So we now have two very different types of prostitutes - those who are being controlled by others, and those who do it entirely voluntarily. I suppose it has always been so, but the proportions have changed dramatically in recent years.
The government is trying to address the problem by introducing a law which says that men to knowingly pay for sex with a trafficked girl will be charged with rape. In addition, men who have sex with a woman controlled by a pimp would be fined £1,000. I think they are probably doing all this for the right reasons but it seems to me that a law which relies on the word "knowingly" may be difficult to enforce.
I spoke to a female Labour MP yesterday who has always argued for the legalisation of prostitution as she thinks it would effectively make the trafficking of girls redundant. She's supporting this new legislation because it will help the situation even if it doesn't eliminate the trade in women, especially from Eastern Europe.
But I do think it is time we tried to have an adult debate about the legalisation of prostitution. It has always seemed ironic to me that the very women who shout loudest on the abortion issue that it is a woman's right to do with her body what she likes, are the very same women who would prevent her from selling her body for sex if that is what she chooses. They would ban prostitution altogether. If it were actually possible, they might have a point. Prostitution has existed since time immemorial. It will always exist, no matter what legal impediments are put in its way.
So is it not time to recognise that fact and say: well, OK, if it is going to happen, let's make it as safe as possible for both the women and men involved? And let's remember there is a growing trade in male prostitution too, and I am not just talking about gay prostitution. The number of women who buy sexual services from men has rocketed in the last ten years.
In Germany they have what are called Haesschen Bars (Bunny Bars). They are often found in the middle of the countryside. As I understand it, they are licensed by the Local Bundesland, are very far from being seedy and the women who work there do so entirely voluntarily. But they work in a secure, clean and healthy environment and there is very little trouble. The women submit themselves to regular health checks and their customers are closely monitored. That doesn't mean that other forms of prostitution don't take place in Germany; they clearly do. But the Germans have a far less puritanical approach to the sex industry than we do in this country and are none the worse for it.
It's easier to buy or sell sex than ever before - at least in part because of the internet. We need to recognise that the world has changed and adapt our approach to the sex industry accordingly. Many who are reading this will quite understandably be repelled at the very thought of it. It's not the kind of issue discussed in polite society, they will say. I totally understand that. But if we don't, the issue will become more of a problem.
So let's try to have a proper debate on this, without getting hung up on ideologies, religious convictions or political dogma. It's such a shame that politicians of all parties shy away from the debate for fear of being ridiculed and shamed by their opponents.
I'm going to kick the debate off by saying that I would like to become much better informed on this issue. But I will also be clear that my personal position is that - unless I can be convinced to the contrary - I could well vote to legalise prostitution. And I recognise that even by writing that sentence, I may well have reduced my chances of ever being given the opportunity to do so!
*Note: I would be grateful if we could keep the debate on this subject to the issue of prostitution and not be diverted onto the legalisation of drugs.
UPDATE: I have created a poll on this subject - do you think prostitution should be legalised?