Ex-call girl tells MPs prostitution should be decriminalised

Prostitution should be fully decriminalised in the UK and on a par with other career choices, a former call girl has told MPs.

Dr Brooke Magnanti said doing away with penalties against sex workers would make it safer.

The author, who gained fame as Belle de Jour, chronicling her activities while working as a call girl, appeared before the Home Affairs Committee alongside writer and activist Paris Lees, who also previously worked as a prostitute.

The Committee launched an inquiry earlier this year into legislation around prostitution in the UK, including considerations on whether those who sell sex should continue to be more heavily penalised than those who pay for it.

Dr Magnanti joked that she would "wave my magic wand" to make prostitution a legitimate career choice.

Asked by MP Stuart McDonald: "What would you describe as being the end goal? Is it to see prostitution as on a par with other career choices, as legitimate as other career choices, or would you not go as far as that? And if you would go as far as that how would you make that happen?"

Dr Magnanti said: "I think that's a fair interpretation of what I said. First off decriminalisation, so getting rid of penalties against sex workers, the brothel-keeping penalties that penalise them for working together, even sharing a premises."

The forensic scientist and columnist, who was born in Florida but currently lives in the UK, said she saw her time as a call girl as a way to make money while at university.

She said: "I saw it as a stopgap really. In the way that students would choose to work behind a bar."

She said safety must be "the bottom line", and argued sex workers are more likely to contact police if they are in danger if there is no threat of them facing prosecution themselves.

Ms Lees, who is transgender and said she had experienced "family rejection" when she came out aged 18, said she did not see why trying to put a stop to sex work should even be considered.

She credited it as having helped her get to the "privileged" position she now holds.

She said: "The reason I am privileged now and not marginalised is because of sex work."

Ms Lees also argued that criminalising prostitution makes it more dangerous.

She said: "It is because it's been pushed underground, it's made seedy."

She also called on Labour to push for decriminalisation.

She said: "Labour, the party that's supposed to stand up for marginalised people and workers should actually be advocating for this and allowing sex workers to come together to work in collectives where they feel empowered and safe and not that they're going to be criminalised."

The party's leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said he is in favour of "decriminalising the sex industry" and called for a more "civilised" approach to the debate.

But former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said prostitution was "exploitation and abuse". 

Committee member Tim Loughton said hearing the evidence of both women had caused him to think decriminalisation and "having everything above board" by protecting sex workers and going after "the real criminals" who exploit prostitutes "is an increasingly attractive way that we might want to go".

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