You run a newspaper. You are a libertarian and believe in free enterprise. Prostituting oneself is legal, and the prostitution market is in principle one of the finest examples of supply and demand at work. In an ideal world, you believe, prostitution would be a career option just like any other – with health insurance, taxes, and regular contributions towards one’s pension plan. You also believe that allowing sex to be bought and sold in reasonably open circumstances can make things safer for the workers involved.
So, do you accept advertising for sex services on your pages? The Economist admits having pondered the question and decided not to: in their case, it’s not worth the potential loss from offended readers and other advertisers. Yet, they know they’re not necessarily doing the right thing: in Suffolk, where five prostitutes were murdered last year, a local newspaper group decided with the police that the ads should continue, in order to stop the trade going underground.
The Economist article even praises Web sites that, while hosting reviews for sex workers “as if they were books on Amazon.com”, encourage their readers to call a hotline and report any suspected child prostitution or sex slavery. It is a sad reality that sex workers may be posing as free agents, when in fact they are exploited, trafficked and enslaved. Actress Emma Thompson courageously lends her face to the Elena/Maria character telling her story in this harsh video campaign sponsored by the Helen Bamber Foundation and The Body Shop, “Trafficking is Torture” (thanks to Stefano for circulating the video).
What is to be done about trafficking? How does one reactivate the moral compass that shuts down in men who use enslaved prostitutes? Is it merely an economic matter – slave services being cheaper than those of free agents? Or is there for some men an extra element of satisfaction and thrill, a non-monetary value, in exercising power over someone who can’t say no? Or both?