Morally sad day for SA

2009-09-24 00:00

RECENT articles and letters in The Witness on the subject of prostitution reveal the issue as not only controversial and confusing but sensitive and emotive.

What has brought the matter majorly to the fore was an initial government proposal to legalise prostitution before the 2010 Soccer World Cup so that we could try to lay on good fornication in between good football.

In any event, it is a cynical, amoral proposal, and should be resisted, even if, as I gather, it is temporarily shelved until 2011.

Of course, prostitution has been around almost since the beginning of time. But it has been a tragic­ reality and one that takes the whole sexual experience away from how God planned it within the framework of marital commitment and out into the random arena­ of the trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.

God never designed girls and women to debase both their bodies and souls and minimise their personal value by selling their bodies for commercial gain. God intended sex to be expressed within the beautiful and divinely given securities of marital commitment, real love and sexual fidelity. Any other ways become the ways of encouraging fornication and the regular adulterous breaking of the marital bond, especially given the fact that seemingly the majority of so-called clients are married men.

So why legalise or encourage it? If you legalise that type of sin, why not legalise theft or grievous bodily assault for financial gain? After all, most of those perpetrating such crimes also need money and are finding it hard to secure legitimate jobs. Financial need does not accord moral legitimacy to every means of alleviating it.

Prostitution, in fact, is one of the most severe ways possible to demean and diminish women. Since a woman is made in the image of God, prostitution is a gross example of dehumanising exploitation and the disfiguring of that image by making women mere sex objects. In reality, they are precious human beings for whom Christ died, and are equal in dignity to men in all respects, and accordingly are not to be toyed with or exploited by them. While the recent Witness interviewees said that they did not feel exploited or used, the reality is that they are only valued briefly for their bodies and not for themselves as whole people. And that’s exploitive. Besides which, has it ever occurred to them that they may be doing the exploiting, not only of foolish and vulnerable men, but also of their betrayed wives?

In reality, morally responsible governments should be in the forefront in extending equality of educational, occupational and economic opportunity to all women­ and girls, so that with exit strategies and options open, none ever need be economically coerced into prostitution.

Of course, most women and girls do not take prostitution as a career choice but they get into it in consequence of tragic circumstances, such as family breakdown, sexual abuse, rape, poverty and often simply a matter of economic survival. To be sure, it is only a survival strategy that would constrain a woman with any normal humanity to have multiple men day after day. In our own African­ Enterprise work, we have numbers of projects in several countries, most notably in Ghana­ and Malawi, where we extend­ compassionate help and care to prostitutes, take them to faith and self-respect, and then train them at our expense for two or three years in dressmaking, hairdressing or computer skills. They then return to society as whole and often self-employed people to take up fruitful and even family lives.

The awful fact is that generally speaking the main drivers of prostitution are the pimps and procurers of women and children for financial­ gain, and who are all wrapped up with brothels, strip clubs, gangs, crime syndicates and other kinds of sex traffickers.

Inevitably there are on the other side arguments for decriminalising and legalising prostitution and these people assume that a regulated sex industry will in fact contain and control the growth of brothel and street trades and hopefully eliminate or significantly reduce the associated evils of drug dispersal, abuse, violence, organised crime, child prostitution and trafficking. But the facts reveal otherwise and countries such as the Netherlands, Australia and Germany where such policies were approved and adopted have found, in fact, a dramatic increase in legal and illegal prostitution, and especially in the trafficking of children.

No wonder that the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, has publicly admitted that the policy of legalisation­ has been a failure and he has instituted a reversal. Interestingly enough also, in New Zealand the National Council of Women, which originally supported the decriminalisation of prostitution, is now firmly convinced that the only winners from the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act are males. Women are the losers all round and on all fronts and in all age categories.

By contrast, so positive has been Sweden’s experience of abolishing prostitution that it now regards prostitution as gender- based violence.

I believe, therefore, that all morally responsible citizens and governments should agree with article­ six of the United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) which ruled in 1979 that “state parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation through prostitution of women”.

In my book, it will be a morally sad day for South Africa if we did otherwise.

• Michael Cassidy is the founder of African Enterprise.

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