It’s been called the “world’s oldest profession” – prostitution. As far back as society has records, we’ve had people who were willing to exchange sex for money. It was even a legal and accepted part of certain religious ceremonies several thousand years ago.
Of course our modern society tends to frown on prostitution for a variety of reasons. But are those reasons good? Or should we legalize it?
There are numerous arguments opposing legalization of prostitution. Let’s look at a few common ones and the reasons those arguments don’t hold water.
“It’s immoral.” Even if we assume that it’s immoral by modern ethical codes (which isn’t necessarily true, because not everybody has the same ethical codes), it’s important to distinguish that law and morality are separate things. Slavery used to be legal, but it definitely wasn’t moral. Some people argue that drinking alcohol is immoral, but it’s still legal. And when we tried to make it illegal it caused even more problems – just watch any movie or read any book about Prohibition. The law is full of examples where “legal” and “moral” don’t line up.
“It causes public health problems.” People having sex with a large number of other people definitely has the potential to increase the spread of disease. And if this were the only time that were happening, there might be a point to this. But that would, at best, be a good argument for making the sex act itself illegal – which we haven’t done. It’s still legal to have sex with dozens of people, as long as everybody is the proper age and has the legal capacity to make their own decisions. And the fact that it’s illegal makes it more likely that women can’t take safety precautions that would reduce the health risks, which leads us to….
“It leads to women being exploited.” In our current legal climate, this is true in many cases – but how much of that is because of the inherent nature of prostitution, and how much of that is because prostitutes can’t avail themselves of the basic protections offered to other members of society? If somebody beats up a prostitute they’ve paid for the evening, or if somebody forces the prostitute to have sex without protection, the prostitute essentially has to confess to a crime in order to even report them. Everybody involved knows this, and it makes an already risky environment even riskier.
So what are the benefits of legalizing prostitution?
Let’s start with the fact that we’ve already partially legalized it. If you pay a woman for sex, it’s a crime. If you pay a woman for sex, film it, and sell the film, that’s a perfectly legal business. Do you see the disconnect here?
This is ultimately a question of freedom, not morality. And since we’ve effectively made the moral decision, we’re only left with the practical effects.
It would take a weapon out of the hands of traffickers. The illegality of prostitution gives the people who exploit and traffic women for sex yet another way to coerce them into silence, since the woman is – by definition – a criminal.
It might actually decrease other kinds of crime. If prostitution weren’t illegal, prostitutes would be able to report crime just like everyday citizens. There are parts of some cities where the prostitutes would potentially be an invaluable asset for reporting gang activity and other crimes.
It would likely increase government revenue. Even in states where prostitution is legal in limited areas, like Nevada, money spent on illegal prostitution is estimated to be 66 times the amount spent in the legal brothels. Making it legal would remove the costs of arresting, processing, and incarcerating women accused of prostitution. And if we follow the example of marijuana legalization the taxes from it could provide an additional revenue source for local governments.
It would likely increase the safety for women. Putting the prostitutes on the same legal footing as their clients would allow better access to legal protections. Treatment of prostitutes would likely improve across the board, and the ability to freely associate and share best practices for safety would be a net benefit to women in the industry.
It would increase the safety for clients. Paying for a prostitute is a financial transaction just like any other, and carries all the usual risks. As strange as it might sound in this case, the ability to research, get testimonials, and share experiences regarding a particular person or organization would almost certainly boost the safety for clients.
What do you think? If you agree that the upsides outweigh the downsides and agree that we should legalize prostitution don’t hesitate to let your electred representatives know. A couple of decades ago we never thought marijuana could ever be legalized anywhere in the United States, and that’s starting to happen. Your voice counts – make it heard!