Sex and the selling of it

Germaine Greer says it's better than stacking shelves at Tesco. Belle de Jour gives a rose-tinted view. But a government review suggests the reality is a life of drugs, violence and handing the money over to pimps

Billie Piper

Billie Piper as Belle de Jour - is this the reality of prostitution?

Last week during an Intelligence Squared debate on paying for sex, Germaine Greer announced that selling it was better than "selling a child, a kidney or your soul for long hours for wretched pay stacking shelves at Tesco".

The English Collective of Prostitutes is similarly telling anyone who'll listen that lap-dancing may be looked down upon but it's a darn sight more lucrative than the menial, low-paid jobs many dancers would otherwise be stuck with - so do-gooders trying to "rescue" women are doing them no favours.

Meanwhile, Happy hooker memoirs like that of Belle de Jour - now in its second season as a TV adaptation starring Billie Piper - peddle a rose-tinted view of a world where liberated women in control of their lives make a mint from indulging men's sexual peccadilloes.

Now the government is putting the finishing touches to a review of the sex industry that presents a very different picture of exploited, often drug-addicted women running severe risks in exchange for money, most of which ends up in the hands of dealers and pimps.

Research suggests up to half of prostitutes were in local authority care as children: two-thirds report experiencing "client violence". About 60 have been murdered in the last decade, according to Home Office figures. Hard to imagine Ms Piper starring in a cheery TV drama about that.

So who's right? Is clamping down on the sex industry helping or harming the women who work in it? Is it vulnerable women ministers really care about, or are they pandering to "respectable" people who dislike kerb crawling or the rise of lap-dancing clubs on their neighbourhoods? We're trying in the Observer this Sunday to unpick some of the complex morality of selling and buying sex.

Meanwhile for a bit of light relief, my colleague Toby Helm is in Washington this weekend with Gordon Brown to follow the critical summit on the economy.

George Osborne's warning today in the Times that Gordon Brown risks a run on the pound by borrowing to fund spending and/or tax cuts - and thereby sending a message that the British economy is in trouble - is starting to create a fine old rumpus. Convention has it that oppositions don't talk about a run on the pound in case the markets respond by, er, starting one.

Whether traders, who no longer seem to respond predictably to almighty interventions by the world banking system, can still be so influenced by a shadow chancellor may be debatable, but Osborne is going to have a nervous weekend waiting for the markets to open on Monday.

Expect Labour to raise serious questions about his judgment. Iain Dale defends him today but the argument's already starting on Conservativehome.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
Procurement Consultant
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