State-run brothels

A passionate article in favour:

The women who were killed in Bradford — Suzanne Blamires, 36, Susan Rushworth, 43, and Shelley Armitage, 31 — all worked as streetwalkers…They sold sex at bargain-basement prices because they had heroin habits and a heroin habit isn’t something you’d wish on your worst enemy….In Bradford last week Stephen Griffiths, 40, was charged with the murder of three….

We’re all glued to the news now that they’re dead and he’s been charged, but what I really don’t understand — what absolutely baffles me, and always has done — is why there has never been a national outcry about these women’s working conditions. Given that prostitution exists, has always existed and will continue to exist for all eternity — and yes, it would be nice if it didn’t and if all the prostitutes could be rescued and persuaded to go to Narcotics Anonymous and retrained as something impressive, but let’s not hold our breath — why is it not seen as imperative to ensure that at least they carry out their work in a safe environment? …It is simply not okay, in an otherwise civilised society, to leave these women to their fate. Murders are seldom sadder than when they are preventable. Blamires, Rushworth and Armitage might be alive today if they had worked in a big, clean, state-sanctioned brothel, with two giant bouncers on the door, panic buttons in the rooms and an in-house programme that weaned women off the class As.

45 thoughts on “State-run brothels

  1. Whether being a heroin addict “isn’t something you’d wish on your worst enemy” or not depends on a lot of factors. Some people are able to be heroin addicts and not have a huge number of other problems, because of their circumstances. But if you’re the type of heroin addict that turns to the most dangerous street prostitution to keep a habit barely going (or makes desperate robberies, or the like) then regular work of any sort is going to be very hard, even working in a “big, clean, state-sanctioned brothel.” If a person in that state can’t make it in the state job, and they probably can’t, they’ll be back on the street, and the “big, clean, state-sanctioned brothel” won’t be of any help to them. On this point, I don’t think that prostitution turns out to be different from any other job. (This is why there is street prostitution even in places where it’s legal.) So, while the sentiment is in the right place, I think this is finding the solution in the wrong place.

  2. Matt, she also suggests that the state-run brothel would have an in-house treatment programme.

  3. Yes- I did read the thing. But, unless the state-run brothel charges only what a strung out, desperate street prostitute would charge, who would pay more to have a heroin addicted prostitute? I don’t mean that as a bad statement against heroin addicts or prostitutes, just an observation. And, treatment programs are notoriously unsuccessful, unpleasant, and places drug addicts try to get away from. And if the goal is to help the people become non-drug addicts, why not just have the treatment program and give them some money, rather than have them work as prostitutes? Whatever may be the case for some sex-workers, it’s pretty doubtful that people who are street prostitutes to feed a drug habit are in that line of work because they really like it. The whole thing is just crazy, regardless of what one thinks should be the legal status of drugs or prostitution.

  4. Matt, your comment suggests that you believe that these girls just showed up on the street one day, fired from their jobs because they started using heroin and behaving badly of their own volition. That’s NOT how it usually happens.

    Fewer sex workers would become addicted to street drugs in the first place if society didn’t use impoverished adolescents as perpetual scapegoats, psych guinea pigs and on-again off-again jizz dumpsters. Children learn what they live. Far too many streetwalkers were scapegoats and prostitutes long before they were addicts.

    By criminalizing sex work and driving it underground, governments force already victimized young women to try to stay somewhat “safe” by wearing the brand of a pimp or other organized crime type. Claiming the label “property of” requires that the girl further the other business interests of the abuser or syndicate that extends “protection” to her. Street drugs are a huge business on every part of the globe. These guys are just waiting to capitalize on vulnerable young things with their heads all full of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Blaming the girls for what these men do to them is exactly what perpetuates the cycle.

    The author of this article is absolutely right, in my opinion. Paul Bernardo killed 3 young women before they caught him. Willie Picton killed at least 26, possibly as many as 50. That’s because communities care about the French and Mahaffey families. They don’t give a rat’s ass about how or why Picton was able to drug up his victims and use the hog slaughtering hooks on them. It looks to me like the consensus in the UK isn’t much different.

    It’s about time communities started protecting rather than blaming their most vulnerable members. Laws and lockdowns and preaching have never helped any sex worker I’ve met. Put the street pimps out of business and give these women some real safety and dignity for once.

  5. One more thing: Here, meth programs are notoriously difficult to access. I’m not sure about the UK, but I’m guessing from the way rape crisis centres and other facilities for battered women are funded over there, access to meth programs would be worse, not better than it is over here.

    Think on this: A state run brothel could be its own source of methadone funding.

    And the ex-heroin addicts I’ve met ( 3 is hardly a representative sample, I know) swear by their meth treatment. When you say that treatment centres are notoriously ineffective, I think you may be thinking of cocaine, alcohol or crystal meth addicts. I think you may have an image of a crackhead in mind when you say “who would pay bordello prices for that?” 1-4 weeks of methadone treatment is all that’s required for track marks to heal, and body weight to come back to normal. Those are really the only obvious indicators of heroin use, once the nods and the slurred speech end–about 24 hours after the last hit.

  6. Why should these women be put to work prostituting, though? Such self-funding drug rehabilitation programs could conceivably work with various kinds of labor, without the state legally and socially encouraging a culture in which women’s bodies can be bought and sold. I agree that the state needs to step in to help these women off the street, but they should do so by giving them additional options, not by sponsoring an inherently inequitable institution.

  7. Jeremy, I think that’s what Matt is also saying.
    Xena, I’m not sure why you are attributing these assumptions to Matt. Do you think he’s not making Jeremy’s point? Or is there something wrong with the point?

  8. I wasn’t suggesting that the state “put them to work”, just that the state offer safer solutions for those who already do work, based on the same principle as the methadone treatment itself. Nobody wants to get people addicted to methadone instead of heroin, but to the best of my knowledge, it works for withdrawal symptoms until the addicts can be weaned off the more damaging drug.

    Likewise with weaning women off prostitution, if that’s what they want. To take any woman who averages 300 to 1000 euros/day and force her to flip burgers or clean toilets for minimum wage–or less–is just plain insulting to the women. I know an exquisite Japanese American lady, a foreign student who paid for her BA and language classes by escorting. OSAP wouldn’t fund her because she wasn’t a Canadian citizen, but the university she attended, even at double the rate for foreign students cost just over half of what she would have paid at the Ivy League university that had accepted her back home. In terms of quality, the top universities here are supposed to be on par with her American choice (yeah, yeah, debate that all you want). Last I checked, she spoke 4 languages and nailed her dream job as a flight attendant.

    If anybody had suggested that this woman take some low paying temp work instead, she would have laughed her ass off at them. Now she’s laughing all the way to Sweden and back, on a legitimate company payroll. I think she’s making about 40k plus perks.

    Anyway, my point is that women who have to prostitute themselves usually do so because there are other employability issues, some systemic, some personal, standing in their way. Those issues will not magically disappear through some knee-deep ditch digging sweat and callus grinding contrition ritual. If these women want to hook to bypass the gatekeepers that keep poor people out of higher education and higher paying jobs, then let them.

    If I wasn’t so temperamental around creepy men, I might have considered it myself. I still think hard and often about setting up a dungeon (that’s BDSM only–no sex and only partial nudity) once I’m out of my sublet and into a permanent place of my own.

  9. I’m not convinced about state-run brothels (I’m much more comfortable with closely-regulated private brothels), although I’m adamantly for the legalization of the activities surrounding prostitution, for reasons already mentioned. With any luck, Canada will soon be seeing some more positive steps in that direction, what with recent events.

  10. Oops, #7 went up while I was still typing, JJ. I’m not offended by Matt or Jeremy’s opinions. Did #8 go far enough toward clarifying my position, or should Matt and I pull out the magnifying glasses and go at this clause by clause?

  11. My position was much like Jeremy’s, and I wasn’t making the assumption you’re assigning to me, Xena. Like I said, I think the intentions of the article are in the right place, but just that the “solutions” offered are quite implausible ones for doing any good.

  12. The dialogue concerning Bradford, like Ipswich and, if you want to go back far enough, the Peter Sutcliffe case, is dominated by survival sex workers on the streets.

    It is good that these women, and society’s treatment of them, should be a focus of attention. But it should also be remembered that they constitute only some 15% of persons working in prostitution in the UK.

    Very high levels of class A drug use occur in this 15%.

    A 2007 study by Jeal and Salisbury in Bristol investigated the cases of 71 parlour sex workers and 71 street sex workers.

    Four of the 71 parlour workers used heroin compared with 60 of the street workers; five of them used crack cocaine compared with 62 of the street workers; two injected drugs compared with 41 of the street workers.

    Conclusion: To stereotype sex workers as drug addicts is simply plain wrong. It should also be appreciated that a significant minority of street workers do not have a drug problem.

    If the three Bradford victims had been able to share a house and use it legally for incalls, studies suggest they would have been much safer from violence, as there would at least be a chance they would have each other available should things go awry. Furthermore, the bricks and morter would protect them from the public, from which a significant proportion of the violence comes. Health outreach workers would also have a place where they could be found.

    But even putting the street survival sex workers on one side, indoor sex workers would also be safer working together than in isolation, where they are currently kept under brothel law.


    For one viewpoint on how our laws are stuck the way they are, published just after the Ipswich slayings, try:

  13. Matt : By saying, “If you’re the type of heroin addict that turns to the most dangerous type of street prostitution … then regular work of any sort is going to be hard, even working in a … brothel.”

    And “Unless the state-run brothel charges what a desperate, strung out street prostitute would charge, who would pay for an addicted prostitute?” it sounds like you’ve put prostitutes along some kind of dollar value spectrum, with heroin addicts ranked lower than others and decided that “the whole thing is crazy” based on the assumption that nobody will pay a RECOVERING heroin addict a “big, clean state-sanctioned” price.

    If you think that state sponsored programs to get addicted sex workers to fund their own methadone programs by performing other types of labour could work, then by all means, tell us how.

  14. And thanks for blasting that obnoxious conservative rhetoric for us, SP. It’s one of the myths I despise most. Sex workers are NOT all drug addicts. Far from it. And drug addiction DOES NOT make it ok to dismember anybody.

  15. These are the words of the head of Bradford’s vice unit, then Peter Corkindale, FIFTEEN YEARS AGO:
    “If there was legislation that put down ground rules then that would make our job easier. If there was a brothel using under-age girls, we could threaten the licence holder with closure and prison.
    When bookmakers were legalised there was a huge outcry, but that has been taken from back alleys and pubs to organised betting shops and the problems have gone.
    If women were allowed to work for themselves from licensed brothels, paying the owners a rental fee but keeping the rest for themselves, the threat from pimps would be removed and the kerb crawling that goes on in residential areas would become unnecessary.”

    Corkindale argued that regulation would make life safer for prostitutes – removing the need for pimps as protectors – and for clients, who are often set up and robbed by prostitutes and their pimps but who seldom complain to the police.

  16. I’m surprised that no one has so far picked up on the fact that neither street prostitution nor drugs killed these women. A killer killed them.

    Sequestering sex workers away in brothels may offer them some protection against the next random woman-murderer, but such people will always find victims one way or another. Most serial killers of women don’t actually go for prostitutes as such – the Wests didn’t, Peter Sutcliffe didn’t, Ian Brady didn’t. We’ve had two consecutive cases here (Ipswich and now Bradford) where prostitutes were the target victims, but that doesn’t make a trend whereby protecting them will lower murder rates for women.

    Not that street prostitutes don’t deserve more protection, I just think that protecting them would be better done by targeting the people who hurt them, through monitoring of curb crawling hotspots, good street lighting, maybe personal crisis alarms for them, and most importantly the police taking assaults on them much more seriously and working to build trust with them so that they report dodgy punters before they turn into killers. Low-tech, low legislative impact solution around community policing seem much more what’s needed to me.

  17. MarinaS – there is much sense in what you say, though it is also fair to say that survival sex workers are disproportionately vulnerable cf other women, even those living within red light areas. Might some serial killers be dissuaded if their prey were less accessible, or better monitored?

    Kerb crawler clampdowns, as advocated by David Cameron, or other enforcement-based approaches increase violence to sex workers by displacing them, or reducing their negotiating time with potential clients. They move the problem temporarily. They also dissipate police resources thinly which would be better targeted in monitoring the very small number of men who are actually dangerous.

    See the Amanda Walker case:

    Also this study in Vancouver in the BMJ:

    The current laws require sex workers to avoid the police. In Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh, the study below found that 66% of client violence to sex workers was unreported. Interestingly, only 56% was unreported by street workers, but, although violence to indoor sex workers was much rarer, 82% of it went unreported, presumably due to brothel law.

    Since the study, the penalty for managing a brothel has risen from a maximum 6 months imprisonment to 14 years under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, and assets can now be seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act and the premises closed for three months under the new Policing and Crime Act, so the reporting rate for violence in brothels is probably now close to zero.

  18. i think i also read that the bradford killer was known to the women he killed and their coworkers. am i dreaming that? i’m pretty sure i read that. well, anyway, even if i dreamt it, it’s not clear to me that a serial killer would’ve been pegged beforehand as a ‘dodgy punter’; he very well could’ve just seemed like your typical creepy john. even after he started this spree it’s not clear he would stand out; since the women who would’ve witnessed dead-giveaway (pardon the pun) serial killer behaviour would be, well, dead. -but that’s exactly the point, right? when women are working on the street, they’re working solo; what happens to them won’t be known to anyone else unless & until they’re able to tell someone.

    but i wanted to say, xena: i think most of what you say makes a lot of sense, but i feel very uneasy w the idea of *any* sort of state programme being funded thu selling women’s bodies, even if the women are doing it voluntarily (or ‘voluntarily’; i want to remain agnostic about whether these women are truly choosing freely). it sounds like you’ve thought a lot about this, so i assume you’ve thought about this point. i’m curious to hear your thoughts on it because i’m having trouble forming a clear opinion on the matter.

  19. elp – Why do you think of prostitution as “selling women’s bodies”? Quite apart from the fact that a large slice of prostitution does not involve women, all this plays into the rad fem nonsense of “buying women” and conflates actuality with trafficking.

    A client who hires a sex worker for her (/his) services no more buys her (/him) than someone visiting a hairdressing salon buys the hairdresser.

  20. stephen, yes, i didn’t mean to imply that all prostitutes are women. i was following the conversation as it’s progressed so far, and so far it’s been about women. i’m not sure i understand your point about conflating actuality with trafficking. what does that mean?

    but look, i am in earnest: i don’t have settled views on these matters, and i’m interested to hear thoughtful opinions on it. it is my intuition that prostitution is significantly different to hairdressing, and that this has moral implications, esp when it comes to state programmes profiting off the work. but like i said before, i’m having trouble thinking thru the issue, so all i want to do is present my intuition and ask for others’ thoughts on it. (and in case it wasn’t clear: i *do* think brothels are a good idea. working in dark streets alone is just plain dangerous; no one should have to do that.)

  21. Selling sex is only the same as hairdressing if you’d expect your hairdresser to get the same haircut as you at the same time.

    It’s only the same as going to a restaurant (a favourite in these types of discussion) if you’d expect the chef to not only cook your meal but also share it with you and give every sign of enjoying the food and your company.

    Sex work is not a provision of a service that is condusive to filling a need (i.e you’re hungry, someone provides a service to satiate you); the service *is* the fulfillment of the need. They are not separated either temporally or physically, so there is no clear cut boundary between where the service and the service *provision* stop and start. Someone cutting your hair or bringing you food at a restaurant don’t have to share the experience with you in the same way that a sex worker who is providing you sex has to – by definition – experience having sex *with you*.

    It’s easy to just dismiss this as “radfem nonsense”, I’m just not sure that it’s as much of a cutting rebuke as some people think it should be.

  22. MarinaS – the nonsense is that the sex worker is ‘bought’ by the client, and, in the context of this discussion, that sex work consists of ‘selling women’s bodies’.

    Much can be (and is!) observed about the rights and wrongs of sex work. However, for practical purposes, empirical evidence suggests it is part of the human condition, and that important harm minimisation initiatives are severely prejudiced by laws and attitudes that instead embark on repeated forlorn attempts to ‘eradicate’ it that must be as old as sex work itself.

    To minimise violence, to reduce the possibilities of STI transmission, to attack coercion and exploitation, to detect and process trafficking victims, to discover and prevent the involvement of minors, to reduce drug dependency, and even to offer sex workers safe routes out, one has first of all to know where the sex workers are.

    This is not achieved by closing ‘brothels’, charging sex workers with soliciting and mounting kerb crawling drives against their clients, all of which causes sex workers to scatter into unfamiliar areas and to have less negotiating time to appraise clients, both of which further prejudice safety.

  23. It’s possible to believe that buying sex is in essence the purchase of human bodies, a base and immoral act that debases the purchaser and harms the “seller”, *and* think that evidence-based harm reduction programs are a priority in helping those already engaged in the trade, over and above the eradication of the trade itself (which in any case should only ever be attempted from the demand and not the supply side).

    I’m doing it right now.

    It’s unhelpful to slap labels on ideas and expect them to encapsulate a coherent and consistent worldview that just happens to be wrong in every important particular. The more constructive thing to do would be to engage with those parts of other people’s ideas that _are_ practical and helpful.

    For example, my idea that changing legislation + reeducation of police forces such that violence reporting figures go up and conviction rates also increase seems to be borne out by the evidence cited above. Legalising brothels or even all prostitution in itself will not get rid of the violent customers, nor will it motivate the sex workers to report them and testify against them, which is at the end of the day what we’re all working towards – reducing violence against sex workers.

    As for the (rather glib) suggestion that sex purchase is just part of the human condition, sorry girls, it’s just the reality, well, it’s also the reality that as general attitudes to sex get more liberal, buying sex itself is being steadily delegitimised, and rightly so. Paying for sex is quite far from being the normal, norniness-induced activity apologists would have us believe, and is rightly stigmatised. A survey of the men who pay for sex and why they do it can be found below – mostly it’s not because they just can’t get laid, but because there is something in the power imbalance that attracts them for whatever reason (domination, she can’t say no, getting her to do whatever you want etc.):

    Click to access Men%20Who%20Buy%20Sex.pdf

    It’s not unreasonable to assume that men who use street prostitutes are even more turned on by the power imbalance, and that in fact psychos who thrive on total domination even unto death are particularly drawn to that area. Getting the sex workers off the streets, as I said above, will deprive them of an easy pool of victims but will not reduce their homicidal urges. It’s getting *them* off the streets that should be our priority.

  24. It is undoubtedly possible to believe all manner of things, but this does not mean that someone who hires a sex worker has “purchase[d] a human bod[y].” If they had purchased a body, they would continue to own it, which they clearly don’t.

    You say: “Legalising brothels or even all prostitution in itself will not get rid of the violent customers, nor will it motivate the sex workers to report them and testify against them….”

    I don’t understand the logic here. The criminalisation of brothels and soliciting are massive barriers to sex workers reporting far more serious crime for fear of arrest. I would suggest that things would have to get pretty bad in a brothel before those in charge would risk seven years’ imprisonment, confiscation of anything they’ve been deemed to make from their undertaking under the Proceeds of Crime Act, and possible closure of the premises for three months for telling the police about it.

    And, of course, the thugs know this. Note the phrase: “The court heard they targeted the brothel because they thought prostitutes were less likely to report a break-in to police” in a rare exception to the rule in a case last month here:

    I blogged on this some time ago here:

    This Leeds/ Glasgow/ Edinburgh survey shows that only 18% of violence in brothels is reported, and that two-thirds of client violence in general is unreported:
    – and that was BEFORE new Labour exacerbated the situation by increasing the brothel maximum penalty to seven years from 6 months, introduced the Proceeds of Crime Act etc..

    And here’s baffled bobby in BRADFORD faced with a murder on brothel premises and showing the local force’s relationship with the local sex industry could be better:

    I’ve read that Eaves paper ages ago. It’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect Melissa Farley and Julie Bindel to come up with in support of an organisation which has long campaigned for the so-called Swedish model. Useless for a start as it has no control group of men who don’t use sex workers to compare the men who do with. Methodology up the shoot, ethics-base non-existent, basically a propagandist exercise in demonisation and pathologisation.

    For more on Farley’s work, try Googling “Flawed Theory and Method in Studies of Prostitution” which is a paper by Ron Weitzer.

  25. I think MarinaS was suggesting that there’s room to hold that we should be working towards reducing/stopping prostitution AND accept that the current UK law which makes it illegal for two or more women to work together should be changed. As stephenpaterson and others point out, the current law makes it less safe for prostitutes in a number of ways. Given that prostitution isn’t just going to go away overnight, we should prefer a set of laws that makes things easier and safer for the prostitutes in the meantime, whilst the long work of reducing or stopping prostitution goes on.

    (Just for the record, I’m not entirely convinced that we should be working to stop prostitution completely. I’m not yet sure what I think about the whole set of issues. But we should obviously be working towards a situation where people don’t end up with that being their only choice.)

  26. @elp: Pardon my late reply. I’ve been busy with school, etc. On state-run brothels in general, my understanding is that they work very well in New Zealand and Amsterdam, but not as well in Nevada. I haven’t done any hard research on how things are done outside of my continent. If you want to get technical, most of what I know about the business didn’t come from textbooks or formal studies. I spent way too much of my early adulthood in places where drugs, prostitution, illegal drinking establishments and illegal weapons operations were as commonplace as committee meetings are in your world. I’m just beginning to reconcile my personal observations with book learning. I’m telling you, it’s about time somebody like SP stepped up with some common sense. Prohibitions just don’t work. I will definitely be spending some more time on his blogs.

    My point about how it might be possible for the state to use profits from sex work to fund programs for addicted girls was a long shot. It’s NEVER been done. But our government has some interesting EI and pension funding strategies for other types of income. It would be difficult to get ideas like this past public stereotypes, I admit. But if attitudes toward sex work weren’t so damning, it would be SO easy to turn 5% of an 80/20 split on a $500/day income into health care, EI, maternity packages, and a rawkin’ pension plan!

    Unfortunately, business practices like those require mutual respect and trust between the agent (the state), the business rep (the escort) and the clients. The paradigm shift that will lead to this type of mutual respect will require decades, if not lifetimes.

    Also, to the best of my knowledge, this hasn’t been the case in Europe, but the American way dictates that only the hopelessly maimed can get away with not working for the man. In Nevada, prostitution is considered work, and women have a much more difficult time applying for welfare in that state. That is a SERIOUS problem, in my opinion. Like I said, a brothel should be seen as a temporary last resort, with full consent from the woman, not as a career option forced on her by her government.

    *Yes, SP, men work as escorts too. But they’re extremely rare because they’re usually driven by the same type of desperation that drives women. Straight men learn quickly that there is almost no client base among heterosexual women, and men have a much easier time finding higher paying taxable jobs, rather than turning gay for pay. Most men who choose sex work are already gay and/or BDSM experts. A high percentage of trans women I knew sold their THANGs so that they could purchase their new THANGs. But I suspect that a majority wouldn’t have done so if there were other ways to get to Sweden for surgical correction.

  27. @Marina S, unfortunately, there is no way to altogether prevent violent killers from killing. The man that killed Armitage and the others was a grad student working on a PhD in criminology. Paul Bernardo was an accountant. Ted Bundy was a lawyer. And remember the 2 little British boys that beat a toddler to death with a brick and threw him under a train? They were schoolchildren!

    All we can do is TRUST WOMEN. No matter what background, age, personal circumstances, women need to know that when they report an attack, they will be believed. They need to know that their attempts to protect themselves against an attacker will not be met with another even more damaging attack, set up by people with the power to incarcerate them or leave them penniless.

    I have done some real research into what motivates serial killers. Many are quoted directly as saying that their prime targets are people WHO WON’T BE BELIEVED! One child molestor I studied went so far as to date single mothers so he could get close to their children.

    Like I said, that’s why Bernardo only killed 3 before they caught him and Picton killed dozens. Nobody believed his victims. I don’t want to bore all of you with Maslow’s needs heirarchy, but really, it’s that simple in this case. We need to stop tap dancing around the issues and trying to find ways to blame the girls. The solution is a simple little psych model from first year. Tier by tier. Safety and belonging, not punishment.

  28. On state-run brothels in general, my understanding is that they work … not as well in Nevada.

    I don’t know how much it matters, but brothels in Nevada are not “state run”. They are licensed, but then, so are beauty salons. They are privately owned and managed, and from some descriptions I’ve heard, not necessarily well over-seen.

    , a brothel should be seen as a temporary last resort,

    Why not just give people money?

  29. I believe Turkey has state run brothels. Apart from that, I don’t know of any European state with them. In the USA, Nevada’s are certainly private sector (though interestingly a members of a Commons committee recently referred to them as state run).

    The original of this Feminist Philosophers post in The Times does not talk of “state run” but “state sanctioned” brothels, it’s only the heading on this posting that talks of state run.

    I can see little reason for the state to actually run the brothels so long as there’s some form of control over the persons who do run them. Down under, those who run or work in them, apart from the sex workers themselves, are licenced. The annual licence fee isn’t high, but the licence can always be revoked if its conditions are not adhered to, and a police check can be made on applicants to ensure they have no record of violence or dishonesty.

    I think that’s a better idea than licencing buildings – it’s not the buildings that cause the problems.

  30. Stephen, you’re absolutely right. That was very sloppy reading on my part. I’d go back and change the title, but that would make much of this discussion rather confusing.

  31. Matt, I wish governments just handed money to people to help them overcome whatever. I wouldn’t have been chased out of my home for trying to pursue higher education, forced to sleep in the lounge at my school for the better part of the school year, flunking out of my program and considering opening my own dungeon if they did that. I don’t even drink or use drugs, and I had to lie my face off to find the temporary housing arrangement I’m in now. And the Ontario government and my university are refusing to help me. I’m close to siding with the people that want to force welfare recipients to go for regular drug screening, just because it would be easier to dispel the stereotypes and get my money every month. Having to look over my shoulder for the next social worker home heist, for the sake of forcing me through family court for the same stupid drug screening gets exhausting. I’d report willingly and regularly, but if all welfare recipients were able to refute the druggie stereotype, then Jim Flaherty and the boys would probably just come up with something else to get all gestapo about.

    Governments only hand over money when they can be convinced that they’ll see a return on their investment. Until public opinion changes, governments will continue to see sex workers as a lost cause, a nuisance, and a threat to public safety. And THAT is the real crime.

    Btw, I didn’t know that about Nevada brothels. I assumed that if a brothel owner could call the police on me for telling a dirty joke to a truck driver on cb radio, (and they were there in minutes!) the state must have had some serious cash tied up in that system.

  32. Oh, I get it, SP, Jender. We’re quibbling over the difference between state licensed and regulated, tax paying brothels as opposed to what? Armed apparatchiks and police officers escorting each trick in and standing around telling the girls EXACTLY how each blow job is to be performed for the good of the community?

    No, I don’t think any of us had an arrangement like that in mind.

  33. I suppose I was sloppy in expecting a careful reading (in fairness that’s what usually gets in this blog!). Please notice that I am not opposed to the decriminalisation of sex work. What I *am* adamant about is that it will not do as much as is claimed to reduce violence against women and especially murders of vulnerable women*.

    The way to drive that as soon as possible towards zero is to a) stigmatise men who are drawn to vulnerable women in the first place and b) open up communication channels with and increase trust in the authorities.

    * Rough livers, drug addicts and runaways are more vulnerable to such predators regardless of whether they get their income from sex work or not, and in many cases sex work is intermittent and casual, not the sort of permanent career choice that makes one a “prostitute” in the same way that a degree makes on a “lawyer”.

  34. MarinaS – I don’t really follow the argument that one should stigmatise men drawn to vulnerable women. Surely it depends what the men’s intentions are. I’m sure a lot of vulnerable women’s vulnerability is reduced by meeting men drawn to them (and I’m sure the same could be said of vulnerable men with women drawn to them).

    I also find myself questioning the premise in your earlier comment that “as general attitudes to sex get more liberal, buying sex itself is being steadily delegitimised…”

    I’m 58, so I’ve experienced three generations, and each has been under the impression that attitudes to sex have become more liberal. With the advent of the pill in the 60s, perhaps some argument for that generation could be made, but hardly for the current scenario.

    Life has at last become tolerant of the gay community, though there are still plenty of remnants of homophobia about. But in other ways, deviation from the norm nowadays would be a far more excruciating experience.

    We have a sex offender’s register including numerous men who have never been convicted of anything. We have banned ourselves, on penalty of imprisonment, from possessing images Parliament doesn’t like of adults even though there’s absolutely no evidence they cause any harm. We have created an atmosphere in which it is well nigh impossible for a man to develop a platonic relationship with a child other than his own without fearing accusations of paedophilia. In 2003 we increased the maximum penalty for managing a brothel 14-fold to seven years. Under the same act, you can get locked up for 14 years for taking someone to a public lavatory knowing they intend to have sex in it. We have imprisoned an undocumented Chinese migrant mother of two for eight months for helping manage a brothel for months when her only income from the task was the money for a haircut.
    Management, owners and staff of gay saunas, sex clubs or any other premises used by more than one person for ‘fornication’ – thus probably including every hotel in the UK – are liable under section 33 in the 1956 Sexual Offences Act, which carries up to three months imprisonment.
    We have just convicted two 10-year-olds of attempted rape.

    This is LIBERAL?

    And I don’t in any event agree that buying sex is becoming delegitimatised. Indeed, it seems to me that the reverse is the case.

    “TLC is proud that our sex workers performed at the Royal Society of Medicine in London on 13th November 2008, to an audience who were moved to tears. Sue Newsome made love to quadriplegic Dominic’s head. He then spoke about why this has been so important to him. Having been promised help with sex at his spinal unit some 14 years ago, which never came, it was through contacts in the Outsiders Club and Tuppy Owens that he first booked a session with tantric sex worker, Sue. Sue talked about how important this work is for her, and their sessions are all about Dominic. Their performance was followed by Solitaire (see the striptease section on this site) stripping in front of deaf-blind Jimmy, whilst the action was descriped to him via finger language by jj. Once more the audience were captivated. Congratulations to the Royal Society of Medicine for allowing this to happen. We felt as if we were changing the world.”

  35. @ Marina S: I’m not sure I’m clear on what you mean by “stigmatise men who are drawn to vulnerable women”. Could you modify the word “men” in a way that more clearly demonstrates which men need to be stigmatised, and give more precise examples of how to implement this stigmatisation program?

  36. I think it’s interesting that so much space is permitted here to a man who is a john/punter.
    Well done to Marina in challenging demand. If men feel more of a stigma or face punishment by law for engaging in commercial sexual exploitation they are perhaps less likely to do so. This has certainly been reflected in recent research with punters/johns. Awareness raising and challenging some of the myths around prostitution (that it’s somehow ‘sex positive’ rather than exploitation, for example) is also essential. Check out for lots of links and info on these issues.

  37. Enddemand – we permit discussion here from everyone who is civil, and we don’t delete comments just because we disagree with them. And if you are referring to stephenpaterson, I don’t think it matters that he is a john (if, indeed, he is) because he has been presenting reasoned views on the topic, which are interesting, whether or not we agree with them. They’re also views shared by some prostitutes – e.g., the English Collective of Prostitutes.

  38. Thank you, Monkey. Assuming ‘enddemand’ is referring to moi, for the record, I am not a sex worker nor have I ever hired a sex worker, nor have I earned anything from the sex industry. But people can, and I’ve no doubt will, believe what they wish. I seem to remember one could oppose apartheid without being a black, or white, South African.

    I do undertand it is convenient for proponents of the oppresion model, such as enddemand, to accord all sorts of assertions to their opponents and then dismiss them as ‘myths’.

    A few moments thought about the concept of ‘ending demand’ would reveal that the demand is part of the largely male, largely heterosexual human condition. Attempts might be mounted to suppress the demand, or to get those experiencing it to repress it. But neither of these end the demand, and whether either is, in all cases, healthy is debateable.

    As David Aaronovitch said on his blog: “Oh, and Harriett, what exactly happens to this demand after you’ve tackled it?”

    There are certain words freely banded about in these debates which desperately require definition. ‘Exploitation’, as used by enddemand, is one of them.

    Does the client exploit the sex worker, or does the sex worker exploit the client? I’m about to pop off to ASDA. Will I exploit ASDA, or will ASDA exploit me? I expect ASDA and I will exploit each other for what we have to offer, and call it trade.

    Is this relevant? Well yes, according to Toynbee Hall in Tower Hamlets, which produced ‘It’s just like going to a supermarket’ which you can Google and which fits nicely into enddemand’s framework.

    When we turn to the 85% of sex workers that are not survival sex workers on the streets, however, we discover in Dr Suzanne Jenkins’ extensive thesis (which involved 483 female, male and transgender sex workers) that far more consider themselves to be exploiting their clients’ loneliness than consider themselves exploited.

    Among its conclusions are that 93.4 percent of female escorts liked escorting for the money; but also more than three-quarters for the flexible working hours; nearly three-quarters for the independence; and more than two-thirds for the opportunity of meeting people. Out of 298 female sex workers interviewed, only nine planned to give up within three months, while over a hundred (35 percent) had no plans to stop.

    Less than 16 percent of the females needed sex work to avoid poverty. About half female sex workers liked the sex, along with about three-quarters of the male sex workers.

    In terms of exploitation, over half the female sex workers (54.6%) reported they always took control in an escort encounter, and nearly a quarter (24.1%), said they “usually” took control. While 22.3% said it varied greatly, less than one percent said their clients took control.

    More than 86% of female escorts never or only rarely felt exploited by clients, but more than a quarter of them felt that they were exploiting their clients: “…the most frequently reported explanation, by far, was that participants were aware, and concerned, that some clients could not afford their services or that they were taking advantage of people’s loneliness.”

    More than three-quarters of female sex workers (77%) felt that their clients generally treated them respectfully, and the same percentage felt respect for their clients.

    More than 72% felt escorting had boosted their self-confidence, with less than 10% feeling it had had a negative effect.

    As for ‘pimps’, over 62% of escorts said they had never felt exploited by third parties and over 30% only rarely.

    Suzanne Jenkins concludes:
    Further criminalisation, either of clients or of sex industry organisers, would not only make sex-workers more directly vulnerable to exploitation, but would also add to the ambiguity as to what exactly constitutes legal behaviour within sex-work.”

    In other words, even if further punitive measures were not directed at sex-workers themselves, the effect would be to add to an already complex set of laws that surround their work. If sex-workers are to be protected then the law should be clarified and simplified, and any legislation that is retained or introduced should focus only on identifiable exploitative behaviours rather than assumptions about the relationships between sex-workers and other people.

  39. Last time I checked the human condition was not, in fact, largely male. But then believing that women are human could be considered “rad fem nonense” which is “freely baded [sic] about” as part of a “propagandist exercise” by “proponents of the oppression model”.


    @Xena #36: I don’t have a comprehensive and infallible program ready-made to address this problem. The more I think about it, the more it becomes aparrent that what’s needed here is good old fashioned feminism, not any newfangled initiative that’s ostensibly targeted towards this problem but really just adds confusion to a disjointed set of policies/principles.

    What I mean is, there are multiple gradations of exploitation, and they are intersectional. At one extreme end of the spectrum you have pimped, coerced or trafficked women. At the other end of the scale you have trophy wives and rent-a-girlfriends, as well as the quotidian, Bridget Jonesian anxieties of young women about the need to be validated and acknowledged by male commitment. Somehwere in between lie mail order brides, arranged marriages, girls who do or don’t have sex based on what they think peer-group males will think about them as a result and the like.

    This is a complex web of economic and sexual relationships, with racism (esp. in the case of mail order brides) playing a big role. When I say we ought to stigmatise men who are drawn to vulnerable women, I think what I more properly mean is that we should not be normalising relationships in which there is a systemic power imbalance that is central to how and why that relationship was formed. Hugh Hefner has girlfriends that he can literally fire, but he’s just an extreme example of the way so many (and no, I’m NOT saying all or even most) heterosexual relationships involve an element of exploitation, where almost invariably the woman is the disempowered and therefore exploited party.

    So when a man in his thirties is dating a teenage girl, we should ask “why?”, when a British man brings back a girlfriend he met in his travels in South East Asia, we should ask “why?”, when a colleague at work announces that he is getting married to a young woman he’s met twice we should ask “why?”. Not in a criminalising way, not in order to lock anybody away, but just to show that we’re watching, we’re noticing, as a society, relationships that are very unbalanced, and we don’t think it’s normal or “just one of those things”.

    Most importantly of course, if and when power imbalances turn into power abuses, exploitation, violence, we need to be there for the women involved. We need to make them feel that we haven’t taken our eye off them, haven’t washed our hands off them, so that if they need to they can leave, and that goes to leaving a marriage as well as leaving sex work.

    It’s not a sexy policy that can produce statistics within a few business quarters, but it’s a damn sight more carefully thought out and effective than concentrating on those women who don’t have a problem and the men who profit from their availability.

  40. MarinaS – I like yr point about normalising relationships where there is a power imbalance. I think it’s complicated by the fact that power dynamics are complex and shifty.

    I also don’t think that you and sp are in disagreement over certain things. I had understood the claim that prostitution is part of the human condition to be the claim that it has existed for a very long time, and it isn’t going to go away soon. One can accept that purely factual claim, without going on to assume that it will always exist and there is no way of ever eradicating it. Both you and sp agree that given that it exists, we shouldn’t adopt laws that make things more unsafe and difficult for people who work as prostitutes.

    I take it that one point of disagreement is over whether it is possible to eradicate prostitution, and if it is, whether this is the right thing to do.

    One way to then frame a worry that sp outlines above is that the claim that prostitution should be eradicated makes things more difficult for people currently working as prostitutes as it adds to their stigmatisation.

  41. MarinaS/ Monkey: Yes, I agree there is much that MarinaS and I agree on, despite the odd flying sparks . Probably more than not. We both apparently adopt a harm minimisation approach, but to my mind this requires a decriminalisation model, both concerning the sex workers and their clients. Whether the law attacks the sex workers directly, or indirectly by attacking their clients, the upshot is to push the trade underground.

    We have to ask ourselves upon what basis is it appropriate for society to intervene in the personal choices of individual adults in this sphere.

    I would suggest:
    * to prevent the involvement of minors or others incapable of exercising choice, whatever the constraining circumstances
    * to prevent and minimise violence
    * to prevent coercion
    * to minimise the transmission of sexually transmitted infections

    – are all appropriate grounds for intervention at different levels.

    There is, at the same time, pressure for intervention to ‘zone’ sex work eg away from residential areas, from schools, and from churches. There are some conflicts here – for example, survival street sex workers at night are likely to feel (and probably be) safer in a residential area than on an otherwise deserted industrial estate. The largely derelict nature of the area in the vicinity of Stephen Griffiths’ flat is interesting here, and though we must be careful not to prejudice the case, there is the argument that official or unofficial tolerance zones, or zones to which street workers can be forced through resident and/or political pressure, can also be construed as whore ghettos.

  42. I keep thinking about the normalising relationships idea. Something that occurs to me is that the relationship between an employer and an employee contains a power imbalance. The imbalance is systemic (it results from the economic and political situation), and the reason why the relationship was formed (the employee needs a job; the employer needs workers). But we don’t generally think it’s wrong that that relationship is normalised. So what sets apart the prostitute-client relation? Of course, there are some cases where the power-imbalance is exploited, e.g., the survival sex worker, the poorly paid labourer who works in bad conditions. But whilst we think the latter should be eradicated, we don’t then conclude that all employer-employee relations should be eradicated, i.e., we don’t think there should be no employment. Why is the prostitution case different?

  43. Yes, Monkey. That’s it exactly. I wonder how many people who think sex work should be eradicated can’t separate sex from love? Do we only eat with people we love? No, we try to make the act of eating as safe as possible, and keep it more or less within a framework of cultural “correctness”. But we don’t lock people up if they want to eat their fish bait, or sell (explicitly labelled) mealworm bread.

    How about pay toilets? We keep that act as clean and private as we can. Forget about only doing it in front of somebody we love– most of us prefer not to have an audience at all. Personally, I find the thought of somebody profiting from a pay toilet more offensive than the thought of somebody profiting from sex work, but we don’t stigmatise pay toilet owners or their clients, do we? Better that than making a nasty on somebody else’s property. (Yeah, yeah. I’ve only seen pay toilets in the movies. Speculate all you want about the why’s on that too.)

    Also, it’s perfectly legal here for a dom to sell golden showers with his/her other services. He/she is not technically communicating a sex act for a price. As long as the act takes place on private property between one 18+pro and one 18+client (I believe that’s section 195 of the Canadian criminal code, amended in 1984, and something in the Ontario bawdy and gaming house act–but my legalese is admittedly sloppy& referring to a half remembered document.) A professional dom fought to set a precedent in the early 1990’s–if communication does not include sex, no communicating for the purpose of prostitution has taken place.

    That one still baffles my ass. It’s ok to tell somebody”I’m going to tie you up, slap you around, call you bitch, make you wear a dog collar, and pee on you. And you’re going to pay me $300/hour.” But “A blow job’s $100 and you wear a condom” is illegal? Talk about your messed up relationships.

  44. Wow, just when you think this thread is dead, it revives! Talkling of Canada, Xena, there was an interesting article in the Vancouver Sun a day or two back:

    Well, Canada’s laws are no worse than ours here in the UK. I was a bit disappointed the article featured Norway but not other regimes elsewhere. The Nordic approach simply re-creates all the same problems of driving sex work underground, but in a manner more digestible for the bourgeoisie because it takes the focus off the sex workers.

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