Legalizing prostitution is not the answer


THERE are some deadly aspects of prostitution where women are victims of different forms of bondage; situations where they suffer and are abused but can’t escape from. Sex workers are victims of exploitation, coercion and violence. That is the norm and practice of prostitution and it works against sex workers and is a terrible violation of their civil and human rights.

“Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty in a statement. “Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International’s future work on this important issue.”

In so far as protecting and saving women from stigma and violence and discrimination in the prostitution business, yes, Salil Shetty is correct. We must stop it and free the women from all blame and see them truly as victims, exploited and abused people.

Many are working for those same goals. I have been at it for 43 years and have seen nothing but sex slavery and exploitation by the pimps, bar and brothel operators. So to give a free pass to the buyers of sex, the pimps and procurers and exploiters of women is not right.

The Amnesty Internatyional declaration wants to make legal the sex for sale business as a whole.

According to a report in TIME magazine; ”The resolution recommends a policy that would decriminalize all aspects of adult, consensual sex work, while still classifying coercion into sex work or having sex with a minor as a major human rights violation. The resolution is intended to protect adult sex workers from stigma and abuse by decriminalizing aspects of sex work including buying sex, pimping and operating a brothel.”

However, while prostitution is technically illegal in the Philippines, that is only on paper. It is openly practiced and even encouraged by the local government leaders who issue permits and licenses to the bars and brothels and the criminal aspect of abuse and exploitation is totally ignored. It is, in practice, decriminalized.

What have we got as a result of ignoring the woman abuse and not enforcing the law? We have one whopping big sex tourist industry all over the country where thousands of young girls are forever made sex-slaves in bars and brothels on street corners and in houses of prostitution. They are doomed to a life of being less than human.

They are controlled, used and abused for the sexual gratification of the rich and well off. They are treated like sex machine for the pimps, brothel operators and their foreign and local customers. The Philippines authorities, especially the church going ones and long silent church leaders, have the reputation of being the white painted sepulchers of society. The policy declaration of Amnesty International will play directly in their hands.

To declare that the whole criminal business of prostitution be decriminalized so as to protect the human rights of the sex workers opens the way for greater exploitation by traffickers, pimps and brothel owners and managers, recruiters and sex tourists. The law in Sweden is more balanced, the women are treated with respect and are not charged with any crime but the pimps, recruiters and customers are penalized with violations of the law.

The whole business practice of making women dependent on a pimp or employer who sells them to sex customers is repugnant and is unworthy of the status and dignity of women. As a trade in human persons it is intrinsically evil and criminal in nature. The notion of prostitution as a clean orderly legal business where no one is harmed or hurt, where all can be free from debts and threats and make free choices, is at odds with reality.

Eighty percent perhaps of prostituted women in the world are forced into it or held there by force.

Sex workers are the prisoners of criminal gangs and sex bar syndicates that are highly organized, they trade women like cattle and are bent on enslaving and controlling as many women as possible in dehumanizing conditions for as long as possible. Declaring that this can be legal is not going to help the sex slaves and protect their human rights. They will be enslaved all the more.

In Europe many countries have already passed laws decriminalizing prostitution and we see now many more mega brothels around Europe with very young girls from the Eastern European countries and from Asia working there without passports or the freedom to leave. Many who escape tell horrifying stories of abuse and enslavement. The rights of sex workers who are EU citizens may be protected but not the girls from outside Europe. The young girls in the sex bars of the Philippines are frequently found to be underage with fake papers.

Whoever came up with that policy in Amnesty International is not being true to the great and noble reputation and tradition of AI, one of the world’s leading human rights organizations with wise and sensible policies and practices. It has been spot on in all it’s great campaigns. Its present leaders have gone beyond commonsense and are ideologically convinced and motivated but unaware of the reality of the cruel human condition of sex workers in dire circumstances.

We need more action to rescue and give a life of dignity and sustainable employment and education to the women trapped in prostitution, not legalize it.


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  1. Making prostitution legal or not will never be able to eliminate sexual abuse.

    The argument for making prostitution legal is that it provides legal protection to those who choose to enter this profession of their own accord. Prostitutes can make formal arrangements with clients and will be given government-issued employee benefits. The government will also be able to monitor whether or not proper medical care and protection are provided to the prostitutes.

    If prostitution is kept illegal, it will be almost impossible to try rape cases because non-consent is difficult to prove when a prostitute is involved. Cases of STD’s will also keep increasing because the profession isn’t properly regulated.

    The law you mentioned talks about legalizing consensual sex, not human-trafficking related cases. It distinguishes the blacks, whites and the grays of prostitution so that we know where to focus our efforts.

    and the thing about morality you mentioned? Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean several others would immediately flock to it if their moral standards are against it.

  2. So Fr Cullens, what is the answer? You’ve probably saved a few souls while been at it as you put it for at least 43 years but how about the estimated half a million Filipino women and men that are still prostituting themselves each and every day in a country that can’t provide them with a better option. Legalizing prostitution is not the best solution but by doing so will protect these poor people. Right now the government hear and see no evil declaring prostitution as illegal while it is openly practiced all over the country. The churches specially the Catholic Church objects to everything but does nothing. Forty three years is a very long time with nothing to show for. Maybe its time for you and other churches to think outside the box and truly help these people for a change.

    • You may read the work we do at the Preda Foundation saving hundreds of women and minors from traffickers, brothels ,pimpos ,sex slavers and other abusers .Thats what we can show , what about you? What have you done to save the victims of sexual exploitation. ?

  3. I abhor and detest the “economy of the flesh”..only women how about men? But keeping it in perspective there is a common rubber band in this luxurious form of trade…LUST. Who will find a solution to eradicate this banding factor that propagates this illicit trade..will be the one to give solution to prostitution. This is a never ending should be and must be…Lust in the church we cannot even eradicate much more lust in the streets..It is but prudent to admit there is no damn solution to this problem…but wilfully admit that as a person or as a group we can help in minimizing the ill effects of this trade by not patronizing the FLESH.

  4. Legalizing prostitution is good for the workers, users, government because it creates job and health hazard to population in particular.

  5. To Father Shay Cullen,

    Please cite the sources for your claims that “exploitation, coercion and violence” of sex workers are “the norm” and that “eighty percent perhaps of prostituted women in the world are forced into it or held there by force”.

    I am also interested to learn which European countries introduced “laws decriminalizing prostitution”. In case you were referring to Germany, you are wrong. Germany legalised sex work – and not in 2002, as you might erroneously believe. Sex work was already legal before 2002. [1]

    Instead of reading TIME, you should have read Amnesty’s own policy, press releases and Q&A. Then you would know that Amnesty is by no means giving a “free pass” to “pimps” or any other third parties who exploit sex workers. [2]

    Amnesty’s policy is also not one wanting “to make legal the sex for sale business as a whole” but to decriminalise all aspects of consensual adult sex work, which you later cite correctly, but apparently, you did not understand the difference. [3]

    In summary: if you personally object to buying and selling sexual services, that’s fine, because that’s a matter of one’s personal opinion, beliefs or morals. Your article, however, shows that your personal beliefs apparently render you unable to understand the very matter you wrote about, and in addition to the factual errors in your article, your choice of words is very disappointing – “less than human”, “women like cattle”, sex workers lacking “dignity” – but then one isn’t surprised hearing this from an Irish priest. [4]

    [1] Lies & Truths about the German Prostitution Act – An Introduction for the Uninitiated

    [2] Q&A on the Policy to Protect Human Rights of Sex Workers

    [3] Decriminalisation & Legalisation

    [4] Magdalene laundries in Ireland

    • just come and live here in the Philippines and South East Asia and learn and research the extent of the women and child abuse in the “legalised” ” permitted” prostitution business. In the comfort of a western office the reality is not apparent.

    • This response does not go to Father Cullen, whom I already had an unpleasant email conversation with, in which he has shown he’s unwilling to have a dialogue, but just to readers of this comment thread.

      I have lived in both South and North East Asia for many years, worked for two NGOs in the Golden Triangle, one of which works to prevent children and youth from entering exploitative labour situations in any industry, not just the sex industry. I’ve done my research up close and personal both in the Mekong Sub-region and in South Korea. So to suggest that I just sit in a Western office is not only incorrect, it’s a transparent attempt to avoid answering to the questions I posed.

      Sexualised violence is neither legal nor permitted, not even in countries where sex work is legalised or decriminalised, and if Father Cullen had bothered to read e.g. the UN report on Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific – all done by people who don’t sit in Western offices – he would perhaps better understand the human rights violations stemming from laws criminalising any or all aspects of sex work.

      As I wrote in my thesis, anti-trafficking measures should not be intertwined with what Ronald Weitzer described as moral panic-mongering and a crusade against commercial sexual services, and partnerships between the grassroots and policy-making level are crucial in order to deliver successful policies based on sound knowledge and aimed at sustainable human development.

    • ps. Sex work is illegal in Lao PDR, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. Sharia
      law, which is applied to Muslim citizens in Brunei, Malaysia and parts of Indonesia, also
      criminalizes sex work – so you can see that Father Cullen’s comment about “the extent of the women and child abuse in the “legalised” ” permitted” prostitution business” is incorrect.

      UN Report “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific”

  6. There are a number of issues raised but the only way to reduce dependency on prostitution – and exposure to human trafficking (a different issue) is to do something about abject poverty. To many poor women the best career move – in many case the only career move – that can move their life on is prostitution. This is particularly so if they have a baby and the father has abandoned them.
    The bars generally (ex-pat owned and run in particular) do provide some protection from exploitation – but yes mamasungs in particular are often controlling.
    But in the end people will do what they can do improve their life .and look after their families – some steal, some some prostitute their bodies. Poverty is the problem not the wicked bar owners and brothel keepers.

  7. Your never stop the oldest profession, but control of it in some countries has had it benefits in health issues and stopping crime.