Why prostitution should be decriminalized!

The discussion arising out of my answer to a question, “Would you support the decriminalization of prostitution?” has been interesting and vigorous. This has encouraged me to write down some of the rationale that convinced me that decriminalization of prostitution is right.
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. Our law, in the criminal code, defines a prostitute as a person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution and who in any public place persistently solicits or importunes for immoral purposes. Such a person is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for five years on summary conviction to imprisonment for two years.
Our law further holds any other person involved in prostitution, procuring, aiding and abetting, trading, owning a brothel, renting a space for purposes of prostitution liable.
The existing legal environment and economic pressures in the society have created a sex industry that is widespread, clandestine, unregulated, relatively informal, steeped in corruption and therefore dangerous. It is dangerous to persons involved in sex work, clients of sex workers, the general public and indeed the moral fibre of the society is undermined by the existing operation of the sex industry. Communities, including children are exposed to this sex industry in the very neighbourhoods in which they live.
I would propose that the policy to address sex work in Saint Lucia should aim to do the following:
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
The sex-work industry should be brought into the light. It should be regulated by laws that support good public health practice and create an enabling environment to achieve the above aims.
To reduce the number of persons engaged, reduce the volume of sex work and ensure the health and human rights of sex workers we need to be able to identify them. They need to be comfortable having regular dialogue and participating in health education activities. The health education includes the empowerment of the sex work to assure 100 percent condom use. They need to have access to psychosocial support and psychosocial and substance abuse rehabilitation as necessary. They need to have access to medical services. They need to be confident in reporting abuse, and supporting one another in preventing and addressing abuse. They need to have safe and decent working conditions. Alternative income generation is a strategy that can empower sex workers and make them less dependent on sex work; it may even allow them to leave sex work. We need to give them access to skills training and alternative employment. The legal environment must facilitate the above: the existing criminalising legal environment is a barrier.
To protect the general public from the negative impact of sex work we need to understand the “epidemiological bridge.” This merely means that infections acquired during sexual contact by a client can be passed on to that client’s other sexual partners who do not fall into the definition of sex workers. The general public should also be protected from unregulated sex work occurring in residential areas. This undermines public decency and exposes persons such as children to these activities. A different legal environment can regulate where and in what manner sex work can be done.
The present underground or clandestine nature of sex work allows for the coercion or recruitment of children and youth into the business. It is possible with a more educated and united body of sex workers we can introduce the concept of policing of the industry by sex workers. The workers themselves then can report on violations such as “child prostitution” and these offences should be prosecuted to allow the full criminal penalties to be brought to bear; the statements of sex workers themselves would be critical. Further the publicly regulated sex work would facilitate inspections and investigations which could help reduce such violations. The existing legal environment does not facilitate this.
The sex industry is presently criminally illegal; yet it is thriving because of corruption and silence. Laws should be enforced, yet the enforcement of the existing law is not done and indeed if applied as written would create major problems for law enforcement, the judiciary and the penal system. The law as is, however, does make the sex worker very vulnerable to abuse by clients and employers of sex workers.
There are best practices all over the world that show how to implement a policy that creates a much better environment that allows us to love, respect and protect. However, our existing legal environment is a barrier, and in my opinion that we should decriminalise prostitution.

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