What do prostitutes really want?

While the tragic murder of five prostitutes brought their terrible plight to the attention of the national media, it was a subject that aroused little interest before the murderer struck, and I’m wondering what we will learn from this, what changes will be made as a result.

The Suffolk slayings will poignantly be commemorated today, the 4th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Work, initiated by the Sex Worker’s Outreach Project in America to highlight the shocking murder of more than 60 prostitutes who were killed by the ‘Green River Killer’ Gary Leon Ridgway. People, groups and organisations around the world are today bringing public attention to violence against prostitutes and other sex workers.

As a solution to improve their safety, our press refers to having licensed brothels (as I have done), as well as tolerance zones, but is this what the women want? What would work best for them? Quite a few legal brothels are closing down in Amsterdam for safey reasons, will we also end up with an escalation in trafficking?

According to the English Collective of Prostitutes, we should decriminalize prostitution along the lines of New Zealand. And this is the reason why, according to Sara Walker, a spokeswoman for the group,

“We are not in support of toleration or management zones because we think the government should decriminalize prostitution. With such zones we are there on tolerance, not on the basis of our right to work.

“Many want to keep their anonymity and come out of prostitution when they are ready. That is more difficult in managed zones because they are run by the police and council,” she said.

Sara cites New Zealand as an example of a country that has improved the rights of prostitutes by decriminalizing the practice, she believes managed areas create a “two-tier” system whereby women can work within the zone but are criminalized outside of it. (There was even a bizarre case in July 2006 when a police officer in Auckland was reprimanded for moonlighting as a prostitute without permission, but was allowed to keep her job as she had committed no crime).

Sara also pointed out that the legitimate working spaces are in run-down parts of cities, creating “ghettos” that many women do not want to work in.

The state of Victoria in Australia has also decriminalized prostitution, but the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women warns that it is not the answer:

Legalisation has offered nothing for women caught in in this system of exploitation. Legitimising prostitution as work has simply worked to normalise the violence and sexual abuse that they experience on a daily basis.”

Thanks to everyone who posted comments with these links, and thanks to Faith for what I feel summarises the background to prostitution:

“Very few women prostitute themselves when they have other options. They are almost all women who lack skills and/or opportunity,” and “VERY few of them are doing it by choice. They have no other choice.Choosing to do something that degrades you and causes you serious psychological harm because you have no other options is not a choice.”

And JessieAnne, a drugs/prostitution counsellor, commented that 90% of the girls want to quit, and refers to their high suicide rate.

I feel we must improve sex and drugs education for young girls before they find themselves trapped in a vicious circle where they become prostitutes in order to feed their addiction, or because they are single mothers in a poverty trap. Do they feel they can’t talk to anyone about their drug problem, that help isn’t available for them? We should also refuse to glamorise drug taking. Why is Kate Moss allowed to get away with snorting coke, what message does that send to our young people?

If most of them want out, what should be done to prevent them becoming prostitutes in the first place? Isn’t that the real issue? We also need to acknowledge that sex workers will continue for their own reasons, and how should this be “managed”? Do you feel we should decriminalize prostitution or legalise brothels? Should the government be doing more? And is ‘political cowardice’ and public indifference the reason why it has been ignored?

Should we not be asking the girls what would work best for them, what prostitutes really want?

N.B. Apologies for the lost comments, I accidentally deleted the post an hour or so ago!

Update: 18 December, police arrest 37-year-old Tom Stephens.