Leeds' hidden sex trade: Prostitution's legalisation - the debate for and against

So should it be legal? It's a question that's been asked for almost as long as sex has been sold: Should prostitution be legalised?

Here two experts with sharply-contrasting views put their cases.

Their contributions come at the end of a four-day Yorkshire Evening Post investigation into the changing face of vice in the 21st century.

It has highlighted the powerful part that the internet plays in modern prostitution, with hundreds of men and women across Yorkshire now selling their bodies via escort websites.

One site alone carries profiles for around 380 women within 10 miles of Leeds's LS1 postcode area.

Concerns have been raised that the ease with which ads can be placed is encouraging more people to enter the sex industry.

Police chiefs, meanwhile, have hailed the positive results of their approach to tackling more conventional forms of vice in Leeds.

They say the number of street prostitutes in the city centre has fallen in recent years and the sale of sex from premises such as massage parlours is not a massive problem in this area.


'Community would back legalisation'

Leeds Metropolitan University's Dr Sarah Kingston, who has taught on many areas of the sex industry, says:

"Although no approach is without benefits or limitations, legalisation is, I believe, a more favourable alternative to criminalisation.

Research has highlighted the problems associated with the criminalisation of sex work, such as displacement following police crackdowns, and more dangerous working conditions due to the industry being driven underground.

It was clear from my research in Leeds that many residents, businesses, politicians and police officers felt that legalisation and regulation was the most preferred option.

Despite the Government's desire to challenge the general perception that prostitution has to be accepted, the people that I spoke to were under no illusion that it could ever be eradicated.

The general consensus was that prostitution would be better dealt with through regulation rather than prohibition.

Arguments against legalisation often cite nuisance caused to local communities, yet my research suggests that not all communities want to rid their streets of sex work and for those who do, they still believe that regulation is the best method. This would give the police greater powers to enter premises and enable them to deploy their resources in a more efficient and targeted manner.

Through legalisation, sex workers would gain legal rights like other workers, would pay tax and contribute more fully to the wider economy. Many felt that legalisation would encourage safer sex practices, reduce violence and abuse and minimise the impact on local communities."


'Move would benefit pimps and abusers'

Anna van Heeswijk, from OBJECT, a campaign group opposed to the normalisation of the porn and sex industries, says:

"Prostitution is not a job like any other, it is characterised by violence and abuse for some of the most vulnerable people in our society – the majority of whom are women and children. A woman in prostitution is more likely to be physically and/or seriously sexually assaulted at the hands of pimps and punters. Mortality rates are far higher than the national average. Legalisation does not remove this harm, it simply makes the harm legal.

The true beneficiaries of legalisation or complete decriminalisation are the pimps, traffickers, and organised criminals who control and coerce women and girls into selling sex and who live comfortably off a multi-billion pound industry.

If we are genuine about making women in prostitution safer, services are needed to support them to exit safely and permanently.

Furthermore, to ensure that future generations are no longer drawn or coerced into having to sell their bodies, we must tackle the problem at its root. It is demand for prostitution that expands the industry and fuels trafficking. Tackling the demand means following Sweden, Norway and Iceland and bringing the buyers out of the shadows by making it a crime to pay for sex.

Prostitution may have been around a long time, but that doesn't make it right or inevitable. It can be changed.

There has never been a more important time to call for an end to the exploitative industry of prostitution, and an end to women's bodies being bought and sold."

Natasha McCreesh a leadership coach from Huddersfield

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