This is a curious and vexed area of public policy if ever there was one, and the idea of discouraging prostitution by fining the customer was first tried in Sweden. It's odd, I suppose, how it's these two "traditionally" sexually relaxed countries who are following this method of discouraging commercial sex.
This background article from the BCC notes that there is a fair amount of opposition in France on the grounds of sexual privacy:
The row has thrown into relief one of the intellectual faultlines in modern-day France, where there is a rumbling "fronde" or insurrection against the "politically correct".But the government can argue that it not about morality, but about the exploitation of women:
Opponents see the signatories as right-wing reactionaries, malevolently usurping the cry of Liberty in order to defend their macho privileges.
But for the Salauds, the fight is against a nannyish and intolerant ruling class that has turned the feminist slogans of 40 years ago into a moralistic crusade.
"Today the left - which is supposed to be the cutting edge of progressivism - is dominated by an irrepressible urge to control and prohibit," wrote Causeur's editor Elisabeth Levy.
According to the French interior ministry, foreign prostitutes make up 80-90% of all sex workers in the country and most of those are the victims of trafficking rings.And certainly, particular in Europe, legalising prostitution can draw extraordinarily large numbers of prostitutes to a country:
France's proposed crackdown contrasts sharply with the situation in Germany, where the stigma has been removed from prostitution.The Netherlands only legalised it in 2000? Yes that appears right, but the government there has started cracking down on the industry as well, again with the main concern seeming to be the criminal organisations that bring women in for this role.
As a result, there are now some 400,000 prostitutes in Germany, or 10 times the estimated number in France.
Sweden cracked down on clients with a similar law in 1999, since when street prostitution has reportedly fallen sharply in its largest cities. However, street prostitution in neighbouring Norway and Denmark increased.
The Netherlands legalised prostitution in 2000 but campaigners say the measure played into the hands of criminals and human traffickers.
So a large part of the problem in Europe is not from the "home grown"prostitution (which is, I assume, mostly what you get in countries like Australia and America, and is probably always self limiting in the number of women who take up that "profession") but the exploitation of women from other, poorer, countries.
In those circumstances, I think a more aggressive approach to limiting it is the right thing to do, and the approach of making it potentially a very expensive thing for a man to do seems an effective way to discourage women to try it. In Sweden:
But while a recent government-commissioned evaluation concluded the move had resulted in a 50% drop in the number of women working as prostitutes, the picture is by no means as simple as the figures would suggest.A bit better result than in Germany, where The Economist notes:
Prostitution seems to have declined in Sweden (unless it has merely gone deep underground), whereas Germany has turned into a giant brothel and even a destination for European sex tourism. The best guess is that Germany has about 400,000 prostitutes catering to 1m men a day. Mocking the spirit of the 2001 law, exactly 44 of them, including four men, have registered for welfare benefits.The article says that there probably will be legal changes soon in Germany, but the politics are very odd:
The details vary regionally, because the federal states and municipalities decide where and how brothels may operate. (Berlin is the only city without zoning restrictions.) In some places, streetwalkers line up along motorways with open-air booths nearby for quickies. In others, such as Saarbrücken, near the border with a stricter country like France, entrepreneurs are investing in mega-brothels that cater to cross-border demand.
... whereas progressive Swedes view their state as able to set positive goals, Germans (the Greens, especially) mistrust the state on questions of personal morality as a hypocritical and authoritarian threat to self-expression. Only this can explain why Swedes continue overwhelmingly to support their policy, and Germans theirs.So the Greens in Germany want to ensure prostitution remains legal and unfettered? Not sure if that is how the Greens in Australia would think, but who knows.
Anyhow, I am not sure of the answers, but I do blame customers more than women for creating the industry, so my sympathies lie towards the Swedish/French approach.
Update: The Guardian has an article about some disenchantment in Germany with its overly liberal approach to prostitution:
The tide seems to be turning when it comes to German public opinion as well. Last month the veteran feminist Alice Schwarzer published a book entitled Prostitution: A German Scandal. Emma, the feminist magazine started by Schwarzer in 1977, has also published a petition against the current law, signed by 90 celebrities from both the right and the left of the political spectrum.
They argue that Germany's experiment with liberalising prostitution has failed spectacularly, turning the country into "the bordello of Europe", with more and more brothels popping up near the border. The 2002 law was trying to make sex work a job like any other. But currently only 44 sex workers in Germany are registered with the national insurance scheme. Social workers say that most prostitutes cannot afford the luxury of putting aside money for a health insurance policy.
Schwarzer and her supporters have championed the legal situation in Sweden, where it is illegal to buy sexual services but not to sell them. She likens current attitudes to prostitution in Germany to those towards paedophilia in the 1970s: a wilful blindness towards an apparent injustice. "Prostitution, like paedophilia, is characterised not by equality, but drastic power imbalances," she recently wrote in Die Zeit.
Schwarzer is not without her critics. At the launch of her book last week, she was harangued by a group of pro-prostitution campaigners....
She accused Schwarzer of spreading ignorance and churning out misleading figures. Criminalising the clients of sex workers, as it is done in Sweden, she says, would only cement their victim status. "We are not victims, we are adventurous sex goddesses!" she said.
If only 44 sex workers are registered for the public health scheme, she argued, it is because 10 years of the new law haven't been enough to remove social stigma. Most sex workers lead a double life where they do more than one job, and even if they work full-time, they are more likely to register as a "performance artist".