The Policing and Crime Act became effective this April in the UK. Given its difficult nature, it has been the focus of stimulating debates on the subject of prostitution. The act further criminalizes sex clients and sex workers, what comes as a direct offense to those who defend the unconditional value of freedom. Criminalizing prostitution would be seen as reinforcing “the idea that sex workers are too stupid, lazy, without any skills, and without consciousness of their alienation”, as put by Schaffauser in his comment in The Guardian. This view represents one side of the criticisms.
Cari Mitchell illuminates the other side of the criticisms in her comment, also in The Guardian. She takes a more pragmatic view on the issue, emphasizing the reasons why and the context in which women choose to sell sexual services. Her disapproval is not directed to prostitution, but to the real miseries and injustices to which women are subjected. In her own words, “the financial reasons driving many women, especially mothers and young people, into prostitution – debt, inadequate benefits, low wages, homelessness and high rents – have been ignored”.
Given that we live in an economic context where some women actually choose prostitution as a way of making a living, and also given that – at least in the short run – we are not engaging in any effective changes of this context, further criminalizing prostitution is likely not to enhance women’s dignity, but to endanger women’s safety. “Sex workers’ warnings – that driving prostitution further underground endangers safety, as women will not report violence if they risk arrest – have been dismissed”.
More philosophically speaking about the matter, Anderson presents an interesting view about the morality of prostitution. She deals with the subject through the following perspective: what are the limits of market transactions? Anderson assumes that we value goods in different ways and, as a consequence, we need different spheres that are appropriate to these modes of valuing. She concludes that market transactions are fit for goods that have certain characteristics, which are: (1) impersonality; (2) excludability; (3) rivalry; (4) being the object of mere tastes (rather than rational valuation); and (E) permitting exit.
In prostitution the “goods” being “traded” are trust, loyalty, love, etc. – goods that cannot be purchased, but only given freely. Anderson believes that letting market transactions coexist with this sphere will corrupt the sphere. In the end, our conception of the goods will come to change and we will thereby lose these goods. Thus, we should not legalize prostitution.
So, what do you think about the problem?
Recent Work on Free Will and Moral Responsibility
By Neil Levy and Michael McKenna, University of Melbourne Florida State University
(Vol. 3, December 2008)