Thursday, 19 August 2010

The oldest "profession" ...

From time-to-time there are calls for prostitution to be controlled or licensed - e.g. Craig Murray and it has been argued that a considerable amount in tax could be raised from this activity - e.g. The Independent 9th April 2001.  Prostitution is not, in itself, unlawful but there are several criminal offences linked with it and, it can be argued, those offences cause prostitution to exist in a shadowy world in which crime is prevalent.  Further, the trafficking of people into prostitution is a major concern.

The latest prostitution linked offence, which came into force on 1st April 2009, is that of "paying for sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force" - Sexual Offenders Act 2003 s.53A (which was enacted by the Policing and Crime Act 2009 s.14).  Senior Police Officers warned the government of the potential difficulties involved in actually applying this new law - see BBC - and, so far, it appears that only three men have been dealt with by way of cautions - The Guardian 18th August 2010.  The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of £1000 and this seems to have made the Police decide that it is not worth dedicating resources to it even though the very serious "mischief" at which the offence is aimed is that of violent exploitation of women and many of those women are trafficked into prostitution.

To obtain a conviction for this offence, the prosecution would have to prove that a third person had engaged in "exploitative conduct" for gain.  However, it is NOT necessary for the prosecution to prove that the "punter" knew or even suspected that.

Offences which are inadequately enforced is not a desirable state of affairs but who can be seriously happy with the existing state of our law in this area?  Yet, is there any country with a perfect system for controlling "the oldest profession"?

Just one last comment on this.  I just wonder how, in these difficult financial days, people see the use of a £520m CARE fund which, according to theTelegraph 14th August, is sometimes used to give money to persons who intend to pay for sex.  Scandalous?  Beneficial to society?  Somewhere on the spectrum in between?  Is it not time for our country to decide where it stands on these issues.


  1. My comment seems to have got lost - apologies if I have duplicated it.

    The sex trade, like drugs and alcohol, represents a vice, not a virtue, so we surely must all agree that it is a Bad Thing, I certainly think that as I drink myself into a stupor every night, and more so in the morning.

    Like those however it is ineradicable. The hubris of attempting the impossible, namely stamping out vice completely, can only lead to worse things being done or tolerated in the name of the cause.

    It is good when confronted with propaganda to go to the facts, if one can. Short of going out and interviewing sex workers, which one's spouse may not understand, we can read the reports of those who do, in this case the University of Chicago, talking to sex workers in that city:

    Prostitutes who use the services of a pimp are better paid, safer, and turn fewer tricks than those who do not. Pimps provide protection by locating and vetting Johns, physical protection from violence, and also protection from exposure to random violence as the prostitute does not have to tout for work on the street.

    Pimps in other words provide valuable services to their clients, the prostitutes, resulting in increased welfare.


    Forced prostitution, i.e. slavery, is an extremely serious offence, on a par in my opinion with murder. However it doesn't seem to happen that much. It seems likely that the present drive to crack down on trafficking of prostitutes is part of a broader effort to crack down on prostitution in general. More here:

  2. Ben - many thanks for your post and the interesting links which I will study carefully.

    The Labour government - which undoubtedly contained a vocal feminist group - were very keen to bring in the section 53A offence. The problem with s53A is that it is strict liability as to knowledge of the exploitation. Many see that as unfair to the punter. Irrespective of whether it is unfair, it hardly seems likely to prevent exploitation by those ruthless enough to exploit.

  3. Indeed, and thank you for the response.

    Strict liability offences, it seems to me, are justifiable where there is a positive duty on the defendant, and the offence is that they have failed in it (placing one's tax disc appropriately, insuring one's car, or employees). That failure is proved without necessity to prove intent, as the facts prove the failure.

    Conversely, the opprobrium (or in this case additional opprobrium) associated with a strict liability offence can never exceed "he made a mistake anyone could make, if they were only a little careless".

    While we might think that a person ought to notice if his tart is being kept in slavery, if the definition of "trafficked" is so attenuated as to mean "willingly used the services of an unofficial travel agent", it is hard to see how he could know this, or in what duty he has failed.

    What purpose does this law serve? Isn't it just to make clients afraid of using the services of any prostitute?