Jeremy Corbyn thinks legalized prostitution is ‘civilized’ — think again

Jeremy Corbyn

On Thursday, leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn revealed his position on prostitution to Goldsmiths university students, saying:

“I don’t want people to be criminalized. I want to be [in] a society where we don’t automatically criminalize people. Let’s do things a bit differently and in a bit more [of a] civilized way.”

Oops! Looks like he flubbed that a little bit. Let’s clean that quote up a little:

“I don’t want [men] to be criminalized. I want to be [in] a society where we don’t [criminalize men who pay to sexually abuse women and girls]. Let’s do things a bit differently and in a bit more [of a] [dick-friendly] way.”

Much better.

So it’s clear, early on, that Corbyn is a teensy bit confused about how the system of prostitution works and what solutions are available to us, as a society.

While he implies that the only alternative to full legalization is something called “criminalization,” he’s wrong. What’s become the most commonly-accepted alternative, thanks to the work of the global feminist movement and our allies, is the Nordic model, which criminalizes only men who exploit, abuse, or profit from prostituted women and girls. Those who are prostituted (usually females), are fully decriminalized. The Nordic model aims to change how society sees prostitution and works towards gender equality, providing exiting services and education as well. In other words, it is about more than simply legislation — it is about working towards a more equitable, humane world.

This means that what Corbyn is opposed to is not, in fact, “criminalization,” but the idea of holding men who pay for sex and men who make a living by selling women to other men accountable in any way whatsoever. It also means that he is opposed to gender equality. Corbyn may not believe this is the case, but to defend the system of prostitution, which legalization does, is to defend inequality — to defend systems that ensure certain groups in society remain marginalized and that more powerful groups can take advantage of or profit from their vulnerability. It is to defend male surpremacy as well as sexualized racism.

If we take Corbyn at his word, we are left to understand that he believes a “civilized” society would accept a system run mainly by organized crime, that sees thousands of people (mostly women) physically, sexually, and psychologically abused on a daily basis, that operates on the sole basis of women’s marginalization (which is to say, it is in the sex industry’s best interest to ensure women remain poor and vulnerable in this world), and that pushes women into what is arguably the most dangerous occupation in the world. How civilized!

Now, all this talk of “civilization” has made me wonder what kind of world Mr. Corbyn would like to build. A “civilized” society supposedly refers to a highly advanced, enlightened one. In the most progressive society this leftist politician could possibly dream of, does he imagine one that sees the most marginalized people in the world tethered to a life as inhumane as prostitution? Does he see one that remains further entrenched in male supremacy, to the point that male sexual entitlement has been protected by legislation? I wonder if Corbyn has ever visited the red light district in Amsterdam and thought to himself, “Ah yes, near-naked women, posed behind glass, as though they are live dolls for sale, presented for mockery, titillation, and, of course, consumption by gangs of drunken men who see women’s bodies as nothing more than another form of entertainment. How civilized.”

There are two ways of looking at Corbyn’s position: 1) He is uneducated on the issue and reality of prostitution, in which case I do hope he’ll consider exploring further, 2) He is yet another man who believes women are things to be fucked, and has no interest in challenging his brothers’ right to sexual pleasure, at any cost.

I do look forward to hearing from the man himself, to let us know which of those positions he holds.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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