With all the resignations, uncertainty and unrest that has been dominating the news since Brexit, I thought I would bring your attention to something positive that has been going on recently.

A cross-party group of MP's are pushing the government to change the U.K's current prostitution laws.

Under the current law, prostitution i.e the act of one adult paying another adult for sex is not illegal. It is legal to sell sex, and it is legal to buy sex. However, acts associated with prostitution such as soliciting, curb-crawling and brothel-keeping are illegal. 

This can have an adverse effect as it encourages prostitutes to work alone. Sharing a premises and working in groups adds security, but having to work alone can be dangerous. It also discourages sex workers who work on the street to seek help if they are abused, as they would have to admit to breaking the law.

As our prostitution laws are clearly illogical and out of date, there are people from both sides of the debate who have been pushing for reform for some time. Some people favour the 'Swedish model' used in Sweden, Norway and Iceland. In this model, buying sex is illegal. It is not illegal to sell sex under this model, but it is illegal to buy it. Some argue that this helps lessen demand, as people are less likely to pay for  a sex worker if they are committing a crime.

Sex workers and organisations that support sex workers disagree. They say that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, that it has always existed and will always exist. and making the client a criminal will not stop demand. What it will do is make clients less likely to co-operate with security screening, and may serve to drive the profession even more underground, which in turn can make it even more dangerous.

Under this logic, prostitution is never going to go away. Whether you make it fully legal, make it partially legal or criminalise one or both parties, it is always going to exist. So we have two choices. We can either pretend we can eradicate it and push it further and further underground, or we can accept that whether we like it or not it is a part our society and do our best to protect sex workers. This is likely to result in decriminalisation or legalisation, as is the case in the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand.

Critics of legalisation will say that legalisation does not stop the illegal sex trade. Whilst prostitution is legal in Germany in actuality the amount of restrictions that have been put on it have driven many German sex workers to continue to work illegally. This is true, but it is hard to tell if this would still be the case without as many restrictions. The Netherlands are a very well known example of a country in which sex work is legal, and the vibrant red light district in Amsterdam and the greater awareness surrounding sex and sexual health in that country make it seem like a success, but as the Netherlands also have restrictions (all prostitutes must be registered, they must pay the rent of a window etc) there are still sex workers who work underground.

The fact is that for many people sex work is not a permanent career choice, but rather a way to make some quick money and move on. People doing it for this reason are unlikely to register themselves, perhaps to avoid stigma or simply because they don’t feel it’s necessary. This means that full legalisation in its existing forms may not work because people may not wish to co-operate for their own reasons.

Legalisation can work, and is in theory the best option. The government can make money, people are safe and everything is regulated and out in the open. As we have seen above, however, the countries that have legalised are not perfect and there are reasons that people would choose to work outside it. This leaves us with decriminalisation.

Decriminalisation is, hopefully, the next step for the sex trade in the U.K. This would stop the acts associated with prostitution being a crime, and would mean sex workers who encounter problems are able to go to the police without fear. 

One of the biggest problems with prostitution, some would argue, is human trafficking and people being forced into the sex trade against their will. Whilst this is definitely a problem, this is also not prostitution. Consensual sex work, where the man or woman involved has made the conscious choice to sell sex in exchange for money, should be decriminalised. Human trafficking is slavery, and it will always remain a crime.

Bringing sex work out into the open and ensuring sex workers are able to contact the authorities if needed is a positive step in eliminating human trafficking, and decriminalisation will make it easier to identify legal and illegal sex workers and act accordingly. We may never be able to completely eradicate it, but if we work with sex workers rather than against them we can crack down on those who force people into the sex trade.

Published by Sophia Moss