This week, the French National Assembly passed laws criminalising the purchase of sexual services. Under the new legislation, prostituted women, children and men will not be criminalised, but will receive social support and benefits to exit prostitution. Men buying sex will be liable for prosecution, and will be fined.
This is the Nordic Model of legislation for prostitution.
The overwhelming majority of prostituted persons worldwide are women, and most are trafficked or coerced into prostitution by poverty and lack of educational opportunity and viable work options.
When we speak of the human rights of Tasmanian ‘sex workers’, how can we ignore the one factor common to their industry and the exponential expansion of the worldwide sex trade – male demand for commercial sex?
‘Sex worker’ lobby groups like the Scarlet Alliance caution us against conflating sex trafficking with ‘legitimate sex work’, but how can we not when both exist only because men demand that sex be a commodity they can purchase?
The French parliament has joined an increasing number of sovereign governments in recognising the gender inequality inherent in prostitution and the harm its continued expansion inflicts on all women.
Their legislation, like the groundbreaking Swedish laws of 1999 (the first Nordic Model laws), seeks to promote a shift in cultural attitudes that acknowledges women as equal humans, rather than a ‘less than’ sub-species that can be bought and sold by men for their own financial reward and sexual gratification.
Jade Barker of the Tasmanian Scarlet Alliance refers to the need ‘to combat the stigma, discrimination and, at times, hateful rhetoric about sex workers’.
There is no element of stigma, discrimination, or hateful rhetoric in the philosophical and ideological rationale for the Nordic Model, and this is clear from its expression in the laws of those states where it is currently in place.
Rather, it is the men who purchase sexual services who are guilty of these offences to the human rights of ‘sex workers’. They are the ones who treat ‘sex workers’ as nothing more than a body to be used, in ways they would not dream of using their wives or girlfriends, or wish on their mothers, sisters or daughters.
They are the ones who set ‘sex workers’ apart from other women, and denigrate them freely, both personally and publicly, and in the most offensive, hateful language if they don’t measure up.
The Scarlet Alliance and its compatriot ‘sex worker’ representative organisations around the world insist that full decriminalisation of the sex trade is the best – indeed, the only – way to assure the human rights of those in prostitution.
Ms Barker notes in her recent article that a ‘decriminalised sex industry means it is covered under the same regulatory framework as other industries, including rights and obligations in terms of workplace health and safety, industrial relations and general legal rights’.
Perhaps a brief perusal of submissions to the recent NSW Inquiry into the Regulation of Brothels might be in order (see http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/regulationofbrothels).
The inquiry received several submissions from local councils charged with regulating and monitoring the sex industry in their respective jurisdictions, and all were struggling with a burgeoning illegal sector and blatant non-compliance with regulations. Trafficking of women into both legal and illegal establishments was also identified.
Other jurisdictions that have legalised or decriminalised prostitution, both in Australia and worldwide, have shown similar, and even more disturbing, growth in the number of women trafficked and available for purchase.
Germany, for example, took a hands-off approach to the sex trade and legalised prostitution in 2002. There are now around 400 000 prostituted (mainly) women , many of whom are trafficked from Eastern Europe to work in multi-storey ‘mega-brothels’.
Their workplace ‘rights’ are non-existent – they work only to satisfy the sexual needs of the male buyers, and the financial greed of the brothel operators (see http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/human-trafficking-persists-despite-legality-of-prostitution-in-germany-a-902533.html).
The Scarlet Alliance wants a message sent to the community that ‘sex workers’ have the same rights as other workers. That prostitution is a job like any other.
How, exactly, does decriminalisation of the sex industry achieve that when its documented outcome is an unconscionable increase in the number of women exploited and trafficked into a ‘job’ where the customers require ever more degrading, porn-fuelled ‘services’ and ever more (usually) women to do it?
*here are some links to the harms of the legal and decriminalised sex trade: