“Constructing a Humanist Politics”


Issue No 23 Friday 13 February 2009





This week


·        Plan To Make Paying For Sex Illegal Will Do Nothing To Stop Human Trafficking


·        Women's Institute Boldly Leads The Way In Move To Create Safe, Legal, Regulated Brothels. 7000 Strong Hampshire Section Have Already Passed A Resolution In Favour



What is happening now of interest to Civic Republicanism





·        Plan To Make Paying For Sex Illegal Will Do Nothing To Stop Human Trafficking


Last week we focused on the drugs trade and the folly of its Prohibition. This week we look at the way the law deals with another vice – prostitution.

Vice is defined as doing harm to yourself. In this it is different to crime which is doing harm to other people.

In our society the three main vices are

1.    The taking of drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) for recreational purposes

2.    Gambling

3.    Prostitution

As a fourth, pornography could be added and certainly would have been in an earlier time. (Child pornography involves doing harm to others, i.e. the children used in its creation, and so comes under the category of crime.) Out of wedlock sex would also in bygone times be considered a vice by many although generally now it is not in this category. (Again sex involving minors is crime not vice.)

In a civilized, humanist, society, all vice should be legal, “decriminalized” , but (and it is an important “but”) controlled. The level and nature of the control depends on the type of vice. The principle of legality, but control, is applied to alcohol and tobacco and to gambling already. The taking of other drugs for recreation purposes, i.e. not for proscribed, recognised, medical use, is illegal. Prostitution itself is legal, i.e. the buying or selling (by someone aged over 18) of sex is legal, but soliciting and pimping are illegal.

In another anomaly concerning prostitution, it is not illegal o work as a prostitute in off-street premises but where there is more than one prostitute, the owner of the premises can be prosecuted for keeping a brothel.

However, under a new plan, the Home Office is planning to go further and criminalise paying for sex with a woman who is controlled by a pimp. Those convicted would get a fine and a criminal record. Pleading ignorance of the circumstances under which a prostitute is working will not count as a defence.

In addition, Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said that anyone who knowingly pays illegally trafficked women for sex could face rape charges.

The reason for the changes in the legislation is an attempt to reduce or eliminate prostitution because it is considered undesirable. Undesirable, it may be, like a lot of things. But just because you don’t like something this does not mean it has to be illegal. Vice, in particular, because it is only doing harm to those who indulge in it should not be illegal. To repeat, however, it must be controlled.

Part of the reasoning behind the new proposal is that it will negate the increase in human trafficking for prostitution. With increasing contact between nations and the growth of international organised crime (often funded by the illegal drugs trade) the exploitation of vulnerable young women in developing and East European countries by exporting them to the developed world for work in the sex industry (often under conditions of near slavery) is becoming an increasing evil. Human trafficking is a crime but it is made possible by the criminalisation of certain aspects of the vice of prostitution.

In view of this stated objective, it is strange that a London police unit dedicated to tackling human trafficking will close after the Home Office withdrew £2.3m funding support.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed the Human Trafficking Team will disband in April 2009.

Critics say the unit is vital to protecting vulnerable men, women and children who are sold or lured into the sex trade, slavery or illegal working.

The Met said the dedicated team launched in March 2007 will have to cease operations because it does not have the money to keep it open. "The Met does not have the additional funds to keep the team running in its current format whilst meeting other existing policing requirements."

Charities that attempt to rescue those trafficked into the UK estimate that as many as 4,000 people are currently in the country as a result of being trafficked.


Christine Beddoe, director of End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking UK (ECPAT UK) said the Met's unit is the only specialist one in the country and its mandate stretches beyond London.


"This is very distressing as this unit is not working only in London. London is the gateway for human trafficking.  "This team has had some landmark cases and it is irresponsible to suddenly withdraw funds at this critical time."


The news comes just a week after the human trafficking unit saw the successful prosecution of a gang of six men who trafficked young girls and women into the country and forced them into a life of abuse and prostitution. One of the gang's victims was a 16-year-old Slovakian girl who told the court her harrowing story of being bought and sold several times, repeatedly raped and beaten.






·        Women's Institute Boldly Leads The Way In Move To Create Safe, Legal, Regulated Brothels. 7000 Strong Hampshire Section Have Already Passed A Resolution In Favour


This article of a few months ago reports how leading campaigners, Mrs Jean Johnson, 62, and Mrs Shirley Landells, 73, were planning a world trip to examine brothels in countries where they are legal. The results of the trip were screened on Channel Four on 4th August 2008. See


The Hampshire Women’s Institute in a courageous move has passed a resolution to legalise brothels.

The Hampshire WI move followed revulsion at the murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich last year. All five had drug dependency and paid for their habit through prostitution. The WI had discovered that there were 12000 street girls in Hampshire alone and that most were addicted to Class A drugs and that there were in addition 600 brothels in the county. These establishments are of course all illegal. The programme managed to penetrate a typical brothel in Essex where only one shower was provided for four rooms. Being necessarily illegal means that there is no license or government regulation and inspection. Workers rights are minimal. Oddly the police knew about the establishment and had installed alarm equipment and the VAT inspector had recommended that the brothel call itself a massage parlour to make it legal which the owner refused to do.

Interviews with a local councillor and the police in Hampshire revealed a sympathetic attitude to having legalised brothels. After all it was pointed out lap dancing clubs and massage parlours engaged in a similar trade and were permitted.

Whilst it is not illegal to sell or buy sex on the street or in private, brothels are illegal in the Kingdom. Deputy Prime Minister, Harriet Harman, wants to now follow the Swedish example and in addition make it illegal to purchase sex in an effort to stamp prostitution out.

See Civic Republicans comment

She said: "Do we think it's right in the 21st century that women should be in a sex trade or do we think it's exploitation and should be banned?” Her answer is clear.

Jean and Shirley went in search of “top tips” in brothels in three countries’ brothels to see how safe brothels could be created in the UK. In a brothel in Amsterdam they were impressed by the cleanliness, the provision of the correct height basins for clients to wash their parts and panic buttons by the bed in case of an aggressive client. They also visited the Moonlight Bunny Ranch in Nevada, USA, and Bon Temps in New Zealand where brothels are also legalised. A particular feature of NZ that they liked was the SOOB, the small owner operated brothel.

In general they found that whilst the brothels in Holland and Nevada were miles better in the quality of health and safety provision than the illegal brothels in the Kingdom they considered that the owners (usually male) had too much control. The NZ model was considered the best they found.

Jean and Shirley fitted up a camper van to gain publicity for their campaign for legalised brothels in the UK and conducted random street surveys in Hampshire. None of the interviewees televised revealed any opposition to the campaign and generally the public seemed to believe that prostitution should be made safer for everyone concerned. Jean and Shirley’s resolution will later be put to the 215,000 strong national WI movement.

The difference between vice and crime is that the former is doing harm to yourself and the latter doing harm to others. The three main vices In our society are recreational drugs, prostitution and gambling. The last is legal but highly regulated and this approach should be applied to the other two.

Only by having properly regulated brothels can we get rid of the misery suffered by street workers and those who work in illegal unregulated “houses”. Only in this way can we rid ourselves of the organised criminal activity that feeds off the unregulated industry. Because of the illegality of brothels problems of drug taking and prostitution get compounded together and conjoin to spread infectious diseases such as HIV.

Also there is now the mammoth and increasing problem of trafficking of young women from developing countries into first world brothels. The lack of legal regulated brothels is a gift to this horrendous trade.

The way that a society deals with vice is not a peripheral issue. It is central to what it stands for. In a Republic based on humanist principles there should be no effort to eradicate vice. It can never be eradicated and attempts to do so lead to more crime, disease and suffering. The objective should be to control it through a well devised strong regime of licensing and regulation.

The WI cannot be praised too highly for embracing the issue of prostitution law reform when our politicians are too timid to even approach it.




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……. …….until next week