08 December 2012

Pragmatism 3

The second arena of socio-political battles is prostitution; I’m specifically thinking of prostitution in Scotland and N Ireland, and to a slightly more distant degree in the Republic. The battle is around the introduction of the “Swedish model”. There is a proposed law out for consultation in Scotland, and similar proposals have been seriously mooted in N Ireland, though the legal process is not so far advanced.

What is the “Swedish model”? Briefly, it makes it a criminal offence for a man to buy a sex from a woman. (A simplification, I know; I do realise, for example, that there are LGBT people out there, but they are a small, if vociferous, minority; and if I exclude them, it’s just to make things easier to understand.)

Under this Swedish model, it’s the man who is the criminal, not the woman. It’s already illegal for a man to buy sex from a trafficked woman in the UK; despite the hype, the evidence these women are a in a very small minority. Not that the evidence has ever stopped people with an agenda from believing and proselytising otherwise. Non-indigenous women are almost always independent agents, and are not controlled by pimps; they are not trafficked, even if a travel agent helped with their journey. Being assisted to travel as an economic migrant could classify them as “trafficked”. I’m specifically thinking of the free agent, the courtesan or escort.

Consensual sexual relations are those where the woman must consent, whether payment is included or not; they are legal throughout the UK. There are activities around prostitution, such as street walking, brothel keeping and living off “immoral” earnings which are already illegal. The Swedish model reverses the common, if incorrect, conception that prostitution is illegal. (In the US both selling and buying are criminalised.)

The Swedish model was introduced more than a decade ago, and has been hailed as a major success in reducing prostitution. It was an avowedly “feminist” initiative that got it established.

And with the word “feminist” I immediately run into difficulties. There are, as I understand it, first, second and third wave feminists; rad-fems and neo-feminists and even feminazis, and I do have real problems understanding their differing agendas, and how these ideologies developed, on what factual, rather than theoretical, basis they exist. At one extreme, some seem to blame men for all that is wrong with the world, and wouldn’t want to have anything to do with men; though others say things like “equality” while recognising that men and women aren’t equal, rather there is “equivalence”.

Be that as it may, and it’s my problem, it was the more extreme men-hating type of feminists that introduced the Swedish model. I’d argue that they did so in the face of all the evidence.

The pragmatic realist knows that prostitution has been around for as long as recorded history; it’s not called the “oldest profession” for nothing. There have even been “sacred” prostitutes at the temples in ancient Greece .

What is the imperative that “drives” women into prostitution? It’s usually poverty. A few become courtesans, improving their social position and rising to positions of influence, some seek independence from men, but for the majority it’s simply penury. It’s probably no coincidence that for most of recorded history that men have controlled women’s wealth and possessions.

And the imperative that drives men to prostitutes? This is probably a “biological” imperative, the hormonal and genetic influence that drives men to have sex with as many women as possible, to spread their seed as widely as possible. (Whereas, for women, the equivalent imperative is to have a “protector”, a man who will provide for her — but who may not be the best genetic fit for her, so that she “cheats” and allows a “good” man to raise the offspring of another man as his own.)

Be that as it may — and you might find the explanations disturbing — it’s very clear that there has always been a demand and a supply.

Then there are the moral arguments, that prostitution is a “bad” thing, that it is demeaning, that it’s more male abuse of women, and therefore, prostitution should be illegal. Well, there are plenty of things I don’t like, I might even find them “immoral” but that doesn’t mean they should be illegal.

Consider Starbucks. The coffee house has been in the news recently; they have paid no corporation tax on their earnings in the UK for many years, indeed they say that they run at a loss here. Except that they don’t run at a loss, rather they are able to transfer their profits to Holland where the rate of tax is lower than the UK. There is nothing at all illegal in this — and Starbucks are by no means the only company to do this — but there has been an outpouring of moral indignation about it. Years ago, a ruling by the then House of Lords said, in effect, that an individual could arrange his (her) tax affairs in any way to mitigate them (providing it wasn’t illegal). Starbucks is now to make a voluntary tax contribution, buckling under pressure.

And the “immoral” earnings, or the “living off the avails” in the US? Just who decided that such earnings were immoral, under what authority were they described as immoral? And why is this “immorality” enshrined in law? It’s strange that in  puritan America the earnings aren’t described as “immoral” but as the “avails”. If the “it’s illegal to perform an illegal abortion” has the unintended consequence of “it’s legal to perform a legal abortion”, can one then say that even though it is “illegal to live off immoral earnings” that it is “legal to live off moral earnings” and pitch an argument as to what exactly is legally “immoral” today? I expect this morality derives from Christian theology — not from Christianity, but from the theology, which you will recall was largely constructed by Sts Jerome, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, all of them misogynists to a greater or lesser degree. Not, it has to be said in fairness, that Calvin or John Knox seem to have been any more enlightened.

Then there’s this possible unintended consequence of the Swedish model; if I had a mistress (I wish — I don’t) and set her up in a flat — what the red tops would call a “love nest” — and gave her an allowance, am I to be criminalised? We both entered this arrangement voluntarily, I get her company, she gets “expenses”. Just why should this be illegal? (Whether you think it’s immoral is your problem, and you can keep your problem.) And that’s to say nothing of the marital home, where access to sex for the man might be dependant on purchases, necessities and gifts; and please don’t say that this doesn’t happen, of course it does, not universally, but it exists.

So, we have a supply and demand position, with willing participants — well, perhaps the women aren’t doing it altruistically or even for enjoyment, rather they are doing it for the money — in what way will the Swedish model, which aims to deprive them of their livelihood, improve their position? (It might frustrate men, but that of course is of no importance in this model.) Perhaps the women are expected to stack the shelves in a supermarket; morally superior perhaps, but not very financially rewarding.

Does the Swedish model actually work? Its proponents say yes, but they would say that, wouldn’t they? The reality seems more to be that is has driven prostitution “underground”; it hasn’t reduced the demand or the supply, but it might, just might, make the “figures” more tolerable.

There’s another problem in Scotland. There are currently eight Scottish police forces, and these are going to be combined into one. At present, they operate a policy of “tolerance” in Aberdeen; there are massage parlours in Edinburgh; but there is a zero tolerance (whatever that means) policy in Glasgow. What will be the policy in the combined force?

(A little off the main thrust, but prostitutes are people, with — you might like to think — the same rights as the rest of the population. A “zero tolerance” policy might well suggest that they won’t get the protection of the law to which they would otherwise be entitled. And you might well think that this policy is driven by “morality” rather than pragmatism or common humanity.)

We haven’t got quite so far in N Ireland, but there is certainly a move towards the Swedish model — unsurprisingly, this seems to be driven by “morality” rather than pragmatism, or any real, genuine concern for the “working girls”. It’s too soon to know what will develop. There is a single police force in N Ireland; and now that the “troubles” are largely behind us, they have turned to “real” crime. There are occasional prosecutions for pimping, trafficking and brothel keeping. (Incidentally, should an “escort” employ a live-in maid, secretary or even a “bouncer”, she’s now working in a brothel, and liable for prosecution. Curious that having help, having protection makes you a criminal.)

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