“Prostitution, Politics and Policy” by Roger Matthews

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From the publisher’s website:

Governments in different parts of the world have been struggling to develop constructive policies to deal with prostitution – as, for example, the British Home Office recently instigated a £1.5 million programme to help address the perceived problems of prostitution. In the context of this struggle, and amidst the publication of various policy documents, Prostitution, Politics & Policy develops a fresh approach to understanding this issue, while presenting a range of what are seen as progressive and radical policy proposals. Much of the debate around prostitution has been polarized between liberals – who want prostitution decriminalized, normalized and humanized – and conservatives – who have argued that prostitution should be abolished. But, drawing on a wide range of international literature, and providing an overview that is both accessible to students and relevant to policy makers and practitioners, Roger Matthews proposes a form of radical realism that is irreducible to either of these two positions.

An interview with the author is available here, below is an excerpt:

… As Matthews explains in his new book, Prostitution, Politics and Policy, he is entirely against liberal solutions to prostitution. The liberal approach is to think of the trade as simply another form of work, to be “non-judgmental” in dealing with it, and to set up areas, such as “tolerance zones”, where women can work without fear of arrest. (The Netherlands is among countries that have set up these zones, which are usually on the edge of industrial estates. The theory is that, without the fear of a police swoop, women will have more chance to size up customers, thus improving their safety.)

Matthews completely disagrees with the notion of legalisation. Instead, he says, the punters should be deterred from buying sex, women in prostitution should be decriminalised, and a radical welfare strategy should be put in place to help them out of the trade. “You can’t remove the abuse and coercion from prostitution, whether legal or not,” he says, so “the answer is to clamp down on the punters, while helping the women to get out and stay out.”

Matthews has been studying street prostitution for more than two decades, but his latest book was inspired partly by the murders of the five young women in Ipswich. “All the evidence of the Ipswich case shows us that tolerance zones would not have kept the women safe,” he says, because “it is about where the punters take the women to harm them, not where they pick them up.” As he points out, “the killer was a trusted regular”, which is why the women went with him.

In the book, Matthews describes most women he has met on the streets as “extremely desperate, damaged, and disorganised”. “Many of these women, who are supposed to be ‘working’, are obviously off their faces with drugs and drink,” he says. “Which other ‘profession’ would that be tolerated in?” He has interviewed women who have carried on selling sex immediately after being stabbed, raped, beaten, and in once case, hours after giving birth. “Entry into prostitution is often as a result of physical and sexual abuse, parental neglect, a history of local authority care, and drug addiction,” says Matthews.

“I think that speaks for itself.” …

–Ann Bartow

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