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March 17, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — To mark International Women’s Day, a feminist group called “Collective for the Abolition of Pornography & Prostitution” conducted a small demonstration in a famous Parisian square, the Place de la Republique. They were attacked, ironically, by a rival gang of feminists, who chanted abuse, pulled down their banners, tried to spray paint their eyes, and made death-threats.

The second group was pro-prostitution, a position which has achieved dominance in the feminism of much of the English-speaking world, but less so elsewhere. Intriguingly, they accused the anti-prostitution group as being “[t]rans-exclusionary”: that is, of not wanting to say that biological males who identify as women are really women. Trans issues were not part of the original protest at all, so this was a matter of the association of ideas on the part of the pro-prostitution group.

Readers won’t be surprised by the use of violence by the extreme left. Violence by feminists directed at the Catholic Church has become an annual ritual in parts of Latin America, and has also happened in France. But here we have a disagreement about what it means to be “progressive.”

Amnesty International decided some time ago to treat legal restrictions on prostitution as a human rights violation. The anti-prostitution group in France says that not clamping down on prostitution is tantamount to allowing human rights violations. Their banners read “Porn producers = pimps,” “Porn and prostitution is a war against women,” and, “If you promote prostitution as work, you are on the wrong side of history.” They were accompanied by prostitution “survivors.”

In the U.S. and the U.K., a chorus can now be heard in favour of normalizing prostitution as “sex work.” The logical conclusion of this would be that women who refuse to consider this kind of work will, in the future, be refused benefits, as they would be if they refused to consider stacking shelves.

In France and a number of other countries, on the other hand, the debate is moving in a very different direction, under the influence of the “Nordic” (or “Swedish”) approach to prostitution. In the past, and in many countries still, legal restrictions on prostitution focus on those who are providing sex for money, particularly if this is organized by pimps or in brothels. It is not actually illegal to pay for sex. In Scandinavia, and now also in Canada and Ireland, the law has been re-focused on the client: It has been made illegal to buy sex, on the basis that offering a financial incentive for it is a form of abuse.

Internet search results for “Swedish model prostitution” and the like are fascinating. The top results are dominated by enraged liberal attacks on it from the U.K. and the U.S. A bit further down the page are academic studies which debunk their talking points. For example:

All the studies indicate a very high rate of violence towards the people in prostitution, but there is no definitive evidence of any actual increase due to the sex purchase ban. Similarly claims that the sex purchase ban has driven prostitution underground and made it more dangerous are not supported by the research. Rather the evidence underlines the fact that prostitution is always dangerous.

Why do so many American and British liberals feel so strongly that women should be hustled into an extraordinarily abusive way of life? A “profession” where clients regularly cheat, abuse, and assault the “workers,” who themselves are frequently the victims of people-traffickers, and whose treatment is often tantamount to slavery.

The legal brothels of Germany have demonstrated, to anyone who needed to be convinced, that lifting legal restrictions does not remove these problems. It has allowed them to be studied in greater detail, admittedly, so we can now read even more testimonies than before about prostitution’s terrible mental health consequences, miserable financial rewards, and links with people-trafficing.

The argument being made by pro-prostitution groups is that since some people have apparently chosen to be prostitutes, they should be “supported” and not subject to legal sanctions. The Nordic model, of course, flips this argument by criminalizing what the client does, and not the provider, so what liberal supporters of prostitution are really saying is that men should be free to exploit women who are often coerced and always, for whatever reason, desperate.

Prostitution, however, has a symbolic importance for some progressives. It represents the negation of the traditional feminine ideal, a kind of desecration of feminine “preciousness”. The open sale and exploitation of women’s bodies would be a victory for those who want to destroy the idea that women represent something which should be cherished and protected. This traditional conception, of course, is incompatible with their idea of what an “equal society” would look like: A society in which men and women are entirely interchangeable. It is quite an irony that the tool they have chosen to achieve this plays to the most debased stereotypes of men and women: the heartless male abuser, and the “fallen woman.”

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.