Prostitutes have to get murdered before they get treated by the media with any dignity. We need to consider carefully the lessons from the cruel exposure, yet again, of their vulnerability.
Prostitution is massive in the UK. Estimates of the number of prostitutes varies, but the lowest serious estimate I can find is 30,000, while the figure most commonly quoted is 80,000.
What is beyond doubt is that the number of customers for these prostitutes runs into millions – a significant proportion of the adult male population of the UK. Yet this massive industry operates entirely in the shadows. It is not actually illegal, but it is hedged in by legislation that forces it to operate secretly. Means of granting discretion to customers without the need for initially meeting up in dark dangerous abandoned streets, are likely to lead quickly to prosecution.
Our current laws on prostitution are the product of Victorian prudery, and have been reinforced by the still narrower zeal of political feminists who wiish to restrict the uses of female sexuality.
The semi-legal status leaves prostitutes lurking in the dark, and often subject to the attention of pimps, traffickers – and sometimes murderers.
Of course, we need economic policies which provide good opportunities for everyone, so that prostitution is a choice. But for women who wish to be prostitutes, they should be free to work openly, in good conditions, at home or in safe establishments, in security and with access to medical services. Sex workers should be able to pay tax like anybody else.
But the other thing which is plain is that the sex workers of Bradford are often in the industry to fuel their drug habit. Here there are stark parallels in the legal position on drugs and prostitution, born of the inevitable counter-productivity of legislating for personal morality. The legal classification of drugs has very little relationship to the harmfulness of the drugs themselves, but are rather a strange inheritance of historical social factors. The last government was continually in conflict with its own scientific advisers who pointed this out.
It is the blanket and unnecessary illegality of drugs that provides the criminal world with its main source of revenue, destabilises entire producer countries and denies society the benefits of quality control, hygiene and taxation.
It would take a politician of rare courage and vision to take on the tabloid press on these issues. Unfortunately we don’t have any of those.