It is the worlds oldest industry for a reason. Many an elected official has railed against the red light district in their city. Many a law has been passed in an attempt to either outlaw or drive it underground. And just as many times moves to shut down a perceived moral disgrace have failed because the person/people whose brainchild it was completely did not understand how and why this industry exists in the first place. And thus prostitution will remain a societal issue until the social mechanics of it are understood and fantastical thinking driven by morality gives way to practicality.
Once again there is pressure on Christchurch City Council to address the issue of prostitution in the central city. Residents in St. Albans are frustrated with the activities of sex workers in the upper part of the street. They want to see the bylaws enforced, and who can blame them. This time there is concern that moving the sex workers along might breach the Bill of Rights. But at the same time, if this is an attempt to drive it underground, like all of the attempts before it, this one will be likely to fail too.
No doubt many of you have been coming home from or going to something, and your route has taken you through the local red light district. You might see a few scantily clad girls, some looking rather young, and a few older ones. Did you ever wonder how and why they are there?
Whilst I would never use their services, I have wondered at times about how the girls on Manchester Street fare. It is a rough business, looked down upon by many people. It is possible to understand the frustration of local business owners with having to clean up used condoms, cigarettes and so forth from their premises, and local residents whose houses are within clear viewing distance of any activity on the street. The dregs of society come out often in prostitution, with all sorts of unsavoury types attached. Some are so-called minders, who actually end up being not much more than vigilante types. Some are drug users. Many of the girls might have dabbled in drugs themselves, or be owing debts.
So, how did these girls get here? The stories are as sad as they are true. Some were from broken families and bounced around from one foster family to another foster family, with no real love or guidance. They dropped out of school and could not get a job. Some had gotten into trouble with the police. Some had been raped multiple times by strangers, or plied with alcohol to the point they were unable to think or act for themselves. In post-earthquake Christchurch many live in abandoned houses and get arrested for trespassing, but back they go because the Christchurch winter is too inhospitable to be on the street.
Mellory Manning is a tragic case. She was a prostitute who was raped, beaten and murdered because she owed a debt that she couldn’t clear fast enough. Although the police caught the offender who is now doing a lengthy jail term it highlights the risks these girls take to survive. It also highlights graphically the problems with social services and society at large that everyone in positions of authority say they want to tackle, but none actually seem to have a clue how to do so, or the will power to find out how.
What I would like to see is a couple of safe houses get set up in anonymous locations where the girls can ply their trade. As a way of funding it, the girls could give a small percentage of their earnings to council appointed landlord of sorts, who keeps the place clean. A community group with a board that has a police community officer, plus a doctor/nurse, and a counsellor might need to be set up to give oversight. Because this is a social problem that might need City Council involvement, an elected councillor with City Council select committee oversight might be of use as well.
We will never stop prostitution, but if we can give those who genuinely want to get out of it, a way of going clean, maybe containment, which is the best outcome likely, can be achieved. But going on a moral crusade and trying to drive it underground is just asking for an even bigger and uglier problem.