A recent article in The Economist magazine discussed the outcomes of the different approaches that Sweden and Germany have taken towards prostitution since the early 2000s. Sweden—under massive pressure from feminist lobbying groups—took the path of banning prostitution completely, and actually prosecuting men (not women) who pay for sex. Germany, implementing proposals from Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, legalized prostitution to such an extent that, in theory, working girls can get health insurance, welfare, and pensions. Both approaches have failed to live up to expectations, since both were implemented with an inadequate awareness of historical reality and human nature. This article discusses the details.
In 1999, patronizing a prostitute was criminalized. The law was put into effect to appease the legislative efforts of feminist and leftist groups. The assumption behind the ban on prostitution was idea that a centralized government can, and should, stamp out the “evils” of prostitution and so-called “human trafficking.” Have the results lived up to expectations? The Economist smoothly demurs on this question (it “seems to have declined”), but offers no anecdotal or statistical evidence to support its bald assertion.
The idea behind legalizing prostitution was to remove the stigma from the world’s oldest profession by providing “sex workers” with clean and safe venues from which to ply their trade. It seemed to follow, proponents maintained, that doing this would drive abusive pimps and sex traffickers out of the market. There is also in Germany a traditional distrust of governmental attempts to regulate morality, as well as long-standing openness to sexual expression.
Sources state that Germany now has over 400,000 active prostitutes conducting over 1 million transactions per day; yet only 44 of them (including 4 men) have registered for welfare benefits.
Individual German states and municipalities are responsible for the zoning of brothels. Berlin has no zoning restrictions; and “in some places, streetwalkers line up along motorways with open-air booths nearby for quickies.” The title of The Economist article cited above (“A Giant Teutonic Brothel”) and its content leave the reader with the impression that liberalization of sex laws in Germany has gone too far, to the extent that Germany has now become a haven for sex tourists.
While Germany’s and Sweden’s different approaches say much about the culture of each country, I believe Germany’s is far more realistic. While some excesses in Germany will need to be curbed, its policies are in fact far more normal and healthy than Sweden’s. Despite the avalanche of feminist cant surrounding this issue, history has demonstrated that prostitution is an enduring and unavoidable human activity, and has always been so.
In the classical world, prostitution was a highly sophisticated and regulated activity, practiced throughout the Mediterranean world under various social and religious guises. The practice continued in different forms with the advent of Christianity; the medieval Church’s views were in fact surprisingly enlightened. St. Augustine, in his treatise De Ordine, stated that “If you do away with prostitutes, the world will be convulsed with lust.” St. Thomas Aquinas supported this view several hundred years later. Medieval man took his sex frankly and matter-of-factly: growing up in a world where both men and women matured earlier than today, he had neither time nor patience for abstract, unrealistic views of sex and gender.
Medieval towns such as Toulouse, Avignon, Montpellier, and Nuremburg permitted prostitution on the same theory: that providing a relief for lust and monogamy would outweigh the sinful presence of harlotry, and thereby prove a net benefit to society. It is a mature and practical view, and one that modern feminists and leftists choose to ignore. Alas, history and human nature are feminism’s greatest enemies.
London in the 1100s had a district of “bordells” or “stews” located near London Bridge; it was regulated by the Bishop of Winchester and later authorized by Parliament, which passed edicts in 1161 forbidding employment of prostitutes with known diseases.
Attempts to ban the practice outright met with no success. Louis IX expelled all prostitutes from France in 1254, but was forced to repeal his law two years later, once it became clear that the wives, daughters, and sisters of many Frenchmen were being bothered by aggressive admirers. In 1256, a new edict set up a special “red-light” district in Paris under the supervision of a roi des ribauds, and things improved measurably.
Louis’s son Philip unwisely renewed the expulsion law, which was ignored as unenforceable. In Rome, throughout the medieval period and into early modern times, there were brothels near the Vatican, which were permitted to operate as long as certain conditions were met. (A sisterhood was established to care for such women in approved hospitals, and donations from reformed prostitutes were given away as charity).
Wise men have long recognized the need for providing an outlet for the sexual impulse, which, if allowed to accumulate without relief, could have deleterious effects on society.
Human Trafficking: Feminist Propaganda?
Seen in this light, Sweden’s attempt to ban prostitution will result in more harm than good. The feminist backers of the law were careful to place all the criminal stigma of prostitution on the male patron; in feminist doctrine, the prostitute shares no responsibility for her choices or actions.
This attitude has been even more starkly observed with the spread of “human trafficking” propaganda. No one denies that such a thing exists, but it is clear that the issue is being grossly exaggerated to advance the feminist agenda. Every time an Asian massage parlor is shut down, it seems, we have to endure lectures about the evils of human trafficking.
The reality is very different. A recent article in The Guardian (Oct. 19, 2009) stated:
The UK’s biggest ever investigation of sex trafficking failed to find a single person who had forced anybody into prostitution in spite of hundreds of raids on sex workers in a six-month campaign by government departments, specialist agencies and every police force in the country.
The failure has been disclosed by a Guardian investigation which also suggests that the scale of and nature of sex trafficking into the UK has been exaggerated by politicians and media.
Current and former ministers have claimed that thousands of women have been imported into the UK and forced to work as sex slaves, but most of these statements were either based on distortions of quoted sources or fabrications without any source at all.
Evidence is mounting that human trafficking is a manufactured crisis, pushed by feminists and leftists to advance their social engineering goals. Radical feminist Alice Schwarzer, an opponent of Germany’s prostitution laws, claims that prostitution and “slavery” are “inextricably entangled.” Two social researchers quoted in The Economist article cited above deny this; they note that slavery and prostitution are two distinct and separate things, each with its own economic impetus.
Few dare to state openly what is becoming increasingly obvious: the phrases “sex slavery” and “human trafficking” are being used to mean whatever feminists want them to mean. The goal, as always, is to portray women as perpetual victims. The dark secret they wish to suppress is that the vast majority of women are not coerced into prostitution; and once there, they choose to stay there for financial gain.
One website has documented an impressive catalogue of studies showing how the issue is being manufactured. U.S. Justice Department Inspector Glenn Fine, for example, audited Former Attorney General Gonzales’s reports on human trafficking, and found them filled with exaggerations and misstatements.
Human lust has been with us from the time humans first walked the earth. As societies developed and became more organized, it was inevitable that some sort of commercialization of the sex act would arise. Attempts to ban the practice have never worked, and never will. Such attempts in the past were often based on religious rationales, and failed due to an inadequate understanding of human nature.
Modern attempts to ban the practice in Sweden and Germany have focused, instead, on using feminist victimization theories. The new religion (feminism) has simply replaced the old. Feminists will perform intellectual somersaults to try to explain the presence of hundreds of thousands of prostitutes in Germany, practicing their trade in public view. “They must be slaves who were trafficked there!” is their default response. But by going down this road, radical feminists find themselves on the horns of an especially delicate dilemma that frustrates their theology of victimization. How?
Because you can’t be an empowered, independent woman—collecting a pension, medical insurance, and welfare from a career in prostitution–and be a victim at the same time.
Read More: How Contraceptives Distort Gender Relations