The Blair government, rather than reforming the 50-year-old law on prostitution, has decided to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to street prostitution. (Thus employing, again, one of its favourite phrases.)
The Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart told the Guardian that it was wrong to regard those involved in prostitution as sex workers. She said tough measures were needed to tackle the markets for prostitution. “I’m not tolerant of the view that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world and there’s nothing we can do to reduce it,” she said. “Prostitution blights communities. We will take a zero tolerance approach to kerb crawling. Men who choose to use prostitutes are indirectly supporting drug dealers and abusers.
This is supposed to be linked to services to help the sex workers off the streets – the government says 95 per cent of those on the streets are drug addicts. In theory, fine and good. Ditto that male clients are supposed to be as much the target as the primarily women workers.
Except, what is easier? To swoop along the street and pick up women leaning against telegraph poles dressed in fishnets and miniskirts, or to pick up men who stop – men often who will have the money for top lawyers, and a neat cover story about being lost and asking for directions. Who do you think is most likely to be nicked, and convicted?
And what will be easier, fining those women (where WILL the money come from?) and locking them up for a few days or weeks, or meeting their complex needs for addiction treatment, counselling, support, accommodation, etc? Will the government really put in the money to make that happen? What WOULD the Daily Mail think?
Reading through a chronology of London history I came to 1506, and the headline “Brothels suppressed”. “A royal ordinance this year suppressed the ‘stews’, or brothels, of Southward, but 12 of the 18 were allowed to reopen shortly afterwards.” (The Annals of London John Richardson)
It seems governments never learn.