Decriminalizing prostitution


The legalization of brothels, cannabis and medically-assisted dying have formed the radical liberal agenda put to Nick Clegg by members of his own party. Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies, appealing to the half-Dutch Clegg, urged for a more ‘grown-up’ approach to such things, commenting that the Dutch seem to have fewer hang-ups than the British. Just focusing on prostitution – each topic deserves more space than one blog post, anyway – there are several points to be made.

Perhaps the moves of the government should be applauded. Indeed, when it comes to prostitution, the state takes a neutral moral stance. Prostitution per se is not illegal, but almost every ancillary trade that facilitates it is. Stemming from the ‘in private’ element of legislation on sexual activity, the illicit nature of the sex trade as a whole germs far worse things: human trafficking, protection rackets, etc.

It might be sensible for those calling for the three legalizations to think about drugs and prostitution in general. It cannot be ignored that the prostitution industry of today is deeply linked to drugs. The Ipswich serial murders in 2006 provided anecdotal evidence that, to a first approximation, all prostitutes are drug addicts. And, those who are victims of trafficking more often than not turn to drugs. A drug habit is extremely expensive, too expensive for the majority, and certainly too expensive for those who are already addicted. Crime and prostitution are the only ways to fund such a habit.

Ideally, there would be no public spaces, in particular streets, only private ones. It would be for street owners – who would normally be collectives of owners with properties fronting them – to decide whether or not prostitutes could operate. Soliciting and brothels would be decriminalized.

Under market forces, it would be likely that there would be certain streets where prostitutes operated, both in terms of soliciting on the street and premises. These would be secure; they could either be gated or patrolled by private police firms funded by the prostitutes collectively. This type of scheme would mean safer working environments; prostitution could operate there free from the drugs trade, human trafficking or protection rackets.

Sexual mores is a subjective matter for the individual. In a truly free market, where everyone’s individual position is accommodated, other areas, where those with objections to prostitution could happily reside, would see no prostitution, either on the streets or in premises.

The wholesale privatization of streets is a long-term project, and not one Clegg or any other major politician is going to be contemplating. However, private enterprise and secure ‘red-light’ areas could be established tomorrow if there was decriminalization of ancillary trades.