published at Scottish Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation, May 2010
The world is debating prostitution. In the past fifteen years, sex trafficking has emerged as a critical human rights issue as the problem has become a planet-wide catastrophe in that time. There’s no need to go into details here about how globalization, armed conflicts, sexism and racism teamed up to create the modern sex slave trade because I want to talk about solutions.
Most people’s favorite example country for legalization, The Netherlands, has seen foreign women and children’s bodies flood De Wallen, Amsterdam’s largest red light district (aka prostitution neighborhood) since legalization in 1999.
The prostitution industry’s favorite example country for legalization, New Zealand, has seen a quadrupling of illegal prostitution in Auckland, their largest city, since country-wide regulations were instituted in 2003.
Led by Sweden’s example in 1999, the countries of Norway and Iceland have changed their laws to acknowledge that prostitution is male violence against women and children. Finland’s legislators proposed a similar law change in 2006 but settled for making it criminal to hire coerced prostitutes, and England followed their half-step one month ago in April 2010.
As usual, the United States hogs more press coverage for several rural counties in a desert state (prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas) than gets accorded to the entire legalized countries of Mexico, Greece, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and every country in South America except Guyana and Suriname.
I live in Portland, Oregon, which readers of the New York Times and other news fit to print know is the US city with the most strip clubs as well as home of the theater that first projected images of Linda Lovelace getting abused onscreen in the movie Deep Throat. Libertarians know our state constitution allows for entertainment businesses to have prostitution occur in them as acts of free expression. The Hooters at Mall 205 closed after a few months because it couldn’t compete with the topless sports bar across the street.
Way out in the Oregon desert where there’s nothing around for miles but sage and jackrabbits, there’s a place named “Whorehouse Meadow.” Tourist guides and historical plaques make frequent mention of how ‘colorful’ the wild, wild west was with saloons and brothels. Men moved the necessary livestock West with them, and historical documents portray the lives of most women in such brothels as less valued than cattle.
For the past eight years I have worked against prostitution in Oregon, but only in the past two years have I seen commitments to make improvements. People didn’t just suddenly discover sex trafficking, prostitution went up as the economy went down and we were forced to confront the problem literally brought to our doorsteps by pimps and johns. I live in the worst prostitution neighborhood in one of the worst US cities for sex trafficking, and my neighbors are Portland’s famously tolerant, progressive citizens. But johns are soliciting children on the way home from school, pimps are beating their slaves on the sidewalks, and there are so many used condoms and needles in the community park that before ball games parents must do a sweep of the field.
We’ve just begun to get serious political weight behind the issue. Portland has no shelter for prostitution survivors, leaving only piecemeal outpatient services available. New laws to provide for victims and target traffickers have been proposed, but so far none of the Prostitution Task Force’s recommendations to reduce men’s demands for prostitutes have been put into action. Instead of addressing that porn-exacerbated problem, a few weeks ago stickers with a trafficking hotline phone number were mailed to every liquor-selling establishment in Oregon. To respect the free speech of liquor license holders, posting the sticker is optional.
Last week, the Scottish Parliament rejected the Swedish model decriminalizing prostitutes and criminalizing punters; pimping is already criminal. Scotland, you prickly thistle, your obstinance has you staying the muddy path of male supremacy. There’s no better time than now to start fixing your cities the right way, and that means the radical way digging up the roots of sexual inequality. Please don’t wait for the situation to get as unbearable as it has gotten here. Ignoring the damage being done by invasive weeds in the spring only makes for more backbreaking work in the heat of summer.
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