World News

Taking the nuisance out of prostitution

Carol Kennedy March 19 1979
World News

Taking the nuisance out of prostitution

Carol Kennedy March 19 1979

Taking the nuisance out of prostitution

Oscar Wilde would have relished the irony of it. On the poet-dramatist’s conviction for homosexual offences in 1895, London prostitutes danced in the street outside the court at the Old Bailey. Last week, in Westminster, a "protection of prostitutes” bill, designed to abolish prison sentences for soliciting and in other ways to ease the lot of the oldest profession, was brought for its first reading by none other than Maureen Colquhoun, Labor MP for Northampton North and a self-proclaimed "gay."

Ms. Colquhoun, who caused uproar in her local Labor party organization in 1976 when she left her husband and three children to set up home with another woman, faced almost equal uproar in the Commons from at least one voluble adversary as she sought to support her case. "Many psychiatrists accept that prostitutes are the oldest therapists in the world,” she declared. The present laws were unjust, she insisted, because a woman once convicted of an offence was thereafter stigmatized by the term "common prostitute.” Many people might rank as street nuisances—-persistent salesmen, drunks or religious zealots. It was only the "peculiar sexual hypocrisy of the British” that would single out prostitution or soliciting as an offence.

Her speech brought an outburst from the right-wing Ulster MP and fundamentalist preacher, Ian Paisley, who declared that the bill would undermine laws "at the very heart of the fabric” of our society. "I want

to stand for the protection of all womenfolk," he thundered. But laughter erupted when he vowed that the bill would be a “green light” for many.

London’s reputation for street sin was laundered—at least on the surface—in 1959 when it was made illegal to solicit publicly. The Soho district, whose lampposts and doorways once harbored a variety of talent, Mayfair’s picturesque Shepherd Market and the broad roads flanking Hyde Park were denuded almost overnight.

Instead, cards began appearing in newsagents’ windows and were discreetly pinned to front doors, offering such services as “French lessons: expert tuition.” Sometimes there would be cryptic variations like "strict discipline,” readily interpreted by those of more exotic tastes. Call-

girl networks multiplied and many an "escort agency” provided ancillary services. The 1963 Profumo scandal unveiled a sophisticated web of underground sexual services when call girl Christine Keeler was found to have shared her favors with Tory War Minister John Profumo and a Soviet embassy attaché.

These inflationary days,, some visiting Arab businessmen are reputed to offer $2,400 a night. But politicians on both sides of the Commons have been suffering sleeplessness for a different reason lately. Helen Buckingham, an outspoken campaigner for her fellow therapists, threatened to name some very high-placed names, in the church among other places, if the bill did not proceed.

Came the vote, in favor, however, and the threat was lifted. You could hear the release of pent-up breath clear from Soho to Park Lane. Carol Kennedy