LONDON, UK—The Economist, the venerable old English newspaper that's now published in a glossy magazine format, has as its mission statement that it was "First published in September 1843 to take part in 'a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress'." And after all, who better exemplifies "unworthy, timid ignorance" about sex than Morality in Media?
Therefore, it's not too surprising that MiM Executive Director Dawn Hawkins would send out an email blast taking The Economist to task for publishing, as its August 9 cover story, "The Sex Business," which, according to Hawkins, "advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution, arguing that doing so would be beneficial for our communities and for the prostituted women."
"It is surprising that such a respected magazine, which publishes well-researched, substantive articles, would ignore the more subtle and broader complications to such a proposal," Hawkins wrote. "Legalizing prostitution would only define the buying and selling of human beings—otherwise known as slavery—and violence against women, children and men as a commercial enterprise. It would give traffickers a green light by the government to ensnare, enslave and exploit women and children publicly without fear of legal consequences. In addition, legalizing prostitution would not make it easier to protect prostituted women as it is impossible to fully protect anyone in prostitution, whose source of income is dependent on violent pimps and johns."
Funny thing, though: The Economist article's unacknowledged author has MiM's number, noting that "NIMBYs make common cause with puritans, who think that women selling sex are sinners, and do-gooders, who think they are victims. The reality is more nuanced. Some prostitutes do indeed suffer from trafficking, exploitation or violence; their abusers ought to end up in jail for their crimes. But for many, both male and female, sex work is just that: work."
Yep, "sinners" and "victims": That's Morality in Media's response to pretty much anyone who doesn't follow fundamentalist Christian rules about sex—but not The Economist's.
"This newspaper has never found it plausible that all prostitutes are victims," the article states. "That fiction is becoming harder to sustain as much of the buying and selling of sex moves online. Personal websites mean prostitutes can market themselves and build their brands. Review sites bring trustworthy customer feedback to the commercial-sex trade for the first time. The shift makes it look more and more like a normal service industry."
Which, of course, it would be, if the U.S. handled prostitution like the more enlightened European countries do. But The Economist went even further, dissecting online sexual services ads to find that blondes command 11 percent bigger fees than brunettes—no word on what redheads go for, though author Robert Heinlein once described redheaded sex workers as "money in the bank"—and johns apparently like both "the scrawny look beloved of fashion magazines" and those of a "healthy weight" in preference to BBWs. It also notes that prostitutes can take bookings online and decide which services to offer, and choose their own working hours, possibly to fit around other jobs and/or child care.
The article also concludes that prostitutes are safer when advertising online, since customers don't have to troll possible dangerous red-light districts or cruise brothels looking for someone who attracts them. It also argues that online ads make prostitution safer, since the women (and probably male sex workers as well) are less dependent on pimps, and notes that "Apps and sites are springing up that will let them confirm each other’s identities and swap verified results from sexual-health tests," not to mention, "Schemes such as Britain’s Ugly Mugs allow prostitutes to circulate online details of clients to avoid."
"Moralisers will [actually, already do] lament the shift online because it will cause the sex trade to grow strongly," but "Governments should seize the moment to rethink their policies" because "Prohibition, whether partial or total, has been a predictable dud," the article concludes. "It has singularly failed to stamp out the sex trade. Although prostitution is illegal everywhere in America except Nevada, old figures put its value at $14 billion annually nationwide; surely an underestimate."
The article goes on to take to task those countries which, in an ill-conceived attempt to limit prostitution, are taking a new tack: Decriminalizing prostitution while criminalizing prostitutes' clients.
"This new consensus is misguided, as a matter of both principle and practice," the article argues. "Banning the purchase of sex is as illiberal as banning its sale. Criminalisation of clients perpetuates the idea of all prostitutes as victims forced into the trade... Sweden’s avowed aim is to wipe out prostitution by eliminating demand. But the sex trade will always exist—and the new approach has done nothing to cut the harms associated with it."
Making johns criminals simply makes "making the deal" more furtive and far less safe, since pros won't have the time to check out a john's bonafides online, and provides less time for the prostitute's "sixth sense" to kick in and spot a potential problem client.
The article also notes a recent study of the period in the early 2000s when Rhode Island had no prostitution laws, and incidences of reported rape and gonorrhea infections went down.
Bottom line: Prostitution isn't going away, and governments had better get wise to that fact. After all, it's not called "the oldest profession" for nothing. Rather, the article argues, governments should spend their time stamping out sexual slavery (which, sadly, many assume is taking place any time a woman crosses a border to engage in prostitution) and child prostitution, which the article calls by its proper name:child rape.
"Governments should focus on deterring and punishing such crimes—and leave consenting adults who wish to buy and sell sex to do so safely and privately online," the article concludes—and a quick look through the "commments" section indicates that most readers agree with that thought.