Shades of Grey

“Prostitution is the exploitation of women and children by selfish men. In order to protect sex workers those who purchase sex should be criminalised while prostituted women ought to be assisted to exit prostitution without the risk of prosecution”.

“Prostitution is the oldest profession. You will never abolish sex work. The only practical way of dealing with prostitution is to legalise and/or decriminalise it. What consenting adults do, in private whether entailing payment for sex or otherwise is no concern of the state and/or society”.

The above is, I believe a fair representation of the two main attitudes to prostitution. However there is another perspective, one in which sex work is perceived as a complex issue. According to this viewpoint prostitution is a grey area which can (and frequently does) entail exploitation but one in which abuse is not necessarily part and parcel of working as a sex worker. It is to this latter perspective that I subscribe.

In my short story, “The First Time” we meet Becky, a young graduate who enters the world of prostitution as a professional escort in order to clear her debts. I pull no punches. Becky feels a sense of shame during and after her encounter with her first client, Mike, however no one compels Becky to enter sex work, she does so of her own free will.

In contrast to “The First Time”, “Samantha” tells the story of a lady forced into prostitution in the city of Liverpool. Unlike Becky Sam is raped by her brutal pimp, Barry and is, in effect a sex slave.

The two contrasting portrayals of sex work in “The First Time” and “Samantha” provide a more realistic picture than the above (admittedly simplified) perspectives on sex work. Prostitution is for many ladies (and a few men) a choice as in “The First Time”. It isn’t Becky’s idea of the perfect job by any means! It is, for all that still a choice. In contrast Sam has little (if any) choice regarding her entanglement in prostitution. She is a victim of her brutal pimp, Barry and deserves our compassion. Of course Becky is worthy of compassion to but one can not contend that she has been forced into the sex industry.

So what of the clients? In “The First Time” Mike is polite and considerate in his treatment of Becky. That doesn’t stop Becky from attempting to dissociate herself from the sexual act (she thinks of country walks with her grandfather while Mike is having sex with her). However Becky’s attempt to disassociate herself from the reality of her situation (having sex with a man she finds physically repulsive) should not blind us to the fact that she has taken a conscious decision to work as an escort.

Should people who pay for sex be criminalised as is the case in Sweden, Iceland and a number of other countries?

First let us look at the practical problems with this approach. While it is relatively easy for the police to apprehend men paying for sex on the street it is extremely difficult to enforce such a prohibition on those who use the services of escorts. Escorts provide sex in private accommodation (usually homes or hotel rooms) and most liberal minded people (including me) would be horrified at the idea of the police bursting into people’s residences to arrest them for paying for sex with consenting adults. Also how would the police/the authorities know that an individual escort was providing sex as opposed to company? Of course one could imagine fake agencies being set up and when sex is requested the requestor is arrested, however one needs to ask whether this would be an effective use of police time. I understand that this approach has been adopted in America but the escort industry still thrives there.

There is also the ethical question as to whether acts which are perfectly legal when no payment is entailed should be rendered criminal when cash is handed over. The consensus in Sweden is that this should be the case but I, as a liberal have my doubts.

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2 thoughts on “Shades of Grey

  1. CheerfulKangaroo

    That’s an interesting view that you take, and I think it has considerable merit. I’m personally highly anti-abortion, simply for the fact that firstly, situations such as those experienced by your character, Samantha, are absolutely reprehensible, and that I dispute that your character, Becky, is truly ‘consenting’. It comes down to what you perceive as consent. If Becky believes that prostitution is her only way of paying off her debt, or feeding her drug habit (in another situation), then she is essentially being coerced into this out of necessity (or what she perceives as necessity). I think that this probably the case for lots of people who decide to become prostitutes – economic factors make them believe that it is their only choice. The costs of this however are dire, as you pointed out – psychological damage that the girl never envisioned can easily ensue, and the potential for physical abuse from a particularly aggressive client is still there. The counterargument for this is of course that if it were legal, she would have no reservations about going to the police and telling them of the abuse, however I believe that even if prostitution is legal, Becky will still feel a sense of shame about her profession, and not want co-workers, friends etc. to discover her choice of profession, and thus will still feel hesitant to report abuse.

    But, I think you raise some interesting points and I’ll certainly check out your books!

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thank you for your comment. In the UK prostitution itself is not illegal. However many of the activities associated with it such as kerb crawling and soliciting are prohibited by law. So Becky is not breaking the law, however a girl operating as a sex worker on the street would be in breech of the law. Also it is not against the law to pay for sex in the UK. It is, however illegal to pay for sex with a person who has been coerced into sex work irrespective of whether the purchaser of sex is aware of the coercion. I’m not sure I understand the relationship between prostitution and abortion. Kevin


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