This is Part 4 of the Conservative Standpoint a serial post by Cole D.
Our journey thus far brings us finally, to the topic of prostitution and the conservatives’ relationship to such an action and institution, primarily the question of whether or not legalization is an enlightened decision, as the left would have one believe, or a folly. Conservatives, and I exclude libertarians from this definition, as I believe the libertarian impulse is simply the re-emergence of classical liberalism under a new guise after the term liberal was co-opted by leftists in the mid 20th century, have almost a universal disposition that guides them toward opposition to the sex trade. The question then becomes why is it that conservatives oppose the sex trade? which, will require a reasonable dissection of arguments against, and what reasonable critique can we offer to those who would advocate increasing liberalization of this most heinous of transactions.
The sex trade is of unique interest to the conservative not only because its permanence, but also because it has managed to construct an unlikely allegiance between the most vociferous of leftist agitators, the (modern) feminist lobby and the modern conservative movement. Though the feminists have little difficulty in advocating the prohibition of prostitution under the auspices of women’s victimization, the problem remains that the conservative disposition as always, is uniquely difficult to articulate as ideological arguments remain unsound one must transition to empirical observation where statistics and literature become drastically more opaque or hostile to the conservative viewpoint.
However, one advantage remains for those who oppose the sex trade, and that is that those who advocate for legalization so frequently couch their arguments in the anecdote, where one can easily remove obfuscation by bypassing such emotional appeals in favor of averages and a totality of circumstances.
Firstly, let us begin with a dialogue, which will if successful disprove or at least cast doubt upon the left and liberal advocacy that “sex work”, as it is so often referred is simply a trade like any other, and that with an absence of moral certainty there can be reason to oppose such durable institution.
The left hinges the totality of its argument on one single premise above all others. It is a premise it has adopted ingeniously and manipulated from its original connotations of virtue into something altogether malevolent: this is the concept of individual autonomy. The determination that the individual becomes the sum of all rational decision making and that, no one or social group, may dictate behavior to such individual for the individual right is the ultimate virtue. Indeed, the left has made itself strange bedfellows with Ayn Rand in this regard. Nevertheless, his premise is only viable with a secondary argument, and that is that there is no universal human nature, and no moral absolutes can be drawn from the human being and society, instead we must adopt the relativist’s position that society breeds social oppression and false norms, and that moral and universal truths are lacking in validity.
What rebuttal can the conservative offer to the prior propositions? A rebuttal must be short and direct one, which can stand against the argument without lapsing into generality about the moral nature of human beings; therefore most direct moral response is that the commoditisation of sex is a wrong because in order to sell sex one must sell the human being. This proposition is couched in Kant’s famous categorical imperative, which he elucidates in the statement from the Philosophy of Law: “Sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite: as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts aside a lemon which has been sucked dry.” The conservative recognizes Kant was correct in this observation because it is a specific example of the act of using a human being as a means to an end, regardless of the individual's consent they are still engaging in self-commoditisation and therefore a moral and heretical act. Why heretical? because it ignores the sacred nature of the human being, one created in the image of god, and designed to perpetuate itself through the act of marriage and procreation. Instead, such behavior reduces the human being to its base nature, where it ruts like the animal, and worse yet, ignores the co-relation between sex and procreation. In sanctioning such behavior, the society gives assent to a redefinition of the meaning of the sexual relationship and imposes a great danger on the people of a society, who will both lapse into indulgence and cast off the permanent bonds of both love and affection.
In furtherance of this argument, the left would counter that the very persistence of prostitution means that we should no longer fight such an institution but rather come to heel and admit our base natures have dominance over our impulse toward the civilization. They counter that conservative's support the first things. The institutions, and ideas that remain timeless in a certain social sphere, but then conservatives, by opposing the sex trade, are advocating hypocrisy: this is because the liberals perceive that something being ancient must therefore, to the conservative, be good without recognizing that conservatives are by no means lacking nuance. The conservative will instead realize that such an institution rather than being laudable is in fact evidence of the fallen nature of man. I use the fallen nature, in the secular sense: that man is fallible, man has a nature and it is not always a good one. We are not subject only of external forces, but rather prostitution is evidence of the disruptive nature male sexuality since time immemorial.
Seemingly, the advocates of legalization take a simplistic view of the conservative as someone who views all things old as worthy of merit; however, we know this not to be the case. The leftist, who says that we cannot fight prostitution as we cannot fight drugs, ignores the many different vices, which were curtailed or expired under collective enforcement. Some such examples include, homicide, which despite outward appearances plunged dramatically as states expanded, and the slave trade, which though no less permanent that prostitution was severely restricted and removed from the official sanction by the actions of the Royal Navy during the 19th century. Although liberals may be critical of such actions on account of enforcement expenses the conservative establishes himself as the proponent of the viewpoint that such actions provide a moral service to the collective psyche: by enforcing such prohibitions, the conservative states, we are taking active action to ameliorate the vices of society. Through enforcement, we establish a prohibitionary stance, which lends credence to individual virtue. The man who is tempted toward solicitation of a prostitute now finds society arrayed against it and finds support amongst his peers who view such behavior as criminal.
Now that the moral argument has been established, what are liberals advocating in order to determine that legalization is feasible? The left then states: that the only way to keep prostitutes from harm is to ensure that their trade is legal and recognized. Nonetheless, as one shall see this solution is fatuous and leaves much to be desired. The conservative can refute such assertions by looking at various examples, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands first among jurisdictions in which prostitution is legal. The conservative will be perceptive enough to provide observations that legalization does not provide safety, and if it does, it is marginal, but rather drives demand for a second parallel market for sexual services while at the same time providing a sanctuary for the organized criminal element. The nations of the Anglo-Sphere, New Zealand and Australia, provide the closest categorical comparison to the United States and Canada. The Australian Territory of New South Wales was the first in the nation liberalize its prostitution laws in 1979. After 1979, the response toward legalization has differed in Australia, but Queensland and Victoria both legalized in the decades afterward. Following the Australian example New Zealand passed its own prostitution reform acts in 2003, after a close vote in the legislature 60/59 in favour, but how have these experiments turned out? Are the results conclusive? The law as stated aims to “create a framework to safeguard the human rights of sex workers and protect them from exploitation; promote the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers; contribute to public health; and prohibit the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age.” Has this new act managed to do any of the following?
Quantitative evidence on the New Zealand experience is limited, however a number of observations have been made. The Maxim Institute for example has observed that opportunities to leave the trade are limited and the law leaves little opportunity for enforcement and prevention of solicitation of minors. Or as the institute observes, because the acts take place behind closed doors, and with legal protections and minors carry no identification, the perpetrators of such acts must essentially, be “caught in the act,” in order to be arrested and charged with a sex crime. This conclusion is supported by The National Council of Women of New Zealand, which originally supported the initiative only to recall support after seeing the outcomes of legalization. Equality Now, in a report about the outcomes of legalized prostitution also noted that the risk of violence had not changed among prostitutes in New Zealand and that they felt that they still suffered coercion and had limited access to both police and health services. New Zealand, as one can see has experienced a rather unanticipated outcome of due to liberalization. Though much of the evidence is anecdotal and drawn from interviews, other quantitative evidence generated in nations with legalization can provide context to New Zealand's experience.
Australia on the other hand provides a degree of evidence beyond that of New Zealand due to its more extensive history of legalization. First among observations is that the underground industry has not disappeared in Australia, rather, and predictably a parallel market has expanded to sponge demand from the legal sector: In Victoria it is estimated that illegal brothels outnumber legal establishments by a ratio of 4:1. Bolstering this assertion is a report by the University of Queensland in 2009 that estimated that 90% of the sex trade in Australia occurred illegally. Meanwhile the Australian police have struggled to confront organized crime in a systematic manner since private establishments now provid a haven for criminals, which police forces now required warrants to investigate. Police in Australia have acknowledged that some establishments have not had a police visit in years: hardly a picture of effective regulation and enhanced safety.
In continuance of this examination, we move across the globe and settle on Germany, where full legalization finally passed in the legislature in 2002. Again, we see the results of poor regulation and increased demand through reports with opaque or critical results. Germans hoped that demand for foreign prostitutes would decline and safety would increase if regulation remained minimal,however, it only served to drive human trafficking to Europe’s largest economy,which became a hub for sex tourism. The FIFA world cup in 2006 verified this claim when an estimated 40,000 individuals were trafficked into the country to serve illegally in brothels and on the street. A detour across the border reveals an identical problem in Denmark, where it is estimated that human trafficking has increased ten times since the legalization of prostitution.
A second problem has developed in Germany, where the legitimization of the sex trade was intended to lead to its destigmatization; this however is not the case. In Germany, the goal is the have prostitutes consent to regular STD checks as well as sign on to an employment contract. Prostitutes however, have shown little interest in such contracts because signing such an employment contract would lead to a loss of anonymity and the requirement that the prostitute pay taxes. Since the prostitutes did not sign on for formal employment, few receive any of the benefits of the bounteous German welfare state and instead remained— voluntarily— without legal protection.
The same issues extend to the panacea of liberalism: Holland, where contradictions abound. The Dutch are now doing their best to circumscribe the explosion of trafficking and organized crime that has descended upon the nation since complete liberalization in 2000. Now, much of the trafficking and crime materialized due to the European Union policy of free movement, which allowed non-Europeans and residents of the former Warsaw Pact nations to pass unchecked across porous borders. However, the flood of migrants would not have been compelled to settle in the Netherlands if the nation were free of sex tourism.
A number of observations surfaced from the Dutch experience. Among them that a government report in 2007 found that the mental well being of prostitutes was lower than before liberalization and that sedative use had increased. The Prince Arthur Herald in a polemical piece written about legalization of the sex trade found that police raided a third of the legal brothels in the Netherlands for organized crime and human trafficking offenses and that the nation is now moving toward reducing the size and scope of its sex industry. Even the much applauded Dutch prostitute registry, designed to track the business and protect brothel workers, only had an estimated 4% of the prostitutes in the Netherlands catalogued in the registry. Again, this is likely due to two factors, firstly that many of the workers are trafficked due to the relentless demand for sexual services, and secondly that those individuals who work legally do not wish to associate themselves with such a profession and would rather live a double life without potential for recognition.
Despite these observations, the left still assumes that if we stop enforcing the prostitution laws we will save money and provide a more humanitarian solution to our problems. However, they fail to recognize that the expected tax revenues do not appear when the work remains chronically illicit, instead it drives associated criminal activity like drug dealing and human trafficking. Rather than suppress the industry that originated in the street the excess demand caused street based prostitution to proliferate at rates beyond what was possible prior to the establishment of the permissive society. In an effort to lend support to the ideology driven arguments in favour of sexual liberalization and licentious behavior the liberals ignore what really reduces costs associated with prostitution: avoidance of incarceration, which is the only sure means to reduce costs related to the criminal element. The conservative is wise to note that the more people we jail, the fewer contribute to the economy or have a chance at rehabilitation, which may prevent their exploitation of the state's resources. However, this mindset is changing thanks to the successes of the Scandinavian model, which recognizes the nature of prostitutes as victims and seeks to provide them with an effective means of escaping exploitation rather than continuing it under the auspices of harmless hedonism for those who feel entitled to sexual services.
The left remains odious when it engages in debates about prostitution; its contradictory nature shows most blatantly in the way in which it is quick to accept spurious comments on behalf of disgraceful apologists like Terri-Jean Bedford at face value. When it comes to the sex trade the left is quick to accept the remarks of sex trade advocates as affirmations of individual autonomy and empowerment denying any socially constructed outcome or predisposition. Despite its facetious and myopic view of the issues the left continues to insist that if we just lifted the stigmatic veil from the industry all would be well and safe. However, data from across the world smothers this notion. In Canada, it does not matter if the average age for recruitment into prostitution is 14 or that mortality rates are 40 times greater than the national average, nor that the majority of prostitutes are impoverished aboriginal women. It does not matter to liberals and leftists in Canada, that 87% of prostitutes in England, where prostitution operates in a legal grey zone, experienced violence in the last 12 months. These correlations to the willfully blind can never be part of the nature of the industry, but rather must simply originate in society's condemnation and criminalization of such actions.
The perennial mistake is made when the realities diverge from the leftist narrative and create a criminal element. When such an instance appears then the individual becomes a poor victim subject to a society that drives them toward a life of crime; dispossessed by social forces beyond their power the individual must succumb, but when the issue is one of liberalized and leftist orthodoxy, than individual autonomy and rational decision making are the order of the day. Instead of a sweeping canvas in, which they draw observations, the liberalizers pull anecdotes from the entitled and enriched exceptions and marginalize the most degraded in our society because it fits the narrative.
The demand for prostitution will never end, it is simple biology that men are predisposed toward sexual novelty and mate variety, when given the opportunity for unlimited sexual conquests, men despite better natures often indulge. Once a man has passed this emotional hurdle and lost his buyers virginity, well then there is little to stop him from the continuance of such behavior, especially if he has peer assent. This is best embodied in the Coolidge Effect where mammals will copulate with novel females until near death if given the opportunity. This is an example of hyper-inelastic demand and belongs in the same category as those who fuel demand for drugs. The apologists make the error of assuming that this evolutionary backwardness happens to be advantageous and requires indulgence. They insist that men must have such sexual hunger as to be meek and helpless needful of release lest they be handicapped by their sexual urges; this mindset is what has driven the specious conclusion that there is such a thing as entitlement to sex. Today one may witness England's town councils funding visits between the physically infirm and prostitutes. This is egregious for a multitude of reasons: the notion insists men are slaves to the sexual urge and that they cannot live free from a need for sex. Though, I am sure, many catholic bishops and nuns would attest to the contrary; it also drives the reasoning that an individual is entitled to sex, and that sex is a need equivalent to food or water, but this is dangerous. Food and water do not involve the manipulation of another human being purchasing sex does. Finally, it puts society on the hook for such expenditures despite their immoral nature and disjunction from the demeanor of the resident population.
To digress slightly, I would like to direct the conservative gaze toward the Swedish/Nordic/Scandinavian Model and highlight its successes. I am doing this because I believe most prohibitions like the prohibition on prostitution, for better or worse are dying. Nevertheless this offers a unique opportunity to increase punitive measures on those who exploit helpless in society, while at the same time offering redemption to those who have found themselves suffering at the hands of execrable flesh-peddlers. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute found that Sweden reduced street prostitution by half and found no evidence that the trade had been driven indoors or underground. Coupled to these findings is another remarkable observation, one that shows that demand side enforcement works: The Swedish Institute found in 2010 that between 1996 and 2008 the number of male sex buyers declined from 13.6-7.9% a remarkable change in such a short period. What these figures tell the conservative is that the battle is worth fighting and we now have the system to do so. I implore anyone who wishes to curb the sex trade to look into these findings and advocate for bill C-36 (Canada’s adapted version of the Swedish law) going forward.
Finally, to conclude, I must offer apologies for being tangential and lacking concision in this article. However, these posts are primarily about exploration and therefore not intended to be terse. I would like to make a point that has been recurrent throughout my writings on a variety of topics including this one. Our laws exist not just to keep people safe, but also rather to construct the form of society we wish to live in; the law provides a template congruent with what constitutes a good society in alignment with our modern interpretation of biblical and classical moral values. At least that should be the direction of our contemporary legislation: for a valueless, immoral society, is one, which cannot self govern.