Intended for healthcare professionals


Prostitution: would legislation help?

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 19 February 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:538
  1. S V Carr,
  2. D Goldberg,
  3. S T Green
  1. Family Planning Centre, Glasgow G3 7XR Ruchill Hospital, Glasgow G 20 9NB

    EDITOR, - Mary Hepburn cited the views of the English Collective of Prostitutes.1 This group represents only a small section of the prostitute population; relatively little is known about the views of prostitutes in general, in particular those working on the streets. Accordingly, we conducted a survey of a sample of street working women to elicit their opinions about aspects of legalisation.

    At the Glasgow Drop-in Centre, a health care and social work facility for female street prostitutes,2,3 a short questionnaire was administered to a sample of prostitutes. Over four nights in August 1992 we invited 52 women, sequentially coming into the centre, to participate in the survey; only one refused. Of the 51 respondents 44 were injecting drug users. Their age range was 17-62, the median age of injecting drug users being 24 and that of non -users 40. Forty five of the women thought that prostitution should be legalised, three disagreed, and three did not know. One of those who disagreed thought that legalisation might encourage more young girls on to the streets, which would be undesirable as street prostitution was a dangerous way of life; another stated that more young girls on the streets would provide too much competition for existing prostitutes. Thirty four said that they would work in “brothels” if they were legalised (mainly for increased safety), 13 said they would not, and four did not know. When asked if they would continue working on the streets if prostitution were legalised, 22 said yes, 25 said no, and four did not know. All of the sample said that they would submit to regular medical examinations if that were a condition of legalisation. Finally, the women were asked if they would pay taxes if required by law. Twenty six said yes, 13 said no, and 12 were undecided.

    This survey showed that most of the Glasgow street workers questioned were in favour of legalisation of prostitution, would work in “brothels,” and would cooperate with medical examinations. It is encouraging to note that over half said they would cooperate in paying taxes.

    These views differ from those expressed by some of the more eloquent prostitutes' rights groups, thus highlighting the importance of obtaining a wide cross section of prostitutes' views when any changes in the law are debated.