Previously we discussed the practical arguments for and against criminalising sex work, concluding that while legal consequences may lessen sex work, they also increase the risk to workers by removing their recourse to the law, with the latter happening at a far greater rate of return.
Of course, not everything in life is governed by practicality, and there is also a moral dimension to the legality of sex work (as well as the relevance to Birmingham escorts in particular) to discuss.
Moral arguments about prostitution and escort work may seem simple, but they bear examination. The simplest argument is that if a thing is immoral, it shouldn’t be legal.
This argument may be hokey, but it has a sound moral base – like murder and cannibalism, society defines itself by making some harmful activities illegal. Some may argue that other ‘immoral’ or harmful acts are legal – many sports lead to the overall injury of the players, while alcohol consumption has little actual benefit compared to its costs – but this type of nit-picking is rarely fruitful. If society is entitled to ban that which it finds harmful or immoral, then the exactitudes of what ends up on the chopping block are academic; the presence of exceptions doesn’t invalidate a just rule.
The counter-argument is that ‘society’ isn’t an objective construct. In other words, ‘society’ describes a combination of factors, but it doesn’t exist in and of itself. Illegality is the product of governance, and while a ‘society’ might ban what ails it, a government has a far more complex relationship with its subjects. Here, the argument runs that for a government to illegalise a behaviour, it has to do more than prove it’s immoral or even harmful – it has to prove that harm exceeds the harm of removing a freedom that citizens would otherwise possess. Perfect, godlike society can decide against an action, but a governmental body comprised of individuals (some of whom have engaged in or benefitted from the behaviour in question, and will continue to do so even after it is illegal) has to meet a higher standard.
So, does sex work cause harm? Almost unequivocally, yes – people are asked to do things they would not do for a resource they can’t have otherwise. The problem is that the same is true of any work. Going to the office, building a car, even writing this article – all work done to obtain a resource that the worker wouldn’t do, or wouldn’t do in the same way, without that need.
The difference hangs, then, in whether sex work does something to workers outside of the usual nature of paid work. Does having sex for money, or paying for sex, damage a person or a society in ways that other forms of labour don’t?
Your answer to this is likely your answer to the question as a whole. Practicality may offer the hard facts, but morality tends to win the day. Of course, that’s where Birmingham escorts, in particular, come in. Join us soon for the third and final part of this article, where we’ll move away from sex work as an idea and instead ask ‘should sex work be decriminalised in Birmingham?