I see that Harriet Harman has called for a ban on the selling of sex. Now, whilst I've never paid for sex myself, and am troubled by the notion that prostitution is a victimless crime, I find it somehow difficult to believe that making prostitution illegal will actually help matters in any way, shape or form.
Prostitution is supposedly the oldest profession and, whilst there are those who want sex and can't get it through consensual, mutually desired, means, or who want something that their regular partner is unwilling to consent to, or participate in, there will always be a niche for those willing to meet that need. In any other sector of life's rich tapestry, this would involve a free(ish) market. However, sex is so interlinked with morality that governments, and in particular politicians, feel a need to get involved (ironic, isn't it, that a significant number have been caught using them...).
Harriet makes the entirely valid points that people trafficking, predominantly of young women, is linked to prostitution in this country and others, and that prostitutes tend to be the victims of rape and physical violence, whilst levels of drugtaking amongst prostitutes, the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and the other rather grim aspects of the sex industry are, or at least should be, of concern to us all. It cannot be a positive thing that some people are so desperate, and so ill-equipped to exist within mainstream society that they must sell their bodies to make ends meet.
Unfortunately, her conclusion is the wrong one. The legal system, especially following this Government's attempts to legislate for everything, already has the means to address the unpleasant aspects of the sex industry. There is legislation that covers violence, rape and people trafficking, there are programmes which address concerns about the spread of STDs. What we are need are the resources to tackle these issues, and to separate them from the actual skin trade. It is far more effective to attack the traffickers than to police a ban on prostitution, an industry designed to operate in a covert manner (I'm yet to meet the man - or woman - who openly talks about their use of prostitutes, although it is statistically likely that I know at least one person who does).
Don't get me wrong, I am not one of those people who believe that prostitution is glamorous, or that the 'Pretty Woman' story is anything other than a cute movie plot. As a very young man, I was taken to witness for myself the sheer horror of prostitution in Mumbai, an experience which will haunt me to my dying day. However, there are those who make a deliberate choice to enter into the industry, who arrange their affairs in such a way to minimise the risk to their personal safety and/or who, whisper it quietly, actually enjoy sex. To prevent them from doing so in exchange for remuneration does noone any favours, and is likely to drive them underground, heightening the risks and creating even greater misery than currently exists. If people think that the gangs who buy and sell young men and women are out of control now, they won't have seen anything yet.
You're the Government, Harriet. You have police, border security, courts and a supportive population, to whom violence and people trafficking are abhorrent. Use the tools that you have, catch, and punish, the guilty, and you'll have our support.
As for prostitution, put it on a legal footing, as it is in New Zealand. Legislate in such a way as to allow sex workers to make themselves safe, provide support networks so that those who want to leave the industry can do so, programmes that wean those who are drug-dependent away from their addiction and in return, ensure that they pay their taxes like anyone else.
Sadly, I don't expect that my voice will be heard on this one. As a society, we aren't terribly good at issues of sexuality. The notion that people should be left to exercise their sexual preferences in a consensual manner without let or hindrance in the privacy of their own property has been respected only as far as it meets with the approval of the likes of the Daily Mail, as the tragedy of the 'Operation Spanner' victims demonstrated only too clearly.
As liberals, we should be fighting for the freedom of individuals to pursue love, life and happiness, with the only restrictions being those protecting the counterbalancing rights and freedoms of others. I'm not suggesting that this would be a popular place to start such a battle, but our response as a Party will speak volumes about whether or not we are serious about our liberalism, or just mealy-mouthed.