Monday, 20 February 2006

Keep prostitution legal

Dr Neil Benson's conversion of his doctor's surgery into a brothel has brought puritan opposition to legalisation of prostitution back out of the closet, and allowed them wheel out all their archived arguments from their campaign against legalisation in opposition to poor old Dr Benson and his prospective employees.

At a recent 'Stop-the-Brothel' meeting for example (described here by Julian Pistorius), Maxim's Scott McMurray "implied that Doubtless Bay will turn into the sex-capital of Northland ... [and] tried to prove that prostitution was always harmful, and that this harm should be 'prevented' by stopping prostitution altogether." But as Julian points out, "laws are not there to protect people from their own bad choices, but only to protect the individual's rights from being violated by others."

The puritan, of course, ignores that point. The puritan has a view of what people should be doing, and insists on imposing that view on others. The puritan, said HL Mencken, is one who lives in constant fear that someone, somewhere, is having a good time ... and they just want to put a stop to it. Puritans appear when you least expect them -- perhaps we all have our inner prude? -- but the responsible puritan knows when prudery is appropriate, and when to tuck it up safely at home.

You might point out to the puritan that prostitution is simply about sex and about money, and ask them which it is they object to, and what gives them the right to interfere in other people's business? Or you might point out that it is their interference in other people's business that it is the real problem here.

Sadly, there are too many people about who will always wish to make your business their business. Not content merely with their own prudery, they wish to impose their straight-laced wowserism on those it repels, and to legislate moral standards for those who already have their own -- never mind whose business it is; never mind the wrong of letting the government intrude into our bedrooms; and never mind that any such intrusion never stops the behaviour they say they are trying to stop -- it simply drives it underground, removing the law's protection from practitioners.

Point out to the puritan the problems attendant on their rampant prudery and their attempted imposition of it upon sundry others, and they stamp their feet, hold their breath and count from zero to infinity until they're apoplectic. They refuse to listen, but the error of their position doesn't disappear so convieniently. Perhaps these puritans could take a leaf from Ayn Rand's book, specifically the recently released 'Best of her Q & A'). Asked whether society's so-called vices such as "dope peddling, bootlegging gambling and prostitution" should be forbidden by law:
In answer to your ... question: No, [such vices] should not be forbidden. Some of these practices are improper. Prostitution is evil by almost any standard of morality. So long as it itsn't forced on anyone however -- so long as a woman chooses to engage in that kind of activity (one shouldn't call it a profession) and some men take advantage of it -- that is between them and not the business of society. It is their moral degradation; but it should not be a legal crime -- society has no right to forbid it. The same applies to selling drugs.
'But,' cry some prudes in an attempt to disguise their busybody motives, 'the issue of prostitution isn't one of legislating morals. It's one of "safety." It's one of "harm reduction".' Well, all I can say in reply to such claims is: "Nonsense." "Safety" here is a proxy argument for puritanism. "Harm reduction" is a smokescreen for poking their nose into other people's business.

These people don't really give a shit about the women they claim to want to protect from harm. The "harm reduction" they call for would create serious and very real harms for the very women they claim criminalisation would somehow protect, just as it did before prostitution was successfully legalised -- harm to the women (and men) employed in the industry, who are put beyond the law's protection by being put outside the law by puritanism and ignorance.

If the puritans are successful once again in from criminalising the practice of prostitution, they will cause harm both to those employed in the activity and also to those from whom the choice is removed. Here's why: Women who choose to be gainfully employed in prostitution have made a choice. They make the choice because to them -- to them -- however unattractive the work, the choice to do it is better than all the other alternatives they might have.

What gives the puritan the authority to deny the right of these women to choose for themselves a better life in their eyes?

Indeed, if the puritans are right in what they say -- if prostitution is really and truly as bad as all their charts, stats and Powerpoint shows say it is -- then the alternatives open to the women who choose it are clearly few and far between, and worse even than what they do choose. If the puritans are right about how bad it is, then just how bad are the other choices open to the women who choose it for themselves, and how bad would it be to remove that choice? The puritan wishes to deny them the right to make what (to them) is a better choice than anything else they can be doing.

How much worse does the puritan make it for those women who do still choose to undertake that path for themselves? If the puritans really had their way and they do manage to recriminalise prostitution (because as I'm sure you know, making it illegal won't make it stop), they are quite prepared to see people either forced into those other, less preferable alternatives (to them), or foreced out beyond protection of the law.

The puritan seeks to ensure that no one, anywhere, is having more fun than they are, or is having their fun in a way that offends them. They should learn to keep their nose out of other people's busines, and perhaps to get on with sorting out their own sorry lives.

LINKS: Dr Neil Benson's Brothel - Julian Pistorius
Summary position on the Prostitution Reform Bill - Maxim Institute
Ayn Rand answers: The best of her Q & A' - Robert Mayhew


  1. Well done, full of passion too! Timely as well.

  2. Do Libertarianz believe that people should be allowed to challenge certain activities to occur in their neighbourhood?

    Or should they, in a libertarian world, just put up with drugs dealers and soliciting women?

    Do Libertarianz think I have a right not to be soliticed? Or should I be forced to accept anyone calling or talking to me who wants to offer services?

  3. There's two questions there Berend.

    The first is, 'do you have a right to challenge certain activities in your neighbourhood?'

    Well, no you don't. You don't have a right to use legal force to bar activities in youe neighbourhood just because you don't like them. HOwever, you do have the power of persuasion at your fingertips should you choose to exercise it; you have the right to boycott and to call for boybotts; and you also have (or should have) common law measures avilable to you to trade certain rights over another's property (see for example my article on the 'right' to a view.)

    "Do Libertarianz think I have a right not to be soliticed?" It all depends where you are. Not in yoru own home, of course. And not on private property, unless the owner allows it. I'll let you draw your own conlclusions about so-called 'public property' and who or what should be allowed there (including whether 'public property' itself should be allowed.) :-)

  4. Challenge yes, just don't use force.

    You could always refuse to sell your products to drug dealers or soliciting women, or not hire people who were, or rent a property to them - do that now and you are probably coming close to breaking laws on discrimination on grounds of employment. You can choose to not open your door and prohibit anyone on your property - if the local street was owned by the neighbouring property owners, it could be agreed to ban anyone.

    Nobody forces you to accept any calls, you can have caller ID, refuse to answer the phone of people you don't know, avoid people you don't like - it doesn't mean you have the right to arrest them, anymore than arresting Seventh Day Adventists or scouts going door to door.

  5. PC, thanks, I agree that common law is the answer. What I don't see is how it can be applied NOW or in a libertarian society.

    Take for example certain areas in Manukau which really have huge problems with prostitution. And all the problems that prostitution brings with it, drug abuse, crime, cars going on the whole night, etc.

    Take for example the local bill for control of street prostitution:

    I think I'm going to make a submission in favor (better hurry) by asking to give local councils the sole authority where and if prostitution is allowed. Deal with local problems locally.

    However, I believe that Libertarianz usually come from an entirely different point of view: prostitution is ok, so any one who doesn't want it in their backyard is denounced. I seldom see constructive criticism how people with legitimate problems can get help in our CURRENT society. It's either wait for utopia, or you don't have a legitimate complaint because it's ok to sell your body.

  6. Well, Berend, that's what it means when we say that freedom is indivisible.

    If freedom is taken away from one area, then it will have implications elsewhere. Take the connection between property rights and the problems you cite.

    In the case you're talking about, all the areas you're talking about are so-called public areas -- areas which are essentially unowned. As long as you allow state-owned or unowned property, then you have this argument: who gets to choose? And as long as you all allow local government to dictate what may and may not be done on private property, then you have the problem that they begin dictating other people's business.

    It is not the state's job to choose, but the lack of private property and real property rights gives them the power to do so.

    Specifically, council zoning has limited the number of private properties that my be used as brothels, so some poeple who have chosen this employment are forced out onto the streets. Perhaps you could argue that this illegitimate imposition be removed?

    Also, as Scott says above, if the streets you've mentioned were, let's say, co-owned by neighbouring property owners in a body corporate arrangement, then the owners may choose whether or not they allow prostitution on their property or not.

    What to do then? Why not begin by talking to property owners in the areas you mention. What about for example asking property owners in Hunters Corner what they think, and enlist their support for taking over ownership of the footpaths -- with perhaps each shop-owner owning the area of footpath in front of their shop, and organising the ownership through a body corporate?

    That shouldn't be too difficult. It would be a start, and council might well be all too eager to hand the problem over.

    So there's two things you can do rather than running off to get a ban in place.

  7. PC, you're living in a parallel universe. You really believe property owners can get to own the street in front of their stores???

    And there are also prostitutes who prefer the streets. It's not as if they're driven in every case.

    It might be good for the libertarianz to leave their white neighbourhoods once in a while. I'm afraid the number of Libertarianz supports in Manukau is less than a handful.

  8. "You really believe property owners can get to own the street in front of their stores???"

    As I said, Berend, start with the footpaths in Hunters Corner. Do I really believe property owners can get to own the footpath in front of their stores? Yes, I do. It happens elsewhere, why not in Papatoetoe?

    Or is it easier just to ban that which you don't like, and by calling for more bans give the government power to ban that which you do like?

    "And there are also prostitutes who prefer the streets." Indeed, and there are some who prefer to work inside, but who no doubt have found that councils have zoned suitable premises so as to make them unuseable.

    "It might be good for the libertarianz to leave their white neighbourhoods once in a while."

    It seems that what you know about Libertarianz could be printed on a small postcard, Berend. ;^P

  9. Just 'hear! hear!', that's all.

  10. PC, did you hear Labour MP Mita Ririnui declaring that property rights are equal to plunder?

    You think that in such a climate ownership of footpaths will solve anything?

    And on the postcard: I'm trying to extend my knowledge. So far I've not encountered many practical suggestions. I agree on the common law thing, but it will not work in this country, because even if the shopowners own the footpaths, I doubt they would get the police backup they need, especially because their shops are vandalized as well and the police appears unable to stop that.

  11. For my part, I never said I wanted prostitution re-criminalised.

    What I do object to to people like Cresswell holding up someone who starts a brothel as a poster child for property rights. This is akin to saying insider traders are poster children for the free market - which in fact he *has* said in the past.

    No decent human being scores trite political points by exploiting others. We are talking about human beings here - women-not abstractions. At best the Libertarians reprehensible position is politically naive, at worst it is vicious and malevolent.

    If I am puritanical I am proud to be - and if you think you are going to flay me with your self-righteous nonsense and tell me I don't understand you, and that I should go forth and sin no more, as you implied Peter, you can think again.

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating anyways - as was proven in the last election.

  12. I think Ruth's position is reasonable (even if her manners are not :) ). Prostitution should not be re-criminalised, but why refer to Dr Benson has "poor old Dr Benson" when the business he has chosen to engage in is "evil by almost any standard of morality"?


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