I’m in Chicago for the month of April, just as the Illinois state Senate tries to increase the penalties for buying and selling sex. The bill (which passed the House unanimously last month) will make it a felony to buy sex, so that any vet, doctor, lawyer etc convicted of the crime will lose their livelihood for ever. Which is neither here nor there to many people, unless it’s the doctor that is treating your child’s leukemia. It is avidly supported by End Demand and other abolitionists groups.
These groups look to Sweden as their model, or at least half of it. Arguing that all prostitution is violence of men against women, the Swedes in 1989 made it illegal to buy sex (even from men and transgenders, go figure). Arresting and fining punters was supposed to strike a blow against partriarchy, advance the feminist cause, and, of course, reduce violence against women. Here’s what has happened since the law was passed:
At a cost to the Swedish tax payer of over US$ 7 million a year, Sweden has, over the last four years, convicted an annual average of three people for trafficking and 18 for pimping, and has fined an average of 75 men a year for buying sex. Street-based sex work did nose-dive soon after the law was passed, then stabilised and remains constant. There’s no information about what’s happened to women selling sex in other venues, including apartments, clients’ homes, neighbouring Denmark… What we do know is that convictions for rape have increased by 28% since it became illegal to buy sex, and convictions for sexual crimes overall have increased by 68%. Some of this may be because the hoopla surrounding the law did effectively advance the Ice Queen agenda, and more women are successfully prosecuting men under the country’s incredibly vague “rape” laws. But it hardly fills one with confidence that “end demand” campaigns will reduce violence against women overall.
Chicago’s abolitionists are a strange miscegenation of paternalistic feminists (I’ll tell you when you can and can’t consent to sex, dear) and tub-thumping moralisers (extra-marital sex is bad, and convenient, no-strings, paid extramarital sex is much, much worse). They have both failed to grasp the logic that underlies the Swedish approach. If all sex workers are victims by definition, then it is hardly fair to bang them up in jail for the violence that is done to them. And indeed, in Sweden, people who sell sex can’t be prosecuted. In Chicago, on the other hand, we’re busy increasing the penalties for both the buyers and the sellers of sex. So we are:
1) depriving women (and men, and transgenders) of their right to consent to sex, if payment is involved
2) depriving women (and ditto) of a living
3) depriving women (and other prostitutes) of their liberty, if they get caught.
You’d think from the Chicago police department’s Rogues’ Gallery that the only people who get arrested for soliciting and prostitution are blokes and the odd trans. But that just reflects a policy decision only to put up photographs of people with Y chromosomes. If you delve into the stats a bit, you’ll find that women bear the brunt of prostitution-related arrests right now. Look at this:
It’s already illegal both to sell sex and to buy it in Chicago, and indeed all of Illinois. Making it MORE illegal on both sides, which is what HR6195 is proposing to do, is not going to change that. What it may change is the overall volume of arrests, since a felony is more likely to lead to a court case than a misdemeanour, which is what most prostitution charges currently qualify as. More court cases mean more police time in court. And since Illinois cops are paid time-and-a-half with a three hour minimum for showing their face in court, that rather increases the incentive to arrest. And as you can see from the graph above, it’s easier to arrest women than men. So my question to the good feminists of End Demand is this: How, exactly, do they think HR6195 helps women who choose to sell sex for a living?