What you need to know:
Prostitution is one of the oldest professions in the world, described in historical books including the Bible.
The question of whether to legalise it is a controversial one because either way, there are consequences.
It has been a while since I was invited to a chama meeting. It was therefore refreshing when I joined them last Saturday to discuss matters of bedroom importance.
Chama is a women’s only welfare group, but they invite me to offer my professional view whenever they have discussions on sexuality.
“Prostitutes have taken away our men and are destroying our families,” said the chairperson, introducing the topic of discussion. “We want you to tell us how we can work with members of parliament to make it illegal and end it once and for all.”
Chama members had hired investigators to track their husbands. A number of the men, it turns out, had had relations with prostitutes.
NEED FOR FACTS
“Can you imagine my man picked a woman up from the streets and spent over four hours with her in a hotel room?” said a member.
“Now I know why my husband avoids touching me; it is because he’s had his fill elsewhere,” said another member. Members wanted facts on which to base their arguments for tighter laws. They believed that that was the only way to save their marriages.
Prostitution is one of the oldest professions in the world, described in historical books including the Bible. The question of whether to legalise it is a controversial one because either way, there are consequences.
The school of thought that advocates criminalisation of prostitution believes that women do not go into the trade of their own volition. It is believed that girls from poor families are recruited in childhood. The money they make benefits other people, usually adults, owners of brothels and agents. The victim ends up hooked to the trade into adulthood, and some get diseases such as HIV and die. It is a life wasted.
Advocates of criminalisation also believe that most prostitutes were sexually abused in childhood, and their behaviour is a symptom of deviation from the norm to cure the hurtful experience. Their behaviour is therefore seen as a cry for help.
A JOB LIKE ANY OTHER
Feminists and gender activists believe that prostitutes are victims of circumstance; they find themselves in the trade simply because they are women. Even though male prostitutes exist, it is believed to be an exception rather than the norm because they have many opportunities in life. Women sometimes have no other option but to be prostitutes.
“So by making it illegal we will not only be helping our families but also liberating the women,” interjected the vice chairperson.
Advocates of liberalised prostitution laws see prostitution as any other form of work and feel sad that consenting adults having sex should be harassed by law enforcers. They argue that criminalising the ‘profession’ makes it dangerous for women because they cannot report violence such as rape to authorities.
A lack of a law to regulate prostitution also means that prostitutes hide to do what they do. In countries where the practice is legal, the practitioner is licensed, has to undergo medical tests and is only allowed to continue if they have no disease. Their own safety is ensured and they pay taxes to the state.
“I am a bit confused; is it not better then to have the practice legalised? Maybe our men will not bring the disease home!” one member interjected.
And that is the bone of contention. What actually is the safest way to go? Incidentally, liberalising the law has also been shown to lead to growth of brothels and middlemen who go to the extent of trafficking women and children for prostitution. Other vices such as drug use are also found to increase in association with the trade.
One model practised in Sweden is to protect the prostitute by not criminalising them, but targeting the customers. The men soliciting and paying for sex are the ones arrested and charged. It is hoped that this reduces demand for the services and as a result the practice dies off naturally.
“Eh, spare my husband, it would be a big public shame for my family if that were to happen,” said a member.
As always happens in discussions around legalisation of prostitution, chama members were left more confused than before and undecided on what course of action to take. Meanwhile the oldest trade is bound to continue against all odds.