Soliciting, generally (Hookers! Hookers! Everywhere, hookers!)

‘Local Crochet Circle At Car Boot Sale’ is a rubbish headline. ‘Hookers Ply Their Trade On Suburban Streets’, as I think Mad Magazine once translated it, is a little more interesting. Which is why, last week, some press used the trial of a man convicted of killing several prostitutes as a way to reignite the fiery debate about the legality of prostitution. To be fair, the government also mooted the idea the buying sex should become a criminal offence, as it is in Sweden. I’m not going to make the point that Sweden is the home of Ikea, the most painfully dull furniture in the universe, and that their suicide statistics dwarf ours. I am sure these facts are not relevant.

And let’s be clear: prostitution in reality is not the same as prostitution in a Julia Roberts movie. It’s dirty, dangerous and degrading, often motivated by drug-addiction. Dummy. But several campaigners for criminalising prostitution call it an inherent act of violence against women, and I’m not so sure that that is accurate or true. It assumes that no prostitute has chosen her profession, that no woman who makes a moral choice we disagree with (or find repugnant even out of a concern for her wellbeing) could be in her right mind. And not only is that ridiculously patronising, it is also naïve and rests on a failure to understand our postmodern pluralist society. We see sex as sacred for whatever reason (it may be Christian faith, it may be humanism or feminism), and we assume that everyone else does too. We are wrong in that assumption. Many people do not share our core beliefs on many things. As Christians our role may be to convince them, but forcing our personal morality onto other people is a dangerous path to tread.

I hear you shouting: ‘Hypocrite!’ You’re thinking: last week you tell us to use our influence in society, but this week you tell us to sit down, shut up and leave the nice pimp alone. What’s the difference between working for our concept of justice in an uninterested world and promoting our vision of personal morality? After all, both involve pressuring people to be more righteous than they want to be. Answer: Issues of justice affect people who have no choice, whereas issues of personal morality concern acts between consenting adults who, if they harm anyone, harm themselves.

Ah, you cry, waving your ‘Stop The Traffik’ leaflet at me. Am I forgetting that many prostitutes are forced into the work by people-traffickers? No. Are you forgetting that forcing anybody to do any kind of work is already illegal? Are we all ignoring the fact that police getting tip-offs from prostitute-visitors as to instances where girls are enslaved in this way (apparently it happens) become unlikely if the informant is likely to be arrested for his trouble?

I understand. I really do. Prostitution is not the sign of a healthy society. And the argument that ‘it has always been around’ doesn’t mean it should stay. Slavery had also always been a part of life. And I understand the revulsion at the mere concept of bringing money into the sexual act. But this is our morality, not everyone’s. And unless we are planning on supporting moves to make homosexuality illegal, or making sleeping with someone you don’t really love after they buy you dinner and a movie punishable by jail, supporting this is at best disingenuous and at worst cultural, not moral. Might as well go the whole hog and make adultery criminal too. If we make the punishment harsh enough, we’ll go a long way towards building bridges with more extreme, sharia-lovin’ muslim communities. I’m sure we all want that?

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