Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The view from under red lights

Paying for sex with prostitutes who are controlled by pimps will be made a criminal offence in England and Wales, the government has said.

Two women with experience of the sex industry gave the BBC News website their contrasting perspectives on the planned changes to the law.

SUE, 48

I support the government on this one. Something needs to be to tackle the exploitation of women.

When I was 16, I was coerced in to prostitution. I was locked in a room for a year and forced to have sex with punters.

Prostitute accepts money
Anyone who knowingly pays illegally trafficked women for sex could face rape charges

If I didn't do what the men wanted, I would be beaten by my pimp.

It was horrific. I felt like I had died inside. Going completely numb was the only way to survive.

It all began when when I was at school and was befriended by an older man. He raped me and said no-one would believe me if I went to the police.

I was taken to this building. I wasn't allowed to leave. There was always someone there to stop me walking out of the door.

Eventually they decided I was too old, so I was sold on to another pimp. He put me on the street, so I just ran away.

It affected me very badly for years. I found it hard to trust anyone and it was difficult to form relationships.

Now I'm in a loving marriage and I work for a charity helping others who experienced what I went through. But it has been a very, very difficult journey.

I support the government's plans. The punters who came to see me must have been able to tell I wasn't there voluntarily.

Some of them were nasty people who enjoyed the fact I was there against my will. But others were probably decent men - quite sad characters who had trouble forming relationships.

The police should reach out to people like that so they can come forward and report exploitation.

I do think there should be some form of legalisation, though. If prostitutes had to register officially, out of sight of the pimp, the authorities could ensure they were acting according to their free will.

But I do think this is a step in the right direction. I hope it will help some women avoid the same fate I suffered.

"TONI" (NOT HER REAL NAME), 36

These proposals aren't about helping women who have been trafficked. It's about clamping down on all sex workers.

When I was growing up, I didn't imagine I'd become a prostitute.

Prostitute
Buying or selling sex is legal but soliciting and pimping are not

But when I was made redundant from my job as a teacher, I had a mortgage to pay and two children to feed.

I've been working for an escort agency for six years now. It's not something I particularly want to do, but it's a way of surviving.

I go out to visit clients at their homes or in their hotel rooms. The agency always know where I'm going, so it's safer than working the streets.

But I'd be safer still if I was working from a brothel, with other women on the premises. I can't take the risk, however, because that's illegal.

Escorting is a legal grey area. But there's always the fear of violence.

Trafficked women won't be helped by this clampdown. Pimps operate as they do because prostitution is illegal.

If it was brought out into the open, it would be regulated - the health and safety of the women could be protected.

When prostitution was legalised in New Zealand, opponents said violence would go up, trafficking would increase - that didn't happen.

The government's figures are wrong - the vast majority of prostitutes in the UK have not been trafficked. When those who have been brought in from abroad go to the police, they're deported - how is that supposed to encourage them to come forward?

At the end of the day, you can't prevent consenting sex between adults. It shouldn't be any of the government's business.

They should concentrate on those who abuse and exploit women.



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