The Benefits of Legalizing Brothels in the UK

The day to day life of a sex worker is not only exhausting, but comes with its own dangers. These individuals put their bodies on the line day in and out just to make ends meet. The UK has no problem with that. Prostitution, as many know, is legal in this country. Yet a place for sex workers to conduct their business, such as a brothel, is not legal. Why? 

The push for sex work to be normalized has ensued for years, many saying that it contributes to the economy and is a sound choice made by the individual worker. The UK seems to agree, as the consensual exchange of money between adults for the purchase of sex is legal. The UK has implemented several laws making it almost impossible to continue this kind of work. This includes prohibiting prostitution for personal gain or pimping someone out, soliciting sex in the street, and causing a nuisance to citizens in the form of advertisement. The UK has made these practices surrounding sex work and brothels illegal. So, why is sex work legal at all when workers can barely find ways to conduct their business without breaking some other law? 

Some progress has been made in the field of sex workers’ rights. In 2016, a group of Members of Parliament called for the soliciting of sex workers to be decriminalized. Due to the illegalization of soliciting and having three or more sex workers together being considered a brothel, many sex workers are forced to work in isolation and away from areas protected by police. Many are subsequently fearful for their safety, yet must continue to work in such conditions. The call for decriminalizing soliciting came as a result of an increase in sex workers killed during the past decade. While it would be expected that the population of a state that does not allow brothels must make it unlawful in an attempt to please public protests of sex work, a report from RightsInfo showed that nearly 50% of British people surveyed were in favor of legalizing brothels in the UK. 

While some question whether brothels will bring real improvements to the rights of sex workers and their clients, comparisons to countries like Germany, the United States, and Switzerland – where sex work is taxed – show clear benefits. Germany has even passed the Prostitutes Protection Act which requires permits and certificates for all those engaged in prostitution, and even permits sex workers to be recruited through HR companies. 

In the United States, the state of Nevada allows prostitution, under regulation, as well as brothels, which are subjected to paying federal income tax. The brothel industry in Nevada also charges almost three times that of the average sex worker, although many clients and sex workers agree that the safety that comes with such establishments is worth the amount spent. These brothels also conduct health checks on their workers, which brings an extra level of security. 

Switzerland is by far one of the most progressive nations in its legalization of sex work. In Zurich, sex work is an open profession, practiced in a location designed specifically for the work that comes with the job. The city spent £1.5 million in building what are known as “sex boxes” for sex workers and their clients to meet. These “boxes” are set-up as one room buildings lined consecutively, drive-thru style, and have space for smaller types of vehicles including cars and motorcycles. The government also allocated money specifically for security enforcement at these locations and social services provided to its workers. This initiative was supported by half the city’s voting population with the intention of preventing harm against sex workers and human trafficking. Zurich is an example of a community which recognized the unsafe climate surrounding sex work on the streets and put in place an alternative that not only profits the workers, but adds to a thriving economy for the city.

Sex work is just like any other business. Its profit margins surpass that of the average market shop. In the early part of 2019, one of the UK’s larger brothels shut down, The Libra Club, was found to have made around $7 million over a five year period. That speaks volumes. As workers of the UK who contribute to the nation’s economy and engage in daily business, sex workers also have workers’ rights according to UK law. Conducting that work has to be done in a specific way to avoid illegality, but it is in fact work condoned by the state. Therefore, sex workers’ safety is, by law, a responsibility of the state as a self-employed person. If the UK were to legalize brothels, the responsibility to protect sex workers would then fall on its employer and can be regulated as such.

Prostitution is economically beneficial, but for many sex is unattainable according to UK law, making it much more difficult for sex workers to conduct such business legally while putting them in harm’s way. These laws are discriminatory in applying only to individuals in this profession, who typically earn low incomes. While the UK has only begun the process of fully legalizing sex work, the next step is allowing brothels. In doing so, the UK government can ensure sex workers’ safety and establish thriving businesses that continue adding to the UK economy.

Image Credit: Pixabay

The Media Ethics of Covering the Nairobi Hotel Attack

The recent attack on a hotel in Nairobi, during which at least 21 people were killed, sparked condolences and solidarity messages from all over the world. The way the attack in Nairobi was presented in international media and in social networks, however, led to an uproar, after The New York Times and other media outlets issued horrifyingly detailed images of the corpses of some of the victims in what appeared to be a hotel bar or restaurant.

The New York Times article, as George Ogola argued for The Conversation, encompasses a whole range of elements to be criticised, particularly the potential utilisation of media outlets as a tool of propaganda by terrorist groups, as recently taken to a new level of professionalism by the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS)-affiliated news agency, Amaq. Other elements of Ogola’s more than justified critique include the problematic differences in coverage of “distant death,” as well as the sensationalization of violence in Western media, particularly when it comes to the reporting of war and terrorism from “African” countries and the urge to glorify the white man as the rescuing hero.

This practice might be linked to a number of factors including, but not limited to, the fundamentally racist picture of “bloodthirsty Africans” savagely genociding each other, the false assumption that African conflicts are irrational and not driven by political and economic factors (as in any other conflict), and the antiquated, if not irrational, belief that the entire African continent is a such a far-off place that it lacks connection to the Western media, to the extent that relatives and friends of the victims are assumed to never see the pictures of their slaughtered family, because they are incapable of accessing the internet to read the New York Times.

The irony is painful; the racist element is obvious. In this situation, where were the guidelines that media outlets (such as the BBC) usually use to ensure the protection of witnesses and their relatives? But the debate surrounding the realms of media and photography ethics is not an entirely new one. Various debates in the field of media ethics, particularly the ethics of war and crime photography, include discussions on the appropriateness of exposing an audience to bloodshed (and the consequences that this may have, including desensitising the audience to human suffering); the protection of the victim’s identity as contrasting with the importance of reporting on atrocities; and the responsibility of the photographer to intervene (for example, the discussions surrounding what the photographer Kevin Carter could have done to help the “Starving Child” after taking the now infamous photograph).

But how should we, the audience, deal with the depicted death in the media? In “Regarding the Pain of Others,” Susan Sontag describes this “we” as those who can never truly understand the experiences depicted in coverage of violence: “We don’t get it. We truly can’t imagine what it was like. We can’t imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is; and how normal it becomes. Can’t understand, can’t imagine. That’s what every soldier, and every journalist and aid worker and independent observer who has put in time under fire, and had the luck to elude the death that struck down others nearby, stubbornly feels. And they are right.” (2003).

With this in mind, a more understated representation of violence might help open a new space for the deliberate re-creation of media ethics in regard to what is depicted in the violent image, and the voyeurism one might develop when very much “regarding the pain of others” through mass media, particularly the internet. For us, as the audience, we do not need the gruesome picture of the shopping mall to understand what happened there. Looking at a picture of tragedy might shock someone for a second, at best, before as Sontag would say, “the book is closed,” and they move on. The images of violence are just too many, and thus are unable touch our empathy anymore. No longer do graphic images of suffering change the world, as did the image of a fleeing, burning child contribute to mobilising mass demonstrations in opposition to one of the most brutal wars in history.

Media outlets should begin realise that the momentum of violent photography is lost, and adapt accordingly. Editors can can make a decision: the freedom of the press includes the freedom to decide how to publish, but it also gives the freedom of what is better not to be published — including the images of the Nairobi Hotel Attack.

Photo Credit: Tony Webster CC BY-SA 4.0