We should see prostitution as part of the leisure industry
We like a good, old fashioned moral panic in this country but for a nation so emotionally crippled about sex, our views about prostitution are, ironically, remarkably perverse.
The latest colossus of the Dáil to start wagging his finger at everyone else is Alan Farrell, a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, who this week wrote about the perils of prostitution.
As a member of the Government which published the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, which adopts the illogical position of criminalising the client but not the sex worker, Farrell no doubt feels he is the vanguard of an administration which wants to protect women, but that's hardly a courageous stance - can you imagine any Irish politician coming out and admitting they are in favour of prostitution?
Saying that you are against the trafficking of women and forcing them into sexual slavery is not the same as saying you are against prostitution. After all, slavery is slavery, but informed consent between two adults who choose to engage in a business arrangement is none of Farrell's business.
Even that nuance seems beyond the man because, as he informed us: "Buying a woman's body for sexual gratification is not OK. It's not harmless and it shouldn't be acceptable in our modern society."
Since when did Farrell and his pursed-lipped cohorts in Fine Gael get to decide what is OK and what isn't? After all, contrary to what Frances Fitzgerald apparently thinks, this Government only won an election, not the right to become our Mammy.
In a world where most civilised countries have recognised prostitution as a morally neutral fact of life which can be regulated and taxed - where it is simply another arm of the leisure industry - we have replaced our inherently immature and prudish attitudes about sex work with a different degree of prudishness; one which says that all prostitutes are victims and all Johns are sexual predators.
As the TD for Fingal laid out his opposition to trafficking, his real disgust at the very concept couldn't help but shine through. For example, his assertion that: "In my opinion, it is simply unacceptable that a man or a woman would purchase a person's body for sexual gratification" is entirely irrelevant but also rather instructive, because a man who has legislative power has just admitted that he thinks two grown-ups having a private transaction is "unacceptable".
Why should one man's personal objection to something he obviously finds gross have any impact on the behaviour of other people who don't share his qualms?
There are lots of things that lots of people think are unacceptable, but that doesn't mean we would want, or should be given, the power to make these private objections a law.
Of course Farrell is against sex trafficking. Then again, so is everybody else. But banning prostitution on the grounds of some highly variable figures about sex slaves is like banning all pornography on the grounds that there is an illegal trade in pictures of child rape - these are completely separate issues which special interest groups deliberately fudge. They employ this emotive blackmail because they know they could never actually win the argument if it was based purely on their own prejudices, so they throw genuinely serious issues - sex slaves or exploited children - into the mix as if they are all part of the same gestalt. They're not.
The ace-in-hole argument, usually delivered with the kind of smug, rhetorical flourish that comes with an automatic argument-winner, is that old canard: "Would you like your sister or daughter doing that job?"
Well, here's the answer - it's none of our business if grown-ups want to make their money that way. This isn't some Middle Eastern country where women are property and bring shame to the honour of their family. This is meant to be a culture where women are as free to make decisions as men, even if those decisions may appal those around them.
Ultimately, this isn't even a matter of sexual morality, it's about an individual's right to choose - aren't feminists meant to be in favour of that, or did they change their mind again? After all, just because you think prostitution should be legalised doesn't mean you think it should be mandatory.
And as for the murky issue of sex trafficking?
Well, if this Government was really that concerned about the problem, they should tighten the borders to prevent what is, ultimately, an immigration and work visa problem.