The Swedish way to play the game

WE don’t have any good statistics on the state of prostitution in Dublin. We do anecdotally know that it is on the increase. We know that softer forms of sex work, such as lap dancing clubs, have flourished.

We know that the internet has increased access to pornography. And finally we know, we still know, that many women are damaged by the sex industry.

There’s new legislation coming down the way and all options are open to us. But generally there are two models for us to consider: the Dutch model or the Swedish model.

The position of prostitution in Holland is well known. Prostitution is legal and taxable. In Sweden since 1999 it has been illegal to buy sex, while sex workers are not prosecuted.

What should we do?

The Ruhama group working with prostitutes here in Dublin are vehemently opposed to any form of legalisation claiming that all commercial sex exploitation of women is a form of violence. They are contemptuous of the idea of consent in this area saying that the women involved have effectively no choice. They claim that all men who use prostitutes are acting exploititively knowing that they are hurting women.

Those in favour of legalisation claim that prohibition drives prostitution underground where women have even less rights. They point out that most of the prostitutes in the Nederlands are self-employed. They say that a contract freely entered into by a man and a woman is no business of the state.

What should we do?

Ideologically I agree will legalisation while my sympathies lie with Ruhama. 

If we go down the road of criminalising any form of commercial sex, we will soon run into the very gray area of human sexuality. Is modelling clothes a form of sexual trade? Is posing topless for the Sun a commercial sex trade? What about depictions of sex in art and cinema? Aren’t the actresses being paid to take off their clothes? What about a kiss?

And would it work anyway? In Sweden, where they have really hit clients or ‘johns’ hard, there is still a sex industry. It’s just hidden deeper in society. 

That’s not to say that there have been gains. There is obviously less prostitution. The trade has been driven over the border to Norway and other countries.

What about men? Why do men do this? Is it possible to persuade men to stop behaving in this way? The various estimate show that between 10 and 20 per cent of men have paid for sex.

They need to think about what they are doing. It’s a rotten trade and the vast majority of women involved would do some something else if they could. 

On balance I think we should opt for the Swedish model. Here’s the way I see it.

While mutual consent is a powerful argument there are actually two sides to the transaction – the right to sell and the right to buy. The state does not have the right to interfere with a person’s right to take risks so I don’t believe that selling sex should be an offence.

On the other hand, is there a right to buy sex? I don’t think so.

New legislation is in the pipeline which will set Ireland on a distinctive course with regard to the sex industry over the next ten years. I think we should be on the side of the people who are damaged by the trade.