Wednesday, November 28, 2007


A Milanese prostitute who was unable to explain her affluent lifestyle [she owned six large apartments and two expensive cars] to the satisfaction of the Italian tax authorities has been ordered to pay tax on her income: this sets a precedent and now, in theory, all prostitutes in Italy will have to do so. You can read the whole story here.

Prostitution is tolerated in Italy but exploitation of it is not. In this most Catholic of countires, drive along any major road and you will see the ladies sitting provocatively at the roadside quite openly. As numbers of prostitutes in Italy have increased since the most recent expansion of the EU, the State is now considering fining their clients. Many of the women, from both within and outside the EU, have been “trafficked” into Italy, having been convinced that they were going to bona fide jobs. Then they found themselves having to pay for their journey by working as prostitutes. This law, at least, is an enlightened attempt at a partial solution.

In Britain prostitutes’ organisations have long been campaigning for legalisation, so that their activities would be recognised as “work” and they would therefore pay taxes. Both Ellee and Steven Bainbridge have posted on it , and, like Steven, I find it an issue fraught with difficulties and am not sure where I stand.

The first difficulty is, surely, what exactly is prostitution? What do we call it when someone allows a man or woman to set them up and keep them when there is no love? What is a mistress who accepts material comforts from her lover because she knows he will never offer her marriage? What do we call it when a woman remains in a loveless marriage for economic reasons? Yes, in a marriage there are likely to be other considerations but even so, the line is thin:
For the colonel’s lady an' Judy O'Grady
Are sisters under their skins"
wrote Kipling.

Now, I can see the arguments for legalisation and regulation, with health and hygiene issues, protecting the women and getting prostitutes off the streets of residential areas being three of these. But still they have to go somewhere and where would that be? Illegal activity would continue for where there is a business there are surely always those who would try to undercut it. And I’m uneasy with the “People will do it anyway so let’s legalise it” school of thought because that could be applied to anything.
The nineteenth century reformer Josephine Butler’s main objection to regulation was inequality, with the law recognising no fault in the male client; however, she also objected in principle to what, in her eyes, amounted to State sponsorship of immorality. Butler was largely responsible for the repeal of the Contagious Disease Acts in Britain: under these Acts the women were humiliated, subjected to brutal “health” checks and generally treated inhumanely. If there were regulation today, I’m not suggesting that it would be handled so insensitively but I doubt whether all the implications have been thought through.

And yet..… as so often in life, a situation you know of personally can change your thinking or cause you to question it. I have a friend who has a brain-damaged son. Now an adult, he has sexual desires like everybody else. These have sometimes been manifested in disturbing ways. “I’d pay for him to visit a prostitute if there was a way of finding a clean one!” my friend cried to me in desperation after one of these incidents. This, I believe, is an aspect of the matter which few legislators have considered.

One thing I am sure about: I get angry when prostitution is called a “profession” and, although I am more sympathetic than not towards women who feel they have no choice but to ply this trade, they are not feminists and they are not liberated women. For the trafficked women or for those otherwise forced into this way of life, I feel nothing but sorrow and the situation makes me wonder how much has really changed since Josephine Butler’s day.

So: fine the clients / punish those who profit from the activity / punish the prostitutes themselves / legalise and regulate – what do you think?


Leslie: said...

Wow, you've certainly posed a BIG question here - one that could be asked everywhere. In my post about the serial killer currently on trial here in Vancouver, his perversion was the prostitutes in the downtown East side (a very poor area of town riddled with prostitutes, the homeless, and drug addicts). I'm at a loss as to the solution - like you, I have mixed feelings about it all. But why is it that the "Johns" never get thrown in jail or fined?

fake consultant said...

you raise interesting questions when you remind us that prostitution would be challenging to regulate because of its varying forms-and it's possible that a solution might be found in the world of interstate trucking regulation.

trucks are broken into two basic classes: "for hire" and "not for hire" trucks.

somebody who operates a mobile mri or x-ray unit would be an example of the owner of a "not for hire" shredders or trash trucks are others.

"for hire" trucks pay taxes per mile driven, while "not for hire" trucks are often taxed based on the vehicle's value.

this could theoretically create a system where one group of taxpayers would pay based on a per-sale basis, and the other would pay based on the total amount of support provided during that year.

this leaves many questions unresolved (valuating in-kind "support", for example), but it gives us a place from which to advance the conversation.

Tom Paine said...

Morality is not a matter for Government. Historically, all attempts to suppress prostitution have (a) failed and (b) driven the prostitutes themselves into the hands of criminals. The trafficking issue is completely irrelevant to the subject. Trafficking involves slavery, unjust imprisonment, assault and battery, extortion (and dozens of other crimes, all more serious than prostitution-related offences). Those crimes should be investigated and prosecuted in their own right. The fact that some prostitutes are trafficked slaves does not affect the right of free men and women to enter into contractual arrangements of their own choice. This is an area that a wise State would steer well clear of.

Whispering Walls said...

Hurrah for Josephine Butler! She was warmly remembered in Liverpool when the council was trying to legalise the red light district. I think prostitution is exploitation. The pimps make the most from it and they are men.

James Higham said...

Classic post, Welshcakes. Real roundup material.

Ellee Seymour said...

Your view is the same as CHASTE, who I have been assisting with publicity. The Swedish model involves fining the client. Legalising prostitution will only encourage more brothels to set up and many women are forced to work in them after being trafficked illegally.

jmb said...

It's certainly a dilemma for to legalize the business makes it almost mainstream. That said prostitution the oldest "profession" (why that word indeed) in the world is not going away and perhaps some good would come out of it if it were legalized. But it's obviously not an easy decision and as Ellee says there lots of room for error on the legalized side.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Leslie. That is horrifying about the serial killer there. I agree with you about the "johns" - but aren't there states in the US where they are arrested? Hi, FC That's a very interesting analogy. I need to think about it. TP, thank you - a cool, calm view from a legal expert. I think I agree with you on the whole. HI, WW. I'm glad JB is remembered there. So few people seem to know of her. I agree - it's rarely the women who make the money. Thank you, James. Hi, Ellee. Yes, I was interested in that post of yours and I think CHASTE are right.

Crushed said...

Well, I've always favoured legalisation.
The currennt set up does more harm than good.
It aids the spread of veneral diseases and criminalises people for a transaction, which need not cause harm.

After all, it surely keeps down the amount of woman raped.

Strret prostitution is a dirty business, but move a level upwards, it is actually quite civilised.

fake consultant said...

to add some information and another perspective, the state of nevada allows individual counties to permit the operation of regulated brothels; and you can find the regulations issued by each nevada county that allows prostitution here.

to my knowledge, there is no american jurisdiction where street prostitution is legal, nor any other location that has legalized brothels.

san francisco has a community of sex workers that have sought political solutions; and an outgrowth of that process is the st. james infirmary, a sex-worker oriented health clinic that additionally offers professional research on the public health aspects of the business, located here.

Chelsea + Shiloh said...

No Welshcakes, i wouldn't call it a profession, as that implies a formal degree for an educational institution, I would however call it a legitimate occupation..

Australia does have legalised brothels, with laws governing their placement, from memory they cannot be near schools or suburbia. They have to apply for buiding permission (to local council)like any business, and areas effected can object.

I know of one in town and unless you knew, from the outside you would think it was just another business. The women work mainly at night, are shift workers and it in no way effects any other business surrounding it.

I feel that legitimising prostitution minimises the corruption involved, these women have a union, they are very knowledgable on health and safe sex practices, they pay tax and have superannuation plans.

Im not arguing the moral question, as each has their own views and are rightly entitiled to them. There is a huge difference however between legalised prostitution, and the traffic of women which I feel is another subject.

I will however point out that 'Crushed by Ingsoc' thought that it would reduce rape, is wrong. Rape is a violent act that involves power over another, the rapist would get no fulfilment from a prostitute, who was playing a part and getting paid for it.

I like that you wrote this post, by bringing subjects like this to the fore, we can all share veiws and understanding...ta Welshcakes

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Crushed. I just don't know. I'm not sure it has any bearing on the frequency of rape. FC< thank you for the extra information and links. I did visit Nevada once and a friend took me to see [from the outside ] a brothel. I was fascinated to see the landing strip for the millionaires' helicopters and how spacious and calm everything looked. Then, when I got back to the UK, there was a documentary about the same brothel. I thought I once read that the clients are arrested in California?
Hi, Abbey. That is the same reason that I object to its being called a "profession". Thank you for your insight too. IT's really interesting to know what happens in other parts of the world. I agree with you on rape.

Lord Nazh said...

Profession has nothing to do with education. Profession means getting paid to do work or provide service. Hence it is a profession (liked or not).

fake: Birmingham has no law against prostitution as long as there is no boss (pimp) AFAIK

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

LN: Maybe we have a difference between US and UK usage here. If, however, we were to use a UK sociological definition, a "profession" would be a job in which there are no set hours. However, to most people in the UK, it means being a doctor, teacher, nurse, lawyer - something requiring prolonged study and training.

fake consultant said...

nazh...i got the impression it is illegal in birmingham, based on what i'm seeing in the local paper

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Interesting link, FC. Thank you.

CFD Ed said...

Why should prostitution be illegal, if it is entered into without coercion and of choice? You can’t stop it and the state moralistically putting these women and men outside the full protection of the law actually makes them vulnerable to pimps and violent crime.

If they are subject to any state regulation then they should be subject to no more than a hairdresser or a physical therapist. If they are to be subject to tax then it should be no more than a taxi driver and there should be no more questioning their returns than those of a taxi driver, or self-employed plumber.

They provide a valuable service to society and as a society, we should be grateful to them for that, if only on the grounds of pragmatism and self interest we should not make their lives unnecessarily harder.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Phil A, for your considered comment. I think I am with you - if I thought that some sort of "registering" would make the women safer, I would go for it, but I don't think that would be the case. I certainly would not wish to be a party to making their lives harder in any way.

CFD Ed said...

Welshcakes, I know it’s not likely to happen right now, but I do think they would benefit from some sort of trade association, that provided advice, assistance, legal cover, etc. and certificated training in the long run.

It should be a trade like any other, after all much less useful, moral and decent occupations are perfectly legal – like politicians for instance ;-)

James Higham said...

...If it is entered into without coercion and of choice?...

And which prostitute ever did that, Phil?

CFD Ed said...

Re: “which prostitute ever did that?”

Some do, from what I understand.

They should be able to if they want to and if they are already ‘in the trade’ no one should be able to force them to stay in it if they don’t, stop them if they do want to stay in it, or judge, or persecute them because they are.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Phil A, I'm with you on politicians! But I think I'm with James on "choice" : it may be one for the "high class" prostitutes operating out of the world's best hotels but for most women it is not a "Choice" but entered into out of desperation. Phil, I would support anything that would protect the women from some of the horrific crimes we hear about but some would say that the only way to do that is to get them to stop. I know this is not realistic.

CFD Ed said...

Welshcakes, depends on what one means by ‘choice’, sometimes choice is limited by education and economic factors. It is not a full range of choices, but more a lesser of evils sort of choice. Very bad if it is Hobson's choice.

My view on the subject is simple, as much as possible they should have a choice, be as safe as possible and be accorded some respect. It being illegal does not help them in this. Society or individuals being judgemental does not help them either.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi again, Phil. I agree it is often a "Hobson's choice" and I would be the last one to want to pass judgement on the women because in certain circumstances, I believe we could all - or nearly all - find ourselves in this position.


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