The Red LightProstitution is said to be the oldest profession around and contrary to popular belief, it has historically been recognised as an accepted or inevitable activity for many. But it has also caused a great deal of angst that resulted in constant reviews of legislation throughout the world in an attempt to control the consequences of the occupation.

The word ‘prostitute’ is a derivative of two Latin words: pro meaning ‘to expose’ and statuere ‘to place up front’. There are now many words used to describe the profession such as whore, hooker and street walker but it all amounts to the same thing: someone who offers sexual favours in return for payment. It is a worldwide business and each country has not only different views on the subject but also different laws and punishment.

Having been around since at least 18th century BC, it was probably as a result of an outbreak of syphilis that originated in Naples in 1494 and swept across Europe that attitudes changed and many towns closed their brothels in an attempt to rid their neighbourhood of the problems caused by prostitution. Additionally, prostitutes had to distinguish themselves by wearing a veil for instance or having a certain type of hair cut.

By 1839 there were around 80,000 government regulated prostitutes in London and pioneering feminists fought for repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act that insisted all suspected prostitutes had to have regular pelvic examinations. The feminists said prostitution should be made illegal and therefore not regulated thus bringing to an end the enforced degrading examinations.

The Sexual Offences Act 1956 that was later amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 redefined rape of a paid prostitute and prohibited activities such as running a brothel and soliciting. Additionally the word ‘prostitute’ became gender neutral, previously some laws only applied to female prostitutes.

The Policing and Crime Act 2009 was brought about following Jacqui Smith’s three point plan at last year’s Labour Party Conference in Manchester. Smith said “we will do more to tackle the blight of street prostitution … At the moment only persistent kerb-crawling is outlawed. In my book, once around the block is once too many – and so we’ll make kerb-crawling punishable as a first offence.”

Smith announced the new measures after a six-month government review into prostitution that focused on the way Sweden and the Netherlands deal with the problem.

The then Labour’s deputy Harman said “We must protect women from being victims of human trafficking – the modern slave trade. The trade only exists because men buy sex, so to protect women we must stop men buying sex from the victims of human trafficking.”

The Act came into power in April 2010 and whilst the act of prostitution is not illegal activities such as kerb crawling, soliciting in a public place, pimping, loitering with intent and keeping a brothel are against the law.

The Act has also made it an offence to pay for sex with a prostitute who has been “subjected to force”.

But there seems an imbalance to me; on the one hand some politicians are saying it is abhorrent and should be banned but at the same time the profession remains legal, so there will continue to be a recognised ‘industry’ and with increasing pressure on police time, there are few towns that do not have a Red Light District or the problem of kerb crawling.

Some organisations estimate there are around 100,000 prostitutes in the UK and all 33 London boroughs were found to have brothels with Westminster having the highest number at 71. The research suggests up to £130 million is generated each year from prostitution.

Call me a cynic but that’s an awful lot of extra potential money coming into Government coffers by way of income tax.

The subject was recently highlighted when World Cup players Franck Ribéry, a Bayern Munich midfielder and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema faced a three year jail term and a fine of £37,600 for soliciting an underage prostitute whilst in France. Both denied the charges as they were unaware the girl was under age.

Closer to home, within hours of the Act coming into force, three men were arrested for going to a brothel in east London.

So should the occupation be outlawed and if it was, would that lead to an increase in rape victims? Then as with drugs, even if the activity is illegal, if a person wants it badly enough then they will find a way of obtaining it and isn’t it better to keep the less desirable industries in the open where they can be monitored rather than being driven under-ground where it will be open to manipulation and control by people who will always seek to fill a person’s need at whatever cost?

What do you think?

Carnal Desire Or A Passive Means To An End?

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