Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Peter Wickham
People & Things

A look at prostitution

Several weeks ago, research conducted by Dr Joan Phillips ignited a national discussion on prostitution that is both productive and long overdue and it is surprising to note that quite a few persons have been prepared to go on record in support of legalised prostitution.

While I too am generally supportive of the positions advanced by persons such as Marva Alleyne and former Minister of Tourism Peter Morgan, I find it unfortunate that such positions often seem to be motivated by the realisation that there is some inherent economic benefit to this activity and not because we think that the time has come that we in Barbados should move our thinking out of the proverbial dark ages.

It would seem that prostitution shares much in common with homosexuality and acts of "gross indecency", since these are all forbidden by the laws of Barbados while there does not appear to be any logical justification for the existence of such laws other than the apparent need to preserve the "morality" of Barbadian society.

Such arguments are based on the perception that principles of morality are universally accepted across Barbados and moreover that we as a society feel that we ought to expend valuable resources to prevent persons from offering for sale, or purchasing sexual services. It is, however, important for our society not to confuse private and public morality, since the latter is a societal concern and the former is a matter for the individual.

I have always seen it as ironic that the sale of sexual services is considered morally repugnant even though that profession has been practised longer than any other, hence the success of the profession becomes the most convincing evidence that society is perhaps not as repulsed as it appears to be.

Moreover, I am inclined to admit that I, along with several other regional consultants, engage daily in a form of prostitution, since we agree to rent our minds to clients in return for payment.

In the course of such work, I frequently assist clients in the pursuit of political objectives, although I have strong reservations about the wholesomeness of these persons and extent to which their election might be detrimental to the well being of the persons they seek to represent.

However, a true professional quickly learns that there is an appropriate place for one's private morality and perhaps the same should apply to a mature society.

The AIDS crisis has, for better or worse, highlighted the fact that our traditional legal positions on issues such as homosexuality and prostitution are doing more damage to society than good.

In this regard we have started to appreciate that legislating one variant of morality will not convert the person who adheres to another variant.

Instead, our refusal to accept the fact that some people see life differently prevents us from addressing issues that affect our entire society in a timely manner. Hence, the fact that prostitution is illegal means that we cannot regulate this profession, or expose professionals to the type of health care that protects the remainder of society from the STDs which covert professionals can carry.

There are also humanitarian issues that arise due to the criminal status of these activities that our society has ignored for far too long. Hence, the prostitute who is invariably a woman, is denied the protection of the law that is guaranteed by the constitution and is left vulnerable to rape and other physical abuses. Ironically, the lawyer that represents a rapist, or murderer is seen as despicable by several of us in society, but there is no question that these lawyers should be entitled to do their job and enjoy the full protection of the law.

Fortunately, attitudes are changing and the first hint of this is the effort by feminists to reclassify (female) prostitutes as sex workers. Presumably this reclassification would pave the way for such workers to argue that they should not be discriminated against as is mandated by the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The fact that prostitution has historically been stigmatised and associated with women, means that the illegality of prostitution will implicitly discriminate against women and this convention speaks against such matters.

This struggle has, however, not been an easy one and in most instances states have been more inclined to relax laws, or simply not impose sanctions on offenders, but this approach still denies the worker her "rights", since the state still has the option to impose sanctions.

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Created: October 14, 2002
Last modified: October 14, 2002
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