Legalising Prostitution: Debate, communication model and evaluation
Section 1: Group Discussion
This section contains what was discussed during group discussion session. The general area of prejudice chosen for discussion was prostitution. Dubbed the oldest profession, there was unanimous observation among group members that prostitution is still loathed in the society, and commercial sex workers, mostly women, are still treated with contempt within our society. The common notion about prostitution is that whilst men are often ‘buyers’ of sex service from prostituting women, the latter are victims of exploitation. The term exploitation is used because women who engage in prostitution are seen to be compelled to engage in commercial sexual activities against their will. Whilst the common fact is that women who engage in prostitution see it as a source of income, and participate in it with their full consent without coercion, we observed that it is quite difficult to convince a person whose belief is entrenched in the moral dimension of commercial sex work that it is a normal activity. The prejudice against women is also entrenched by the belief that women who engage in this trade are of lesser social standing, even though this is always not the case.
The other common belief is that while women prostitutes are looked down upon, men do not suffer any form of prejudice. In other words, men are often seen as the exploiters of sex workers, and hence do not enjoy any fair share of prejudice. On the other hand, both men and women engaging in prostitution are seen as morally repugnant, hence the common prejudice that come with it.
The debate to legalise prostitution or not has been in the public domain for quite some time now. But it is the increased attention that it has received in the recent past that has invoked a lot of passionate debate in many legal jurisdictions as regards whether to legalise it or not. We may be all aware that one of the reasons why same-sex marriage has gained much currency today is because it is no longer viewed as socially unacceptable to the extent that it is not legal to hold gay couples in contempt in many countries. In recent past, it was not difficult to meet some strong views against marijuana user; with some even believing that the latter were losers who should be kept at the periphery of the society. However, criticism over marijuana use has waned in the recent past because of the recent revelation that it could be used to treat cancer. In addition, marijuana has also been used for pain relief for some time. This recent development has meant opposition to campaigns to keep marijuana illegal is at an all-time low.
However, the same cannot be said about prostitution. The stigma associated with the sex trade remains strong, with women and men engaging in it seen as socially ambiguous individuals without moral standing in society. This kind of idea can promote dangerous conducts towards prostitutes. The fact that prostitutes are not regarded highly puts them at more risks to abuse including rape and murder. In addition, prostitutes are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases, further endangering their lives.
Decriminalising prostitution will not only protect women but will also improve their safety and their rights, because however much it is made illegal, the oldest profession is not likely to go away anytime.
Section 2: Commentary and Rationale
This section will cover commentary on the topic and discuss it based on the chosen model of communication, the heuristic-systematic model.
The debate on whether to legalise prostitution or not has intensified in the recent past, with voices advocating for the latter increasing in number every day. It’s no doubt that the stigma associated with prostitution is real, and remains strong amidst the growing knowledge that it will not stop any time soon. This is despite the rising evidence that decriminalising the trade has some significant health benefits. Research by two economists, Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah (cited in Albarracin, et al., 2005, p. 78), looked at the situation in Rhodes Island when prostitution was accidentally decriminalised and found that cases of gonorrhoea had drastically reduced, as rape incidences. . Shannon et al. (2004, cited in Griffin, 2006, p.139) also confirmed this result when they conducted a study in Vancouver, British Colombia, and found out that decriminalising of prostitution can significantly reduce HIV prevalence by minimising its spread.
Despite all the evidence showing the benefits of legalising prostitution, the benefits have not attracted the attention of the legislators. . In addition, many have argued that idea of legalising prostitution is unattractive to voters and therefore to politicians. There is need to focus on presenting arguments that provide options to the intended audience on the need to legalise abortion, and that is where the model for persuasive communication will be necessary in the subsequent section of this paper.
The Heuristic-Systematic Model of Social Information Processing
The concept of persuasion is an important aspect to not only convincing the people to accept an idea but also to drive changes of mind towards the accomplishment of the idea. The Heuristic-Systematic Model (Chaiken & Trope, 1999) recognises that people either use heuristics and short-cuts to decide on important issues, or use a systematic mechanism that processes the merits and demerits of an argument. The Heuristic approach suggests that the decision-maker asks questions such as of ‘how do I feel about this issue?’ despite the recognition that such questions can cause problems of understanding and choice, particularly when the person facing the decision dilemma mixes up the cause and the effect of their emotions. In other words, the Heuristic-Systematic Model recognises that in any argument there are a number of variables that are conceptually independent of the message quality and which are likely to influence people to act or agree with the proposed idea. Dillard & Pfau (2002) state that that these variables are able to qualitatively differentiate information processing, and give people more room to negotiate with their thinking process.
It is important to recognise that people rarely process information in perfect conditions, because there are often environmental and cognitive constraints that tend to either limit the broadness of reasoning or curtail information processing. In this line of thought, people tend to process information economically; investing only in cognitive efforts when they feel motivated enough with a number of cognitive resources. In the prostitution decriminalisation debate, this can be said to affect that the way people reason, that is, arguments are likely to be based on strong environmental and cognitive influences entrenched by history, personal interest or fear, religious and cultural convictions. For instance, some arguments have emerged that prostitution should remain illegal because legalising it will mean women of loose morals will increasingly tempt men of good morals to increasingly betray their families. This kind of argument tends to make out that women who engage in prostitution are the villains. The other belief is that women who engage in prostitution should be protected from being hurt against: sexually transmitted diseases, unruly pimps, and exploitation. The other argument would only be based on religion and historical cultural practices that prohibits prostitution as a trade. The three lines of arguments are motivated by different lines of thought, which can fall in either heuristic or systematic message processing mechanism.
Ironically, the arguments against prostitution which include the view that women of loose morals prey upon upstanding men of good morals and lead them to betray their families has been accepted in some countries such as Sweden, which in 1999, criminalised the buying of sex but allowed individuals to continue selling it (Dillard & Pfau, 2002). Many proponents of this legislation argued that violence against prostituting in women is inherent, and that the best way was to reduce prostitution prevalence by limiting activities of the potential buyers. On the other hand, the State of Nevada, United States legalised prostitution to protect women from exploitation and abuse (Taleb, 2012).
The Heuristic- Systematic model posits that people generally process persuasive information systematically only when they are fully motivated. When one is in a systematic mode, they tend to take into consideration all relevant pieces of information, elaborately analyse the information, and make a judgment based on the elaborated issues. However, whenever people are not adequately motivated or do not possess sufficient cognitive resources, they often resort to processing of information heuristically or superficially. People in a heuristic mode of thinking consider only a few or a single informational cue and come up a judgment based on the cues.
Whilst decriminalising or legalising prostitution has attracted massive debate, its inability to pass the legislative hurdle or even attract attention of the political class has been overbearing for its proponents. In other words, legalising of sex trade has not been high amongst the priorities of many legislative agendas for many countries, including United Kingdom and United States (Taleb, 2012).
The reason why the Heuristic- Systematic model can work towards pushing for the legalisation of prostitution is because of its dualism nature, which allows the message to reach different classes of people. The goal here is to get support for legislation that would see prostitution decriminalised, and protect the parties involved. . Expert advice backed by research findings are powerful tool to convince legislators, who may not take their time to scrutinise the quality of persuasive arguments, and mostly prefer quick fixes in making decisions. Packaging a message heuristically can allow the legislators to pick the cue, and avoid the difficult process of differentiating a strong and a weak message (Griffin, 2006).
Reimer, et al (2004, p.81) observe that “people who expect to discuss a persuasion message later are more affected by the number of persuasive arguments but are never affected by the attractiveness of the communicator.” It is presumed that the importance of the message easily induce systematic processing of the message. By contrast, people who do not expect to discuss the message are often affected by how attractive the communicator is, and not affected by the number of persuasive arguments (Reimer, et al, 2004).
Studies have proven that motivational variables affect the mode in which people process persuasive arguments. These variables include personal relevance of the message, importance of the task, attitude accountability and exposure to a person’s attitude (Chaiken & Trope, 1999). On the other hand, there are cognitive resource variables that affect the mode of message processing, which includes distraction, repetition of the message, creating time pressure, and modality of communication, knowledge and expertise (Griffin, 2006). Although it is important to recognise these modes of communicating the message in terms of communicating the value of legalising prostitution, it should not appear as though there is any form of dissociation of the variables at the early stage of the group means (Griffin, 2006). Similarly, heuristically communicating the message should be able to have direct effects on the attitudes of the target group. In this aspect, when the people agree in a consensus that prostitution should be legalised, then it can be considered correct and valid for acceptance. An important factor which should be covered by any dual-process model is how the two processes interact or work together. Although one may argue that the two processes, heuristic and systematic are mutually exclusive or are competing concepts, in this case of legalising prostitution they should work together. The Heuristic-Systematic model posits that the two processes, heuristic and systematic, are indeed working simultaneously. Evidence of how these two processes can work is when arguments pitting two judgmental implications of both of them. For instance, an expert source delivering a message consisting of weak arguments can present a scenario where both systematic and heuristic processing of messages is done under different levels of motivation. It is also important to note that the heuristic-systematic model attenuates that wherever the two processes opposes each other, the implications the comes from systematic processing can “easily attenuate the impact of heuristic given that people are sufficiently motivated.” For example, Griffin, (2006).found out those highly motivated participants who were presented with consensus cue information that is inconsistent with the attributes singularly based their judgments on their own cognitive prowess in relation to the product attributes. This concept is applicable in the case of prostitution legalisation debate, in the sense that legislators can use their own cues and decide on the legislative agendas that will legalise commercial sex work.
Section 3: Evaluation Proposal
Evaluating heuristic- systematic model effectiveness is an important part of this model’s success towards ensuring the message to legalise prostitution is effectively passed. Effective communications needs evaluation, which helps to identify the impact of the efforts made in passing the message to the target audience.
To effectively monitor the communication model, various tools shall be used in the process.
Public opinion evaluation:
Getting the opinions of the public as far as legalising prostitution is concerned is an important point to start from. Public opinion monitoring tool will be used to ask the public if they heard about the campaign to legalise prostitution from opinion leaders including legislators and non-governmental organisations. In addition, the questions will be directed to ask the public whether they agree with the manner in which legislators in support of the prostitution presented their messages or agreed with them in the context and reasons given by the leaders. For example, questions such as: Whose arguments made sense in the call to legalise prostitutionAnd whyThe questionnaire trackers will be recorded in terms of age, gender, work status, tenacity. The methodology to be used will remain consistent over time to allow for the tracking of metrics over time for comparison purposes.
Evaluating the media response on how effective the proposed model will work, the formal process for evaluating the impact of the campaign in the media is to analyse whether it can be replicated and made part of regular campaign mechanism.
Media Coverage Before Campaign (airtime/space) Coverage After Campaign (airtime/ space) % Increase in Coverage
BBC National News
ITV National News
The table above will provide a guideline on how the media coverage has increased/ or decreased due to the campaign. This will be able to help bring depth to the understanding of our campaign, and if the media (both mainstream and tabloids) respond to increased debate. By monitoring how the media has changed the amount of airtime/ or newspaper coverage space in covering the legislative debates, it is possible to analyse the outcome of the campaign in ensuring the legislators continually discuss the possibility of decriminalising or legalising prostitution.
The media monitoring will be conducted by assistants on everyday basis, and compiled in a weekly report for tracking if there is any change in trends. Each article or piece of broadcast coverage will be allocated points based on the following criteria:
Positivity/negativity of the message (in favour of legalising prostitution): analysing the articles, opinions, newspaper columns and news coverage.
Positivity/ negativity of the headlines: positive mentions of the campaign groups, legislators; and
Neutrality of opinions reported
Finally, a range of stories will be typically evaluated and compiled on a daily basis, and tabulated on a weekly basis. Classification of stories will ensure the campaign program can be understood in the manner in which the media responds to the legislative debates, which is likely to translate into public debate as well.
Albarracin, D., Johnson, B. T., & Zanna, M. P. (2005). The handbook of attitudes.
Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers
Chaiken, S., & Trope, Y. (1999). Dual-process theories in social psychology. New York: Guilford Press.
Dillard, J.P. & Pfau, M. (2002). The persuasion Handbook: Developments in Theory and Practice. NY: Sage Publications.
Griffin, E. A. (2006). A first look at communication theory (6th ed.). Boston, MA; McGraw Hill.
Reimer, T., Mata, R & Stoecklin, M. (2004). The use of Heuristics in Persuasion: Deriving Cues on Source Expertise from Argument Quality. In Current Research in Social Psychology, 10(6), 69-83.
Taleb, N. (2012). Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. New York: Random House.