we, in­stead, turn all that around by in­sist­ing that we see neon signs and posters de­pict­ing naked men wher­ever there are ones de­pict­ing women? We can in­sist on hav­ing beau­ti­ful men as well as women hand­ing fly­ers out in Paceville. As well as mak­ing it le­gal and ac­cept­able for men to ogle women, we can also do the re­verse.

I warned you they would be weird ideas. But please do not ac­cept any pa­ter­nal­is­tic dec­la­ra­tions of what is and what is not pos­si­ble. Mar­kets are cre­ated, to­gether with de­mand. Even­tu­ally, with ad­ver­tis­ing, we can con­vince women that they might en­joy a strip show, or paid sex.

We have al­ready be­come trail­blaz­ers when it comes to gen­der equal­ity in mar­riage. Per­haps it is time we showed the world how to do gen­der equal sex work too.

Per­haps, even, if we in­sist strongly on gen­der equal strip clubs and mas­sage par­lours, it might be­come im­pos­si­ble for these es­tab­lish­ments to con­tinue their busi­ness, and they might sim­ply pack up and go away.

Or at the very least, con­fronted with ex­am­ples of ob­jec­ti­fied men, male pa­trons will be­come less will­ing to in­dulge in the sex trade.

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