On the business of prostitution

George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession, has turned out to be a timely primer for the debate on prostitution that has inevitably followed the Ipswich murders. George Bernard Shaw was gagged by a society that refused to countenance the idea that prostitution might be regarded as a business, preferring to simply condemn the prostitute as an inherently corrupt and irredeemable individual.

Thankfully we have at least moved on to the point where we accept that an activity may be immoral, dangerous and illegal but still be a profitable business and are capable of understanding it as such.

The most effective route to changing behaviour is to do as marketing people do and manipulate the market forces that sustain the business model. With the number of women working Ipswich’s streets estimated at just thirty to forty, a prostitute’s chances of being one of the five victims lay between one in six and one in eight. But only money took them off the streets; one victim gave a television interview as the killing spree continued.

Yet the idea that legalising prostitution will reduce its unacceptable side effects is foolishly simplistic. More important is the regulatory environment in which that business will be expected to operate and, as David Aaronovitch reveals, that’s a nut that has yet to be cracked. An author of a Home Office report, Paying the Price, is angry that licensed brothels and red light districts have failed to win government support, even though that report (section 9.21) reveals that Australian licensing schemes have failed as street prostitution is more lucrative.

I suspect that those who use street prostitutes do so out of a sexual craving that will not be satisfied by a visit to a clean and efficient brothel; they may well be able to get sex at home, but need a bit of rough.

Supporters of Tolerance zones on industrial estates (still places of legitimate business by day) may also be disappointed. Paying the Price (9.5 to 9.10) reveals that’s not worked too well abroad either. There are questions over what else should be tolerated, after all, drug addiction fuels many women’s need to work.

Explaining the business of prostitution does not excuse it and if that business can be disrupted without legalising a trade that commodifies in much the same way as slavery, then that is the route we should take. We expect certain other sexual cravings to be suppressed and should be careful about tolerating one that ghettoises communities and exploits those left weak and vulnerable through drug addiction.

One thought on “On the business of prostitution

  1. Prostitution was recently legalised in New Zealand and I believe it will be at least a generation before we’re in a position to accurately determine the effect on the industry and perhaps much longer to determine the subsequent effect on society as a whole.

    I do however believe that prostitution in an integral part of society – it must be since it exists in ALL societies in some form and regardless of its reputation or legal status, people continue to pursue it as a career, as you pointed out; often because of drug addiction.

    However, treating prostituin as the bane of society does not ameliorate it’s negative effects. As a matter of fact if one is to regard it as something negative, then it should be regarded as a negative effect of society in general – something which simply must exist if society is to exist as a cohesive whole.

    Personally I prefer to view it as a good thing. One of the many customs and traditions that allows us to exist as a civilised society.

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