"You can't remove the abuse and coercion from prostitution, whether legal or not," he says, so "the answer is to clamp down on the punters, while helping the women to get out and stay out." Roger Matthews has been studying street prostitution for more than two decades, but his latest book was inspired partly by the murders of the five young women in Ipswich. "All the evidence of the Ipswich case shows us that tolerance zones would not have kept the women safe," he says, because "it is about where the punters take the women to harm them, not where they pick them up." As he points out, "the killer was a trusted regular", which is why the women went with him.
In the book, Matthews describes most women he has met on the streets as "extremely desperate, damaged, and disorganised". "Many of these women, who are supposed to be 'working', are obviously off their faces with drugs and drink," he says. "Which other 'profession' would that be tolerated in?" He has interviewed women who have carried on selling sex immediately after being stabbed, raped, beaten, and in once case, hours after giving birth. "Entry into prostitution is often as a result of physical and sexual abuse, parental neglect, a history of local authority care, and drug addiction," says Matthews.
"I think that speaks for itself."
As one of the few men doing research in this sector, do his views on the women involved ever prompt charges of paternalism? Matthews is resolute. "The women involved in prostitution - particularly street prostitution - are not only among the most victimised group in society, but many of them are multiple victims. If the term 'victimisation' is to have any meaning, then those involved in prostitution must be prime candidates."
According to his research, street prostitution is the most dangerous occupation you can be involved in. "The majority of street women have suffered life-threatening violence," he says. "Ipswich confirmed this." Such women are 18 times more vulnerable to homicide than other women, and suffer regular abuse from pimps, punters and passers-by. Over the past decade, at least 89 women in prostitution have been murdered, and that number is thought to be a low estimate.
Those who argue that the women enjoy it, and choose it, are completely missing the point, he says. "Murders such as those in Ipswich are actually the tip of a very large iceberg. Women I have interviewed told me about leaping out of cars to escape being murdered. We cannot justify anyone living in such a dangerous situation ... I've never met a 'happy hooker'," he says. "All the women I have interviewed, from every scale of the industry, are damaged by it in some way." What other "work", he asks, involves occupational hazards such as murder, HIV, rape, and having your children taken away from you?
Matthews' work on this issue began in 1985, early in his academic career, when he
'These women are just seen as throwaways. They service the men, serve their purpose, and can then just be disposed of.'"
"The Ipswich murders have exposed the reality of prostitution - that it is abuse and a life of hell for these women," says Matthews. "It is high time to expose and challenge the liberal consensus"·
I make no apology (again) for plagiarising the Gruaniad today; follow links to read full version.