Sunday, January 11, 2009

A different way to fight prostitution

Christina DiGasbarro

The BBC recently reported that Norway has enacted a new bit of legislation regarding prostitution. This particular law, however, does not punish the prostitutes, the ones who receive payment for sex: rather, it punishes their clients, the ones who are paying for sex. People who pay for sex in Norway (and even Norwegians who are at the time out of the country) face fines and even jail time if they are caught. At the same time, the law offers prostitutes the opportunity to get an education (for free) and to get into drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation so that they can turn their lives around and stop selling their bodies. This looks to be one of the few wonderful laws that actually addresses one of the root causes of a problem instead of merely trying to hide the symptoms.

I really hope this measure effectively decreases the presence and practice of prostitution in Norway, because, if it works, it seems like a great way to deal with the problem of prostitution (and could be used as a model for other countries). Because, while many women are forced into prostitution—through human trafficking or because there simply seems to be no other way to make a living—no one forces the clients to use prostitution. In most cases, the person who is more responsible for an act, the one who chooses freely, is the one who carries the greater liability; Norway’s law ensures just that, that the people who freely choose to buy sex are the ones who are held more reprehensible.

While prostitution is euphemistically called the oldest profession, the truth of the matter is that if there were no market for prostitution—i.e. if there were no clients willing to pay for sex—prostitution would not exist. Without a market for sex, there would be no human trafficking for sex purposes, and women, whether or not in desperate straits, would not spend their time trying to sell sex because there would be no one around to purchase it.

However, anyone fond of the saying “if you build it, they will come” recognizes that a market can be created where there was none before. But certain ideas or “values” are necessary for the creation of a market for prostitution: the society (or some significant portion of society) must have loose sexual ethics, must employ a double-standard for sexual expectations of men and women, or simply must not hold women in high regard. By drawing attention to the moral reprehensibility of the clients of prostitution, Norway’s new law draws attention to the unpalatable “values” that allow prostitution to flourish in the first place. And if people recognize, as a result of this law, that those “values” are not going to be tolerated any longer, a huge step forward will have been made in the attempt to end the degradation of those who sell their bodies.


At January 12, 2009 at 7:00 PM , Blogger Catherine_Cat said...

Though well-intentioned, this piece reprises many of the arguments used to undermine sex workers rights that completely fail to address the very real abuses in the sex industry by conflating all our work with violence and abuse. The author would do well to educate herself about the global campaign for sex workers to be treated as if they are deserving of the same human, civil and labour rights and the protection of the law as other women. Ironically, many of the most fervent opponents of our rights call themselves feminists. Places to start are

Or, you can continue to contribute to our oppression.

If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
Lila Watson, Aboriginal activist in Australia


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