By Tom Roberts
The recently announced ‘anti-porn filter’ has revealed how uncomfortable the British political class and, indeed, wider British society is with sex – at least in the public sphere.
Britain is infamous for its prudishness amongst our more lax neighbours on the Continent, with popular theories explaining our awkward attitudes ranging from the legacy of Victorian sexual repression to the more deeply-ingrained influence of Puritanism.
Given how poorly conceived and technically illiterate the ‘anti-porn filter’ is, with the likelihood it would result in the censoring of sites not containing pornography, and will be easily circumvented by those with a basic grasp of how the internet works, it will – hopefully – become another U-turn for which the Coalition Government is now famed.
However, while the scheme itself may disappear, the thinking behind it will not.
The reaction of many on the feminist Left to the ‘anti-porn filter’ was depressingly predictable. Leading feminist voices from Suzanne Moore to Laurie Penny both wrote in opposition to the filter but also denounced ‘extreme’ pornography and the degradation of women in general.
No doubt their resistance to the filter was motivated more by a desire not be associated with the Tories and not a genuine belief in internet freedom. Others, such as Deborah Orr, actually came out in support of the filter.
It may seem surprising that figures such as these, apparently supportive of female emancipation, are opposed to women utilising their own bodies for self-gain. Yet many feminists, rather than trying to breakdown femininity, seek to redefine it to suit their own ‘progressive’ agenda.
Just as the anti-war far-left has found common ground with Islamists, so do anti-porn feminists find common cause with social conservatives.
Prostitution is another issue that these two otherwise diametrically opposed camps are united over and, for many feminists, prostitution is a more extreme form of the objectification and commoditisation of women found in pornography.
Social conservatives are more interested in preserving ‘traditional’ sexual relationships (i.e. within a married heterosexual couple) but, whatever the motives, opposition to prostitution denies women agency and endangers those who do engage in ‘sex work’.
It is at this point it should also be noted there is a demand for paid sexual services not just from heterosexual men but also homosexual men and women themselves.
It should be further noted the actual act of selling sex is not criminalised under British law but the majority of associated activities are instead – much like how the consumption of drugs is not illegal, but possession and sale are.
The campaign for the legalisation and regulation for prostitution is not as glamorous as the campaign for the legalisation and regulation of drugs and this is for a variety of reasons. Yet, many of the arguments for ending drug prohibition can be applied for prostitution, chiefly the principles of harm reduction and individual choice.
As a consequence of their marginalised position, prostitutes are frequently the victims of horrific crimes but are unlikely to request help from the police and other authorities due to their criminalised status.
By legalising prostitution, we can create safe, legal and regulated spaces for prostitutes to operate in and minimise the chance of abuse. Testing for sexually transmitted infections could also be conducted on these premises, aiding public health.
Sex workers who do suffer with drug addiction could receive the appropriate help. The creation of a legitimate industry would remove the need for involvement by organised crime and allow police resources to be better focused elsewhere.
The right of women and men to use their bodies as they best see fit has already been briefly discussed. Feminists opposed to prostitution risk patronising women they claim to represent.
As SA Jones, an Australian feminist and convert to the cause of legal sex work, observes it is not for her to decide what other women do. She also remarked on how several of her white, middle-class and well-educated friends had quite willingly participated in the sex trade – contrary to the stereotype of vulnerable, usually abused and addicted women.
As just previously noted, proper regulation of the sex industry would help these vulnerable women more than its suppression.
There is precedent for systems I’ve described. Germany, whose political and economic model is in vogue in political circles, treats brothels like any other business. The Netherlands, with the famous Red Light District of Amsterdam, is another prime example.
Several states in the US also have legal regimes for brothels to work in. The arguments I have made do not apply solely to the UK and are perhaps more urgent in lesser developed countries where exploitation is more likely.
Fundamentally, the Government should never be dictating the terms of people’s personal and sexual relationships. The Conservative party has recognised the imperative for a transformed and, ultimately, reduced State but has so far limited this to economic affairs.
If the Conservative party is to be seen more than just a party of business interests, it must champion social as well as economic liberalism. To legitimise sex workers and their profession, the oldest in the world as the saying goes, would fit both.