Guest Blog: Legalizing Prostitution.

I have idolized Sangitha since the time I joined Dream a Dream and there has been no looking back. Her passion and zeal for justice always struck me at the core. For her, it doesn’t matter if the cause is animals, humans, environment – all that matters is that you speak up. For me, that is a trait I envy and before I left work, I told her just that. She is my role model and our early morning coffees made her my guide. This article really moved me. You can read more at Life and Times in Bangalore

In response to a comment to the recent SC mention of beggars, prostitutes and home makers, here is a informed view point on prostitution being legalized in India. I am not tooting my own horn – I was part of the so-called educated view point sometime ago that legalizing prostitution would make things better for prostitutes. In the past year, I have been informed by various sources, have seen the movie by Mitr Sanketa, seen and read about the state of poor women. So my post comes from some information, some emotion and an understanding of the basic dignity of having control over your own body.

Fact no. 1: Prostitution is not illegal in India. According to Indian law, a prostitute has not committed a crime. She uses her own body, does not force others or use others’ resources. The criminals here are the people who profit from prostitution, namely the pimps, madams and other parts of the ‘system’ that make money off the prostitute’s actions. Legalizing prostitution really means enabling these criminals to walk free, free to push more trafficked women and children into prostitution. Would any society want that?

Fact no. 2: The percentage of people (that would be men and women, since prostitution does not discriminate on the basis of gender, it just discriminates!) that enter into prostitution out of free will are a most miniscule percentage possible. While data is tough to come by given the nature of the problem, less than 2% of the prostitutes polled say that they entered this state willingly. Even these people do not want their sisters, friends and children to enter this state. Taking the word of one or two of such people to represent an alternate view point is absurd. We Indians have a way of arguing the extreme without recognizing that the vast majority of prostitutes are currently between 10 – 100% unwilling in doing what they are doing.

Those who say they entered prostitution freely had to provide for families, had desperate economic needs AND feeling like this was the only option because they lacked other skills, felt helpless, felt like they could not earn otherwise. No one happily states that they would love to be a prostitute even if they are not paid. That they just love the ‘fun’ of working. Like a teacher might say (I know several such teachers!).

Once they get in (mean the prostitutes here, not the teachers!), they are lured by the disproportional amount of money they can make compared to the effort required in prostitution. They get addicted to making more for doing less, not to prostitution. Since they are almost all illiterate or not educated beyond a few grades in school, there is no awareness of the other costs of prostitution. No mention of the psychological effects of having no control on their body….for even those who voluntarily (this really means due to poverty) became prostitutes lose control of their own bodies, since the madams and pimps run them. This is organized crime.

Fact no. 3: Attempting to give a prostitute his/her dignity is not done by calling them ‘sex workers’. It is not work. It is exploitation. Rehabilitation and support give them dignity. It is not enough to have a bunch of people around them saying they respect them (though that is necessary and currently very scarce). The person involved needs to feel worthy. At the root of it all is a lack of self esteem (something that is developed in them by aware parenting that allows an individual to stand up and say, ‘nah, not this even if it is severe economic need’) that needs to be addressed.

Fact no. 4: There is a back slide during rehabilitation due to the lure of money. Prostitution is easy for someone who is used to it for years. They have seen how much money they can make in a short period of time. When you are poor, it is tough to say ‘no’ to having some money. Change is difficult. It is like adjusting to take a salary cut with more time off. The value of the time off is difficult to appreciate when sometimes the lack of money hits hard. For someone who has not thought of themselves as worthy of respect, the value of dignity, having control over one’s own body, etc. takes a long time to appreciate. And one has to stick it out. So the fact that prostitutes drop out of rehabilitation efforts does not mean that prostitution is desirable. I think of it like an addict lapsing before sticking it out long enough for health to become an effortless habit. And then watching it every day.

Fact no. 5: There are over 3 million trafficked people; men, women and children in India. Only 2000 get rescued every year. A majority of these people are in prostitution, forced into it. Even the worst ‘look the other way’ viewpoint can’t say that the 13 year old Nepali girl who has been sold into an AIDS rampant red light district in India ‘came eagerly’! There are 2.3 million prostitutes in India. Approximately. Kind of a large enough population to do something about? Even assuming that 50% of them are not ‘volunteers’ (can you see that I am trying hard to step into the other side’s shoes?), this population is large enough for laws to protect. We don’t need enabling.

Fact no. 6: The ‘it exists because there is a ‘need’ argument? Tough. Button up, people. If you have a need to kill indiscriminately, we should legalize murder? Since this is not a service (unless you call rape a service!), there is no space for the ‘demand-supply’ argument. Because that is all it is. Some intellectual farting by people who will not do a thing but want to feel good and sleep well at night. Denial rarely solves a problem. And this is denial running rampant.
Prostitution is oppression. It is taking advantage of a vulnerable person and making them do something you would not. It is control at its worst. It is power as much as sex that is in question here. For those who say that we have to make the conditions of the people already in this state of oppression, please do. How? Put those pimps and madams behind bars, give the people involved some options that are real for them (not call center training for an illiterate person!) and then allow those who really want to be prostitutes, in control of their own actions to do what they will.

My last argument – since when has legal anything done good in India? Road rules are to be followed. Stopping at red lights is legal. Because we can’t enforce it or change mindsets, we give up and say, ‘okay, there will be a red light but stopping or not is your choice?’ Even assuming that legalizing prostitution is the thing to do (I have made my opinion clear that it is not!), laws are as good as their enforcement. You can’t control anyone through laws. You can’t change mindsets through laws. What will legalizing this do that we can’t as civil society do now? Setting up day care for prostitutes’ children? There already. Health checks? Happening already. Medical treatment? Yep, happening. You name it and there is an NGO already doing it. Is the scale of work enough? For 2.3 million people, heck no. But then what is the difference in that from real life for us non-prostitutes? Roads being laid? Yes. Enough? Heck no! Will legalizing prostitution give a prostitute her dignity? Do I need to answer this?

We need to work on the biggies – poverty and crime. Development is the answer. Instead of sitting around and wasting time/resources on the legalizing prostitution debate, let us fund and set up more and effective social programs for rehabilitation. And stop spouting nonsense that prostitution deserves its place among the various world trades and services.

What can I do daily/weekly? I can volunteer/work in the NGO sector. Put my money where my mouth is. Put my time and effort where my money is. Not a development sector person? Can design websites? Can think technology? Set up IT strategy for an NGO that will not be able to pay for it. A dancer? Find an organization that uses arts in its programs and support them with your time. A home maker? Teach, make stuff, feed, use your organizational and multi tasking skills. Volunteer like you would work. With committment…not, ‘oh, my relative is visiting today, I can’t make it’ at the last moment. Schedule a relative’s visit around your volunteering. With deadlines – NGOs are organizations that are asked to be efficient and effective. It is just right to ask that of their volunteers, is it not?

When will I believe that prostitution is entered into by free will? When a wife or husband leaves home saying ‘See ya, Honey! Be right back after the next customer. Don’t forget to pay the maid and do make sure the kids are picked up from the school bus?’ Brandishing a business card that proudly says ‘Ms. Anita/ Mr. Anand, Prostitute’.

7 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Legalizing Prostitution.

  1. Ironically your views are that a women should not have a choice. you talk about education and rehabilatation and there are no serviced in any country for these women. Even in the good old USA we just lock the hookers up and let the JOHNs go home at the end of the day and rarely are any of the pimps (that pimpour teeangers) charged with human trafficking or given the 25 year prison sentence. We have stupid people trying to make sure teenagers can not be charged with prositution, heck they are not going to have a record as a minor and this is letting the pimps tell the these girls they can’t get in trouble, just like when they get a young kid to sell drugs because they know minors don’t go to jail, unless it s a violant crime their record willbe sealed as adults. They also do not get that this 13 year old girls later turn into 40 year old women, that have been outcast from society, refused any public service benifits that any other poor person can get, and then looser their homes everytime they get thrown in jail. These women loose their clothes, their kids, the cars and tey have to start from sctach everytime they are released from jail. They are released from jail with nothing, they can’t even get food stamps. They are not even welcome in domestic voiance shelters.
    So why is it ok that any women is prosecuted as she is being EXPLOITED BY SOCIETY, she lives in a world of proverty and see no other way to be indepedent other than marriage, which means you have to let your spouse abuse you and your kids, or starve and be homeless or survial sex. Surival sex allows these women to make the money they need to provide their own small place, where they are SAFE. Why do people seem to think is ok for a 45 yeard old women to be homeless, don’t you think that is probably more dangerous than turning tricks. At least as a sex worker at the end of the day she is at home safe, homeless or in jail she gets aused by anyone stronger than her and do not think that we don’t sexual abuse these women once we have them in jail, many prisons in the USA are pimping the women out as prositutes while they are locked up.
    Until we start throwing the MEN IN JAIL that abuse these women, exploit them and change the public opionion that these women are just morally wrong and bad people, nothing will change.
    Now in Sweden they have the right idea, they decriminalized not legalized as there is a big difference, the se worker. They no longer prosecute these women as they feel it is the compassionate thing to do, they instead arrest the JOHNs, the PIMPS, the Agencies, that ARE EXPLOITING these women.
    Why do you get to choose whether being homeless, cold and hungry & scared or being abused by or spouses, or being a sex worker, where we can choose, is better of worse.
    We keeptalking about saving these poor women but WE DO NOTHING BUT TALK> Nobody cares where they live, what they eat, that hey have no health care, transportation, housing, or education, food, clothes, medicine, let alone counsling as 90% of them have been abused since they where small children.
    I SAY SHAME ON SOCIETY, these women are not outcasts , not all are addicts, not all walk the streets, but when you read the arrests in the newspaper, we see LE STALKING MATURE CONSENTING ADULTS, there is a cop in the news that only got 2 years after being on the force 25 years he was catch raping hookers in lue of taking them to ajil. We have a army Sergent that pimped out a teenager and is facing 25 to life but they are already offering him just 10 years.
    As long as we keep throwing non violant crimainals in jail we will have less room for the dangerous predators/monstors that need to stay in jail for life. These predators are raping and murdering our kids daily, and we worry about THE WITCH HUNT AGAINST COBSENTING ADULTS

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    1. Bella,

      I hear you. I’d be out there raging with you against the very same thing if it would make a difference. In an ideal world, the pimps & all those in that vicious circle would be prosecuted. Many times though, we enable the perpetrators instead of making it safe for the victims. Making sex work legal and making soliciting illegal would immensely reduce the burden these women face every single day. It’s not fair, I get that. What is fair is to provide better medical facilities and a safe place to call home.

      All we do is talk. I got sick of it and that is why I volunteer with Non-Profit organisations. It’s a small thing to do but first steps are important. You’ve called out society’s bluff very clearly. Thank you for that.

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      1. The pimps would not get out right away if they actually charged them with human trafficking and gave them a million dollar bond, no bond at all if a minor was involved. But even the JOHNS are the ones exploiting these women and children and rarely are they arrested and usually they get a fine that goes to the court system. Why not create laws that gives the JOHN big fines payable right to the victims of human trafficking and make the men do 100 hours community service working for a women’s shelter, and take a class on the affects of sex workers,
        The main problem is the PUBLIC STIGMA attached to sex workers, is that the general pubic seems to think we deserve this. Just like people thing it is ok to mistreat criminals or mental patients. How these men pimp out kids and are not charged with kidnapping and facing life in prison is unjust. If we start locking them up for a long time or life it might deter them some. But if the legalize it the government will tax us and they will then be exploiting us. If you get a donation for a charity you don’t have to pay taxes so why should the sex worker. I think it should me a major crime to make one cent off another human beings body.
        But like you said we don’t live in a perfect world and this issue wont ever totally go away, so with people like you doing charity work, will help some, we know we can’t save them all.
        I am asking all the adult sex workers to donate 20 bucks to thechildrenofthenight, which is the only place in the USA that takes in minors after they have been pimped out and found by LE in stings, or these kids call the center trying to escape pimps and the center sends them plane tickets and brings them to safety. If the girl chooses to stay, then they put her in a college dorm for 4 years once she is 18.
        If I can help save one kid, so they don’t end up a 45 year old sex worker, then I have accomplished something.

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  2. We don’t prosecute the prostitute either. They get rounded up and taken to the police station and have to be released- there are no charges pressed. And they refuse to charge the pimp because he will get bail and then come and get them! Still not enough. Shall check out how Sweden has done it – decriminalized but not legalized sounds about right.

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  3. Actually, you bring up a good point. This blogs have native feeds (build-in feeds) but many add Feed burner, Feed Blitz or another feed service to their blogs. Now they have their own feeds, but those feeds, and where do the numbers get tracked? WordPress.com has yet to get a real handle on all the feed tracking confusion, so I’m not sure if all feeds are incorporated into those numbers or not. We need to learn more about what is track able and what isn’t and how to make our choices accordingly.

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  4. This is a fascinating post about prostitution in India. Living in the UK I am not in a position to comment on the position of prostitutes in India. I can, however comment on the position of those engaged in sex work here in the UK.
    In the UK the age at which men and women can legally have sex is sixteen. However the age at which people may legally enter into prostitution is eighteen so someone who pays for sex with a sixteen or seventeen-year-old is committing an offence and, if caught is liable to a long term of imprisonment, (under UK law sixteen and seventeen-year-olds are still regarded as minors/children so far as the laws on prostitution are concerned). It is also illegal to pay for sex with a person who has been forced into prostitution irrespective of whether the person making the payment was aware that the prostitute was being compelled. So, in essence the law is that anyone over the age of eighteen, who has entered into prostitution of their own free will, may legally work selling sex. Many of the activities associated with prostitution are, however illegal. It is illegal for a prostitute or client to solicite sex and “pimps” who live off the earnings of prostitution are committing an offence and are liable to imprisonment.
    In the UK escort agencies (companies who provide women and men for companionship) are legal. Most of those running such agencies state that their agencies provide companionship only and that anything else which may occur is a matter between consenting adults so, if the police get involved the manager/owner of the agency can claim that his company is merely providing an introduction/dating service and that he/she has no control over what happens between his employees/clients behind closed doors. In practice the police rarely interfere in the area of escorting provided that the people working in escorting are at least eighteen-years-of-age and no criminal activity such as the sale of drugs is taking place. Consequently people who pay for sex with escorts and the escorts themselves are highly unlikely to be arrested. Indeed it is claimed by some that the police and the authorities prefer escort agencies to street based prostitution because, as it takes place behind closed doors, it is not causing a public nuisance.
    An interesting question? Is the poor man or woman who does not love their partner but stays with them and provides sex in return for material comfort a prostitute? So far as the law is concerned he/she is not so regarded, however is not such a person doing more or less the same thing as the prostitute? Is the rich man in his late sixties with the attractive girl, in her early twenties on his arm exploiting her? Is the girl exploiting him? Or are they engaged in mutual exploitation? Obviously there may be genuine love in such a relationship but, in most cases both parties are in the relationship (financial transaction) for what they can get out of it. Is this not prostitution in all but name?
    In my view help should be available for those who wish to exit prostitution. Training for occupations other than sex work ought to be offered together with counselling to deal with the impact of prostitution on the physical and mental health of the sex worker. However even where such help is easily accessible there will still be those who are prepared to engage in prostitution because it does (as the guest poster says) offer easy access to money. Provided that those engaged in prostitution are not being forced into it and they have assistance to leave should they choose to do so, I believe that consenting adults should be free to engage in sex for money. It isn’t ideal and many will say that it isn’t nice, it is, however their right as we are all the owners of our own bodies. Having said that I would be devastated if anyone close to me entered into prostitution as people are much more than mere sex objects. Sorry for the long comment. Cheers, Kevin
    This is a fascinating post about prostitution in India. Living in the UK I am not in a position to comment on the position of prostitutes in India. I can, however comment on the position of those engaged in sex work here in the UK.
    In the UK the age at which men and women can legally have sex is sixteen. However the age at which people may legally enter into prostitution is eighteen so someone who pays for sex with a sixteen or seventeen-year-old is committing an offence and, if caught is liable to a long term of imprisonment, (under UK law sixteen and seventeen-year-olds are still regarded as minors/children so far as the laws on prostitution are concerned). It is also illegal to pay for sex with a person who has been forced into prostitution irrespective of whether the person making the payment was aware that the prostitute was being compelled. So, in essence the law is that anyone over the age of eighteen, who has entered into prostitution of their own free will, may legally work selling sex. Many of the activities associated with prostitution are, however illegal. It is illegal for a prostitute or client to solicite sex and “pimps” who live off the earnings of prostitution are committing an offence and are liable to imprisonment.
    In the UK escort agencies (companies who provide women and men for companionship) are legal. Most of those running such agencies state that their agencies provide companionship only and that anything else which may occur is a matter between consenting adults so, if the police get involved the manager/owner of the agency can claim that his company is merely providing an introduction/dating service and that he/she has no control over what happens between his employees/clients behind closed doors. In practice the police rarely interfere in the area of escorting provided that the people working in escorting are at least eighteen-years-of-age and no criminal activity such as the sale of drugs is taking place. Consequently people who pay for sex with escorts and the escorts themselves are highly unlikely to be arrested. Indeed it is claimed by some that the police and the authorities prefer escort agencies to street based prostitution because, as it takes place behind closed doors, it is not causing a public nuisance.
    An interesting question? Is the poor man or woman who does not love their partner but stays with them and provides sex in return for material comfort a prostitute? So far as the law is concerned he/she is not so regarded, however is not such a person doing more or less the same thing as the prostitute? Is the rich man in his late sixties with the attractive girl, in her early twenties on his arm exploiting her? Is the girl exploiting him? Or are they engaged in mutual exploitation? Obviously there may be genuine love in such a relationship but, in most cases both parties are in the relationship (financial transaction) for what they can get out of it. Is this not prostitution in all but name?
    In my view help should be available for those who wish to exit prostitution. Training for occupations other than sex work ought to be offered together with counselling to deal with the impact of prostitution on the physical and mental health of the sex worker. However even where such help is easily accessible there will still be those who are prepared to engage in prostitution because it does (as the guest poster says) offer easy access to money. Provided that those engaged in prostitution are not being forced into it and they have assistance to leave should they choose to do so, I believe that consenting adults should be free to engage in sex for money. It isn’t ideal and many will say that it isn’t nice, it is, however their right as we are all the owners of our own bodies. Having said that I would be devastated if anyone close to me entered into prostitution as people are much more than mere sex objects. Sorry for the long comment. Cheers, Kevin

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