It would be difficult to find any legalized industry which involved more violations of business ethics than the sex industry.
Violence, people trafficking, slavery and exploitation of minors and migrants are just a few of the many appalling practices which have been linked to this particular trade.
But a proposed change to the law in Britain, under which punters who unknowingly purchase sex from sex slaves could be subject to prosecution, is no way to tackle the problem.
The propose changes
According to a recent report in The Economist, the sale and purchase of sex is legal under current British law. However, any punter who knowingly purchases sex from a prostitute who is controlled for someone else’s gain (i.e. a sex slave) in Britain is deemed to have committed rape.
This is more than fair. Rape should cover any form of sex which does not occur on a mutually consensual basis, and a sex slave surely cannot be considered a consensual partner.
Conversely, under the proposed changes, any man who has sexual intercourse with such a woman would become guilty of a criminal offense – regardless of whether or not he knew that she was a sex slave.
The columnist who wrote the above-mentioned report presents a convincing case against the proposed changes, and I fully agree with his viewpoint.
Poor behavior, but not illegal
Frankly, the sex trade makes me sick, and under no circumstances should the purchase of sex be condoned in any way.
But however morally objectionable it may be, in Britain, it is a legalized industry. Men who purchase sex have not committed a crime from a legal viewpoint, and should not, under any circumstances, be considered to be criminals.
Poor behavior? Absolutely. Criminal behavior? Not under British law.
Ignorance of the law versus ignorance of fact
Proponents of the changes would argue that ignorance is generally no excuse for criminal behavior. But it is important to make a distinction here between ignorance of the law, and ignorance of the facts.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse for criminal behavior. And rightly so – a person who engages in criminal activity should never be able to use ignorance of the law as an excuse.
But punters who unknowingly purchase sex from sex slaves are ignorant of the facts, not the law.
Within reason, allowances should be made for ignorance of facts, particularly in cases where such ignorance is considered to be understandable. Indeed, British law makes allowances for ignorance of facts in other sex related circumstances. A man who unknowingly has sex with a minor, for example, is not deemed guilty of rape in cases where the minor concerned lies about her age.
Men who unknowingly buy sex from a sex slave should be treated no differently – guilty of poor moral conduct, not of a criminal offense.
(I would thought that it would be quite possible for a man to unknowingly purchase sex from a sex slave. I can hardly imagine that either the prostitutes concerned or their owners are particularly upfront or forthright in their disclosure of such matters)
A better way – criminalize (or legalize) the industry altogether
One likely effect of the proposed change would be to force punters to think twice about purchasing sex altogether – undoubtedly an effect which change proponents are hoping for.
But this could just as easily be achieved by criminalizing the purchase and sale of sex outright. At least this way, punters would be convicted due to outright criminal conduct, not mere ignorance of facts.
The debate over whether the purchase of sex should be legal or otherwise is well beyond the scope of this discussion. There are valid arguments on both sides and I do not wish to deal with these here.
Nevertheless, in countries where the purchase of sex does not constitute a criminal offence, punters who unknowingly purchase sex from sex slaves should not be subject to criminal charges.
Criminalize the sex industry or don’t – one way or the other.
But don’t convict anyone whose only legal crime is (understandable) ignorance of facts.