Concerned Women for America (CWA) had an historic opportunity recently to debate the proposition, “This House would decriminalize prostitution” at the world-renowned Oxford Union Debates. The “pro” team consisted of a student speaker, two representatives of prostitute unions (in England and New Zealand) and a local leader of a British feminist organization. The “con” team included a police officer in Ipswich, where five prostitutes were murdered, a Member of Parliament, a representative from an anti-trafficking foundation and me — a representative of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization. In other words, the pro team, other than the student speaker, consisted of pro-prostitution activists, and the audience was definitely on their side. In contrast, the con side had four people who know the “issue” of prostitution from the policy, research, data and enforcement levels.
Held in the historic debating chamber of the Oxford Union, the nearly 200-year-old tradition of black-tie debates on timely issues is filled with pomp and circumstance. The pre-debate reception is always held in the Gladstone Room, where the former Prime Minister’s famous U-shaped cabinet table holds a place of honor. An elegantly served pre-debate dinner and official photographs in the library precede the formal procession of the opposing debating teams into the debate chamber. Following the debate, participants gathered in the Union president’s office to hear the voting results; the pro team won 127-90, with the con team garnering a surprising 40 percent of the vote of the overwhelmingly pro-legalization student audience.