So should we ban the sex clubs or not?

Even before the shocking case where Eastern European women were turned into sex slaves right under our oh-so-Catholic nose hit the news, the sex industry in Malta was already under fire, with cries for its “abolishment” . When I blogged about the topic on The Times last week I chose to focus on two angles that I thought are more pressing: the fact that a man who repeatedly raped and tortured a bunch of women was given such a lenient sentence and the shocking reaction of quite a number of Maltese to the case (they shouldn’t have come to Malta and dancing naked in a bar is wrong anyway).  You can read the post here:

However, the third bone of contention that the case gave rise to – that the sex industry in Malta should be outlawed – is equally important. Particularly if we want to avoid repeats of the case above. Many are those who believe that prostitution, lap dancing bars and strip clubs have no place in a civilized society.

In an ideal world, that is very true. In an ideal world no woman/man should feel the need to barter sex for money. We most certainly do not live in an ideal world. The arguments for outlawing the sex industry is based on the following pillars:

  • “The whole thing is seedy and depressing.” Of course anyone with a common sense of decency will find it seedy and depressing. The solution is to stay away.
  • “The industry has led to the ruin of many marriages.” My reply to this is that if one of the partners to a marriage (and by “one of the partners” I actually mean the man, because no woman I know will find solace for a troubled relationship in a paid lapdance) winds up a regular customer at one of these places, this is a symptom and not the root of the problem.
  • “Accepting a sex industry within society can indirectly lead to more white slavery, with women forced to be part of this industry.”

This last point is the only one that makes me stop and wonder whether yes, we should tell the rich business types who run these places where to get off and insist on closing down said places. But wouldn’t this be rather a short-sighted solution? Banning adult clubs is not likely to make the demand disappear overnight. And if the demand is there, you can bet your bottom euro that an underground industry will thrive. And an underground sex industry is far more dangerous and likely to lead to human trafficking than a legal, tightly-regulated one.

Without wanting to over-simplify matters I would be more inclined to establish and enforce a draconian framework of regulations. As things stand, I don’t believe we even have a laissez-faire set of rules, let alone draconian ones. And by draconian regulations I don’t mean we should make it impossible for the operators of the industry to, erm, operate as it were. That would rather defeat the whole purpose. But for heavens’ sakes how hard can it be to ensure that sex workers are doing the work voluntarily, to ensure no minors are involved  (whether as punters or hostesses) and to keep the whole thing as clean as possible. Other countries seem to manage just fine.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Many are those countries that tried to abolish prostitution and its derivatives. None succeeded. What makes us think we will manage?