On Thursday panel members at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine seminar The Changing Face of the Sex Trade discussed the potential public health impacts, risks and benefits of implementing alternative legislative models for those involved in the sex trade.
Cari Mitchell from a self-help organization of sex workers The English Collective of Prostitutes, who are fervent campaigners for the decriminalization of prostitution on the basis of advocating harm minimization factors, said:
"Without decriminalization, there are clear barriers that restrict women from making complaints, if they are being abused or exploited in any way. And one of the main health issues facing sex workers is safety and violence."
She highlighted the difference between the arguments for decriminalization and complete legalization of sex as a trade:
"New Zealand is the only country in the world that has managed to decriminalize the sex industry most effectively by removing consenting sex from criminal law. Since their move towards this model, women have been able to remove themselves from dangerous settings in the streets to operating in licensed brothels that are safer. In the case of complete legalization such as in Germany, which is not something we propose, a number of complications arise such as more control for the pimps involved in the trade."
Dr. Kathleen Richardson, an academic and director of The Campaign Against Sex Robots, believes there is an ethical link between the development of artificial intelligence (AI) sex-bot technology and the prostitution of human beings. During the conference she argued that society as a whole needs to shift towards grasping basic elements such as empathy, describing sex work and prostitution as being a form of human slavery:
"Prostitution, which is the correct term to be given to women selling their bodies as 'merchandise' cannot be classed as work in any sense of the word — and so defining it as some form of trade or industry only legitimizes it. There is a wider society narrative that needs to change where women are no longer seen as a commodity," Dr. Richardson said.
People are not property. Persons are not things. Things are not people. AI & Robots are not persons. The root of this confusion —economics.— NoSexRobots (@RobotCampaign) March 12, 2016
She also cited examples of countries where a combination of complete legalization and decriminalization has caused more problems rather than making it safer:
"In Germany, Prostitution is legalized and as a result mega-brothels exist with large numbers of trafficked women from various parts of Eastern Europe and Africa working there. Pimps and license holders are taking advantage of being able to make more money by exploiting more women. In places where the trade has been regulated there are also lots of cases of murder and extreme abuse that remains prevalent."
Although Dr. Richardson is mostly in favor of complete abolition of prostitution, but if it existed in the UK, she advocates what is called the Nordic Model (also know as Sex Buyers Law). It is an approach to prostitution that has already been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada and France. It has several elements, such as decriminalizing those who are prostituted, adopting a holistic approach and delivering enhanced support to women and making buying sex the criminal offence.
Alex Feis-Bryce is the CEO of National Ugly Mugs, a UK based campaign group working to end violence against sex workers. He also supports the argument for the Nordic Model to be implemented across the UK and provided the conference with evidence-based trends and survey results from across the UK where elements of decriminalization have been piloted and lenient enforcement approaches having been tested:
"According to our research findings, decriminalization is the model that most feel works best. It is clear however that many campaigners are on a moral crusade to impose their own personal values and life perspectives to the debate. As opposed to seeing the drastic effect on the lives of both men and women who are involved in the sex trade, most often due to poverty, or as a by-product of related issues, such as substance addictions or abuse," Feis-Bryce told the conference.
NUM & others sign statement expressing serious concern re Police&UK Border Agency targeting migrant sex workers https://t.co/IgHjNYfGMk— National Ugly Mugs (@NationalUglyMug) November 21, 2016
The debate mirrored the wider international dilemma on which model may be best to tackle the social issues related to sex trade.
"I am a former sex worker and all I can say is that there is nothing nice about selling your body as a means of income. I accept that it is very different for all women, some of whom choose willingly to sell their bodies, but in my case I was very much exploited by others," a former sex worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told Sputnik.
"It's all a disingenuous argument. If we want to change the whole condition of women being treated as objects of commodity or even sexualizing inequality — then I don't think decriminalizing is the answer. Prostitution is a severe threat to women all around the world, and as a society we need to change the social models that perpetuates the need and demand for sex trade to exist."