Should brothels be legalised?

My Firefox homepage is a personalised iGoogle page with useful bits and pieces. Among them are the Daily Telegraph and Google News feeds - and a feed from Reuters "oddly enough" section. This has items like "Man forgets car at gas station", "Cow plunges off cliff onto moving minivan", you know the sort of thing. Yesterday's selection had "Bishop backs brothel regulation" with the story that Bishop Hollis of Portsmouth has supported the local branch of the Women's Institute in calling for the licensing and regulation of brothels.

It was perhaps unfair of Reuters to list it with randomly falling cows and absent-minded drivers since Bishop Hollis was offering a serious and well-intentioned argument. However, it is one with which I respectfully but strongly disagree. The legalisation of an evil seldom has the hoped-for consequences and inevitably leads to a greater social acceptance of the particular evil that is legalised.

Bishop Hollis is quoted as saying:
"If you are going to take a pragmatic view and say prostitution happens, I think there is a need to make sure it's as well regulated as possible for the health of people involved and for the safety of the ladies themselves,"
This is one of many arguments for the legalisation of brothels. Women who oppose legalised prostitution point out that it is the women who are tested for STIs, not their customers, and that the law is therefore only of use to protect the men, not the women. They also point to the experience of prostitutes who continue to suffer routine violence in legalised brothels.

Other suggestions are, for example, that licensed brothels will cut down on organised crime and street prostitution. However, the international consensus seems to be moving sharply against the idea of legalised prostitution both for practical reasons (it doesn't help) and for reasons of principle (it assists the exploitation of women). Recently, the International Herald Tribune, in the article Bulgaria moves away from legalizing prostitution made the point:
Bulgaria is only the latest European country to shift its approach to prostitution. Finland changed its law last year and Norway is on the verge of following suit. Even in Amsterdam, the city government has proposed shutting down more than a quarter of the famed storefront brothels in the city's red-light district. And in the Czech Republic and the three Baltic republics, pushes for legalization similar to the Bulgarian one have also been turned back.
The article also observes pertinently that the fight against legalising prostitution has been led by "an unusual coalition of allies, including the Bush administration, feminist groups and the Swedish government."

Janice Raymond of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International wrote an article some years ago giving 10 Reasons for Not Legalizing Prostitution. The article gives arguments under the following headings:
  1. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution is a gift to pimps, traffickers and the sex industry.
  2. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution and the sex industry promotes sex trafficking.
  3. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution does not control the sex industry.It expands it.
  4. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution increases clandestine, hidden, illegal and street prostitution.
  5. Legalization of prostitution and decriminalization of the sex Industry increases child prostitution.
  6. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution does not protect the women in prostitution.
  7. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution increases the demand for prostitution. It boosts the motivation of men to buy women for sex in a much wider and more permissible range of socially acceptable settings.
  8. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution does not promote women's health.
  9. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution does not enhance women's choice.
  10. Women in systems of Prostitution do not want the sex industry legalized or decriminalized.
Another article arguing along similar lines is one by Sheila Jeffreys: The Legalisation of Prostitution : A failed social experiment. The Coalition Against Violence Against Women has a range of further recent articles opposing legalisation.

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