Jan. Jan's rates are 80 for 30 minutes. It's not clear who would be paying who. We jest, but websites like Jan's do make you wonder why there was so much controversy about this week's plans to change the law on prostitution. Given that the quickest trawl of a local paper's classified ads or the internet shows that the UK is awash with the services of prostitutes, why start getting all moral about a minor change designed to protect sex workers?"> Prostitution: 'Tis Pity She's Nothing Like Julia Roberts
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Home > Politics

Prostitution: 'Tis Pity She's Nothing Like Julia Roberts

21 January 2006

Lonely? Sexually frustrated? In need of some female 'company'? You might like to visit Jan. Jan's rates are 80 for 30 minutes. It's not clear who would be paying who.

We jest, but websites like Jan's do make you wonder why there was so much controversy about this week's plans to change the law on prostitution. Given that the quickest trawl of a local paper's classified ads or the internet shows that the UK is awash with the services of prostitutes, why start getting all moral about a minor change designed to protect sex workers?

The proposed change is basically that two prostitutes and a receptionist or maid can work together 'legally' in a brothel. Currently only lone prostitutes can offer sex from flats or other premises without breaking the law, so the move will make life considerably safer for many women. It's also presumably trying to promote the idea that it's better to do your prostitution from home, rather than the infinitely more dangerous world of streetwalking.

Unfortunately, the proposal smacks of politicians making the right noises but not doing anything of any real substance. It feels as though it's partly an attempt to protect women and partly an inept attempt to avoid upsetting local residents: you can have a little brothel, but not a big one. This is fair enough - no one really wants to live next door to a busy brothel, except if you want to be constantly reminded that while your sex life may not be perfect, at least you're not having to pay for it. But from the point of view of local residents, a brothel is still a brothel, and removing legal penalties for running a brothel with two prostitutes instead of one is still a long way from any coherent policy on prostitution.

The proposals are clearly some attempt to keep prostitutes off the street, but they don't address the fact that the main reason most are there is drugs. The police estimate that in some areas as much of 95 per cent of prostitutes (the streetwalking variety) are addicted to drugs. On Channel 4 news this week one prostitute explained that men were asking for sex for as little as 5, the price of a bag of heroin, because this is what junkies were charging.

Unwillingly working as a prostitute to feed a drug habit is almost as bad as being literally forced into prostitution, like the unfortunate women from Eastern Europe and elsewhere who are essentially kept as slaves with a constant threat of violence. With junkie prostitutes, the issue is not really prostitution, but how to enable them to either come off drugs, or stop them having to resort to prostitution to pay for them. Both require a lot more effort than simply tinkering with the law on brothels. Getting people off drugs is expensive and difficult, and NHS addiction services are notoriously overstretched.

Increasingly it seems the logical step is some sort of big change in how addicts get drugs, and that means initiatives like free heroin on prescription. In Switzerland a policy of prescribing free heroin to long-term addicts had remarkable success rates. Research showed that users' involvement in burglary, mugging and robbery fell by 98 per cent. Not just that but their involvement in the classic junkie crimes of shoplifting, theft and handling stolen goods fell by 88 per cent, while selling hard drugs was reduced by 91 per cent. Prostitution isn't mentioned, but it's reasonable to assume there would be a similar decrease.

Thus a large part of tackling prostitution has got to be a serious change in drug policy, but few politicians are willing to take the risk of suggesting anything as radical as giving out free heroin on prescription. As career-enhancing moves go, it's up there with suggesting that even paedophiles need a hug sometimes.

While the proposals don't do much in terms of addressing the connection between drugs and prostitution, they also do little to advance any sort of sensible debate about prostitution.

Prostitution is seen as a social problem that needs to be solved. With this view comes a refusal to accept that many people want to pay for sex and many are willing to provide it. Prostitution is thriving in the UK, and there are plenty of people who see it as little more than an extension of the swinging scene, such as the individual who goes by the pseudonym 'Galahad' and runs the compellingly voyeuristic site www.punternet.com.

The site is about reviewing and rating prostitutes and brothels, with results that are alternately amusing and depressing...

'Throughout Nina was completely disinterested, appeared bored and was only there for the money. Did not at any time attempt to make it enjoyable for me. Gave her some oral - no response. Told me she never comes! After sex in mish and doggy, with her acting like a sack of spuds I took off the condom and asked her to finish me off. The oral was ok but she said it would be another 20 to cim [come in her mouth], I reminded her of the menu and pointed out I had already paid. I finally cim but after the first spurt she pulled away saying how she didn't like cim. Waste of time, spend your money elsewhere.'

A prostitute just doing it for the money? What a terrible, cynical world we live in.

It's easy to take a holiday in other people's misery (and deeply entertaining), but the site is as good a snapshot of contemporary brothel life as you'll get, short of visiting any of the rather unappealing whorehouses yourself. The mechanical nature of paid-for sex is obvious, with many entries detailing grim haggling over fees or prostitutes' refusal to do anal. But still more punters give glowing endorsements. Some are even strangely poignant:

'I've been to see her 4 times since with the last time still branded in my memory. In the middle of the summer heatwave I spent 30 mins with her in a darkened room, shafts of sunlight stealing through and a fan blowing on us whilst Hotel California played on the radio-I don't think it can get any better! PS Thanks Angel for the lollipop-it didn't help my sore throat but I thought of you whilst I ate it!'

Yup, life doesn't get much better than 30 minutes with a call girl listening to Hotel California and a free lollipop. Maybe they finished off the session with some Revels and Witchy Woman.

Punternet's world isn't terribly appealing. It's a step up from the genuinely awful world of 5 blow jobs from junkies you found under a railway bridge, but what the site (and many others like it) does demonstrate is that human nature (in this case the desire to have sex, and the willingness to have sex for money) will doggedly resist any attempt to put it into a legal framework. However, it is possible to regulate it.

The solution, in principle at least, is obvious. The government needs to do everything it can to avoid people being forced into prostitution, whether it's terrified Bosnians or hopeless junkies. But it also needs to accept that prostitution is a reality and that people choose to do it (admittedly within slightly more limited parameters of 'choice' than most of us have).

Of course, if you liberalise the law on prostitution then it's entirely likely that more people will visit prostitutes - although the experiences related on Punternet would surely discourage any normal person from seeking out a slightly dehumanising experience with a bored sex worker. But maybe as a society this is just something we have to live with, and at least properly legalised prostitution would mean that the women working as prostitutes would have had *some* sort of choice in the matter.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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