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Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle Back In NZ

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle Back In NZ

Greetings again from New Zealand. It is, in many ways, good to be home. I am already missing the undergraduate life and my little study/bedroom at Wolfson, but it's comforting to know that having been a Press Fellow at Cambridge University I can go back whenever I like to further my studies. And methinks I might do just that, when I've accomplished enough in Parliament.

I was pleased to return to a country, which in one small way is a little freer than when I left, in that it is no longer a criminal offence for adults to offer sex for money. I know I was one MP who mused aloud, in my columns, about which way I would vote on this legislation, thus making myself a prime target for the lobbyists. After playing tennis in my head for weeks, I voted for the Bill all the way through and it was not simply, for someone like me who considers herself a classical liberal, an issue of freedom. Sure, that played a major part - in that no matter what I might personally think about selling sex as a commodity, I have no right to force my values on to other adults who are not harming anyone else - only themselves.

There's an old cliché that travel broadens the mind and on my travels I saw a few things, going beyond the freedom issue, that confirmed to me that I had voted the right way.

Not that I don't respect the way other MPs voted - I do - and my colleague, Stephen Franks, put up some very good legal arguments against passing what is, in truth, badly written legislation. However, a conscience vote means one must be able to justify it to one's conscience, in order to remain accountable to one's public - be that lobbyists, party members, family or foe. And my conscience told me that prostitutes, too, are people. They are not hurting anyone else. Their behaviour, in the eyes of some people, may be a sin, but that shouldn't make it a crime.

First there was the hoohah in Britain over football superstar David Beckham's talk of playing for Spain, or France or wherever the most money will be offered. His manager is understandably coy about negotiations but only a fool would not realise he stands to make megabucks out of 'selling' Becks for the highest price. And isn't this precisely what has gone on in New Zealand with sporting figures? So where are the voices of outrage who emailed and wrote me asking me to desist from supporting the repeal of soliciting law that, they believed, legalised a form of slavery by allowing brothel owners and pimps to make money from the selling of their employees?

Strangely quiet. They argued that such trading is degrading to women, ignoring the fact that about one third of prostitutes are male. Of course they are entitled to their strong opinions, obviously genuinely held, but I wish they would be consistent and argue just as loudly that selling Christian Cullen to an Irish rugby team, or other sporting stars to anyone, is degrading to men.

Lobbyists also argued that decriminalising soliciting of sex is anti-family; that women who sell sex are causing men to cheat on their wives and betray their families. As one who believes strongly in personal responsibility I have no truck with this argument - men must be accountable for their own behaviour and not blame hookers when their wives kick them out.

But consider how many wives and kids are abandoned hours - days - in the name of sport. If those voices were consistent they would argue that the All Blacks cause men to frequent places of suppressed violence, consume copious amounts of alcohol, shout incoherently, then either stagger off to celebrate/commiserate until blind drunk. Decidedly anti-family.

Then in Paris on the way home I was reminded about the importance of prostitutes in history. I was visiting the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre with my daughter, being educated by her on some of the magnificent paintings in these collections. Two of her favourite painters, Toulouse Lautrec and Edouard Manet, used prostitutes as sitters. Not just any prostitute, but beautiful, spirited and courageous women, personally known to them, who are now immortalised and gazed upon by millions of art lovers as they sit on the grass, naked, eating lunch; or recline dans sa chambre avec mademoiselle noire. Lautrec's Jane Avril forever kicks her perfect legs into the lustrous yellows, blacks and red hues with fans like Oscar Wilde, back to artist, enjoying the frivolity of the times.

Should these masterpieces be condemned because they glorify a profession that some people think should remain a crime? Should they be censored because, in the words of some lobbyists, legalising prostitution 'normalises' it as a career choice for young girls?

Finally, on my way home, I stopped for three days in Bangkok to catch up with a relative there. I was stunned to discover that prostitution is illegal in Thailand, despite Bangkok being the choice destination for sex tourists. I visited several bars, where women and 'lady-boys' dance bizarrely in their white thongs. It reminded me of a teenage sleepover party, where girls stumble around half-dressed, searching for their clothes. Impossible to take offence. I talked to a few, who have no regrets but also, as criminals, have no rights. I stared hard at the men - aging, fat, ugly - basking in the attention and spending copiously on alcohol, and I wondered just who exploited whom. I have no doubt many of these very conservative looking businessmen would vote against a law decriminalising prostitution in their own countries.

Other girls, especially those who choose, in a low-wage country, to work in the exclusive Japanese clubs, have huge regrets. They might earn more money, but they are paid not for sex, but to submit to sado-masochistic beatings. There is nothing they can do about this. Because they are criminals themselves, they have no rights. A complaint to the police goes nowhere.

To me, laws that make adults criminals for selling sex are tantamount to sexual abuse by the state. That's what we had in New Zealand and I'm pleased those days are gone, along with the days when it was criminal for men to have sex with other men.

Prostitutes are not evil, like murderers, rapists, paedophiles, and robbers - those who use force to take from others their life, property, happiness and freedom. As I said, prostitutes are human beings - something Jesus Christ himself reminded critics, an irony that may escape those church lobbyists who, in his name, put up an expensive and powerful fight against the Bill. We can pity prostitutes, help them, ignore them, or rhetorically spit on them but at least now in New Zealand we can no longer prosecute them. That, to me, is something worth returning to.

Now, if I can just get the social liberals to support economic liberalism, I can go back to Cambridge.

Yours in Liberty, Deborah Coddington

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