Does Buying Sex come with consumer responsibility?

The cover reads “Just like Peter Crouch…we’re young, hot and have slept with prostitutes. Yes, it’s a weekly gossip magazine. Yes, like most girls, I’m guilty of reading it. And yes, even I surprised myself to have found within, inspiration for this blog!

But I remind myself that we are anti-trafficking, not anti-prostitution; and this is not an opinion poll- on whether prostitution should be legal or illegal. It is not about how to tackle the demand of trafficking under the guise of a feminist morality. It is purely to address the issue of consumer responsibility. Where the product is sex and the woman the commodity, that responsibility like with any product where trafficking is concerned (e.g. chocolate), must fall on the buyer.

From the candid interviews I read in the magazine, it seems there is a general delusion about brothels as self-governing bodies and about the women who work in them. I read about Nick, a web designer from Lancashire, who like 1 in 10 men in Britain buys sex regularly. When asked how he knows if a girl is over 16, he said “I can always tell… and brothels have rules about who can work there”. “Do you wonder if the women enjoy it. “No” replies another man, “…for them its probably just work.” 

I could go on. You see it makes me furious given what we know about trafficking, when a regular guy like Alex, 23, a barber from Cheshire (and another of the magazine’s interviewees) generalizes “It’s her job isn’t it? No one’s forcing her to do it”. Or when he unwittingly rhymes “I don’t care about her name or where she’s from. I just do my bit and I’m gone.” Surprisingly, he later admits he “wouldn’t want to break the law.” Perhaps he doesn’t know it is currently illegal for a man to pay for sex with girls who’ve been trafficked or pimped? Or that ignorance of a woman’s ­circumstances is no defense.

Critics suggest the law is ­unfair; a man can’t possibly know whether a woman is being exploited. But here’s the scary thing. A lot of them are aware of the problems, and even those who told researchers in a previous study (*see below) that they would be ­easily deterred by the current law, it would seem that discovering a women has been ­trafficked would not actually be so ­effective. Shockingly, most of those researched knew to some degree, about abuse and coercion in prostitution; they weren’t operating under the ­convenient illusion that women enter the trade for love of sex.

In the same research, more than half the men admitted they either knew or believed a majority of those in prostitution were tricked or trafficked. More than 1/3 said they thought the prostitutes they visited had been trafficked from another country, based on their difficulty with the local language or how young or vulnerable she appeared. “To be new in a country and be a prostitute – it can’t be a choice…She looked troubled.” One man even suspected an African woman he’d met was trafficked ­because “she was frightened and ­nervous. She told me she had been tricked. I had sex with her and she seemed fine with the sex. She asked me to help her, but I said there was little I could do…”

But surely little is better than nothing? If we’re asking chocolate buyers or business travelers to be aware of trafficking and do something about it, then surely we must ask the same of the men who buy sex? It is estimated that 2.4million adult men have paid for sex at least once in their life; 870,000 are regular customers. In Britain alone, more than 10% of men have visited a prostitute. These figures come from the Home Office who have also dispelled the myth that these are ‘dirty old men.’ The average man who pays for sex, is between 33 and 41 (but could be as young as 18), and there is about a 50% chance he is either married or in a stable relationship- a boyfriend or a husband. He doesn’t fall into obvious stereotypes, just as the prostitutes he might visit will not.

What has emerged is that at worst, trafficking for sexual exploitation is actively tolerated; at best, it is just ignored.

You can read more here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jan/15/why-men-use-prostitutes

http://www.metro.co.uk/news/810695-one-in-10-uk-men-has-used-a-prostitute

* Study on Men who Buy Sex: http://www.eaves4women.co.uk/Documents/Recent_Reports/Men%20Who%20Buy%20Sex.pdf

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