Send in the snatch squads

November 28, 2008

Last week the government claimed that ‘over 80%’ of sex workers were slaves, a claim hotly denied by the English Collective of Prostitutes. Harriet Harman, Deputy PM, spoke on Woman’s Hour urging Womens’ Institute (WI) members to report newspapers carrying escort advertisements, since the oriental and East European escorts on offer may be the victims of trafficking. They may also be illegal immigrants.

UK Local Community Minister Hazel Blears bangs on about the need to prosecute men (’punters’ or ‘Johns’) who attempt to have sex with a woman who is employed to have sex by a third party (pimp). Sweden recently introduced this law but it is too early to tell whether it has stamped out illicit sex. They also have a law against drinking too much in public. You see a lot of drunken Swedes abroad.

Profiting from immoral earnings and ‘keeping a bawdy house’ has been a UK criminal offence since the time of Moll Flanders. There is logic to the argument that if women can be prosecuted for soliciting, men should be fined for responding. But given the obvious difficulty of proving who did what, to whom, when, and under what circumstances, even for a government which introduced an average of 2633 new laws per year under Tony Blair, 2823 in Brown’s first year, 64% more than under ‘Iron’ Lady Thatcher, there is more logic in decriminalising than trying to do a King Cnut.

Driving sex out of the classified ads, telephone booths and newsagents’ windows is a publicity stunt too far. 2.3 million UK citizens view sex sites in the UK every day. A simple Google of ‘London escorts’ produces a cornocupia of sordid personal services advertising galleries of females, most of them foreign. Those WI members who aren’t already gaga will most certainly have a funny turn if they intend to hunt down all the thousands of ’sex workers’ in cyberspace.

The UK middle classes like to claim moral superiority on the grounds that they are unmoved by basic instincts. Dr Jekyll turned into the debased Mr. Hyde when he left his comfortable professional home in search of illicit pleasures. ‘No sex please, we’re British’ was a phenomenally successful stage play and (dreadful) film. Harrogate WI members famously raised profile and money by posing naked for a calendar, made into an emetic film about middle class ladies baring all in the name of charity. ’Secret Diary of a Call Girl,’ a mainstream drama, sponsored by Legal and General Insurance, attracted the station’s biggest non-terrestrial audience. The ‘latter-day Moll Flanders’ heroine, played by ex teeny singer and Dr Who girl Billy Piper with her tarted-up girl-next-door looks, living the high life, is a role model for aspiring sex workers. Sexy ads for the second series currently adorn UK bus shelters.

Sex trafficking destroys lives. Prostitution is not a good career choice for young people of either sex (we never hear much from MPs about rent boys, unless they’re caught with them). Forced and arranged marriages are infinitely worse, since the women are imprisoned for life and forced to bear children and do housework. I wonder why the police and immigration authorities cannot do more about this problem? Nothing to do with political correctness, of course.

Turn curb crawling districts into permanent ‘no waiting’ zones for cars, patrolled more than once in a blue moon by uniformed police. Give the saddos a traffic violation fine – several times more expensive than the streetwalker they intend to violate. (Taser their asses, adds Jacqui Smith). This will get it off the streets but will not stop people buying and selling commodity sex. At the budget end, poverty, abuse at home and narcotics are root causes. At the ‘Call Girl’ end, I’m sure there is a degree of pimping, but we need to listen to the views of the women on the sharp end, so to speak, not Hatty Harman, who I presume, like me, has no direct experience on either side of the world’s oldest commercial transaction.