After a failed bloody revolution in Algeria, a new chance was given to the British people to introduce a Prostitution Law in the UK. The French and the Dutch had already criminalised participation in the prostitution of a person. Therefore, even in the wake of World War ll, the western world still did not have any form of legislation to prohibit prostitution. However, when the Trade Union movement began agitating for the legalisation of prostitution, the government realized that they would lose political support if they were to implement a law against it. Thus, an historic opportunity was presented to them to criminalize the activities of the brothel keepers.
In March, following an all-out campaign by the Home Secretary to criminalise the prostituents, the Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of the reform. In an official report, the Home Secretary said that the criminalisation of prostitution represented a major step towards ensuring justice for those exploited and abused by the prostitution trade. The report went on to state that the policy was supported by many serving women in the sex industry as well as by many Conservative MP’s.
A few months after the Home Secretary’s announcement, the Sexual Offences bill was passed by the House of Commons with a majority of legislative language included in its preamble stating that “the Government has decided to make provision for a definition of servitude that covers cases where people are forced into prostitution.” This was accompanied by an explanatory document, which was circulated to the Houses of Parliamentarians. It explained that the approach argue that prostitution is exploitative and therefore should be illegal, and that the criminalisation of the prostitutes itself was disproportionate and unjustified. The House of Commons also passed a motion, which was then referred to the Select Committee on Home Affairs. The Committee agreed to refer the question of criminalisation of prostitution to the Select Committee on Economic Affairs. This was to enable the inquiry to progress, but no further progress was made as the Select Committee did not table any recommendations.
This leaves the criminalisation of prostitution as an interpretation of an ethical dilemma rather than an analysis of the problem. According to feminist thinker and researcher Rosalind Coward, prostitution was “an essential way for women to take care of themselves and their needs before moving on to more demanding pursuits such as education, political engagement or career.” She goes on to claim that prostitution exists because women have learnt from their mothers or grandmothers to accept certain aspects of their life as ‘traditionally female’. Coward also argues that sexual servitude is not based on exploitation, rather on women choosing to submit to the sexual demands of others against their will. Consequently, she maintains that prostitution in the Nordic countries is not an expression of forced sexual servitude, but a choice that a woman has to make for herself. According to feminist philosopher, Betty DeBerg, prostitution in the Nordic nations has become a lived experience and not an object of desire.
The anti-prostitution and anti-sex industry interventions argue that this type of legislation is necessary to tackle the prostitution problem in the Nordic nations. They argue that such legislation is necessary to provide legal protection for many prostitutes against violence, sexual abuse and retribution. Additionally, they point out that such legislation is necessary to protect women’s right to participate in any part of the sex industry that does not involve them being forced into sexual servitude. By placing the legal framework on sex work under the control of the state, many prostitutes feel that they are being forced into situations that they would not wish to be in. In other words, the legal framework on prostitution in the Nordic countries attempts to control and regulate prostitution through legislation and criminalization, rather than help solve the root cause of the prostitution problem by helping people who want to do something about it.
According to the British Network of Prostitution (BNP) and the Sex Professionals Association, Northern Ireland is unique in that there is no criminalization of prostitution. Instead, there is a licensing system in place which is comparable to that in the United Kingdom. This licensing system allows brothels to function within the jurisdiction while being subject to the same regulation as any other kind of licensed brothel. Therefore, it can be argued that there is no evidence that brothels are being used as fronts for sexual services. Likewise, there is no evidence that the licensing system itself is hindering the activities of the prostitution industry, with many brothels operating continuously and continuing to earn a living and keep providing services to those who use them.
Critics of the Licensing Scheme argue that by licensing brothels to operate within the jurisdiction, the provision of commercial sexual services is being threatened by allowing brothels to operate outside of their legal jurisdiction. As well as this, many say that licensing of prostitution has been misused by some landlords to evict their former tenants who attempt to run brothels from their homes, thereby depriving them of a regular income. Additionally, the Northern Ireland government claims that brothels should not be allowed to encourage the prostitution of minors by allowing them to enter into the sex trade knowingly. The Northern Irish government is also opposed to the introduction of a licensing scheme and says that brothels already exist in sufficient numbers to ensure they are not in need of regulation.
Prostitution Law in the UK is already very comprehensive and covers all types of prostitution, although some aspects are constantly being enhanced and changed to cover new aspects of the sex trade. For example, in 2021 the Sexual Offences Act was amended to include the use of the word ‘for sex’ in its definition of prostitution. This, it is claimed, constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual preference. However, the amendment was not passed through Parliament as it was rejected by the majority of Scottish devolved governments.