Prostitution: the pros and cons of decriminalisation

Escorts at work in an exclusive Berlin Night Club

Amnesty and the World Health Organisation say prostitution should be legal, but opposition remains strong

LAST UPDATED AT 15:40 ON Tue 22 Jul 2014

Prostitution should be decriminalised in order to protect the lives of sex workers and stop the spread of HIV/Aids, a study in the Lancet Medical Journal argues.

Researchers published evidence that sex workers are faced with "substantial barriers in accessing prevention, treatment and care services" because of "stigma, discrimination and criminalisation", The Independent reports.

The buying and selling of sex is technically legal in the UK, but soliciting, advertising sex, pimping, running a brothel and kerb-crawling are illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. 

But what are the pros and cons of decriminalising prostitution. 

Con: Prostitution exploits women

Many feminists argue that prostitution is the patriarchal oppression of women and is an affront to gender equality. The Right of Women organisation argues that current legislations "enshrines men's right to buy women".

Pro: Sex work is a choice and empowers women

Sex workers' rights groups argue that many sex workers enter the industry voluntarily. The International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) argues that current legislation "treats our consent to sex as less valid than that of other women".

"Neither having sex nor getting paid [for it] is inherently degrading, abusive, exploitative or harmful", says the IUSW.

Pro: Human rights and medical experts support it

Earlier this year Amnesty International published a draft policy arguing in favour of decriminalisation, saying sex workers should be entitled to the same rights as other workers. It argues that the criminalisation of prostitution "threatens the rights to health, non-discrimination, equality, privacy, and security" of a sex worker.

The World Health Organisation also condemns the criminalisation of sex work, and backs the new research by The Lancet which shows that decriminalising prostitution would help lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, particularly HIV/Aids. 

Con: Prostitution is dangerous

Many campaigners and feminists argue that prostitution, whether voluntary or not, is a form of violence against women. Care, a Christian charity argues that physical abuse and rape is commonplace in prostitution and campaigns for the criminalisation of all purchases of sexual services. In London, sex workers suffer a mortality rate that is "12 times higher than average", according to their research.

Pro: Decriminalisation will actually make sex worker safer

Rights groups argue that criminalising prostitution means that sex workers are less likely to contact the police to report abuse. The laws in the UK also takes sex workers' right to work together. If sex workers are allowed to work together in one building, they will be safer, says IUSW.

"If I decided I was too nervous to work alone, I would not be allowed to have a friend over to work in a pair for safety: it would technically mean I was running a brothel," explains one sex workers to the Independent.

UK laws "make life harder for those it purports to protect by precluding the possibility of establishing informal networks of self-regulation and protection" argues Luke Gittos, law editor for Spiked Online. · 

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