On prostitution vs. slavery: The Economist and Emma Thompson

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?

5 thoughts on “On prostitution vs. slavery: The Economist and Emma Thompson

  1. It is important not to confuse the issue of advertising humans as sex commodities in local papers with keeping prostitutes safe. These adverts are harmful in promoting a culture that potentially legitimises and normalises sex slavery so that adults who use these ‘services’ think it is ok. Also, it is not acceptable that children and adults come across these adverts in free local papers pushed through our letter boxes in such an every day way; it makes the tv watershed policy pretty pointless?

  2. The main defence for legal prostitution is that it allows workers to receive regular health checks. Firstly no obviously underage child will be allowed one of attend one of these checks. Secondly are these health checks for the protection of the worker or for the protection of british men using these slaves. Britain is allowing slavery or at least protecting British mens access to slaves. Prostitution should never be normalised it is harmful.

  3. I think there is a bit of falacy in your question “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?”

    While I will not argue against the notion that there are men who get excited at exerting power over women. I am certainly not ready to accept the implicit assumption in your question that it is due to these men that prostitution is still illegal. When I present the idea of leagalizing prostitution to a group of 20 men, I generally find that well over half of them think it is a good idea. When I present the same question to a group of 20 women, I generally find that well over half of them think that legalizing prostitution is a very BAD idea. Interestingly enough the percentage of married women who think it is a bad idea and I also note that their husbands tend to disagree (in private) but agree with them when their wives are listening. I find it also interesting to not that most men in power have wives.
    I would ask the question why do Women dislike the idea of legalizing prostitution.

  4. Anti-prostitution laws will only ever encourage slavery.

    Male slaves are valued for physical labor. Physical labor is legal, and thus physical slave labor has highly elastic demand. In most situations it’s cheaper to pay for wage labor. In prostitution, men are not valued as highly as women (economically). This is why there is so little male slave trafficking today; male slaves are simply not worth as much. What makes women such a “hot commodity”?

    Female slaves are valued for sex. Unlike physical labor, sexual labor is illegal. Having no legal business model, pimps have less financial incentive to traffic in slaves and less incentive to pay a decent wage. Anti-prostitution laws will only encourage slavery.

    Anti-prostitution laws do little to discourage prostitution, which so quickly can fall into legal gray-area.

    HOWEVER: Advertisements encourage the consumption of that which they advertise. Prostitute ads encourage prostitution. There shouldn’t even be a debate.

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