That prostitution exists is a fact. That, as far as we know at least, every human society has had a form of it is, to the limits of our knowledge about this, also a fact. And as far as we can work out at least it's going to be a feature of human societies into the future. The question therefore is how should we handle it societally, not whether we can magic it off the scene or not. Our own view is that what consenting adults get up to is up to consenting adults. We do now have a society, finally, that largely keeps the government out of our bedrooms and we welcome this. Quite why this liberty and freedom should be limited when cash changes hands we're not quite sure.
All of which makes this letter to The Guardian very strange indeed to us:
On Monday 1 June it becomes a crime to pay for sex in Northern Ireland, but legal to sell it. The rationale? Prostitution is violence against women and a barrier to gender equality – so end the demand, but don’t punish the victims. I agree. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the minority of men who feel entitled to sexually exploit vulnerable women. In 2006 I led Ipswich’s policing response to the tragic murders of five women by a sex buyer. We cracked down on kerb crawlers, diverted women away from the criminal justice system and joined with agencies to support women to exit. It worked. But current prostitution laws prevented us from tackling demand for off-street prostitution. Northern Ireland’s new laws should be extended UK-wide so we make it as difficult as possible for pimps and sex traffickers to operate. Alan Caton Former detective superintendent, Suffolk Constabulary
That women were murdered is appalling: that this is a crime is just and righteous, whoever and whatever those women were or were doing. But people are murdered walking down the street: are we to make walking down the street a crime in order to reduce murder? People have been murdered working in supermarkets: do we make supermarkets illegal in order to reduce the incidence of murder?
No, obviously, we do not. And for the obvious reason that if walking down the street or vending comestibles are a crime then those who are attacked, injured or murdered while doing so are already criminals and thus have no protection from the police or the law.
So it is with prostitution. It is going to happen and consenting adults should have the same protections as the rest of us as they go about their consenting and consented to activities. Legalise, fully, prostitution. It may not be our life choice, either as provider or customer. But then nor are many things, all of which should be, and are, legal and protected by that full majesty of the law.
This is quite apart from that old point we learned from the Bloody Code. When stealing a loaf of bread brought a hanging, when murder brought a hanging, then why stop at the stealing? Making it illegal to purchase sex is going to increase the danger to those selling it, not reduce it.