The legal status of prostitution seems to once again have come up for discussion in the UK. It is a subject, living in Dubai and taking an interest in all things Central Asian, of which I know a little.
I used to have clear views on whether prostitution should be legal, but now I’m not so sure.
Opening up prostitution as a legal way of earning a living is going to come with a mountain of problems, I suspect from the girls themselves. When you give girls an opportunity to earn money this way, they will take it, and in large numbers.
When the Soviet Union was still in existence, the girls there did not have the opportunity to practice prostitution (the need was there all right, life was crap for the residents of Bishkek then as it is now, although probably not to the same extent). When they were given the opportunity to become prostitutes, by allowing them to travel, thousands of them took it. Many girls did not do so out of desperation, as is commonly believed to be the sole reason for a girl turning to prostititution, but just because it was an option which would lead to them making a lot of money (similar to why some people turn to crime when they are not desperate). In short, it was a career choice.
As a libertarian, I cannot say they should not have been allowed to do it. But I will say that somebody should have discouraged it. The mental health of somebody working as a prostitute, especially those who get into it in their late teens, deteriorates rapidly. My Russian teacher, who taught loads of these girls English, has educated me pretty well on the subject, and she has yet to meet a prostitute who has worked for more than 2 months or so who does not have some sort of mental problem. Paranoia, and extreme swings between elation and depression are the normal ones (without the aid of drugs, mind). This happens, but to a lesser extent, even if they have been treated well in their jobs and the evidence seems to be that even if everything goes swimmingly well, the effect on them is the same. Quite what the former Soviet Union is going to do with these girls when they get too old to work and return home, I don’t know. In my opinion, it is a time bomb which will go largely unnoticed, as thousands of girls turn to suicide or die lonely deaths somewhere. Still, it is their choice and I generally don’t judge them either way.
But do we really want to be encouraging girls to take up the profession? If brothels are legalised, then the number of girls practising will increase dramatically, as many will take an opportunity previously not open to them. This has happened in the former Soviet Union and will almost certainly happen in the UK, and we will be faced with a situation where there are thousands of prostitutes working. From what I’ve seen, most girls who go into it don’t consider the long term impact of what it does to them until it’s too late. I’m all for individual freedom, but if we are going to allow girls to practice, then we have to expect there to be an enormous number of prostitutes in the country, most of whom have serious mental health issues. At the moment, only the very strong or very weak are going into prositution, and in small numbers – so it isn’t much of a problem. If the profession becomes legal and open to more “mainstream” girls, it will be. And I’m not sure that those who advocate legalising prostitution will be prepared for the enormous number of people who will be practising it (and there will be many) and the subsequent problem of having to pick up the tab for caring for what will be a serious number of very mentally sick girls (and thanks to the joys of socialised healthcare, this burden falls to Johnny taxpayer).
Also, if we are going to open up brothels in the UK, it will be law that any EU citizen can work there without a visa. It is pretty much given that Eastern Europeans will be willing to work in the trade for a lot less than the Western girls, so if brothels are allowed then they will be filled with Eastern Europeans and the British girls will have to go elsewhere. Also, there is little reason why ex-Soviet and Central Asian girls cannot come to the UK to work as prostitutes under such a system, especially as there will be plenty of companies willing to give them sponsorhip for employment. So licensing brothels in the UK would not help British girls much without breaking EU law.
My own view on this is mixed, and I’m not sure if legalisation is a good or bad idea. But one thing I do know is that when prostitution is allowed to be practised, the number of women practising far exceeds expectations; the mental health effects of the women will be the same as they are now (support systems and worker protection brought in with legalisation will help, but only to a degree) but there will be far far more cases; and that generally, places with a large number of prostitutes are far from pleasant.
In short, any benefits to be gained by legalisation (better protection for women, etc.) must be weighed against the enormous impact it will have in other areas. Thinking it through, I think the legislation governing where and how they can work would have to be so rigid as to make little difference to the status quo, as the women would simply carry on doing what they are doing now. Would they be banned from picking up men in shops, bars, and clubs for example? Just as when brothels are banned, brothels exist; if brothels were legalised, women would be working in the clubs; if working in clubs was legalised, women would be touting their wares in shops and shopping centres. This is something that actually happens, it is not just theory. Dubai is witnessing this very occurence as the number of girls coming in increases and the law turns more of a blind eye to what’s going on.
My final thought is that if prostitution is made legal, an enormous effort must be made to discourage girls from actually doing it (which sounds a bit contradictory). For many, as with crime, prostitution looks like an easy way to make a lot of money and looks more attractive than earning a living another way. It is anything but, and a huge effort should be made to discourage anyone from taking up this work unless they absolutely have to.