Legislating for Change?

Last week saw the launch of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Prostitution report following a review of the current UK laws and a reflection on how prostitution is dealt with in other countries. This has generated lots of media coverage in the last few days and a range of opinions being shared. Arguments have been put through in agreement and against the report and it is obvious to see this is an issue that divides opinion.

Our initial response:

As a charity working both with women currently selling sex and those who have stopped, as well as those who have been trafficked into prostitution, we daily see the negative impact and harm that prostitution brings. We hear stories of violence, exploited vulnerability and stolen youth. We hear of the struggles many years on, the scars and the unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. We hear of the ongoing cost that is being paid by women and their families.

It would be dishonest of us to pretend we can respond to this report with a short blog and quick answer. It is widely agreed that there are a wide range of stories behind those who find themselves involved in prostitution. No one person can talk on behalf of every facet of the sex industry. In a world awash with social media, soundbites abound and communication skills are honed and it can seem that sides are created and some people are looking to win a ‘war of words’.

In the midst of the responses to this Inquiry, we at Beyond the Streets reflect on what we should say and how we should engage. Whilst legislation no doubt can make a difference, laws alone will not be enough to stop the harm created. Further conversations are needed and as a country we need to be honest about the harm that buying sex can create and our responsibility to those left vulnerable and exploited. Aside from legislation, how can we care about those we may not understand and how can we remove the stigma and misunderstanding that women regularly face who have sold sex? How will we treat the “sex worker” who is trying to survive and to come to terms with the exploitation of the past?

What we do know is that there are hundreds of women we engage with who are looking for change. Not just a change of legislation, but a change of opportunities. Not a change of rules by the powerful, but a change of thinking. Not a just a change from lawmakers but a change of all our attitudes.

There are many women today who are facing hardship due to the lack of resources available to them. We can live with the idea that legislative change will bring some hope but we cannot be fooled into thinking that legislation alone is the answer. Alongside any legislative changes there must be a commitment to sufficient support for those exploited and in need of help in building their future.

For more information on the Home Affairs Select Committee report, visit here.

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