That the married MP Keith Vaz pays male prostitutes for sex is a “private matter”, according to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. That he engages in unsafe sex, uses legal drugs but encourages and facilitates and the acquisition of illegal drugs, is apparently of no consequence. That he chairs the influential Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which deals with national drugs policy and reviews laws on prostitution, is seemingly irrelevant. “It should be treated as a private matter,” Mr Corbyn said, quite incredibly.
But suspend your incredulity on that matter for a moment: give Mr Vaz his personal privacy and Mr Corbyn his frivolous sense of political morality. Please don’t fill the comment thread below with the rights and wrongs or ins and outs of gay sex. Really, please don’t. Instead please ask yourself why no one is apparently concerned with the welfare of the young Romanian men who engaged in sexual activity with Keith Vaz. Why is no one questioning whether they are trapped in the sex trade, forced to sell their bodies to sleazy old men in order to eat and drink or pay for the next line of coke? Really, who would want to have gay sex voluntarily with Keith Vaz?
So much is spoken and written about the women trapped in sexual slavery, exploited by pimps, beaten in darkened rooms, abused, betrayed and defiled day in, day out. There are inquiries, reports, protection schemes, hostels and rehab programmes to help these poor women. Certainly, some choose to be prostitutes, but many more are forced into a life of empty sex and a soulless existence. Society and media are concerned about such vulnerable women. But the boys and young men? If you’re from Romania, unskilled, jobless and alone, you may well find escape in aerosol fumes and a line of coke. Where do you go when you’re abandoned? Where do you sleep? How do you eat?
It may be that Keith Vaz’s male escorts really fancied a corpulent washing-machine salesman called Jim. It may be they they really do what they do because it’s exactly what they want to do. But it’s not very likely, is it? Come on, be honest. Even if their chosen profession were prostitution, Keith Vaz would hardly be their ideal look, would he? Even if there has been no illegality in this arrangement, is it not the case that the consensual selling of sex is not always ethically consensual?
Young men in their teens and early 20s have to cope with an awful lot. All their hopes of money and dreams of home and family get kicked by reality. Many kill themselves, but we don’t really talk about that. Some do drugs; others just cry themselves to sleep, if they can get there. A few might roam the streets and hang around dark parks waiting to earn a bit of money, but don’t assume they’re not terrified and filled with self-loathing.
Perhaps Keith Vaz’s male escorts hated every second of their encounter with him. We don’t know, because no-one is asking. Perhaps they’d lie, anyway. We don’t know, because no-one is asking. But young men over the age of consent can be as vulnerable as young boys: the sexual exploitation of children doesn’t stop the day they reach 16. Rent boys are called boys whatever age they are, and you don’t see many Keith Vaz’s age, do you? He’s a bit past his sell-by date, as his rent boys soon will be.
You can’t call it child abuse: there is no allegation that Keith Vaz is a paedophile (or, more properly, pederast). But the sexual exploitation of young men is every bit as serious as it is for young women. It only takes young men in their 20s to meet clients who want young men in their teens for the seriousness to grow. “I’ve got a mate,” they say. “He’ll do it, no problem, if the money’s right.” And so they get younger behind closed doors. And then younger.
What if Keith Vaz’s male escorts actually started their ‘careers’ at the age of 12 or 13, when they were passed from pillar (or pillow) to post in a paedophile ring? What if they got addicted to crack cocaine, and trapped in a cycle of having to raise money to pay off suppliers or fend off thugs. Who are their families and friends? Where are their mothers? Do their parents know their sons are being abused and having illegal drugs bought for them by a predatory powerful politician?
It’s sometimes hard to see hot young men as victims: no doubt Keith Vaz will insist his rent boys were ‘up for it’. So this is a question of personal morality, free choice and autonomy. But think for a moment, and remember back to your late teens and early 20s. You thought you were a man, and you were certainly that outwardly. But you felt the loneliest and most vulnerable boy inwardly as you struggled to find yourself and forge an identity. You did some silly things, and some damned stupid things. They might even have been sexual things, secret violations, taboo. Perhaps not for commercial gain: that would have been too far for you, or quite unnecessary. But not every young boy has your sense of probity or strength of character.
Many young men who advertise as escorts or admit to being sex workers are wounded souls, often from abusive institutions or loveless homes. Some of them aren’t actually homosexual-orientated at all: it’s just what they know from what they’ve tried out. Sexual abuse breeds sexual abuse, which suppresses the revulsion and represses shame. You may shout that Keith Vaz has every right to pay young men for consensual gay sex and that this is just the ‘homophobic’ rant of a bigoted Christian ‘hater’. You may cry that this was a Daily Mirror ‘sting’, so the corruption, abuse and guilt are theirs.
But how many young men has Keith Vaz used and abused (for unprotected sex is, indeed, abuse) about whom we know nothing? Were they slaves to circumstance or victims of injustice? Were they passive malakoi or instigators of porneia? How many have since killed themselves? How can it be wrong to probe, to ask a question, to raise a doubt about Keith Vaz’s morality in this regard? How is it bigoted or homophobic to ask, quite simply, whether these rent boys were vulnerable crack addicts, at risk of exploitation? How is it wrong to wonder whether their choice was free or informed? Why is it a “private matter” if a powerful and influential politician seduces young men and shatters young lives just to feed his corrupt ego and satisfy his lust?