RSP – rape, sex and prostitution



A question which has remained totally unanswered in the sometimes skewed debate over the series of rapes in Delhi and elsewhere has been about the legalisation of prostitution.

Can prostitution curb one’s hunger for sex and reduce rapes?

This is a tricky question which none of our policy-makers want to discuss. The reason is obvious. In a country running on a high moral façade, such issues are not discussed in open as it could hurt our middle-class sentiments. No politician or policy-maker could be seen siding with sex workers as their profession is considered out-rightly dirty and demeaning for the society.

To me, allowing prostitution in a dignified manner can check increasing number of rapes. In most of the rape cases, the accused are migrants who have left their families back home and have come to cities for work. The obvious human urge for sex many a times drives them wild and results in a rape as the option of paid sex is not available.

The government in the past through amendments in the Immoral Trafficking Act had made availability of paid sex difficult even though prostitution is neither banned nor legalised in India. As per the law, the client can be booked for seeking sexual service, thereby prohibiting the profession indirectly. It works on a flawed analogy that if there is no business, prostitution will end on its own.

It has not happened because there is a demand for paid sex even though the fear of lathi-wielding lurks around.

Around mid-night, a few days ago, when I was on my way home, I saw a sparkle of moonlight at a bus-queue shelter on the outskirts of Delhi at GT Karnal road bypass. I slowed my car and turned left to see what that sparkle was all about. A thinly clad young girl with over-done make-up was waiting, probably for a client.

She was alone and there was no pimp to bring business for her.

Research papers on prostitution released in Denmark recently showed that most of the sex workers opt for the profession on their own and are not trafficked as proclaimed by policy-makers against legislation of sex work. Extreme poverty and aspiration for better life were some of the reasons given for women agreeing to flesh trade.

The girl was probably one person, who was doing sex work on her own. I cannot say it convincingly as I did not stop to ask her. My typical middle-class mentality probably prevented me and later, when I thought about it, I reached this conclusion.

Had the government allowed prostitution at designated places, the girl may not have been endangering her life at wee hours of the night. It could also have been easier for sex hungry migrants to satisfy their urge without the fear of prosecution or shame and could have probably saved some minors from brutal sexual assault.

There are many arguments against legalising prostitution including its adverse impact on families and the younger generation. Some of these apprehensions may be true and are based on empirical research in the developed economies. But, one should not forget that the British allowed prostitution for its migrant labourers in the industrialisation era. Whether it resulted in better industrial productivity and lesser sex driven rapes would remain an issue of debate and discussion.

Former Delhi Police Commissioner KK Paul, in an article in Hindustan Times this week, hinted at the link between migration and rapes and offered his policing solutions for it. Allowing prostitution in localities with high density of migrants can be a sociological solution to the growing menace of rape. Why not consider this option too!

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