No Tolerance for Fiona MacNutter
Based on an article from The Independent
Ministers have been rightfully criticised after dumping plans to create licensed "tolerance zones" to remove prostitution from residential areas. The Home Office was attacked for focusing instead on "zero tolerance" campaigns
against kerb-crawlers when it releases its prostitution strategy next month.
Fiona Mactaggart, the Home Office minister, signalled that ministers would shelve plans to reform the laws to allow the creation of formal "red-light" zones, first floated by the then home secretary David Blunkett in a Green Paper last
year. He proposed giving councils discretion to set up tolerance zones, small licensed brothels and a register of prostitutes.
Ms MacNutter used an interview with The Guardian to reject the view that prostitutes were "sex workers" and called on police to make greater use of powers to confiscate driving licences from kerb-crawlers.
The Home Office said detailed proposals would be published next month. "We want to reduce all forms of sexual exploitation and the harm it causes," a spokeswoman said.
But ministers faced criticism from opposition parties and some councils, which argued that concentrating prostitution in managed zones could help bring women out of the sex trade and limit the impact of prostitution on residents.
Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: Tackling the sex trade is important as it involves drug money and illegal trafficking. But a tough approach must be matched with realism. Prostitution is likely to remain Britain's
oldest profession and the most effective approach to the problem will require managing it rather than attempting to completely end it.
Leaders of the Liberal Democrat-controlled Liverpool City Council defended their plans to introduce "managed zones" for prostitution, warning that simply attempting to stamp out the problem would cost millions and drive prostitutes to
The city is drawing up plans for Britain's first formal zones, designed to help the authorities target young women, help them give up drugs and offer alternative work to take them out of prostitution. The scheme is based on unofficial toleration
zones in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In Bolton, where the town's zero tolerance policy is lifted in a small area at night, officials have helped some women to leave the sex trade.
A survey in Liverpool published last year showed more than 80 per cent of residents felt a managed zone was the best way to tackle street prostitution. Flo Clucas, the city councillor leading the project, warned it would cost millions to police
a full zero-tolerance approach to street prostitution and risked spreading the problem. She said the city planned to offer support, drugs treatment and education to prostitutes. I think the idea of a mass crackdown is not going to work. It
is not dealing with the root cause of the problem.
Edward Garnier, the Tories' home affairs spokesman, said: We welcome measures to cut down on prostitution but these plans don't look any different from those announced 18 months ago. What is needed to crack down on prostitution is not a reheated
announcement but action to tackle the roots of the problem, namely that most people caught up in prostitution are affected by class-A drugs and the need to feed an addiction.
Update: Grow Up About Sex
3rd January 2005. Comment from Carol Sarler in The Guardian
Sex for sale is the latest target for the handy, one-size-fits-all 'zero tolerance' approach, as the government plans a national campaign designed to stick prostitution where the sun don't shine. Home Office Minister Fiona MacTaggart wants
to gee up the police to make more arrests and greater efforts to close brothels because, she says, 'prostitution blights communities'.
Actually, it doesn't; if it did, human civilisation would have collapsed thousands of years ago. No self-respecting libertarian could sensibly gainsay a man or a woman's fundamental right to charge for sex. I even know a married couple for whom
his paying her is a fixture of their intimate routine - maybe not your cup of erotica or mine, but the deal is theirs to make.
I have also met, interviewed and candidly admired a fair few prostitutes. I especially liked one gal, very top-end, who had coolly calculated it to be the least toil for the most money, in hours to suit herself, then insisted upon comparing her
wages with mine. When it turned out that my week paid her afternoon, she genuinely found my career choice mystifying.
And I shall never forget cheery Miss Whiplash, cosy as a buttered scone, who interrupted delicious tell-tales of famous toffs to pop into the dungeon next door and tighten a thumbscrew.
Such women are in absolute command of their destinies and Miss MacTaggart has no business whatsoever to interfere. She would say there is the nastier end: the girls working the streets to pay for drugs. But she must not confuse herself here. These
girls' problem is not prostitution, it is addiction. Without one way to earn their fix, they would find another; anybody who really thinks that hindering commercial access to their genital parts would cure their habit knows as little about sex
as they do about drugs and, indeed, one fears for their grasp of rock'n'roll.
Where Miss MacTaggart and I might share a concern, however, is not for what prostitutes do on the streets or at home or in a sauna or massage parlour, but for how they got there. Did they choose or were they chosen? Were they already into drugs
or deliberately inveigled into the first taste?
In other words, where the state should come in is not by grabbing votes with promises to smack people just for acting smutty, but by addressing the much graver issue of coercion. If we left to themselves those who elected to trade and focused efforts,
instead, on rescuing those who do not, then we'd be clearing up our 'blight'.
How? I hoped you'd ask. For credit where credit is (perhaps surprisingly) due. Turkey has shown an interesting lead in the protection of human rights among trafficked women. Six months ago, it set up a well-publicised hotline for women under sexual
duress; since then, 100 women have been rescued from slavery and 10 trafficking networks have been busted.
The really interesting thing, though, is that three-quarters of the tip-offs came not from the frightened women but, anonymously, from their clients. It seems that men do, after all, have a pretty good idea when their 'date' is unwilling and, in
Turkey anyway, also muster some guilt about it.
Miss MacTaggart, at slender cost, could offer British men a shot at it. At least the potential benefit would be to real victims; both a worthier and a more realistic project than sweeping away prostitution, in its entirety, with 'tough measures',
'clamping down' and dear old 'zero tolerance'