Medico-socio-economics vs morality

by Garth Rattray

The proposal to legalise or decriminalize prostitution was a scientific and pragmatic one. It was meant to protect everyone in society. People involved in renting themselves out for sex would be free to come under proper medical supervision and monitoring in their capacity as commercial sex workers. As things stand, such people operate outside the law and therefore go underground. This situation lends itself to abuse, human trafficking and the propagation of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) – some of which are potentially deadly.


A fairy balanced article

A recently publicised idea went one step further by recommending not only the regulation but also the taxation of commercial sex workers. It sought to raise funds from the ‘profession’ in order to benefit those involved in it and to protect society from a breeding place for STIs. Bringing prostitution under governmental regulation and taxation currently takes place in several countries around the world, including parts of the United States of America.

Approved brothels

In such instances, governing bodies prohibit prostitution outside of licensed brothels. They also legislate against encouraging people into prostitution and against pimping. Approved brothels are checked regularly for STIs (especially HIV infection). Condoms are mandated for all intimate sexual acts and the brothels may be liable if a ‘customer’ or sex worker becomes HIV positive.

Our well-meaning scientific thinkers are trying to help society to help itself by separating science from established mores. Medico-socially and socio-economically, the reasoning behind the legalisation or decriminalisation proposals is sound. However, serious conflicts arise when they are viewed from our moral perspective. Morality is not universally standardised; it varies from one region to another. Different societies have differing morals. For example, several European countries and some of the United States allow the sanctioning of same-sex unions by ‘marriage’. We here in Jamaica consider such an act as an abomination.

I surmised that the revolutionary idea of legitimising and ‘sanitising’ commercial sex work was doomed to remain a moot subject and, Prime Minister Golding (naturally and predictably) shot it down before it could even begin to take wings. Topics like buggery and prostitution are going to remain taboo for many years to come because, in spite of our rampant criminal acts, propensity for violence and corrupt practices, we are mostly a religious people. We would rather keep such topics in the shadows than deal with them impartially and openly.

Desperate, destitute addicts

Ostensibly, because payment for sexual ‘favours’ customarily takes place between consenting adults, one of our columnists recently labelled prostitution a ‘victimless crime’. Many people believe that prostitutes are simply immoral and shameless. And, a famous politician pontificated that legitimising prostitution would encourage a number of young girls to add the oldest profession in the world to their list of plausible careers. But, this is far from the truth. No one aspires to become a commercial sex worker. People in the profession are either desperate, destitute, addicted to illicit drugs or were abused as children.

It seems obvious to me, therefore, that all commercial sex workers are victims of something. And, the truly sad part is that, in order to survive, they have to subjugate themselves as mere playthings by which someone satisfies his or her base sexual desires. And so, the victimisation never ends.

Instead of trying to reform the system, advocates of legitimised prostitution could, perhaps, consider reforming the commercial sex workers by agitating for the provision of funds to educate and equip those unfortunate souls in such a way that they can fend for themselves in a viable and dignified manner.

Dr Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice; email –


Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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