Time to Decriminalize Prostitution?

Here we are again in a heated place, pregnant with opportunity. This article is a follow-up to one published on 21st January 2012 in the STAR and Voice newspapers, in which I outlined six objectives:          1) Reduce the number of persons engaged in sex work. 2) Reduce the amount of sex work being conducted. 3) Protect the human rights and health of sex workers. 4) Protect the general public from the negative impact of sex work. 5) Eliminate the abuse of children and youth coerced or recruited into sex work. 6) Reduce the corruption in the industry.
I indicated that the present Clause 151 in our existing Criminal Code is a barrier to achieving these objectives.
Clause 151 says: (1) A person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution in any public place persistently solicits or importunes for immoral purposes, is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for 5 years on summary conviction to imprisonment for 2 years.
Moreover: “If a male or female person is proved to live with or to be habitually in the company of a prostitute, or is proved to have exercised control, or influence over the movements of a prostitute in such manner as to show that he or she is aiding and abetting or compelling his or her prostitution with the person or generally, he or she is presumed to be knowingly living on the earnings of prostitution unless he or she proves otherwise to the satisfaction of the court.”
Since the publication of my article in January, I have heard people say many things on this matter and I believe now is the time to clarify at least one position on this matter: the one that I subscribe to.
To do this let me try to address some issues that have been raised:
Decriminalisation vs Legalisation  Decriminalisation is the abolition of criminal penalties in relation to certain acts. While decriminalized acts are no longer crimes, they may still be the subject of regulation as, for example, in Public Health Legislation. This should be contrasted with legalization which removes all or most legal detriments from a previously illegal act.
The clause I propose should be decriminalized is 151 above. Doing this would leave the rest of the clauses intact as criminal acts. Indeed prostitution would still be illegal but the prostitute would no longer be a criminal. This, then, allows for more comprehensive, holistic, legal programs to address the situation and establish a policy that achieves the objectives outlined above.
The Swedish Model
The Nordic or Swedish model of legislation, which was brought to my attention by Jan Yves Remy, goes one step further. This law decriminalizes the sale of sex as outlined in our Section 151 and criminalizes the purchase of sex. Therefore, in the Nordic countries prostitution is illegal but the prostitute is not a criminal and it is legal to sell sex. However it is illegal to purchase sex and therefore the client or purchaser is now a criminal. Under our law the purchaser of sex is not explicitly mentioned and as such our existing law is the reverse of the Swedish. That is, it is essentially legal to buy sex but illegal to sell sex.
It is important to understand the rationale guiding the Swedish law. The belief is that the prostitute is a victim and that prostitution is sexual violence by the purchaser of sex on the prostitute. Prostitutes are seen as victims, victims of sexual violence, and victims of poverty, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The purchaser of sex from the prostitute is a victimizer.
It further establishes that a law that criminalizes a prostitute further victimizes a victim and leaves vulnerable persons unprotected. In fact a law that makes a prostitute a criminal adds state legal victimization to a vulnerable person.
After the introduction of this model in Sweden the number persons involved in prostitution dropped 30-50% and the recruitment of persons into prostitution dramatically dropped. The number of women in prostitution in Sweden in 1999 was estimated at 2,500 and after the introduction of the model and legislation by 2002 there were 1,500. There is criticism of the model, the main ones being that the quality of life of persons remaining in prostitution is negatively affected, fewer but more dangerous clients being one of them.

Our law is based on the morality of sex

Our law on prostitution is not about sex, it is about the use of sex for money or material gain. The same person can have as much sex with as many people they want and that is legal, the instant something of value is exchanged and it can be proven that the sex act was designed and intended to be for material gain by the sex worker, then a criminal offence has been committed by the sex worker. It is not surprising that it is difficult to enforce this law, and the issue is not the immorality of indiscriminate sex, adultery or fornication but merely the “business” of sex.
If no prostitute has been arrested under this Act, why then try to change the law?
Believe it or not, prostitution is going on in Saint Lucia. I refer you to the following:  The definition of sex work is controversial. Some studies say three or more sexual partners in a year, for which a person receives money or something of material value, is enough to define sex work.
The roots of prostitution lie in this society where unemployment is high (22%) and youth unemployment is even higher (40%), where 10% of our adolescents report outright sexual abuse and 40% report that their first sexual encounter was forced or somewhat forced. Clandestine, uninformed and widespread prostitution is happening. I think this is dangerous for the sex worker and the society. If sex work is going to happen, then we should be doing our best to assure that we prevent as much disease and damage as we can. Turning a blind eye will not help the situation.
To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
We need to find a more effective way of helping and protecting sex workers and the society. We will not find a better way by ignoring the truth. This argument is not about the law as such but more about how we can help vulnerable people who are in this situation.
Are we as a nation prepared to see the truth and handle it collectively as best we can or do we remain in a hypocritical framework? Personally I think it is wrong, if not evil to know the truth, know we need to do something about it, but opt for the more convenient path of inaction.
This argument is about us, in this our 33rd year of Independence. Are we prepared to have sensible, rational, respectful national dialogue in the interest of progress and development? This argument is about us becoming a nation that respects human rights and is prepared to understand and work with vulnerable people. This argument is about us eliminating gender discrimination from our mind and then our policies and laws. This argument is about us building a health society on a foundation of love and compassion. Not a weak sentimental love but a strong, tough love, that holds people accountable, has consequences that are upheld, but in a framework that is fair, understanding and loving.
According to Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus was asked: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love
your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I invite everyone to tune in to Sunday TALK on Choice Television, February at 8.30pm, when I will discuss this issue with Pastor Eugene George and host Rick Wayne. I look forward to viewer contributions. Our nation
can only benefit from dialogue.

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