Prostitution as work: implications of legalising an industry

Discussions over the status of prostitution have raged over the past few years.  The current position in Scotland is that activies surrounding the sale of sex are illegal under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, however the purchase of someone for the purposes of sexual gratification is perfectly legal.  Internationally that is the main way in which prostitution – the sale of sexual services – is controlled.  By legally targeting the seller of sexual services while the buyer faces no legal consequence.  The three alternatives: legalisation, decriminalisation, and criminalisation of the purchaser are all implemented in different countries (for example in the Netherlands, New South Wales, Austrailia and Sweden respectively).

Almost all socialists, communists and anarchists agree that prostitution is an undesirable thing, the question become to what extent it can be considered work, and to what extent a form of compensation for abuse.  If we consider it work – the argument goes, then we should legalise and regulate in the same way that we do with other forms of work with a view to making the industry safer.  If compensation for abuse, we should eradicate such abuse by any means necessary.  Personally I think prostitution is sexual abuse.  The fact that wo/men in the industry accept this abuse in exchange for payment does not negate the abusive experience, any more than the choice of a woman to stay in a particular relationship negates any violence within it, but as a thought experiment, lets assume that prostitution is work.

What we have then currently is an illegal industry, which commodifies an activity which the vast majority of people both enjoy and participate in.  This activity is most usually performed within a “gift economy”, that the parties which participate in the activity do so for their own and the other’s sexual pleasure.  Although economics may enter into the equation, particularly within marriage and quasi-maritial relationships, it does so in an obtuse manner.  Although these concerns may be in the background, they are rarely foregrounded.

Up until perhaps a decade ago, nail grooming operated within a similar gift economy.  Women painted their own nails, or the nails of friends, for fun, bonding and mutual pleasure.  More recently this activity has been industrialised, with nailbars springing up all over the place, and it is now common for women to pay to have their nails painted.  In reaction to the industrialisation, hygiene and health regulations have sprung up to ward off any unscrupulous nail bar operators who may do harm to their clients by seeking greater profit.

In a classic worker, boss, consumer scenario, a worker is exploited by a boss who seeks to make maximum revenue from their labour from the payment the customer makes from the goods/services.  Such is capitalism.  I dont like capitalism very much, and I dont really like to see it expanded.  While I recognise that the development of the nail grooming industry has given opportunities for those who are skilled in the task to generate income from those skills, I think that we should be working towards a world where more and more goods and services are taken out of the capitalist economy and into a socialised method of production.  While nailbars have no inherent harm in them, and prior to the industry’s expansion there was no legal restrictions on them, that is not the case with prostitution, an industry which has been firmly kept out of the capitalist sphere.

If prostitutes are workers, they are alternatively exploited by bosses, or are part of the petty bourgoise.  We seek to achieve alternatives to other forms of exploitative labour – set up collective kitchens to overcome the exploitation in food preparation, run community farms to try to manage food production ourselves, legalising an industry in which it is widely acknowledged that the workers are abused like in no other makes no sense.  Although workers within an industry may object to that industry being shut down, it is for society as a whole to consider whether an industry is good and beneficial.  Workers who develop nuclear weapons may argue against their eradication, but that should not be a justification for our continued participation in the nuclear arms industry.

If prostitutes are the petty bourgoise,  they exploit themselves with a view to building capital on which basis they can eventually reduce their dependence on their own labour power and increase their income from capital.  Again, socialists, communists and anarchists tend to take a low view of the petty bourgoise and their concerns which are focussed on the development of their personal capital as a means by which to exploit others labour.  Those who are engaged in prostitution on such a basis may well argue against its eradication, as this the industry from which they intend to build the capital on which they will eventually be able to reduce or end their labour, living off the surplus value of others instead.

Neither of these scenarios make any sense to me.  Prostitution is not “work” that can be regulated and controlled, it is the sexual abuse of one person by another for money.  But even if you do see prostitution as work, from a socialist, anarchist or communist point of view, legalisation makes no sense except as a stalinist attempt to control the producers of a desired community good. Even if prostitution is work, just ordinary work like no other, there is no reason why an industry which is currently not open to the capitalist marketplace should be opened to it.

 

 

 

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7 comments
mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine

@Murdo Ritchie  Legalisation means regulating women, unless you are suggesting that men are granted some kind of certificate that deems them a fit and worth buyer. The pont about "a massive change in all other relationships too" is critical.  The sex industry doesnt exist in a vacuum away from the generalised misogyny of the society, it operates within that context.

alaricstilio
alaricstilio

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(mod edit:  I have removed your link to an escort agency)

alaricstilio
alaricstilio

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Escorts Tel Aviv
Escorts Tel Aviv

In my meaning prostitution is not an sexual abuse. It is the need of people some people think it only way to earn money by selling his/her body. But they don't understand the reason behind it, means why they are going after escort rather then living a respectful normal life. If we are involving child prostitution or teen ages than it called an abuse to the country in which this is going take place.

Escorts Tel Aviv
Escorts Tel Aviv

In my meaning prostitution is not an sexual abuse. It is the need of people some people think it only way to earn money by selling his/her body. But they don't understand the reason behind it, means why they are going after escort rather then living a respectful normal life. If we are involving child prostitution or teen ages than it called an abuse to the country in which this is going take place.

Murdo Ritchie
Murdo Ritchie

I think you don’t make a firm enough distinction between capitalist markets and non-capitalist markets. The capacity for expanded reproduction is usually smaller within most types of non-capitalist markets. Prostitution rarely operates in a “pure” capitalist market. It is an activity that occurs amongst outsider dispossessed groups, including at the highest, richest levels. The dilemma of open, regulated legalised markets versus illegal, covert markets affects every form of goods or commodity sold, including food, cars, houses and much else. Consequently, the issue can never be simply legalisation (or decriminalisation) or proscription and criminalisation. Context becomes the defining feature and is established by the ethical and cultural values of society or the pragmatic capacity to enforce criminal activities. You are right to highlight the left’s inability to respect the petty-bourgeoisie. But since regulation of all economic transactions is inevitable even under capitalism, regulation should only be used to ban the most appalling of ethical and cultural norms such as child abuse, and marginalise where possible the existence of a criminal underworld. Legalisation of prostitution will not stop illegal markets from existing. But it will allow a better picture of the activities and scale of this “industry” to become known. While it hides in the shadows, its real nature will always remain invisible. What makes “sex work” different from most other areas of work is its “personalised” nature. While many employers hire waitresses, receptionists and other traditionally female jobs because of the sexual persona these women project (intentionally or unintentionally), it is unnecessary to perform the job properly. This is not the case with “sex work” where psychological boundaries are eroded because of the need to project, even falsely, some degree of intimacy. A case may be made that legalisation will only separate the physical urge from the psychological desire. If that should occur, the scope for psychological abuse diminishes. In this context, “sex work” assumes no different an exploitative relationship than can found in any other area of the capitalist work process. I do not think it helps to describe regulation as “Stalinist”, especially if we recognise the necessity of regulation. I see little wrong with taking prostitution off the streets, permitting it only in licensed premises, with licensed practitioners. Separating it from criminal concerns will requires that financial and tax arrangements are scrutinised, and that health and safety rules observed. Keeping it contained within regulated non-capitalist market relations such as those found in the partnerships of doctors, lawyers and accountants may be a possible model. Prostitution may not always be abusive if a willing buyer-seller consensual relationship can be established around a relationship of close parity of power. However, for that to exist, requires a massive change in all other relationships too.

mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine moderator

@Murdo Ritchie 

Legalisation means regulating women, unless you are suggesting that men are granted some kind of certificate that deems them a fit and worth buyer.

The pont about "a massive change in all other relationships too" is critical.  The sex industry doesnt exist in a vacuum away from the generalised misogyny of the society, it operates within that context.

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