under-age prostitutes regularly feature in newspaper stories, the victims of chaotic homes and sexual abuse rather than trafficking.
A crucial point emerges from the New Zealand experience: while many people would be happy if prostitution simply disappeared into the mainstream service sector as The Economist envisages, few people regard it as harmless, and no normal person wants it happening in their neighbourhood.
The basic issue is human dignity
Why? Because it is undignified. Renting out your body or someone else’s reduces a human being to a sex toy, a thing, which, when it is broken or worn out can be left in a corner to rot. Society might be reorganised to make this kind of “expression” relatively safe and healthy, as Amnesty and like-minded groups believe “states must” (to quote a phrase appearing often in the draft document) but nothing can make a sane person believe that human rights require it.
Should we then throw in our lot with the feminists? They at least see that prostitution is harmful and we need to get rid of it. And they have retained a sense that prostitution is incompatible with women’s dignity (the word “dignity” actually appears on the CATW petition) if not men’s. But critics have a point when they say that, by insisting that all prostitutes are by definition victims, the women’s rights groups deny personal “agency” to these individuals and disempower them. Doesn’t that offend their human dignity as well? Isn’t it possible to victimise yourself?
No doubt there are people in the sex trade – in some countries more than others – who have been tricked and forced into it and held more or less captive there by crime bosses. And many others whose deprived backgrounds make it easy to drift into prostitution and become stuck there. But there are others again who boldly claim that they have chosen their “work” and are prepared to wave banners in public defending it. Why should we disbelieve them?
There is obviously more to rolling back the tide of prostitution than simply criminalising buyers and pimps, and rescuing victims. The larger task is a cultural and educational one aimed at restoring a sense of the purpose of sex in the context of human dignity. In that we are up against not just pimps and traffickers, not just “male power”, but against a pervasive degradation of sex seen at every level of society. Amnesty’s bid to declare prostitution a human right is just the latest symptom of a cultural derailment.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet where this article was first published.