Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Prostitution can be stopped



Many people say that prostitution - men paying for sex with women - has always been with us and always will be.  But I don't agree with that view.  Prostitution is bad for women, men and neighbourhoods and there is something we can and should do about it.

There are a number of contested propositions about prostitution.  Some argue that it is a choice women make and that they should be allowed to make that choice.  They say that just because I don't want to be a prostitute I shouldn't interfere with their choice, their right to sell their body for sex.  I think there are only a very small number of women for whom prostitution is genuinely a free, positive, strong choice.  Most women find themselves in prostitution because of mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction.  Many have had troubled or abused childhoods or have been brought up in the care system.  Many have been tricked into prostitution by human traffickers who have brought them from abroad and then forced them into the sex trade.  These women need protecting and help to lead a better, safer life. If that means interfering with the "right" of the very few women who choose to sell sex or the "right" of men to buy sex, then so be it.

Some argue that prostitutes are "sex workers" and that their "job" should be protected not eliminated.  But prostitution is not the sort of "work" that anyone would like to admit their mother does.  Who wants their daughter to grow up to be a prostitute? - No-one.  Surely we have higher ambitions for women than that they should sell their body for sex.

Some say that I should listen to the voice of organisations like "The English Collective of Prostitutes".  I have, and I don't agree with them because I have also listened to the voices of women who were victims of trafficking whose cases I dealt with when I was Solicitor General in charge of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Some say that it's a way for a woman to earn a lot of money.  Most money in prostitution doesn't go to the women but to pimps and criminal gangs.  

Some say that it's not just about women, there are male prostitutes too.  I think the arguments about protection of women apply in the same way to men who fall into prostitution.

What about a man's "right" to pay for sex, especially if he couldn't get sex anywhere else?  His right to pay does not justify his exploitation of women.  Some say "but if men can't pay for sex they'll resort to rape instead".  Men do not have a "right to sex" and if they commit rape they should be put in prison.

Some say that if you make it a criminal offence to pay for sex you will drive it underground and make women even more dangerous for women.

I think we should follow the example of the Nordic countries where the woman prostitute is treated as a victim and helped and men paying for sex are guilty of a criminal offence.  We should tackle the criminal gangs who deal in guns, drugs and women's bodies.  And I think we should ban the small ads in local newspapers which are advertising prostitution.

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