In light of recent news that Governor of New York Eliott Spitzer has been laying down thousands of bucks to prostitute women with some regularity, there has been a flurry of e-mails, press releases, and a comment or two to my blog criticizing New York anti-prostitution laws which may result in Spitzer facing criminal charges both for prostituting women and for trafficking in women. The pro-prostitution side, for some reason, thinks it is persuasive to argue (1) that prosecuting a governor for buying sex is somehow wrong or misguided; (2) that prostituting women should be defended; (3) that we should be focusing narrowly on what usually amounts to arbitrary and red-herring distinctions between trafficking and the prostituting of women.
I disagree. I think Spitzer is certainly a disappointment (though not a surprise, really) to those who worked with him, including anti-prostitution feminists, in the enacting of good anti-prostitution legislation which might potentially end the prostituting of women (and boys) in New York, or which might at the very least be likely to hasten that day more than laws anywhere in the United States. I think he is Exhibit A of the capacity of men who lack consciousness as to sexism to sequester, ignore and deny — even to themselves — evidences of their own misogyny. I think he has been hoist on his own petard. But I think the laws he supported and pushed through were good laws and that one evidence of that is the focus on charging Spitzer and not the woman he prostituted. If a governor can be prosecuted, any man can be.
Following is a good article sent to me by Jeyoani about the success of the model for the New York anti-prostitution laws, the “Swedish Model.”
World Takes Notice of the Swedish Model
By Karl Ritter in Stockholm
Monday, 17 March 2008Selling sex is not illegal in Sweden, but buying it is – a radical approach to prostitution that faced ridicule when it was introduced nine years ago.Now, while Americans are preoccupied with the downfall of the New York Governor Eliot Spitzer in a prostitution scandal, some countries are considering emulating the Swedish model, which prosecutes the client but views the prostitute as an exploited victim. Officials say the changed approach has reduced the demand for prostitutes and reshaped attitudes toward the sex trade.”We don’t have a problem with prostitutes. We have a problem with men who buy sex,” said Kajsa Wahlberg, of the human trafficking unit at Sweden’s national police board. She said foreign law enforcement officials and politicians are coming to Sweden in droves to learn about its 1999 law.
On Friday, Ms Wahlberg was meeting police officials from the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal but where authorities have closed some brothels in a crackdown on organised crime in Amsterdam’s red light district.
In January, a high-level British delegation came to study the Swedish approach as Britain reviews its own prostitution laws, which prohibit soliciting and loitering for sex, but not buying sex. Norway’s government plans to propose a Swedish-style prostitution law after Easter.
Under Sweden’s so-called “sex purchase law,” paying for sex is punished by fines or up to six months in prison, plus the humiliation of public exposure. Pimps and brothel-keepers are also prosecuted. A handful of Swedish judges have been caught up in prostitution scandals.
While the authorities judge the new system a success, critics question whether it has really reduced prostitution or merely pushed it in to more isolated and dangerous surroundings.
Ms Wahlberg concedes that accurate statistics are hard to obtain, but estimates the number of prostitutes dropped 40 per cent from 2,500 in 1998 to 1,500 in 2003. She says police know from eavesdropping on human trafficking rings that Sweden is considered bad business because of its tough stance. “They are calculating profits, costs and marketing and the risk of getting caught,” Ms Wahlberg said. “We’re trying to create a bad market for these activities.”
Conscious of the international interest, Sweden’s government is planning a thorough review of the effects of the law, expected to be ready next year.
Petra Ostergren, a writer who has studied prostitution for a decade, does not think it has worked well.
“Sex purchases have not decreased. Many young women sell sex temporarily over the internet to fund university studies,” she said.
A 46-year-old escort who is a vocal opponent of the law said it had left prostitutes more vulnerable to violence. “If a sex worker seeks to establish contact with a client on the street, and police are waiting around the corner, she’s going to jump into the car without making a security assessment,” she said.
Most European countries prohibit pimping and running brothels, but tolerate prostitution and penalise neither prostitutes nor clients. Brothels are legal in Holland and Germany.
Marianne Eriksson, a former MEP, said she was ridiculed when she first proposed the change in the European Parliament in 1997.
“Many of them roared with laughter,” recalled Ms Eriksson, who now chairs the Stockholm branch of the opposition Left Party.
She says there has been “a very strong response” to the Swedish model in other European countries, even if many of them ultimately decide against adopting it.
The view of prostitution as a legacy of a societal order that subordinates women to men is universally accepted among major political parties in gender-conscious Sweden.