This morning, I contributed to a discussion on BBC Radio Kent about ‘sugar dating’ (relationships between young people who are paid to spend time with wealthier, older individuals) with Dr Sasha Rakoff of campaigning group Not for Sale. The conversation was prompted by the airing of a BBC 3 programme called Secrets of Sugar Baby Dating. Both Dr Rakoff and I were in agreement that ‘sugar dating’ is a form of prostitution – but we differed in our analysis of what this means. In my opinion, what this shows is that sex will be sold, it’s our responsibility as a society to ensure therefore that the freedoms and safety of sex workers are augmented – and the best way of ensuring as much is the decriminalisation of sex work. Dr Rakoff, on the other hand, is determined that the state should take a draconian approach to abolishing the practice. I referred to some findings of The English Collective of Prostitutes, published in a 2015 report, that compared the self reported experiences of prostitutes in New Zealand (where prostitution has been decriminalised) and Sweden (where clients have been criminalised) and found that the former reported having more (legal, safety, health and employment) rights whereas the latter now generally felt unable to report crimes committed against them during their work because they expected prejudicial treatment from authorities. Dr Rakoff expressed concern for the safety of sex workers, suggested that 90% (sic) wanted to leave the profession but were unable to and that areas that had seen a liberalisation of the laws around sex work were less safe for women. According to the report previously mentioned, prostitutes in New Zealand have found it easier to leave the profession since decriminalisation – presumably because they don’t have a big black hole in their C.V. where they don’t want to admit having engaged in activities that are illegal or bordering on illegal. I have tracked down the study that found that 89% of prostitutes from 9 different countries wanted to leave the profession but couldn’t, by Farley et al. Interestingly, it also records significantly reduced rates of rape and sexual violence for sex workers in countries where prostitution is legal (Germany and the Netherlands) compared to those where it is not (Dr Rakoff didn’t mention that). When people are going to private locations with ostensible strangers, there is always a risk to both parties – they could be robbed, assaulted, raped – or victimised by a false accusation… But the criminalisation of selling sex, or activities around the selling of sex, encourage people to spend less time vetting each other or negotiating terms, have sex in riskier locations (street prostitutes in almost double the danger of those in brothels) – and discourage reporting if a crime is committed.
Whether prostitution is moral is a subjective question, and one that the government has no business making judgements on. Morality is the business of priests, the rule of law should only be employed to ensure that people and their property are protected from each other (not themselves/their own decisions).
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