Selling sex, statistics and the state

Published: Tue 8 Oct 2002 09:28 AM
Selling sex, statistics and the state
Greg Fleming, Managing Director Maxim Institute
In recent months at Maxim we’ve been researching and debating a bill before parliament that seeks to decriminalise the prostitution industry in New Zealand. Under current law it isn’t illegal to buy sex but it is a crime to sell it.
The basic argument in support of the bill is that prostitution is just like any other business transaction. If there are two consenting parties then what right does the state have to interfere?
If that was the truth then Maxim would be solidly behind this bill. But it isn’t. In the vast majority of cases prostitution is not just like any other business transaction. Rather it is the exploitation of some of our most vulnerable women and children.
Research from both here and around the world shows that over two thirds of prostitutes had been sexually abused prior to entering the industry.
Their dysfunctional backgrounds drive them to a point in their life where they feel have no other choices. At such a point they should be offered help and compassion. Instead they are sold like slaves to gratify the sexual urges of those eager to exploit them.
Once in the industry they find it very difficult to escape. The rate of drug use is typically over 80%. Nearly 90 percent of them want to leave the industry but don’t know how.
Simply put: If entering prostitution is an informed free-will choice then why is it that the only ones who enter are those who have the fewest choices? If it’s just like any other business transaction then why does the ‘service-provider’ turn to drugs to get her through it? If it’s just like any other industry then why don’t we promote it as a career for our daughters, our wives, our grandchildren?
Miriam Safira is an Auckland based clinical psychologist. She reports that in 27 years of working with prostitutes she has not come across one who hasn’t been emotionally scarred. Not a single one. Zero. And Miriam’s findings line up exactly with international research. Can you imagine how we would react to any other industry with a track record like this?
Another piece of legislation currently before parliament seeks to amend the Health and Safety Act. Under that, employees will be able to sue their boss for stress or unreasonable fatigue suffered as a result of their job. Such is our present government’s concern with the welfare of the worker. Except if you’re a prostitute. You see decriminalisation is not legalisation. The latter means the State recognises the industry and takes responsibility for its impact on society. Decriminalisation is merely a washing of the hands.
Which makes you wonder if there isn’t some inherent recognition in our lawmakers minds of the damage that prostitution really does cause. An understanding that women and children are destroyed by this industry. They don’t like it but what can they do? Best to just call off the police, get rid of the law and hope that the consequences will go away.
But it won’t. Just as prostitution around the world causes suffering and abuse so decriminalisation causes an explosion in the size of the industry. Sweden, Queensland, ACT, New South Wales and Germany. In fact in Netherlands it now accounts for 5% of their Gross Domestic Product. There is no reason at all why the situation in NZ will be different.
As Australian Professor Sheila Jefferies says – “Decriminalisation of prostitution normalises and promotes the abuse of women”. Do we really want a proliferation of pimps preying on our most vulnerable women and children? Or do we want our laws to do the most important thing that law should do – provide protection?
At Maxim we are vigorously promoting an alternative approach – one that would make a criminal out of the exploiter and establish programmes to help women out of the industry. Attempting to purchase a woman for sexual services would be illegal and our police resources would be focussed on that side of the activity.
There is a better way. This current bill should be defeated and hot on its heels another should be introduced. One that doesn’t wash its hands of those lured and trapped by an industry of abuse. But instead one that provides real protection to the women and children who most need our compassion.

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