What’s large, gold and has wings? According to the former MEP, Chris Davies, it’s the flying golden penis trophy he won for being Politician of the Year at the Erotic Awards 2010.
Davies proudly shared this information with his Lib Dem colleagues in Glasgow this week, as the party revisited its policy on decriminalising sex work. True to their promise to fight for a stronger economy and a fairer society, the Lib Dems want women to be free to sell sex (and men to be free to buy it), without fear of prosecution---and who can say fairer than that?
Forget the NHS and Europe and the bedroom tax, this is one area of policy where the Lib Dems have put a “bit of blue” clear water between themselves and the other major parties.
Earlier this year, an All Party Parliamentary Group of mostly Labour and Conservative MPs called for an overhaul of the UK’s laws on prostitution, which would make it legal to sell sex and illegal to buy it.
Do men drive women into sex work?
According to the Labour MEP, Mary Honeyball (yes it's her real name), the aim of this approach is to target “men who treat women’s bodies as a commodity without criminalising women who are driven into sex work”.
The policy is supported by a bizarre alliance of left-wing, feminist, female MPs, who see prostitution as violence against women and right-wing, male, Christian politicians, who take a hard moral stance on abortion, gay marriage and men who pay for sex.
Meanwhile, in a conference room as empty as a Lib Dem promise on student loans, a few of the party faithful were busy congratulating each other for having the best prostitution policy in the country.
We’ve all heard of punters who visit prostitutes and “just want to talk”, well when the Lib Dems visit sex workers, they just want to listen. The biggest disagreement during the debate came when two delegates argued about being the first politician to invite sex workers to speak at a party conference.
Should consensual sex always be legal?
The conclusion the Lib Dems have arrived at is that the industry isn’t as grim and oppressive as we’re led to believe and we should all be free to buy and sell sex as we please, as long as we’re being kind to each other and not breaking any other laws in the process. “It is a fundamental liberal value,” said Councillor Matthew Winnington from Portsmouth, “that consensual sex between adults should be legal”.
So why should men care about this? The vast majority of us don’t use sex workers so why should we give a damn about the way male “Johns” are policed?
Some men’s rights campaigners have, not surprisingly, framed the issue as a fight against feminist zealotry. There is some truth to this position. The proposal to decriminalise prostitutes, while simultaneously making it illegal for clients to pay for sex, is known as the Nordic model and is a feminist approach pioneered in Sweden. It’s built on a view that women don’t choose prostitution, but are forced into it by we bad men and our evil patriarchy.
Is this a feminist issue?
However, many of the key people who want to rescue female prostitutes and punish their male customers, are far from feminist. They are in fact traditional conservatives who take a paternalistic view of “sexual transgression” and think that we good men and our benevolent patriarchy should be saving fallen maidens in distress from the few bad guys.
At the same time, the liberals who oppose the Nordic model see themselves as progressive feminists. So the distinction here isn’t between feminists and non-feminists, it’s between authoritarians and libertarians.
As a man, I’m not particularly concerned which side of the authoritarian/libertarian divide you come down on, as long as you treat people equally. It seems only fair that if we make selling sex a crime, we should make buying sex a crime too. Similarly, if we decriminalise prostitution, then surely this should apply to both the buyer and the seller?
The idea that prostitution is predominantly a one-way crime perpetrated by men against women, is absurdly sexist and discriminatory. The suggestion that all prostitution is violence against women and all female sex workers are driven into the oldest profession by evil men, infantilises women and ignores what sex workers are saying about their own experiences.
Sex work is worth £5 billion
Yes there is exploitation, abuse and trafficking and this should be stopped. Yes there are sex workers who are controlled by addiction and they should be helped. But if the Lib Dems, with their flying golden penises have got it right, then Labour and the Conservatives are lying to us about sex work. Whether you like it or not, the sex industry is worth £5.65 billion to the economy and, according to the Lib Dems, the majority of people earning that money are doing so through personal choice and free will.
Is prostitution a social evil caused by men and suffered by women? Not according to Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, a lecturer in Psychology who summed up the debate for the Lib Dems saying “any amount of criminalisation, no matter how slight, gives authoritarians the excuse to harass women, men and transgender sex workers”.
She asked conference to spare a thought for the diverse range of punters the Nordic model would criminalise. “Consider the young man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, paying for the first non-medical touch he’s had in his life,” she said. “Consider the widow or the war veteran, whose life’s been ruined, paying for a bit of company. Consider women in posh spa hotels, paying for a full massage with a happy ending.”
However you vote at next general election, if you want to speak out about the criminalisation of men who pay for sex, at least the Lib Dems have given you a "respectable" argument: “it’s not the male punters I’m most concerned about about, no, it’s the rights of disabled men, war veterans and sexually frustrated posh ladies I’m fighting for!” Nice trick, as sex workers say.
---Picture Credit: Flickr/brh_images
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men
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