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Thursday, 20 November 2008


I have been following the debate in the media on Jacqui Smith's proposed changes to the prostitution laws and noticed this excellent article by my Labour Party colleague Fiona MacTaggart:

I posted a reply on the Guardian website which I have put below:

Fiona MacTaggart has hit the nail on the head by asking 'who chooses?' when it comes to prostitution. It was exactly this question that caused so much discomfort in recent meetings of the European Parliament's Women's Rights Committee.

This committee, which normally strives to overcome differences to promote the rights and welfare of women, could not unite behind a single position on prostitution. And it was not due to partisan differences but to fundamental disagreements over the issue of who chooses.

My German, Dutch and Austrian colleagues in the European Socialist Party refused to support a report written by a Swedish MEP about the health consequences of prostitution. The report pointed out that 'prostituted women are considerably more at risk of physical and psychological injuries related, not to extraordinary violence, but to the everyday practice of prostitution'. My colleagues' objection to the report was that it portrayed prostituted women as victims. They argued that instead prostitutes are women who have made a choice to work in the sex industry and ought to be supported in their choice. For these MEPs, the question 'who chooses' is a simple one.

But, as Fiona and my Swedish colleague note, the question is not simple. Even in countries where prostitution is legalised, such as Germany, Holland and Austria, women do not make a free or simple choice to enter prostitution. Figures showing the number of trafficked women and drug addicts who enter this trade are just one of many proofs of this.

The Swedish report on prostitution and health was rejected by the Parliament's Women's Committee. Speaking to the committee after the vote, the report's draftswoman condemned those voting against it for gagging the parliament on this important issue. By refusing to compromise on their views regarding the choice that these prostituted women make, the committee killed the report so it could not be debated by the wider Parliament. It is a great shame that we feminists, in our quest to support women and equality, cannot step aside from the emotive arguments regarding personal choice and let the facts on the violence and abuse suffered by too many prostitutes speak for themselves. Prostitution is, as my Swedish colleague said, the last great feminist taboo.

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