On legalising prostitution

Social respectability shouldn’t get in the way of legality

Madhu Kishwar takes an eminently sensible comment by the Supreme Court—that the government ought to consider legalising prostitution—and engages in a tangential polemic on the social respectability of the oldest profession. “While there is need to decriminalise this activity and free sex workers from the terror and the extortionist grip of the police,” she writes “to make it respectable and socially acceptable would mean turning a blind eye to the dehumanising circumstances through which the vast majority of children and women are trapped into trading their bodies.”

The fundamental flaw in her argument is that the mere fact that an activity is legal doesn’t make that activity socially respectable. In fact, ‘social respectability’ is itself subjective—depending the time, place and people concerned. It is an unfortunate fact that in many places in twenty-first century India, working as a public sanitation professional is not considered socially respectable. Yet no one argues that sewage cleaning ought to be illegal. Governments might try, but they are largely powerless in trying to change the social mores.

Even while Ms Kishwar’s questions on legalising prostitution appear rhetorical, it is useful and educative to answer them—not least because they help conceptualise how the prostitution industry might be governed.

What does the term “legalise” actually imply?

It would imply that consensual trade in sexual services between adult citizens is permitted.

Does it mean that a prostitute can open a sexshop anywhere she likes and advertise her services? Does it mean men or women supplying call girls should be able to set up an office in any neighborhood they like, just as doctors set up their clinics, proclaiming that call girls are available between such and such hours?

No. Zoning laws have existed in India for a long time and prostitution can be subject to it. Merely because leather tanning is legal doesn’t mean you can open a tannery anywhere you like. So too for brothels. Just because selling cigarettes and beer is legal doesn’t mean you can put up beer and cigarette advertisements anywhere you please. So too for brothels.

How many of us are willing to let our young children grow up amidst an atmosphere where renting a woman’s body for sex is considered a perfectly legitimate activity?

It’s not as if our young children are growing in an atmosphere where they are oblivious to the realities of the world they live in. But should the need to retain the pretence of innocence of our children outweigh the benefits—from exploitation by the mafia and by the police—to the hundreds of thousands of people in the sex industry today? Is Ms Kishwar suggesting that it is okay to allow hundreds of thousands of women and men to be exploited by criminal gangs and corrupt policemen so that we can tell our children, in the relative comfort of our middle-class homes, that prostitution is morally wrong?

If people come to know that a mafia don has set up a call-girl racket in their neighbourhood, do they have the right to seek its removal or does it mean other citizens have to suffer the presence of such activities in the name of “respecting” the rights of sex workers to an occupation of their choice and thereby endanger their own lives?

One major advantage of legalising prostitution is that it will be less susceptible to be a mafia-run business, with all the criminal political economy that is associated with an underground business. But Ms Kishwar has a point—how does one balance the rights of the prostitutes against the rights of the community they live in. It is a political question—and ought to be decided by the same political processes that govern other decisions. Democratic politics is noisy, messy and imperfect. It is, however, a very good way to answer questions involving such trade-offs. (See an earlier post from Amsterdam)

Those who demand that sex work be given the same “respect” as any other profession, need to explain whose duty it is to give or ensure “respect” for prostitutes and pimps? Is the government expected to enact a law requiring people not to shun prostitutes, as for instance it did to ban the practice of untouchability? One can prove that one does not practice untouchability by freely intermixing and inter-dining with castes condemned as untouchables. How does one prove one’s “respect” for a prostitute?

Governments can’t force anyone to respect anyone else. But as discussed earlier, this is largely irrelevant to the issue of whether it makes sense to legalise the sex industry. Ms Kishwar appears to come out against legalising prostitution because she is against according it social respectability. She is entitled to her view on what ought to be socially respectable, but it would be sad if that subjective judgement should be allowed to get in the way of de-illegalising prostitution.

In fact, there is a great danger in a society where only the socially respectable is legal, for such a society has closed its doors to progress.

96 thoughts on “On legalising prostitution”

  1. That gives me an idea. Why not work with that anonymity through help-lines for prostitutes? They can remain anonymous and still seek help and guidance for their problems.

    Why not even distribute leaflets in rural hamlets and on highways?

    I’m sure this is being done. No one needs to be anxious about giving up their identities.

    The State can de-legislate. Nothing for or against.

  2. Now that we’re on the subject of legalizing prostitution, what about gambling? Morality apart, it’ll be interesting to study the social ramifications of such a decision, were it to be made.

    Of course, the decision itself is quite risky politically speaking.

  3. Yes, Anonymous helplines work, though the sticky issue someone has to pay for or volunteer their services and running the organization, and they need to be qualified people who discuss these problems over the phone. Nowadays, the organization can exist on paper without any bricks or buildings and just work with their local resources remotely from home. So the central switching software run by the organization can just directly map all incoming callers to a database of volunteers who are currently online and signed on, and have a service provider run the machines (to avoid administtration costs of computers which can be significant and overwhelm the org).

  4. Alright, I don’t know if this has been thought of, but what about creating a “Sin City”? A Las Vegas of sorts for all those folks who want to indulge their passions?

    Controlled, legal, clean, taxable, affordable and even a destination for tourists.

    We have one in the making in Goa.

  5. Considering Zoning laws, legalization has to mean “sin city”-like solutions — the dutch thought of that solution with Amsterdam, and the mother of all sin cities today, Las Vegas, is also based on that idea (Las Vegas is “conveniently located” plumb in the middle of the desert, away from everywhere else 🙂 ).

    Letting urban areas build themselves around these centers of vice and heavy taxation would be easier/cheaper to manage and implement than letting such places come up in an already developed area.

  6. If there are going to be gambling places, they may as well be operated by the government or a “Gaming Commission” so that money looted from people with poor judgement can be ploughed back into social programs. No reason to create extra-governmental gambling barons who end up challenging the state’s power down the line.

  7. One way to ensure that gambling operators do not get too powerful is to have an open auction for leases for operating such places. And to have a governmental organization that makes the rules under which all gambling places must operate, and also the taxation rates for the different kinds of games, etc. The people/dept. in charge of auctions must be different people/dept. than the organization making the rules for the organizations in order to ensure fairness in the process.

  8. far as i can see, the only assumed benefit from legalizing prostitution is that it brings it into the ‘sunlight zone’. That’s a very weak argument to support a change with potentially dramatic (though subtle and unforeseeable) ramifications. What stops the state from implementing the same level of regulation (regarding age, health, wages whatever) without legalization? Just because something is illegal, does not grant it immunity from state intervention. The fact that to a good extent this already happens (via NGOs at least), is proof in itself that granting legality is not a necessary pre-condition for state or civic regulation. The govt can still create and enforce standards it feels necessary to impose without even granting legality. Admittedly, it will create an odd situation where something fundamentally illegal is being held up to weaker requirements, but its definitely a better option than outright legalization.

    The bigger idea that legalization will allow this industry to weaken the grip of the mafia is too silly to consider seriously. Why exactly would that happen? because entrepreneurs will set up brothel chains and sex services? You got to be kidding me. Even the last mile cable operator business in this country is not touched by most respectable people because everyone knows its run by local goondas.. and you think white collar kids with MBAs will run ‘legal’ prostitution shops? Try setting one up yourself… the guy who’s been in this business for a decade will shut you down in a week. And yes, he’s the mafia guy. Nobody without mafia links will touch this business with a 100ft pole, legal or not.

  9. @oldtimer: i am genuinely perplexed about why you are perplexed? if your daughter chose prostitution as her profession, would you encourage her? I’m not trying to provoke, but i can’t understand the moral blindness in your (and some others’) comments here.

    As a response, it would be useful repeat the David Hume quote that for many is a turning point in their thinking (at least from libertarianism to conservatism): “The rules of morality are not the conclusion of our reason”. They exist, because they work.

  10. But somehow policy making and morality questions never seem agree with each other. Good policy sometimes gets called bad policy when moral questions are made more important, but since moral question will never go away, maybe good policy should just lower its sights to managing a problem regardless of its legal status, and push changes in legislation only when that does not work.

  11. Hi all,

    Clearly, a topic of this nature will raise more heat than light. Thanks to those of you who have attempted to bring in empirical evidence into the discussion.

    On the other hand, it is not useful to personalise the issue (by introducing various members of one’s or the other’s family) to argue the point. Such methods have no place in a serious discussion on a complex issue.

    Finally: please avoid overdrive while commenting. You have a better chance of being read and replied to if you make your comments civil, brief, to the point and non-repetitive. Otherwise you are just wasting your own time.

  12. Dear gbz,

    >>if your daughter chose prostitution as her profession, would you encourage her?

    My advice to my daughter — or to your wife, or to her sister.. in general, to all women I have good feelings for — is not to choose prostitution as a profession.

    1. I’d encourage them all to choose professions that are intellectually engaging and I doubt that your womenfolk or mine would consider prostitution to be such a profession, anymore than — to use the example I cited earlier — construction work is.

    2. Unfortunately we live in a society where far too many people look down on sex workers, whether their work is legal or not. Example: commies. Despite all their glib talk about dignity and equality of labor, the lefties have a very acute sense of social status. There is this dude named Praful Bidwai, who published an article labeling software engineers as ‘coolies’. You can well imagine how much respect this hardcore commie and his fans have for engineers and coolies, and you can well judge what their attitude towards sex workers would be. Prostitution is actually more honest work than journalism — given the state of today’s journalism — and prostitutes are more decent people than evangelicals, given the latter types’ penchant for purchasing souls with rice bags. Yet, the unfortunate fact is that sex work figures way lower in social pecking order. Legalizing it could well be the first step towards giving it its due. In classical India, it was indeed a respected profession. I suggest you read Mrichchakatika, the epic tale of a prominent courtesan’s affair with a married brahmin. Guess who was pictured as powerful and influential? I’d love a modern rendition of this drama, with Praful Bidwai and Catholic Bishops Conference of India cast among the male characters and Arundhati Roy probably playing the lead character. Cheers.

  13. @nitin: if that comment is directed at me, apologies from my side. I guess i could have made my point without getting personal.

    @oldtimer: I understand your view regarding the dignity of individual irrespective of profession. But i think 2 things still need to be considered: 1. social disapproval is an effective (non state driven) mechanism for circumscribing individual behaviors and actions (this needs a lot more backup explanation for which i have neither time nor inclination, but i’m sure you’re smart enough to understand what i mean – esp why individual actions need to be circumscribed in the first place). 2. the real issue here is legalization. i would have to disagree with the idea that granting legality would elevate social status of sex workers. Legal acts must reflect social consensus, not force it. If legalization is a result of broad social approval, then it makes sense. Forcing it through judicial intervention is only bound to produce a backlash. (thanks for the reading suggestion, would surely add to my reading list)

  14. Shri Murthy, Sir – no need for apologies. I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts. Some strong words add spice to the discussion 🙂

    OT’s classical example got me thinking about why prostitution is generally looked down upon and here’s what I think –

    Loss of mystique and easy availability.

    I haven’t read the play Mrichchakatika but would imagine the courtesan ( whoever refers to modern day prostitutes with such panache?) conducted herself powerfully, with sufficient subtlety and considerable mystery. More like a mistress than a prostitute.

    Would her lover visit her often if she had conducted herself with anything less – many would say, dignity? Think.

    This again is the same reason why I cannot imagine comparing “prostitution” with “construction work”. The latter is plain hard and rough labor – 7-8-9 hours or more with little breaks for meals – in the sun for most part and handling stones, concrete etc stuff that would roll up the skin of any white collared dude.

    What’s prostitution compared to this?

    Perhaps we have to perceive prostitution as something not that at all.

    That’s another reason why anonymity is important. It adds to the mystique and value.

    Those prostitutes who wish to work openly and freely will suffer approbrium from society for their open displays and “cheap” behaviors.

    I still say it’s not legalizing or “decriminalizing” (such an unwanted word!) but de-legislating such professions – that would work best.

    Human trafficking is plainly criminal and must be dealt with like any crime. Btw, how much does a convicted fellow get for this? Why not look at severe punishments? Those that would really deter.

  15. It’s my inalienable right to dispose of my body (and mind, which is but an abstraction of physiological processes) in any manner I like, without prejudice to the same right enjoyed by another. Why should the use of a collection of tissues called penis or vagina be treated any differently from another collection of tissues called the arm or the brain?

    This absolute right over my body is circumscribed only by the introduction of the state’s interest in me. Every elemental expropriation of this right by the state moves us down the slippery slope to a totalitarian regime. In a totalitarian regime, the state’s interest in me is – well, total.

    As for the externality concerning public health, it’s like any other other externality – hospital infection, congenital AIDS, pollution, and more. Hence the need for appropriate, minimal state oversight and standards in such situations. Hard hats at construction sites, radiation safeguards in nuclear plants, scrubbing before surgery, etc..

    That there has been no appreciable reduction in STD incidences – if this is a fact – in Netherlands after decriminalizing prostitution is not an argument for denying the right to life of a sex worker and recriminalizing trade in sex. If the incidence of back alley abortions did not decline after abortion is made legal, does it imply that women should be denied their reproductive rights? It merely signals the failure of the oversight agency.

    Human trafficking is a loaded term, but reduces to little more than fraudulent conveyance and criminal intent. An agency that recruits exotic dancers for a night club in Las Vegas is no different from another that recruits call center operators in Bangalore. Where trickery, misrepresentation, extortion, and coercion occurs, there ought to be, and there are, laws to prosecute such crimes. There is no need for any special laws for trafficking in sex workers any more than for trafficking in carpenters.

    The rest is moral and religious baloney!

  16. “Legal acts must reflect social consensus, not force it. If legalization is a result of broad social approval, then it makes sense. ”

    Are we really this naive? Read Indian history – Sati Pratha, Untouchability, Polygamy (yes, even among Hindus)…

    If someone is dreaming that all the above had broad social acceptability when they were made illegal, I really pity the person.

    Legal acts must try to follow what is considered correct from an individual’s right point of view to lead a respectable life. Any groupism, greater good theories etc return us to communism, an utterly miserable ideology surpassed only by its monumental failure worldwide.

  17. @ Priyadarshi: if you follow the thread of the argument, you’ll realize we are talking about the Hon’ble supreme court suggesting the legalization of prostitution. Sati, Untouchability etc were outlawed through acts of legislature. Judges != legislators.

    And to be honest, i really doubt (though i have no proof) there was much social consensus on continuing with Sati or untouchability when they were outlawed. Besides, there are certain moral absolutes, and these two (if not polygamy) could certainly be outlawed through direct judicial intervention without social consensus… i’m afraid, the same does not apply to prostitution. The entire argument in favor of its legalization being based on some nebulous conception of better regulation, not any moral absolutes. As for specifically Sati and untouchability, yes, you dont need broad social consensus before acting, they are self-evident injustices. But you cant put legalization of prostitution on the same platform as criminalization of the former.

    “Legal acts must try to follow what is considered correct from an individual’s right point of view to lead a respectable life.” — if you think about that for 2 mins and what it means, i think you might want to reconsider. What exactly is ‘right point of view’? What about my ‘right point of view’ vs yours? do we make difft laws according to each persons right point of view?? The individual is an important and necessary figure in any legal formulation, but it cannot be the only or even the most important all the time. Seems like the counter-reaction to socialism (and i guess neo-socialism now) is going a little too far in putting the individual above everything else. Groupism/collectivism might be inherently evil, but Greater Good isn’t. Even Nationalism and Capitalism are forms of Greater Good theories.

  18. Talking of a whore’s dignity @ # 69: reminds me of the only time I have encountered a prostitute – as a young ER intern at a major hospital close to one of India’s biggest red light districts. A heavy-set early 40s woman with a blazing sindur arrived at our ER at about 3 am, complaining that her saami – husband – had physically assaulted her in the abdomen. Her escort, who she claimed to be a brother, was identified by my attending as a rickshaw guy who doubled as a pimp, and who had similarly escorted other women at other pre-dawn visits. Wanting to rule out kidney injury, we gave her a tube to collect urine to test for possible blood in it, and pointed her in the general direction of the patient bathrooms. This being a government hospital, that too in a socialist paradise, she could easily have navigated towards them by just following the stink (and which btw was quite a ways and carefully separated from the securely locked staff bathrooms). Most of the wretched poor that came to our ER obeyed similar commands without dissent. Imagine our surprise when this lady returned obviously miffed and angrily asked my attending if the bathrooms (and our hospital) were run for the benefit of animals and not humans! My rotund, chronically sleep deprived ER attending was not used to being talked back to by anybody, let alone by those he considered scum of the earth, and the ferocity of the resulting altercation is one I still occasionally have flashbacks about.
    All in all, I remain impressed by that woman defending her dignity and holding forth to a powerful physician in a roomful of people snickering at her.

    Not very pertinent to the topic under discussion I realize!

  19. Something about the emotional distance from which we are discussing the topic here makes me uncomfortable. Even if I am generally quite liberal, and realize there are some merits to the suggestion.
    Ditto regarding arguments usually forwarded in support of abortion. I am more certain of my position on that issue, which is against, with few exceptions. Most liberals supporting abortion as an extension of a woman’s “reproductive rights” have it wrong, IMHO. And the noise surrounding that debate has created a casual, permissive attitude towards abortions, even late ones, which I think reflects poorly on the society allowing it and its values. I usually keep my distance from the evangelinuts, but on this I am with them.

  20. @gbz
    “And to be honest, i really doubt (though i have no proof) there was much social consensus on continuing with Sati or untouchability when they were outlawed”

    You are correct, you do not have proof and you never will. Even today Sati and Untouchability have acceptance in pockets of India! By saying quite easily now that they were not endemic problems in past is just belittling the role the few good men played at that time.

    “Judges != legislators” – wow! No matter how hard the judiciary tries, the rule book would be changed by actions of parliament. Parliament can and has overturned judicial strictures. Welcome to democracy.

    individual’s right point of view – the way the phrase was to be read was “(individual’s right) point of view” and not “individual’s (right point of view)”. Apologies for being unclear.

    Today you consider outlawing Sati/untouchability as irreducible moral absolutes. Good, wait a few more decades and you will consider Prostitute’s right to work as equally irreducible. We are all just learning.

    And whoever is duping you with Capitalism being for greater good is just doing that – duping. It works because it puts the problem of survival on the individual, not the group. And given that we are all selfish, we try our best to survive. And the system works.

  21. Priyadarshi – Are you of the opinion that prostitution is a profession that a man/woman must have the right to choose of their own volition?

    In other words, is your argument for the creation of a sex-industry as against fighting human trafficking for purposes of rendering sexual services and for better disease control – the justification issued for “decriminalizing” prostitution.

    For the rest I might add that OT’s classical example is not “sex-industry” quality.

  22. The rights of the individual must override the the “rights of the group”/public as long as public interest is not damaged by the individual’s exercise of their acknowledged rights. Even in the case of such a clash, the judiciary determines the “right interpretation” of the constitutional rights of all parties with an eye towards balancing the fundamental rights of the individual with that of some group that claims to be affected by the individual exercising their fundamental right.

    “Prostitution is immoral” is a poor argument to support the view that public interest is damaged by legalisation of prostitution. At an earlier time, people of “wrong birth or poor morality” were considered inhuman, just like people today consider prostitution. If the individual is to fend for themselves, and society only plays the role of a sidekick that lives off the efforts of the individual, then the only expectation the state must have of the individual is that they pay taxes for indulging in economic activity under the protection of the state and its resources.

    AO Hume: “The rules of morality are not the conclusion of our reason”.

    “Mob Rules or morality” are never based on rationale or reason. It is just the result of coordinated mental conditioning of peoples based on their environment and its attendant worldviews and prejudices during their growing up years in society.

    The thinking in older generations usually dies along with them to be replaced by the views of people who will create a new world for themselves based on the imperatives for their own survival. The worldviews that make sense over generations will continue to survive across generations, which is a good reason why people who frame public policy must eschew moral questions.

    “Morality” changes constantly but the selfish interests of the individual and the selfish interests of “the public” are likely to remain the same across generations.

  23. @ priyadarshi: dont have time for a long debate, but quickly —
    re: sati/untouchability — First. anti-prostitution laws are generally directed harshly against people who use sex services and pimps. Most anti-prostitution laws dont specifically target the prostitutes themselves (except when STD infected) — so your point regarding right to work is somewhat meaningless. Second, more importantly, killing a living person or treating them like animals is by no stretch of imagination an injustice no greater than denying someone the right to sell sex. If you can’t see the difference, then i have nothing to add.

    ““Judges != legislators” – wow!” — sorry, dont get your point?? how does it relate to this thread?

    re: individual’s right and relation to policy making: Either way, my point stands – viz: individual rights matter (a lot), but thats not the only and last thing to be considered when framing policy. It should be the starting point in many cases, and generally policies ought to err on the side of the individual, but placing the individual above absolutely everything doesn’t make sense.

    re: changing morals — SR murthy made some good pts on the same topic so let me just answer him.

    re: greater good — I think you are defining greater good a little narrowly here. let me put it this way, no democracy would choose capitalism if it didnt fall within the greater good realm (even in capitalism there are a lot of losers who dont have opportunity to compete). If you are talking about ‘selling’ greater good ideas in return for sacrifices, then you might be right, but i guess we are just talking about difft things in that case.

  24. @ sr murthy
    “The rights of the individual must override..” — agree completely.

    ““Prostitution is immoral” is a poor argument .. ” — ok, let me be clear here, i think you are misunderstanding my argument. 1. I oppose legalization not on any moral grounds (i never made that case), but because the supposed benefits have little evidence (emperical or otherwise) of manifesting. Going back to the very first comment, the supposed regulatory improvement can be achieved without legalization as well. 2. The moral argument (if you can call it that), that i made, was that social disapproval acts as a deterrent against the use of paid sex services, thereby reducing demand (and hopefully supply as well). If you grant me that we would prefer to see as few women (or men) engage in prostitution as possible (a moral absolute??), then reducing demand and thereby supply of paid sex services is a social positive. Illegal status of prostitution is largely meant to serve the same intent of acting as a deterrent against growth of paid sex industry and thereby reduce number of people employed in it. Social disapproval does the same thing more cheaply (you dont need police to enforce it). That was my argument wrt morals.

    –“The rules of morality are not the conclusion of our reason” –> That’s David Hume!!! (not AO, two very very very different people. AO was an earthworm compared to David hume, pls dont compare even by mistake). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hume

    “..It is just the result of coordinated mental conditioning of peoples ” — No, its the product of cultural evolution.

    “..The thinking in older generations usually dies along with them to be replaced ..” Absolutely. (thats cultural evolution) Thats exactly why formation of social consensus is the ideal route to legislation and removal/change in existing practices that need state intervention. I’m by no means arguing for ‘no-change’, but change through due process.

    “..The worldviews that make sense over generations will continue to survive across generations, which is a good reason why people who frame public policy must eschew moral questions…” — This could become a never-ending debate. Nevertheless, lets be clear. Worldviews are very different from morals (at least how i mean it). Regarding eschewing morals in public policy, i think you are referring to social norms, not morals (– do we ignore morals in criminal laws like manslaughter, rape, robbery?). Yes, social norms can be ignored to some extent, i agree, but lets not conflate morals with social norms.

    to restate my case (for the last time) — the moral issue wrt to prostitution is not the undesirability of selling sex if people wish to, but undesirability of having people engage in such a trade for lack of choice. Moral/Social disapproval of this trade is ‘good’ to the extent it limits the demand for paid sex and therefore reduces number of people employed in this trade.
    (Hope that settles it..)

  25. gbz writes:
    “Moral/Social disapproval of this trade is ‘good’ to the extent it limits the demand for paid sex and therefore reduces number of people employed in this trade.(Hope that settles it..)”

    You are yet to justify your repeated assertion that public interests are damaged when more people engage in this trade, which is bogus unless one can specify the cause-effect chain that will damage public interests once prostitution is legalised.

    I think you need to spell out exactly how public interest is being damaged without referring to family members or personal situations. For example, if the trade is well regulated and contributes significantly to the tax base then “limiting the demand” is not necessarily a good thing in the big picture, because such tax money serves the larger public interest by potentially contributing to social programs.

    What exactly is the problem when adult humans who engage in consensual acts without trampling on the rights of another set of humans are behaving withing the boundaries of the constitution? Is there an answer that does not involve subjective morality of individuals against the notion of people selling sex voluntarily?

    People’s morals are their own business and they have no right to impose it on the rest of the populace (outside of their immediate family), no matter how well intentioned such people think they are.

    Of course, this has never stopped groups with political clout beyond their numbers to insist that society at large conform to their ideas of morality..or else.

  26. Shri Murthy – Would you consider the robust health of the family and society important consequences of framing sensible policy?

    I’m looking at it purely from “legalizing” leading to greater supply. I’m certain that great demand exists.

    When viewing “family” and “society” whilst standing, impersonally, outside of them may one imagine sufficient turbulence generated by greed for easy money leading to broken families, crime including crimes of passion and things along that path?

    If all of these are possible, what would you think would be the cost that tax-payers would have to fork up in terms of building defences for the protection of those that policy makers have exposed?

  27. @ SR Murthy: I am getting the feeling that you are refusing to understand my point just to keep this argument going.

    Nevertheless, here it goes (absolute one last time.. cant believe im getting sucked into this..).

    Justify my assertion re: damage to public interest: Two things – 1. PAID sex is NOT CONSENSUAL. (hopefully you dont need a causation chain to explicate that) 2. Prostitution is effectively violence against the individual who sells sex for money. People in this business get habituated to it, but that doesnt mean they enjoy it. Do they get their children to follow the same profession? why? Why would you not like to see anyone you care for engage in this business? No person with better options would ever engage in it.

    So here’s your chain:
    prostitution is bad for the person who SELLS sex (nobody who has better options would do it – and better options here dont mean massively better) –> therefore, you want to minimize people who are FORCED to do it (very very few people would do it unless they are forced to) –> therefore you want to minimize demand for paid SEX (assuming less demand would reduce supply as well since less money for pimps) –> therefore deterrents to PAID sex can be useful –> both legislative and social hurdles to buying sex can help reduce demand (assumption, mostly valid) –> which helps reduce number of people who get forced into this business by mafia/pimps/gangsters –> fewer people FORCED to SELL their bodies (your mighty Public Interest)

    Pls dont start again, i dont have time to respond.

  28. “prostitution is bad for the person who SELLS sex”

    Cigarettes are bad for people who smoke, and alcohol kills a lot of people who overindulge in it, etc. The premise in earlier posts of mine has been: IF there exist people wanted to indulge in smoking voluntarily for whatever reason, i.e., no one is forcing them, and they tell you that it is their choice even if you explain carefully to them that it is very bad for their well being, and they do not listen, then what? Let me try to explain myself with the example of smoking and I will let you do the mental word substitution.

    Consider that smoking is a real public hazard because second-hand smoke does kill non smokers. However, if the smokers are willing to go outside and smoke and try not to litter the place, or otherwise annoy non smokers, and there is a choice of making smoking illegal or just create disincentives for people to exhibit such behavior in a way that damages public health, especially a person who hates smoking from the bottom of their heart. As a policy maker, let us say that you also have the option of just making smoking illegal altogether (potentially creating incentives for criminal gangs to get into the business of selling cigarettes given the high profit margins, because as you suspect demand for smoking is high). Which is a better path?

    Now replace smoking with “selling sex” in the above paragraph, and then ask the same question. Hope that establishes the context of the question.

    All you and Shri Palahalli really have to do to bolster your arguments is argue that physical access to such areas to family members would be a violation of your rights to raise your family in a morally righteous environment, which is a perfectly legitimate argument. Thus, your real requirement for people who make policy is that you personally do not get affected when such laws are repealed. I don’t want to repeat the earlier points about zoning laws and other legal methods for ensuring that the average Family man is not affected when such laws are repealed.

    All sides have legitimate points, and the problem with morality is that it just muddies the waters without isolating the real problem and the potential for win-win solutions that are possible when everyone’s complaints are understood more carefully. Understanding issues in finer detail is possibly the only route to build public consensus in a democracy on policy matters, even for controversial topics such as this. That is all I have. Regards and thanks to all.

  29. Gbz,

    >>i would have to disagree with the idea that granting legality would elevate social status of sex workers. Legal acts must reflect social consensus, not force it.

    Recall Tarun Tejpal’s Westgate stunt a few years ago? Prostitutes were used to get a story. Tehelka effectively performed the job of a pimp. If your argument about “social consensus” really applied, the rag and the people behind it should have disappeared out of public sight. But commies and Sharukh Khan pumped in one lakh each to make it survive. What gives? This episode reminds me of a joke in which the protagonist is alleged to be Bernard Shaw. It goes like this:

    At a society ball, Shaw approached an attractive lady and said: “you’re gorgeous! Will you sleep with me for a million pounds?”. The lady, pleasantly flustered, oohed and aahed and acted embarrassed and said, “Mr Shaw what do you mean sir!” and that sort of thing. So he said: “will you sleep with me for ten pounds, then?”. Angry, the lady retorted: “what do you think I am!” “We already established that”, Bernard Shaw replied, “we are now discussing the price.”

    Joke apart, the point it makes is very valid. We all know that very high-priced prostitution goes on in tinsel town. But stars and starlets aren’t necessarily dis-respected. Nobody mistakes Tehelka to be the trade magazine of the sex industry. “Social consensus” is not against prostitution per se. it is a prejudice against those who eke a living in dirty conditions serving working class men.

  30. Let me agree with OT when he says – Social consensus is not about being against prostitution. It’s all about placement and who’s employed and how.

    Now let me address the few queries Shri Murthy raises.

    Smoking, drinking and prostitution are not just about bodily health and moral health of the indulgees; it is about how it affects those that depend on the indulgees for life’s sustenance. What about dependents? Family, parents etc.

    I hope policy making takes into account costs involved in mishandling such social dynamics?

    Shri Murthy raises the point of the “concerned family man” while at the same time advocating the “legalization” of prostitution.

    So let me ask – Will it not be illegal for me to prevent a male and/or female family member of age and adulthood, from taking up this olde’ profession? Will it not invoke the charge of prejudice against me if and when I try to educate my family about the ills of this profession?

    In short, I shall be indulging in activities against the law and in thoughts against the liberal diktat.

    Thought experiment –

    Delegislate prostitution

    Issue permits to all prostitutes current and in the pipeline – High class, low class, middle class

    Withdraw all recognition to brothels and pimps (make them illegal)

    After effects?

    Market takes over with small and cheap hotels/lodges letting rooms.

    Prostitutes actually make money and get in the shade of anonymity

    Social sanctions regulate which hotels or locales play gallery to this trade

    Since it is a hotel/lodge – and brothels/pimping are/is illegal, the hotel managements will take extra care to maintain a clean facade and still make steady money from rentals

    There must be more and healthier spinoffs but let me stop here.

  31. sorry havent been able to return to the blog for a while.. Responses to your arguments below:

    @sr murthy: 4 points:
    1. i really don’t think you can place prostitution on the same plane as smoking. Policy making is at the end of the day, more than anything else, about Judgement. And judgement requires you to calibrate your views by understanding the relative importance, triviality, strength, weakness, risk, return of every issue. When you place smoking within the same space as prostitution, it is first and foremost an error of weighing the relative importance, especially with respect to externalities, of the two issues. I really dont believe the externalities of legalized prostitution would be any where near as limited as the localized externalities of unregulated smoking. As for smoking itself is concerned, i thought britain’s decision to ban it in all public spaces was idiotic and completely unreasonable — because of the very arguments you make.

    2. I think some people here are misunderstanding my opposition to legalization of prostitution as a position against the upliftment of prostitutes themselves. Just to be clear on the record — i have absolutely nothing against prostitutes, and would be very happy to support any action to improve their status. I just dont think legalization will achieve that — if anything, i think its going to make it much worse by creating much more demand for paid sex and that demand will have to be met from somewhere.

    3. Regarding the moral issue: Again, i feel there is some misunderstanding wrt what i mean by morals. When i say morals, i don’t mean it in the layman sense (as in the usage ‘moral police’ — a phrase that puts my endocrinal system into reflux), but morals in the more academic/philosophical sense. To elaborate — the rules and conventions that society requires its members to apply on themselves so as to achieve large scale cooperation without requiring the leviathan. That requires individuals to place restraints on themselves and curb their deep seated ape-instincts for the larger cause — the primary difference between barbarism and civilization throughout history (that includes the sophisticated, scientific, rational, progressive, liberal barbarism of socialism) was that civilization created rules for individuals to apply on themselves, while barbarism didnt believe in these rules (morals). Thats one of the major reasons, why religion, across the world formed the cradle of civilizations. If you study the history of thought — especially the arguments that the socialists made against capitalism (a term they invented), you would find the same snotty dislike of morals because their agenda was fundamentally barbaric. (link that with keynes’ ridiculing of middle class thrift as a silly tradition which his ‘theories’ had proven to be unnecessary.) Don’t remember who said this, but from memory it went something like this “liberty or freedom is not the removal of all restraint, but the just application of every legitimate restraint”. Morals/social disapproval can often manifest itself in ugly ways, and they must absolutely change with times, but as i said before, thru due process.

    4. I think i mentioned this before as well — legalising prostitution will NOT bring it above ground. This business, legal or not, will always be run by the same people. If we legalize it, they will only make much more money, kidnap many more young girls, and buy more politicians. We can’t even control the mining lobbies, and we are sowing the seeds of the prostitution lobby!

  32. @gbz:

    “Will it not be illegal for me to prevent a male and/or female family member of age and adulthood, from taking up this olde’ profession?”

    No more illegal than stopping them from being an architect, janitor, or doctor. In fact, once a person becomes an adult, the law recognizes the right of that person to make decisions on their own behalf. You want the state to nanny children once they become adults in case the parents fail on the job — parents clearly failed on their parenting if their children consider prostitution as their best career option. Why is such nannying a legitimate use of public resources?

    ” Will it not invoke the charge of prejudice against me if and when I try to educate my family about the ills of this profession?”

    No, nothing of that sort will happen…this is just hyperbole. You do not seem to have comprehended the smoking example and make the obvious (and wrong) jump that my argument equated smoking and selling sex — it did, but only as a tool to show why criminalizing non violent activity is not necessarily a good idea because the profit margin arising from the act of criminalization creates strong incentives for people to indulge in criminal/violent activity. Since you clearly do not intend to comprehend that post, there is no point in us engaging each other.

    The govt. can be made to spend money on public health advertisements in media on the ills of the prostitution to reduce incentives for people to choose that path. Public Education is the answer to making people behave responsibly — just give the public the facts and do not lie about it and trust the average citizen to make up their own minds for themselves and their children.

    What seems absolutely wrong is criminalizing such activity and penalizing non violent people with time in prison. This ends up forcing these non violent (and non criminal initially) people to engage and seek the protection of criminal elements to evade legal/police harassment. Thus, this “solution” for fixing the problem of prostitution by making it illegal results in creating a bigger problem of a larger number of motivated and violent criminals indulging in human trafficking — defies common sense if this is being touted as sensible policy. Anyway, truly my last post on this topic. Thanks.

  33. There is no question of the state nannying adults because that will still devolve to families. Moreover, why would the state nanny a would-be prostitute if the state does not need to nanny a would-be architect?

    The state will merely regulate by issueing licences.

    The state will still penalize brothels and trafficking just like any other crime.

    There is an obvious difference between prostitution and smoking:drinking – the fomer is a source of income for the willing. The latter is merely expenditure. So yes, the draw will be greater and the charge of being prejudicial and if I restrain, criminal, can be levelled against me – if we are living on the same planet.

    We need to keep prostitution anonymous and “dirty and therefore tentative”. I think your missing this huge point. Any other way will not solve the problem of trafficking – no matter how legal we make the profession.

  34. Palahalli:
    ” why would the state nanny a would-be prostitute if the state does not need to nanny a would-be architect?”

    What kind of cretinous argument is this? Did you even comprehend what was written?

  35. “the fomer is a source of income for the willing. The latter is merely expenditure.”

    Umm…the seller of the cigarettes would find it a source of income and the buyer would view it as expenditure — clearly, you have not understood a single thing that was written.

  36. What kind of cretinous argument is this? Did you even comprehend what was written?

    – I don’t understand what was wrong with my deduction. Prostitution may not be the *best* career option but it will become a career option of whatever worth – when legalized. In which case it would be distinguishable from an architectural career only in degree not requiring the state’s special attention (nannying?)

    Umm…the seller of the cigarettes would find it a source of income and the buyer would view it as expenditure — clearly, you have not understood a single thing that was written.

    – You did equate smoking and selling sex (Prostitution not pimping). Not selling tobacco products and selling sex (Prostitution not pimping).

    In any event, where is the evidence that legalizing prostitution has indeed worked? All the available evidence is to the contrary.

    I think I can let this rest now.

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