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Michael Goodyear
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Lets try and untangle the decriminalisation-legalisation story, because it is usually poorly understood. Criminalisation and decriminalisation - the inclusion or removal of sanctions against an action in the Criminal Code, are relatively straightforward terms. Legalisation is more a construct and is therefore not a precise term and causes much confusion. Countries criminalise sexual exchange to varying degrees, but when decriminalisation occurs it is rarely complete. For instance sanctions may persist for sex with a minor, with a person who has been coerced, and for illegal immigrants who sell sex. When a commercial activity is removed from the Criminal Code, that is it becomes legal, it then falls under civil and administrative law, including employment standards, occupational health and safety, licensing and zoning of businesses, and taxation. The term 'legalisation' is most commonly used within the sex industry to indicate the unfair and discriminatory application of civil law to sexual exchange. This might mean exorbitant licensing fees and regulations that are disproportionate to other businesses, and restrictions on sex workers such as mandatory medical examinations (which are pointless and discriminatory). An activity only becomes 'normalised' when it is treated like any other form of commercial activity. Since sex workers tend to be 'resistant' workers, that is opting to work relatively independently and not in menial conventional 9-5 service industry positions, over-regulation becomes counter-productive. The Netherlands is one example where brothels were decriminalised, but over-regulated, encouraging a two-tier system of legal and illegal underground sex work. Although not perfect, New Zealand is an example of a decriminalised industry with minimal regulation. In the link Antonia provides, another confusing term - 'abolitionism', appears. This is misleading and has changed its meaning several times over the years. Originally it meant abolition of highly intrusive and discriminatory laws and regulations in the nineteenth century, which actually led to increasing criminalisation. More recently it has tried to co-opt the positive connotations of the abolition of slavery by depicting sex workers as slaves. A more accurate term is 'prohibition' - the attempt to eradicate a market activity that some members of the community deem to be a 'vice' based on their personal morality. The prohibition of alcohol provides a useful model, and was frequently linked to attempts to eradicate commercial sex. The failure of that movement and the widespread social ills that followed demonstrate parallels with the crusade against sex work. Another failed crusade has been the war against drugs, and some sex workers may find themselves caught in the sights of both sets of laws, destroying their lives further.
Toggle Commented May 17, 2009 on The Price of Sex for Money at Broadsides
There are a number of problems with Tamar Eylon and Rape Relief's position. The central one is the assumptions that reduce complex issues to simple ones. There is no intention to avoid important ethical questions. Ethicists have been debating these issues for centuries, without consensus. This does not alter the pragmatic policy position that exchanging sex is innate. A more important and overlooked ethical question is how a society can continue to deny women and men social citizenship based on their sexual expression, with considerable resultant harm, both to the individuals and society. Exchanging sex lies at the heart of many relationships, and even has an evolutionary history. The premise seems to be that one can purchase and consume another's autonomy, which is highly problematic. One can certainly constrain it, and many would argue that it is the position of Malarek and Eylon that infringes people's autonomy and denies them moral agency. All autonomy is restricted - we cannot all do exactly what we want, no matter our desires, but one cannot say an individual's autonomy can be extinguished. The approach here is very gendered, it assumes only men have agency and all human sexuality lies under the control of men. Worse than this is the co-option of feminisms. Rape Relief continues to appropriate feminist thinking as if it has a unique perspective that only they can see. Nobody is challenging the position that entitlement constrains autonomy, but they are challenging the idea that sexual exchange somehow conveys entitlement. It is interesting how Eylon can instinctively know the 'real' issue in something so complex. This is an ideological position. It has been said that if an opinion on the state of marriage in the nation were based on a survey of women's shelters, it would be as inaccurate as Rape Relief's perspective of sex, just as they assume they have a unique understanding of the 'common good'. No matter what Eylon may believe, there is no evidence that men feel an entitlement to sex 'whenever and wherever they want it'. It is incorrect to say that feminists favour Swedish law, even Swedish feminists are divided on this, no matter how attractive it may seem in reversing the double standard. Unfortunately for Eylon the evidence is that the laws in Sweden are still being applied in a discriminatory manner, and violence against women has not decreased, nor have attitudes appreciably changed. Perhaps more important is that the Swedish law did not work - that is achieve its aims in eradicating sex work, it just changed the venue. The portrayal of feminisms here is one that many of us would have great difficulty identifying with. Perhaps most telling is Eylon's description of Malarek - 'dared to be a traitor to his gender', which reveals a stark unidimensional non-redemptory vision of the relationship between genders (and ignores all sexual exchange other that women selling to men). This is the classic Dworkin vision that is perhaps more ethically problematic than all of the issues raised by Eylon.
Toggle Commented May 15, 2009 on The Price of Sex for Money at Broadsides