• Bishop Hollis calls for 'realistic' approach • He does not condone prostitution in any way
BY ED WEST
THE BISHOP of Portsmouth has issued a controversial appeal for the legalisation of brothels.
Bishop Crispian Hollis said that he supported the introduction of licensed brothels, an idea initially put forward by the Hampshire Women's Institute.
"If you are going to take a pragmatic view and say prostitution happens, I think there is a need to make sure it's as well regulated as possible for the health of people involved and for the safety of the ladies themselves," the bishop said.
The British sex industry has grown enormously since the fall of Communism and the admission of 10 eastern European nations to the EU.
In Britain the number of brothels has vastly increased, expanding from big cities and ports into rural areas like Cambridgeshire, which now has up to 100. And while trafficked women from eastern Europe and Asia work in the brothels, rising levels of heroin and crack cocaine addiction have increased the trade on the streets.
Bishop Hollis told the Portsmouth News that his view was pragmatic. He said: "That's not to say I approve of prostitution in any way. I would be very much happier
if there was no prostitution in Portsmouth. But it's going to be there whatever we do and it has been from time immemorial. So I think that is something we have to be realistic about."
However, the bishop's comments have drawn criticism from some Catholics.
Former Tory frontbencher Ann Widdecombe said: "He is not being realistic. Ninetyfive per cent of all street prostitutes are addicted to Class A drugs. That trade will go on as far as people are addicted. That is the first thing.
"The second thing is, do you want a brothel next door to you? If you don't want your daughter to be a prostitute, don't ask anyone else's daughter to be one. Do you really think the women being trafficked will be regulated and pay National Insurance?"
A spokeswoman for the National Board of Catholic Women, an advisory group to the bishops' conference, said the group also opposed the idea. She reiterated the statement that its former president Dr Mary McHugh sent to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott earlier this year.
"We are not in favour of managed or tolerated areas where crime seems then to concentrate and becomes accepted and not challenged," said Dr McHugh. "We want the men to be challenged and prosecuted, including the users who knowingly buy sex from foreign, underage and possibly trafficked women.
"We would consider the licensing of brothels to be no guarantee that organised criminal trafficking syndicates would not be running them, hiding behind an aura of legality. Mandatory health checks for sex workers would probably be counterproductive, creating a two-tier system where the most vulnerable, the street sex workers, would not be included anyway.
"Murdered women would probably not have been protected by any of these initiatives. Society should be concentrating on helping to prevent young women from entering prostitution through education, removal of poverty and drug rehabilitation, prosecuting and removing the male demand, and providing resources to enable women to exit and regain dignity in their lives.
"Legalising it sends out wrong messages that it is an acceptable way of earning a living. Prostitution remains largely the exploitation of women by men."
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