The trial of a ‘Pimp’ charged with procuring women for prostitution collapsed today after it emerged that one of the women he had ‘procured’ has a previous conviction for prostitution. The Crown agreed that a legally convicted prostitute could not be ‘procured’ by somebody else. Now, it strikes me that this legislation is saying that once a woman has been corrupted by selling her body, she is forever impure or tainted. And, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch of the imagination to see how such a position would lead to an argument that prostitutes can’t be raped or otherwise abused. What is the purpose of such legislation in our society? Do we really need laws to protect our ‘innocence’ when the basis of such legislation holds women to a very different moral standard and creates a distinction between the moral and impure women? It paints women as passive victims waiting to be used and exploited by men, not agents in their own destiny. It would not be that difficult to phrase legislation in such a manner that allows pimps to be prosecuted without reinforcing such a simplistic dichotomy that is ultimately harmful to the very women the law is trying to protect.
The law plays a central role in a society’s understanding of itself and how it conceives of gender roles has a knock on effect on how men and women are expected to behave and how gendered behaviour is understood. Legislation that portrays women as the passive, innocent victims and the law as her protector from the abuses of the active, morally complex man sits uncomfortably with feminist belief that women are fully human, morally complex beings with control over their own lives. Even as this law protects, it restricts and limits women’s role within society. We need new legislation for a modern society.