Choice in prostitution?

In February 2012 I published Samantha which tells the story of a young girl forced into prostitution in the English city of Liverpool by her brutal pimp Barry (see Samantha is subjected to horrific psychological and physical abuse. It is touch and go as to whether she will survive or end her days in the murky waters of Liverpool’s Albert Docks.

Given my writing of Samantha, I was interested to read that Rachel Moran, a former prostitute has written a book recounting her experiences as a prostitute (see As a homeless 15-year-old living in Ireland Rachel entered prostitution seeing it as a means of survival. She exited sex work at the age of 22 and is full of anger regarding her experiences. The author calls for those who purchase sex to be named and shamed as happens under the Swedish Law on Prostitution.

Not everyone shares Moran’s view that criminalising the purchasers of sex is the answer. It has been argued by opponents of the Swedish model that criminalising sex buyers means that clients who come across a person who is underage or who has been trafficked will be less likely to report the matter to the authorities than is presently the case. (In the UK it is not currently illegal to pay for sex but anyone who purchases services from someone who has been compelled into prostitution is guilty of a crime irrespective of whether he new that the prostitute was being coerced). Were the law to be further tightened buyers would according to this perspective be less inclined than at present to report their suspicions owing to fears of arrest due to paying for sex, potentially leading to more (not less) exploitation.

Another argument advanced against criminalising people who buy sex is that not all sex workers are forced into prostitution. In my story, The First Time we meet Becky a young graduate who enters the world’s oldest profession in order to clear her credit card debts. She fears being made homeless as a consequence of not being able to meet her bills and turns to escorting as a means of making money easily and quickly. Becky feels compelled by circumstances to become a sex worker however there is no brutal pimp, as in Samantha coercing her into sex work. Would it be right to punish men (and women) who purchase sex from escorts like Becky who have entered prostitution voluntarily? In response to that question proponents of the Swedish approach will respond that no one truly chooses to enter prostitution, they feel compelled to do so by circumstances which are often beyond their control. It is in other words a choice in theory only. Others will reply that not all who face the financial difficulties of Becky in The First Time choose to go down the route of selling their body, consequently Becky does, in the final analysis make a decision of her own free will to enter sex work.


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