Not Saussure

December 14, 2006

Prostitution and drugs

Filed under: Blogroll, Law — notsaussure @ 10:03 pm

An excellent post by Rachel (as always) on attitudes to prostitution and drugs in the light of the murders in Suffolk; as she says, it’s certainly a sea-change from the

the news reporting and reaction to the Yorkshire Ripper case, notorious for comments such as ‘ he may now move to innocent victims’

As I recall — and not only was I around at the time, my then girlfriend and I were living in Leeds — no one, or no one outside the immediate area, seemed to get particularly worried until he murdered Jayne MacDonald, his first victim who wasn’t a prostitute. My girlfriend worked in Bradford and the worry about her walking to and from the railway station in the dark mornings and evenings was one of the main reasons we bought our first car.

Rachel says, ‘Legalise prostitution,’ and I completely agree. Prostitution itself isn’t, of course, illegal in the UK. Soliciting is, however, which effectively criminalises the women who can’t work in the safer (and I’d imagine more lucrative) environments of massage parlours and the certainly more lucrative environments of expensive hotels. Keeping a brothel is also illegal, so that stops them from getting together and working out of a flat; the only legal way to work out of a flat on your own, which must be even more dangerous than working on the street. You can’t even have a pimp or minder for protection because he’ll be living of your immoral earnings.

I’m sometimes accused of being a libertarian, which I’m not. I do, however, think we should have as few laws as possible, since the business of government is not to tell us how to behave but to let us get on with our own lives in our own way, intervening only when our so doing brings us into conflicts with each other than we can’t amicably settle between ourselves. And I’m certainly not in favour of laws that are completely unenforceable and do more harm than good, which pretty much describes laws on prostitution, to my mind.

People raise worries about women being exploited by pimps; well, there’s a simple answer to that. There are plenty of laws against beating up women and forcing them to give you all their earnings or income support or whatever. What’s wrong with using them? There’s also the objection that street prostitution is ‘anti-social behaviour’ — so, deplorably, ASBOs are being abused in some areas to, in effect, change soliciting from a summary offence punishable only by a fine into an indictable one punishable by up to five years in prison. Well, my late wife and I spent several years living down by King’s Cross — people who know London will know what that implies — and, while she found being hassled by kerb-crawlers a bit of a nuisance on her way home from work, in general it was no more anti-social than any other down-market area. Very handy for the City and the West End, though, and, while a bit noisy at times, certainly preferable to living just off Tottenham Court Road, which we also did, briefly.

I’d enter the caveat, though, that legalisation isn’t going to put an end to street prostitution; since it’s the bottom end of the employment market in that field, the women thus working are presumably there because they can’t get jobs in the more lucrative sectors. There are several obvious reasons, problems with drink and drugs being one of the main ones. I’m only hypothesizing here, never having run a brothel or massage parlour, but I’d be a bit wary of hiring a druggie to work for me in one for the same reasons I wouldn’t particularly want to hire someone with a drugs problem to work in an office, shop or behind a bar — they tend to be disorganised and generally flakey.

Rachel also wants to legalise drugs, and says she’s going to write on the subject soon; I look forward to reading it. I’m all in favour of legalisation, in principle, anyway, but I do have one big worry. I can see that it’s perfectly possible to keep someone on a maintenance dose of heroin, and it makes entirely good sense to me that we should let addicts have it on the NHS rather than put them to the trouble of becoming serial shop-lifters, burglars and robbers (which is normally how you fund a drugs habit if you aren’t a prostitute or a high earner). Might save the rest of us a few problems, too.

We’ve thus dealt with people addicted to heroin. However, can you similarly give people maintenance doses of crack and meth? I ask because I do not know, but from what little I understand of the drugs’ effects, it sounds a bit doubtful. Does anyone know? And if you can’t, then how does legalisation work for them? Do we just let meth and crack-heads buy their stuff from legal outlets and get on with it until they run out of money, while continuing to deal with whatever craziness they get up to while they’re stoned as would we with any other sort of foolishness? And what happens when they run out of money for it? I understand the analogy that’s frequently used with people being dependant on alcohol, but my impression is that crack-heads tend to be a tad more boisterous than do most drunks and that they also get a lot more desperate for some more than do most alcoholics when they run out. I’m not raising this as an objection to legalisation, particularly — as I said, I want to legalise drugs, but it does seem a problem of which we need to be aware.

Rachel also provides a link to a demented article by A. N. Wilson that claims Kate Moss and Pete Doherty are to blame in some way for the Suffolk murders. That’s right; it’s their fault, really. I won’t waste time on its full idiocy other than to note that the logical consequence, unless we have one sentencing policy for rock stars and another one for everyone else, of his complaint that

Pete Doherty, her rock star boyfriend, is another case in point. Only this month, he was had up (yet again) for possession and abuse of Class A drugs.

Rather than being given an exemplary prison sentence, which would have hit the headhavelines in the newspapers and sent a clear message to any of his potential admirers and imitators among our young people, he was given a paltry £770 fine.

would be to put the young women whose plight so concerns him in prison, serving exemplary sentences, too. Keep out of harm’s way for a bit (well, not from self-harm; rather the opposite) I suppose, but I don’t think that’s what he meant.

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  1. A major problem with the criminalising effect of s1 Street Offences Act is that it applies to anyone over 10, and the majority of those who enter prostitution do so in their early teens, more often than not as runaways (especially from local authority care) and having experienced abuse.

    All attempts to remove children from the Act have so far failed, and although guidance says child prostitutes shouldn’t normally be prosecuted, the threat remains as a disincentive to seeking help.

    Comment by Terri — December 15, 2006 @ 3:53 pm

  2. A very interesting and thought-provoking piece.

    I take the view that street prostitution is, in most cases, the result of a drug addiction. Legalising prostitution, without more, will just move the problem indoors, as it were. It will do nothing to address the fact that these women are hopelessly addicted to heroin or whatever. Many of them would not choose prostitution were it not for their addiction.

    I would prefer a solution that had the effect of removing the addiction, and by so doing, obviating the need for many such women to be prostitutes. I don’t know if legalising drugs is the answer, although it will go a long way to cleaning up the supply channels, and that will undoubtedly bring benefits.

    In the final analysis, no-one wants to live next to a brothel, so where will these brothels be situated, if prostitution is legalised?

    I think the wider answer lies in dealing with drug addiction. I don’t know how exactly this should be done, but perhaps more treatment opportunities, getting the NHS involved to a greater extent, community initiatives etc etc.

    Comment by Bel — December 15, 2006 @ 4:44 pm

  3. Linked you, and thank you, and will write more soon.

    Meanwhile, let me say, what an excellent post.

    You are becoming one of my at least daily blogs

    Comment by Rachel — December 15, 2006 @ 9:37 pm

  4. An interesting read. The link between drugs and prostitution is a strong one. However there are other causes and needs; alcohol, housing , extortion from people trafficking.

    These should not be ignored in the race to legalise/demonise herion even more.

    Having said that, I think we should by the Poppies from Afghanistan and have a legal trial. Would solve a couple of issues at once.

    Comment by cityunslicker — December 15, 2006 @ 9:58 pm

  5. When i said excellent post, I meant especially the crack/meth thing…

    nobody has covered ths yet, and they should.

    Comment by Rachel — December 15, 2006 @ 10:06 pm

  6. Why, thank you, all, for your kind words, links and thought-provoking comments.

    Teri — thanks very much for the material on the ARCH RIGHTS site. I was vaguely aware that prosecution remained an option for under-age prostitutes, but hadn’t really thought much about it. The only possible justification — not that it’s much of one — is presumably that in extreme cases it adds the supervision and support resources of the Probation Service to the resource kit, but it’s a very heavy-handed way of doing it. Are there many prosecutions?

    Bel — you say no one wants to live next door to a brothel; well, I suppose no one does, but plenty of people already do, in effect, in that they live next-door to saunas and massage parlours. Presumably few people who buy flats in various areas of North London do so under the illusion that in that particular district the problems of men suffering from back problems are particularly well catered for! My wife and I lived just across the road from one for some years in Kings Cross and it was certainly much less of a nuisance than living underneath a flat full of students (which I’ve also done). The customers were definitely less of a nuisance to everyone in the area, especially to women, than were kerb-crawlers.

    I wouldn’t want to live next door to noisy pub with a late licence, or an all-night kebab shop, either, but that’s no reason for banning them. We’ve got legal methods of dealing with neighbours if and when their behaviour becomes a problem. Treat brothels the same, say I.

    I realise that merely legalising brothels won’t solve anything particularly for people who’re forced into prostitution because of a drugs habit, but it’s not an either/or. Better for all sorts of reasons if they don’t do drugs at all, or, if they do, they do legal ones; but whether they’re on drugs or not, surely it’s better if they’re working in a rather safer (and more comfortable) environment than the back-streets.

    CityUnslicker — I fully agree that there are lots of causes and needs involved. As Terri suggests, if someone’s run away from home and needs money, then prostitution’s an obvious way of earning some. If someone just feels the need to earn a fair bit of cash, then it’s a way to do it, too (when you think about what it costs to fund a reasonably serious drugs habit, that implies that even junkies working the street must be earning a fair bit, even though the dealer gets the ultimate benefit).

    If people choose to earn their money that way, then fair enough; but obviously it’s better if they’re doing it through choice rather than necessity, and helping people with drugs habits is a way of removing one of the factors that makes prostitution a necessity rather than an economic choice.

    I agree that buying up Afghan poppies and killing two birds with one stone would be an excellent idea to try — can’t be much worse that the way we’re doing at the moment, after all.

    Comment by notsaussure — December 15, 2006 @ 11:06 pm

  7. To be fair, there have been very few prosecutions – the last figure we have for 04/05 showed 3. What we simply don’t know, though, is how much the possibility of prosecution acts as a deterrent to reporting.

    Provision for young runaways is extremely patchy. The Children’s Society reports that there are only 9 refuge beds in the whole of the UK for runaways – their campaign site is at

    Prostitution or theft are the only ways for U16s to survive if they want to remain undetected in order to avoid the risk of being returned. Even 16-18s can’t automatically get benefits – normally they have to go through a process of being ‘disowned’ by their parents, which is pretty traumatic. Add to this the fact that there are always predatory adults willing to ‘help’ young runaways, and the path into prostitution is pretty clear.

    A comprehensive policy on dealing with young runaways, including taking their views and unhappiness seriously and making benefits more easily available, would almost certainly prevent a fair number becoming involved in prostitution.

    Although the government issued guidance to local authorities in 2002, even now around 40% are still not following it and a far stronger duty on LAs would be a good start.

    Comment by Terri — December 16, 2006 @ 12:00 pm

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