Rape prosecution of prostitutes’ clients “long overdue”

The lead article of this week’s New Statesman picks up the debate on prostitution with an attack on the men who use prostitutes. Joan Smith applauds the stance of being tough on the men who buy sex, and advocates we go further (as in Sweden) by completely decriminalising selling sex, and creating tougher penalties for those who buy, pointing out that during the recent raid on Cuddles ‘massage parlour’ in Birmingham 19 women were arrested, 6 of whom are now awaiting deportation whilst all of the male clients were allowed to leave without arrest. Ministerial opinion is clear on this issue – women who have been beaten or otherwise coerced cannot give meaningful consent and, therefore, how long must we wait to see the first conviction of a prostitute’s client?

She goes on to say that the willingness of clients to have sex with a woman without checking that she able to give consent exposes the pernicious myths underlying prostitution as it currently exists – firstly, the rarely-challenged assumption that men are ‘entitled’ to sexual release whenever they wish it, and secondly, that such relief must be found with a woman if he so chooses – regardless of such damage as that may cause. Ms Smith draws the conclusion that it is in this sense analogous to conventional slavery – the buying and selling of human beings of one category by another.

Whilst I find the title – “Why British Men Are Rapists” – a bit unnecessary (as a learned friend put it to me this morning, you’d never write “Why Black Men Are Criminals” on the basis of similar statistics) the rest of the article is spot on – a recommended read! Unusually, she doesn’t hesitate to point fingers at the men and women who consider strip club and lads’ mag culture “a bit of harmless fun”.

A final thought – regardless of your opinion on the content of the strategy, it must be a good thing that this has provoked such wide debate. Watching Question Time last night, I was encouraged to see that even the people saying they didn’t want a brothel next door to them (the element most of the papers seem to have picked up on) were expressing compassion and sympathy for the women who are caught in prostitution against their will. There seemed to be genuine enthusiasm for more resources to help women exit prostitution and drug addiction amongst the whole audience. I expected less of the British public, and am duly heartened!