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By Christopher Rezel —. Bringing prostitution within the bounds of legality will curb the spread of sexual diseases, including AIDS, and remove barriers that drive away social workers from providing these vulnerable men and women medical and counselling assistance. It will eliminate underground criminal elements that now operate brothels and derive the most financial benefit, besides stop exploitation of the desperate and helpless involved in the trade.
In our attitude towards these and other less fortunate individuals in society, we must be guided by the Buddhist ideal of compassion. Sri Lankan is a country of high literacy and the above observations would be self-evident. But there is a tendency in most of us to surrender our rights on ethical issues to the various religions that seek to monopolise them. Media reports of occasional brothel raids in poorer neighbourhoods may grab public interest but has done little to stop an industry that is resilient and widespread.
Police raids are scarce at the top end of town, on star-class hotels and other exclusive venues, where city-savvy prostitutes transact encounters. In this regard, it would be naive to promote tourism and think that single male and female visitors spend their dollars on merely experiencing beaches, landscapes and archaeological artefacts. The reality is that after dark they seek out physical excitement and fulfilment in bars, pubs and clubs, such as they would normally do at home.
Police harassment of sex workers must only put greater burdens on the lives of men and women forced into the trade, mostly because of a lack of alternative employment or a social security network. In many instances, desperation and the need to provide for children would drive divorced or widowed women to the easy option of sex work. That reasoning should go for the thousands of child-burdened war widows, especially in the north and east, who have suddenly become breadwinners without education or employable skills.
If their lives are to be turned around, those women must be provided with education and skills. Subjecting them to the trauma of abuse and humiliation through arrest, production before a judge, fining and then releasing, is never a solution. Police and judicial resources are better directed at major crime areas swamping Sri Lanka, such as homicides, armed robberies, illicit drugs and alcohol, gangs and associated illegal trades.