Should Prostitution Be Legal?
It's known as the "world’s oldest profession," but prostitution typically isn't viewed as an honest day's (or night's) work – at least not in the United States. Save for about 19 above-board brothels in Nevada, prostitution is illegal here – both for buyers and sellers, though perhaps disproportionately and with fading zealous. You see, arrests for "Prostitution/criminalized vice" declined by more than 35% from 2004 to 2012, when 56,575 such arrests were made, according to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. And more than two-thirds of 2012 arrestees were women.
So it’s fair to wonder what prostitution laws are actually accomplishing. And you might be surprised by the rationale posited by some of the most vociferous proponents of decriminalization. Earlier this year, the New York Times Magazine made waves with a cover story examining that question from a unique perspective: that of a feminist. The notion that selling sex should be decriminalized "hinges on an ideological conviction — the belief that the criminal law should not be used here as an instrument of punishment or shame, because sex work isn’t inherently immoral or demeaning," the piece states. "It can even be authentically feminist."
That is one reason why global efforts to decriminalize prostitution have in many ways gained steam in recent years, as is the turmoil endured by the world economy and the corresponding temptation to tax big black-market businesses. Prostitution already represents a $55 billion industry in the United States, according to estimates, which means it generates more annual revenue than credit unions, casino hotels and sporting goods stores, respectively, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The right solution nevertheless remains unclear, as the desire to decriminalize is far from universal, whether from household to household, country to country or even sex worker to sex worker. After all, the experiences of those in the industry run the gamut from an enjoyable avenue to financial independence all the way to what amounts to slavery. We therefore decided to pose the question – should prostitution be decriminalized? – to a diverse panel of experts in the hopes of better understanding all facets of the debate. You can check out their bios and responses – including 11 Yes votes and 6 Nos – below. And if you have something to add, make sure to share your opinion in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.
Prostitution Should Be Legal (Or Decriminalized)
- "In the U.S., we treat people who offer or receive sexual intimacy for gifts of money with strangers as criminals. This serves no legitimate governmental purpose, and only serves to impose the sexual morality of one group upon another".
- Laurie Shrage // Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida International University
- "Nations that have legalized prostitution have concluded that blanket criminalization only forces commercial sex underground and puts the participants at risk of exploitation or violence. Like marijuana legalization, the guiding principle is that decriminalization of transactions between consenting adults is far preferable to forcing them to operate in the perilous black market where organized crime thrives."
- Ronald Weitzer // Professor in the Department of Sociology at George Washington University
- "If our goal is to reduce or eradicate the harm that might come to those who sell sex, and even to improve their lives, then the question should not be 'should prostitution be legal,' but rather 'how can we all work to change the economic environments in which we live and work and buy and sell, so that each person has the opportunity to engage in work that is meaningful, non-exploitative, provides a living wage, and is safe?'"
- Dina Francesca Haynes // Director of the Human Rights and Immigration Law Project, New England School of Law
Prostitution Should NOT Be Legal (Or Decriminalized)
- "The ‘Pretty Woman’ fantasy is just that: a utopian idea that, as with the communist utopia, a naive idea that crumbles under the pressure of experience and education."
- Penny Young Nance // CEO & President, Concerned Women for America
- "Those who support decriminalization rely on the flawed logic that legalizing the buying and selling of people will somehow erase the abuse, neglect and trauma that creates the victims of the sex trade. Legalizing prostitution does nothing more than increase the demand for people who can be sold for sex."
- Katie Pedigo // Chief Executive Officer at New Friends New Life
Image: Madzia71 / iStock.
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