The Wrong Question?

Whilst there has been much debate about adopting the ‘Nordic Model’ approach to prostitution within the UK, temperatures are rising and clear sides are forming. Yesterday’s vote by the European Parliament in favour of the MEP Mary Honeyball’s proposal to adopt the ‘Swedish Model’ has raised the bar and the issue is definitely trending.

Much of the criticism of the ‘Swedish’ or ‘Nordic Model’ has focused on the issue of safety and whether if these changes are adopted they will make women more vulnerable to harm. Such concern is a good thing and should be at the forefront of everyone’s agenda. The supporters of the Nordic approach would also argue that safety is a driving factor.

So which way is right? Although is this the most important question?

The attempt to answer whether the Nordic approach is the right way or not is creating a polarisation where any common ground that there was is being lost.  Lines are being drawn and there is little attempt to listen to what is often perceived as “the other side”.  As temperatures rise and the stakes get higher the attacks are becoming much more personal, both in private and in public. To be seen as aligning with one or the other approach leads to assumptions, categorisation and automatic dismissal.

But is this the right question?

Surely if we were to take a step back we should ask why both “sides” of the debate are focussing on violence and harm.  Surely the question we must attempt to answer is why is there such a high level of violence against those who sell sex and why are they such a target? Having worked with women involved in prostitution for the last twenty years, we know that violence is common place and not limited to a few high profile cases. The stories of violence, rape and assault are sadly too common. Across the board women have been on the end of regular abuse – much of which isn’t reported as it has been perceived by some as “a normal part of the job”.

If the real controversial issue about the Nordic approach is one of safety, the question of why this violence exists becomes a key question.  Surely, the fact there is so much violence is an indicator of one of the problems with prostitution. The very fact a financial element is introduced to sexual activities means that a new power dynamic comes into play and can warp expectations. In a culture which is marked by hyper-consumption, the behaviour of consumers if often divorced from the negative impact that their spending causes. Along with the attitudes of “money is king” and “the customer is always right” people become products and products are, as we are all too familiar with, increasingly disposable. Although this extreme violence is in the minority, the message is clear that the power is with the purchaser.

It is often wrongly claimed that prostitution is ‘the oldest profession’ but in the light of recent events we would have to ask whether it could also be claimed as the ‘longest disagreement’.  What we are seeing is a battle of numbers where each ‘side’ claims to speak for the majority. Research is quoted and the battle lines reinforced. The reality is that whatever approach is taken, there will be plenty who disagree. In the coming weeks and months let’s keep safety and the protection of those vulnerable to exploitation at the heart of the debate and look at ways of working together to reduce the real life horror that many sadly live with.

Posted by Beyond The Streets on 27/02/2014 at 06:58 PM

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