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A woman cannot to be dehumanised through prostitution any more than she could meaningfully consent to sell herself into slavery.Viewed through this particular lens, to employ a woman to work as a prostitute is by definition to “exploit” her, and to pay for commercial sexual services is automatically to commit an act of “sexual exploitation”.
Until recently, there was no international agreement as to the proper legal definition of the term “trafficking”.Third party involvement does not map tidily onto the settings from which prostitutes work, and whether involved in “indoor” or “outdoor” prostitution, prostitutes may be controlled by an extremely abusive third party, or working completely independently, or somewhere between these two extremes.The degree of direct economic exploitation to which prostitutes are exposed thus spans a continuum from absolute (as when a third party appropriates all of the money garnered through an individual’s prostitution) to entirely absent (as when a person who prostitutes independently keeps all of her or his earnings).So, for example, the terms “sexual exploitation” and “exploitation of the prostitution of others” are not defined.The absence of clarity on these issues meant that the protocol could be adopted “without prejudice to how States Parties address prostitution in their respective laws” (Interpretative note 64 to the Protocol), but it also makes it virtually impossible to discuss the demand side of “trafficking” in the commercial sex trade without becoming embroiled in the more general debate about the rights and wrongs of prostitution, a debate which is both highly polarised and hugely emotive.The debate about prostitution is conducted between two poles.
Abolitionists hold that prostitution exploits women per se and call for the prosecution of the pimps and even customers as a measure against sex slavery and trafficking in human beings.
Lobby groups that adopt this political perspective therefore insist that the demand for commercial sexual services acts as a stimulus for trafficking – if there were no market for prostitution there would be no trafficking.
They are adamant that States should penalise men who buy sex, as well as third parties who organise and/or financially benefit from prostitution.
Viewed through this lens, questions about the demand side of “trafficking” for prostitution are clearly questions about employer demand for forced labour rather than consumer demand.
Protagonists on both sides of the “sex slavery or sex work” debate often gloss over challenges to their position posed by the body of empirical evidence on prostitution in the contemporary world.
Over the past decade, “John Schools” to re-educate men caught kerb-crawling have sprung up in the United States, Canada and the UK.