Prostitution is one of the oldest professions in America. While many individuals scoff at sex workers due to a moral objection, trading sex for payment is not a new idea.
Recently, a Washington D.C. Councilmember proposed a bill that would decriminalize prostitution in the nation’s capital; however like many other victimless crimes, prostitution remains illegal in America, with the exception of a few counties in Nevada.
Prostitution is a victimless crime in the sense that no one is necessarily harmed in the act when there are consenting adults involved.
Prostitution is nothing more than getting paid for a service. In this case, the government sits on its high horse and tells consenting adults they are not to participate in a business exchange despite it not causing harm.
What are the local governments against, sex or the free market?
As Cornell law professor Sherry Colb has written, "Prostitution should not be a crime. Prostitutes are not committing an inherently harmful act. While the spread of disease and other detriments are possible in the practice of prostitution, criminalization is a sure way of exacerbating rather than addressing such effects.”
The risk of disease spread is a major concern for those who object to the legalization of prostitution. Illegal prostitutes have a stereotype of servicing less than desirable men at seedy brothels. However, states that legalize prostitution can require sex workers to use condoms and get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
A study by the Urban Justice Center found that New York City cops used condoms found on women as evidence in criminal prostitution cases against them.
The fear of being criminally punished can cause sex workers to avoid carrying and using condoms as well as taking other precautions to their health.
The decriminalization of sex work would potentially decrease sexual violence and rape crimes.
After a recent proposal to decriminalize prostitution in Washington D.C., the Anti Violence Project told The Washington Blade, “When sex work is criminalized, sex workers experience high rates of violence, both from customers and from law enforcement.” It reasoned that sex workers are less likely to report instances of violence against them, because they are participating in criminal acts and fear punishment.
Melissa Ditmore, coordinator of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, reminded the Washington Post, “Gary Ridgway said that he killed prostitutes because he knew he would not be held accountable. The tragedy is that he was right - he confessed to the murders of 48 women, committed over nearly twenty years. That is truly criminal."
Legalizing prostitution could decrease sexual violence, such as rape. Kirby R. Cundiff, PhD, Associate Professor of Finance at Northeastern State University, wrote the Apr. 8, 2004 paper entitled "Prostitution and Sex Crimes," for the Independent Institute, that stated: "It is estimated that if prostitution were legalized in the United States, the rape rate would decrease by roughly 25% for a decrease of approximately 25,000 rapes per year."
Maybe if men like Brock Turner, could hire a prostitute without fear of criminal charges, less woman would have to endure the traumatic experience of being sexually assaulted.
Many people are against the legalization of sex work and argue that the legalization would lead to more incidents of human sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation. However, Ntokozo Yingwana, Advocacy Officer with the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) in South Africa, countered that argument by saying, "Decriminalization will bring in stronger laws to protect individuals against coerced sex work, human trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors. The key benefit of decriminalization is a vast improvement in the relationship between police and sex workers, to the point that sex workers become key information sources in attempts to uncover human trafficking. Currently, sex workers are afraid to do so, because they risk arrest."
Banning things didn’t work in the 1920’s during prohibition and it does not work now.
There will always be lonely or kinky men in America who will pay for sex and there will always be women willing to rent out their bodies. As the anthropologist Patty Kelly has written in the Los Angeles Times, prostitution has become a "part of our culture" in the United States.
As a nation we legalize and regulate many other morally controversial products and services – like gambling, alcohol, tobacco, strip clubs and pornography, why not prostitution?