It is, perhaps, a measure of the confusion of today's discussion of prostitutes and prostitution that there is really no consensus on exactly what individual prostitutes are, in terms of personal, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. Some—predominantly psychologists and sociologists eager to expand their control over yet another group of individuals through the coercive agency of the State—believe that prostitutes are criminals, sick, in need of being rehabilitated, and so forth.
A United Nations study on prostitution comments that "the number of prostitutes who are mentally, psychologically and emotionally normal appears to be very limited." Perhaps evidencing the mentality of the type of people who indulge in such organizations, rather than any interest in human freedom or in helping truly disturbed individuals, the authors of the report go on to suggest:
Considering that promiscuity often leads to prostitution…it would be most desirable for facilities to be provided so that promiscuous persons, juveniles as well as adults, would be examined in order to obtain an insight into their personality structure and to investigate whether a better control of their tendency towards promiscuity could be attainable by means of psychiatric treatment.
Likewise, it is not unusual to read popular journal articles suggesting that a prostitute is a person with an illness, who needs to be helped whether she wants help or not.
It is clear that many who decide to concern themselves with the "problem" of prostitution have self-fulfilling attitudes that put the individual prostitute in a category or group and deny her individuality in terms of choosing to engage in that particular profession.
On the other hand, and totally opposed to the type of attitude exposed above, there is a substantial body of opinion by which prostitutes are considered not necessarily unhealthy—mentally, physically, or otherwise—and by which prostitution is considered a voluntary, value-for-value exchange that the State has no right to prohibit or restrict.
SOLID CITIZENS OR SICK?
Typical of this happier attitude is the outlook of the people of Nevada, where prostitution may be—and has been—legalized by county vote. There are probably more prostitutes per capita in Nevada than in any other state of the union, and nonstreetwalking hookers are there considered solid citizens who happen to be working in the world's oldest profession. But Nevada is an enigma, an individualist haven surrounded by more "right-thinking" and coercive-minded people than in the other 49 states.
There has been some speculation about why so many individuals think that prostitution is evil or sick. Dorothy Gallagher, in a 1973 Redbook piece suggested, "What makes prostitution such anathema to most of us, I think, is that in her working life, at least, the prostitute severs the sex-love connection. She flaunts behavior we do not admit to. And it is upsetting to watch her do it."
In the eyes of such humanist reformers prostitutes are simply individuals who have chosen a career that many in society are hung up about (obviously) but who are, basically, "just like you and me," performing a service—and a valuable one at that, judging from the demand that has continued strongly throughout history.
Still a third group of people, overlapping with the decriminalizers and the crime or sickness thinkers, is made up of those who believe that prostitutes are victims of the system, that they can't help it, because of sexism, racism, and exploitation. Typifying this attitude—and the unspoken value judgments that go with it—are Charles Winick and Paul Kinsie, who assert in a 1972 Psychology Today article:
Segregating a group of women whose primary work is meeting the sexual needs of men on an anonymous, cash basis seems clearly to violate the American dream of making equality meaningful for all.…It seems impossible for women prostitutes to operate in other than exploitative situations.
Not surprisingly, many feminists who regard "women" as a collective and single-minded entity share the above attitude—often to the consternation, dismay, and rage of prostitutes who recognize its implicit condescension and putdown. In the fall 1973 Issues in Criminology, a group of women declares: "As feminists it is somewhat disturbing to argue that a woman has the right to privately decide to sell her body. Her decision affects all women." Yet this bold statement directly contradicts the major point of the overwhelming media campaign carried on during the fight to legalize abortion, to wit, that a woman has the right to do with her own body as she pleases. Ignoring this, however, the authors go on to assert: "The presence of prostitution is a crime against all people.…The end of prostitution will only come about with the end to the sexism that causes it…As long as sexism and economic oppression persist, the supply and demand for prostitution will continue." It should be remembered that these assertions are made, while arguing for decriminalization, by active and educated feminists—not by little old ladies offended by acts that they personally abhor because of religious or cultural training.
THE BUSINESS OF PROSTITUTION
Thus are the pros and cons of prostitution debated. Meanwhile, prostitutes themselves continue, in one style or another, in their chosen profession. Generally, there are four ways of pursuing this line of work: as a streetwalker on one's own; in partnership with a pimp who procures, protects, and in general manages the prostitute; in an established house as a member of the staff, and as a call girl, perhaps the most business-wise way to ply the profession.
Streetwalking is the least desirable because of its high degree of danger, both from violent customers and from the possibility of police arrest. Street prostitutes are generally older, less desirable women who make too little profit to a pimp or a house. They are often veterans of earlier, better years of being taken care of by their pimps or living and working in a brothel; but age catches all, and many turn to the streets to peddle their wares, often being or turning into drug addicts.
A terrifying picture of being on the downside of the hill is presented by those who know the plight of the old and weathered, a picture that includes robbery and beatings by clients, police indifference, and junkie hookers who will give their bodies for a five-dollar bag of heroin.
In contrast to the above, life with a pimp is much safer and better. Contrary to standard mythology, which has it that a pimp is a slob, unfairly exploiting his woman or women economically and sometimes physically beating or otherwise abusing them, the pimp actually serves a valuable and useful function.
For a "stable" of from two to six women, a street pimp will collect all or part of the money and, in return, manage the women's affairs and provide services they need. He buys clothes for them. He shows up in court to pay fines. He takes care of the rent, medical, and other bills. He protects his women against violent or defaulting customers and against police. And he often provides close and loving companionship to his women. The women, on their part, often love their pimp and call him "husband."
TEMPLES OF LOVE
Perhaps the safest technique, both theoretically and realistically, for plying one's profession as a prostitute is to have a house, to be a prostitute in a brothel. Indeed, this would seem to be a somewhat traditional form of plying the trade in America. A page from The Gentleman's Directory published in New York in 1870 is entitled "Temples of Love" and contains the following information:
The house at No. 79 Marion Street is of the first class, and frequented by the elite of the city. It contains six boarders.
The house at No. 53 West Houston Street is kept by Mrs. Mayer who furnishes the best accommodations for ladies and gentlemen. This house is kept in a very quiet and orderly manner.
The next house, No. 55, is kept by Miss Ada Blashfield, the dashing brunette, who has eight or ten boarders, both blondes and brunettes. These are a pretty lot.
In many states in the latter part of the 19th century, prostitution was a recognized and tolerated, if not legalized, form of vice. In New York City, for instance, prostitution was both legal and unregulated around the end of the Civil War. Advertising appeared regularly in printed sheets and newspapers. Although vagrancy laws could be utilized to arrest prostitutes in brothels, such State harassment was rare as long as the owners cooperated in paying off police and politicians.
In Nevada, the only state that currently has unmolested and legal brothels in some counties (10 counties permit unregulated prostitution and two more have licensed brothels under county-option legislation enacted in 1971), prostitution is thought of as a legitimate addition to the ranks of local enterprise. In explaining why such "dens of iniquity" aren't immediately closed down, Nevada attorney Bill MacDonald commented in an interview, "It's what you grow up with.…The county's been here since 1861, and the town—and the houses—came along eight-ten years later. The feeling is that they've always been here, so why close them?" Additionally, MacDonald explained, the prostitutes in his area of Nevada are good citizens, contributing to the Boy Scouts, church raffles, and such and raising very little disturbance or violence in the brothels.
But there are other, standard arguments for allowing brothels to operate: they allegedly prevent disease, protect customers, reduce the number of rapes, cut down the number of streetwalkers and pimps, and may even provide "initiation into manhood" for adolescent males.
"This is a way of life in this area. People don't look down on it," explained a female co-owner of a brothel in Nevada. "I'm like a housemother to the girls. I don't think they feel like they're prostitutes; sometimes they feel more like they're on vacation. I think they have the feeling of a home type of thing here."
Clearly, brothels can provide services and an atmosphere for prostitutes that make their life better in more ways than simply protection from the violent crimes associated with streetwalking. In fact, Murray Rothbard points out in For a New Liberty that, were prostitution and brothels decriminalized, both the quality of life for prostitutes and the quality, crime-wise, of the society we live in would increase:
It should be noted that many of the grimmer aspects of the streetwalking trade have been brought about by the outlawing of brothels. As long lasting houses of prostitution operated by madams anxious to cultivate goodwill among customers over a long time span, brothels used to compete to provide high-quality service and build up their 'brand name.' The outlawing of brothels has forced prostitution into a 'black-market,' fly-by-night existence, with all the dangers and general decline in quality this always entails.
Another classic mode of operating as a prostitute is the call girl method, probably the most popular and trusted style today, especially where prostitution is still illegal and police harassment is the rule. This businesslike way of plying the profession is reserved for the more desirable and educated. Usually known to a group of clients, who in turn refer friends or associates, the call girl may as often as not simply play the part of a hostess or guide to an out-of-town businessman or other visitor.
This eminently rational system provides for the businessman who needs a woman for a client, to "show him a good time" and perhaps incidentally to win an account. Or perhaps a government bureaucrat desires to impress a powerful politician or constituent. What better way to placate a potential ally than to supply him with a beautiful, articulate, and graceful hostess, whose duties will range from educated small talk, to shepherding the client around in unfamiliar territory, to sexually satisfying him?
With the higher stakes (beyond simple sexual satisfaction) involved in this arrangement, the appropriate women are often demanded for very high fees. Needless to say, the fees and costs are usually paid by the businessman or politician rather than the call girl's customer.
In periods of change such as Western society is at present experiencing, there is a tendency to examine time-honored moral, religious, personal, and societal beliefs. One area of current scrutiny is the institution of prostitution and the individuals who comprise it. The battle lines are drawn, even if somewhat blurred, and the respective armies have engaged in isolated, but spreading, skirmishes over the question.
Oddly enough, many have claimed that the "sexual revolution" of the sixties and early seventies will totally destroy the institution of prostitution, while others have seen that upheaval as resulting in increased sexual commerce. Alex Comfort, in his best-selling book The Joy of Sex, asserts that "…general sexual freedom is more likely to displace monetary sex altogether, except for those for whom it arises from unconscious needs." Nevertheless, a look at the FBI Uniform Crime Reports suggests that prostitution has been a booming business: in 1958 there were 17,482 arrests for prostitution and "common vice." By 1964 this total had risen to 28,190, and by 1970, well into the sexual revolution, to 45,344, in all cases the vast majority of arrests being of females.
A factor gaining power in the prostitution battle is the women's liberation movement. Potentially an insuperable force in moving to eradicate laws proscribing this victimless crime, the movement has unfortunately bogged down in collectivist arguments. It has been taken in by the opposition's suggestion when it comes to what one is to do with his or her own body, individual rights are irrelevant, that the legitimacy of such decisions depends upon the emotions and beliefs prevailing in society.
Even when such feminists bring themselves to recognize the illegitimacy of the State having a say in how individuals control their own bodies, they tend to bog down in shrill denunciations of "the system." Witness a 1972 article by Pamela Roby and Virginia Kerr in The Nation:
We add, finally, that our recommendations (to decriminalize prostitution) are to be taken as a palliative, not as a remedy, for the problem (sic). Prostitution, demeaning as many consider it to be, will continue to be a necessary and sometimes attractive way of "making it," as long as sexism, racism and class inequality continue to shape the lives of our citizens and to limit their options.
Oddly enough, the more extreme in the women's movement tend to be more rational about such questions: Ti Grace Atkinson, one of the more radical and outspoken leaders of the movement, in calling for the repeal of laws against prostitution, proffered the opinion that "prostitutes are the only honest women because they charge for their services, rather than submitting to a marriage contract which forces them to work for life without pay."
FEMINISM AND PROSTITUTION
Despite the second thoughts of some in the women's movement, a coalition fighting for the decriminalization of prostitution has been forged. As Roger Williams noted in Saturday Review/World,
Militant feminists have tended to regard prostitutes as underprivileged, male-victimized sisters who need to have their consciousness raised and their legs crossed. This attitude led, a couple of years ago, to tense and sometimes bitter encounters between the two groups. In New York's suburban Westchester County, a band of prostitutes stormed into a feminist meeting and announced that they neither wanted nor needed "rehabilitation." Calling the stunned feminists hypocrites, they asked rhetorically how many women could honestly say they do not prostitute themselves to men in exchange for security and financial support.
As a result of such confrontations and consciousness raising, at conventions of prostitutes' organizations one can find sported almost as many NOW buttons as buttons proclaiming prostitutes' right to engage in their much-maligned profession.
Coming hand-in-hand with such societal changes in America are rapid and drastic political changes, resulting in more outspoken demands that laws against victimless crimes—among them prostitution—be repealed or struck down. Indicative of the change in attitude is the public discussion over possible prostitution legalization, discussion heretofore absent. Now it is cropping up even in the most unlikely places, such as Dayton, Ohio. In 1972 the Dayton city commission voted four to one for a resolution urging that the state legislature give all cities in the state the option of licensing and regulating prostitution. And Dayton is hardly a hotbed of social radicalism.
This general liberalization and loosening up of discussion is also evidenced by the lessening of prohibitions against pornography and by the appearance of such books as The Sensuous Woman, The Joy of Sex, and The Happy Hooker, the latter glorifying the happy life of a prostitute and written by a prostitute.
The discussion has even crept into stolidly conservative women's publications. In her searching Redbook article, Gallagher concludes, after examining prostitution from several angles:
In our culture we publicly insist on a connection between sex and love, and we have built an elaborate moral and romantic structure to contain it. But although we—women especially—have an emotional investment in romantic sexuality, monogamy and marriage, all girls learn early that sex is a transaction.
When a boy takes us to dinner or to the movies, we know that he expects a return on his investment. And if we refuse him physical contact, we are aware that we have not kept our part of an unspoken bargain. When we grow older things become more complicated. I have never bartered sex for money, but I have exchanged it for other things: for momentary comfort, to lift the burden of loneliness, in the hope that it might bring me love, for the sake of pleasure.
This is surely a stunning admission for a "straight" woman.
ON THE DEFENSIVE
Even more stunning, however, has been the emergence of organizations that will probably be ultimately responsible for the decriminalization of prostitution: organizations for and by prostitutes. In the spring of 1974, the first "hookers union" had its first national convention in San Francisco. COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) was formed by Margo St. James, an ex-madam from New York City, with the help of Flo Kennedy, a black feminist lawyer. Other such organizations have sprung up also—PONY (Prostitutes of New York) and ASP (Association of Seattle Prostitutes) among them—all dedicated to improving the lot of the victimized prostitute. COYOTE alone claims 9,000 dues-paying members, at least 10 percent of them working prostitutes.
The position of these organizations is that prostitution is simply a way to earn a living by selling one's labor. Although a crime by present law, it is a victimless crime. Significantly, the goal of such organizations is not legalized but decriminalized prostitution; they know that government intrusion inevitably causes market distortions that can be damaging to the individuals in a profession and limit the freedom of those individuals to pursue their profession and life in the manner chosen.
Lawyer Flo Kennedy believes that prostitutes will ultimately be able to exert enough pressure to decriminalize the profession: "If hookers would share their black books," she points out, "if we could get all those guys who use prostitutes and then, in their official positions, turn on them, we might be able to achieve our goals—most importantly, the decriminalization of prostitution."
Along with the emergence of organizations of, by, and for prostitutes, have come more or less traditional political groups that are willing to help the hookers in their sometimes lonely battle. The American Civil Liberties Union is active in litigating cases that might result in more freedom and rights for prostitutes. In 1973 the ACLU and NOW collaborated on a pamphlet calling for decriminalization of prostitution.
Additionally, in 1972 a special committee of the American Bar Association called for decriminalization, and ACLU attorney Marilyn Haft has recently presented a resolution to the ABA proposing that it support the measure. The ultimate aim, according to Haft, is to make prostitution "a legitimate business."
Also, at least some segments of the traditional Democratic and Republican parties are willing to support decriminalization, and the emergence in recent years of the Libertarian Party, engaging in national electoral politics, has strengthened the hand of those who would fight politically to decriminalize.
"Why decriminalize or legalize prostitution?" has been the plaintive cry of some who are blind to the involvement of individual freedom in the controversy. Despite prostitution's staying power throughout history—even where communists have come into power with their impressive willingness and machinery for controlling individual behavior—opponents assert that the State should not legitimize prostitution by not outlawing it.
The attack against such hypocritical laws is being pushed on three fronts: in the legal arena through the court system, in the intellectual realm through public discussion and debate, and on the pragmatic front through examination of the traditional arguments against prostitution.
In the courts, more and more suits are being filed against prostitution statutes. Typical of these is a recent California case. REASON magazine (January 1975) reported:
Three California women have filed a taxpayers' suit seeking to stop enforcement of the state's laws against prostitution. The three, who are ACLU members, charge that enforcing these laws wastes taxpayers' money and deprives prostitutes of free speech, privacy, and their right to due process of law. The suit names as defendants the Alameda County district attorney, the county's director of health care services, and the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville.
Such cases, far from being unusual precedent breakers, are simply building on several cases that have already been decided and have struck down various prostitution laws. Successful challenges have been brought in three jurisdictions: State v. Fields, No. 72-4788 Cr. (3d Jud. Dist. Ct., Alaska, June 27, 1973); United States v. Moses, Nos. 17778-72 and 21346-72 (D.C. Super. Ct., Nov. 8, 1972); State v. Woods, No. 443012 (Minneapolis Mun. Ct., Dec. 21, 1971).
Legal reformers base their attacks against prostitution laws on several constitutional grounds: equal protection, privacy, cruel and unusual punishment, due process, and freedom of speech. Less used are the charges of cruel and unusual punishment (based on the fact that several states make simple status as prostitute a criminal offense) and the due process argument (based on the use of loitering and vagrancy statutes in conjunction with indiscriminate "street sweeps").
SUCCESS IN THE COURTS
On the other hand, equal protection, privacy, and freedom of speech have been used successfully. The best of these by far has been the equal protection attack, under the 14th amendment: a statute being challenged will generally be discriminatory per se because it makes prostitution exclusively a female offense, thus precluding prosecution of males; or a statute that appears to be evenhanded might actually be enforced, officially or unofficially, in a discriminatory manner.
The second line of challenge arguing from the right to privacy, has been recognized by only one court (see United States v. Moses, above), but this is likely to change, given increasing general emphasis on the right to privacy. The good thing about this line of attack is that, if the courts were to strike down prostitution laws on this basis, it would result in statutes proscribing prostitution being wiped out—unlike equal protection challenges that are sustained.
A third prevalent way of attacking the constitutionality of these laws is through freedom of speech arguments. However, this tack is useful only in those jurisdictions that prohibit the act of solicitation rather than prostitution itself.
As to popular views, as mentioned above, such organizations as COYOTE, PONY, and ASP are discussing and arguing for the decriminalization of prostitution. "Why," asks Margo St. James of COYOTE, "should a prostitute be penalized for doing the same thing everyone does to earn a living?" Indeed, why is the question: the answer, of course, is that she shouldn't be penalized.
On the pragmatic front—where the concern is exactly why the State outlaws prostitution—the battle is going more and more toward decriminalization as the public and the different sides become more and more educated and sophisticated. The pragmatic battlers take up the reasons given for outlawing prostitution and offer antidote arguments.
Where the opponents of prostitution argue that it encourages "illicit" sexual activity, the proponents of decriminalization reply that an important question must first be asked: is it even a legitimate purpose of the State to encourage or discourage any kind of consensual sexual activity? The argument proceeds to proving that the State should have nothing to say about whether individuals rent or do not rent their bodies, nor about what kind of sexual activities people engage in, nor about what people desire to do in their spare time as it relates to sexual activity, which is a moral, rather than a societal or criminal, question.
Another widely used rationale for outlawing prostitution is that this will check the spread of venereal disease. But statistically, this argument is ridiculous, since venereal disease is what doctors call pandemic today, even with prostitution almost universally outlawed. Additionally, studies have shown that the VD rate among prostitutes is no greater than among the rest of the population. That being true, the number of prostitutes or the legitimacy of prostitution has nothing to do with the amount of VD in society.
PROSTITUTION AND CRIME
Opponents of prostitution also assert that outlawing it will help check the spread of crime and corruption often associated with it. But, Rothbard argues, "To outlaw trades that may attract crime…would in the same way justify prohibition because many fights take place in bars. The answer is not to outlaw the voluntary and truly lawful activity, but for the police to see to it that the genuine crimes do not get committed."
Moreover, analysis will reveal that outlawing prostitution would have precisely the opposite of the desired effect: since victims of crimes often associated with it fear incriminating themselves, prostitutes and their customers become easy marks for criminals who would victimize them, knowing that for the most part police protection is not available. On the other hand, if prostitution were decriminalized, the police would provide protection for the prostitute and her clients just as protection is provided for everyone else, and the police could count on greater cooperation from the victims of such crimes in solving them.
Another argument often used is that criminalizing prostitution drives "undesirables" from the public view. But who is to decide what an undesirable is? If in fact the State has no business legislating individuals' sexual conduct, then what right does it have to label some of those individuals "undesirables?" As a matter of fact, to quote from a court case dealing with just this type of problem:
The man who goes either by himself or with his family to a public place must expect to meet and mingle with all classes of people. He cannot ask, to suit his caprice or prejudice or social views, that this or that man shall be excluded because he does not wish to associate with them. He may draw his social line as closely as he chooses at his home, or in other private places, but he cannot in a public place carry the privacy of his home with him, or ask that people not as good or great as he is shall step aside when he appears. [Ferguson v. Giles, 82 Mich. 358, 367-8 (1890).]
Mustn't we, however, protect innocent persons from the sight of public sexual solicitation and from being solicited themselves? This involves freedom of speech, as noted above, unless we should be wise enough to have privately owned and run streets catering to different clienteles. But, given our present public-street situation, should we also protect innocent people from hearing radical political speeches on the street? Or from the Salvation Army and other charity operations? Hardly.
In any case, it is clear that such a rationale is blatantly discriminatory under the law. Any woman can tell story after story about being solicited at place after place by men, for sexual purposes. Are such men ever arrested? Rarely, if ever. This is because the State apparently holds that public sexual solicitation by females or gays is a crime and cause for arrest, while heterosexual solicitation by males is quite all right. The State and its policy in this area are blatantly sexist and discriminatory.
LICENSING VS. FREEDOM
The arguments for criminalizing prostitution are hardly compelling, whether because they never held any real force or because societal and other changes have vitiated any original justification. There is another aspect of the debate, however, that needs to be examined. Many who argue for doing away with criminal penalties for prostitution per se follow this up with the contention that prostitutes or brothels or both should be licensed by the State—for the good of the public, of course.
As the possibility of decriminalization becomes more and more a reality, this position, with its implication of entangling and stifling rules, regulations, red tape, and official and unofficial pressure, will have to be dealt with. None of the prostitutes' organizations mentioned above are for any kind of licensing: they realize the problems inherent in such schemes.
One argument frequently used by the licensing faction in the prostitution controversy again raises the specter of venereal disease. The argument suggests, however, that prostitutes are necessary for the spread of VD and that licensing would somehow ensure the prostitutes' seeking medical attention they do not seek now. According to statistics compiled in recent years, though, prostitutes have been shown to have no higher incidence of VD than the general population: the Alameda County Health Service reported in 1973 that 25 percent of its population, and of its prostitutes, had VD; in Oakland, prostitutes make up only three percent of the reported cases of VD, making them hardly the great spreaders of VD they are pictured as being. Prostitutes are hardly the only people who can and do spread the disease. Will the next suggestion be that prostitutes' customers be licensed?
If prostitution were decriminalized, prostitutes and their customers would be quicker and more willing to seek regular medical attention, since then neither group would be risking the possibility of incriminating themselves by dealing with the authorities. In fact, we could expect prostitutes to be more careful than the general populace about VD, since they run the risk of being infected and a consequent decrease in business.
Another argument for licensing is that it would tend to discourage women from becoming prostitutes. But criminal penalties have hardly discouraged prostitution; to say that licensing would is simple fantasy. Moreover, once a woman was licensed as a prostitute, she would be likely to encounter heavy discrimination once she desired another job, especially in such areas as public service or dealing with children.
Additionally, if prostitution were legalized and licensed, brothel owners' power, economic and otherwise, would increase. We would probably be faced with the spectacle of their infiltrating legislatures, giving secret bribes, lobbying, and so forth, in order to drive independent prostitutes off the streets.
Some argue that licensing would decrease the soliciting, violent crimes, and payoffs that exist today. But if a woman wanted to solicit on the street, the payoffs would continue, and prostitution per se does not breed violent crimes: even if it did that would be little reason for the State to penalize the profession as opposed to perpetrators of the crimes themselves.
THE FUTURE OF PROSTITUTION
In sum, it would be a bad idea to force licensing of prostitutes, simply because it would be bad politics and bad for individual freedom to allow the State more power over individual members of a profession or trade. Knowledgeable individuals point to the medical profession, with its legalized monopoly, and the resultant market distortions, such as the artificially depressed supply of doctors and abnormally high prices. Who is hurt? The public. Who is helped? Those who manage, immediately or over a period of time, to gain control and put to their own advantage the coercive power of the State.
Simply because some activity or transaction is not illegal doesn't mean the State has to get its grubby tentacles into the area and license it or otherwise control it. After all, many activities in our society aren't licensed or controlled. And this one—for the good of all of us and for the welfare and benefit of individuals who choose to enter into prostitution—should not be licensed either.
Prospects for the future would appear to be good, judging from the action being taken by prostitutes themselves and from the general opening up of our society, sexually and otherwise. With their effective and continuing attacks against the repressive status quo, such groups as COYOTE, ASP, and PONY should stand a good chance of making serious changes in the future.
Unfortunately, many (except for the Libertarian Party) who are inclined to support decriminalization for purposes of individual freedom and on constitutional grounds find little reason to apply such concepts to economic activities in general. This portends problems, because individual and economic freedom are involved in the battle raging over prostitution. Many who will fight to any end to guarantee what they see as individual rights and freedoms will fight just as hard to see that economic freedoms are proscribed and constricted by the State, in the name of the public good. Thus, the ongoing battle over licensing.
Again unfortunately, what should actually be a tremendous strength—the contemporary women's liberation movement—has in many respects become a hindrance. If the movement as a whole supported freedom on principle, whether individual or economic, male or female, the battle might already be won. But due to the often collectivist nature of the movement, many feminists have trouble reconciling themselves to fighting for someone's freedom to do something, to pursue a life style, that they find personally repugnant. As prostitutes impress upon members of the women's movement that they don't need "to have their consciousness raised and their legs crossed," perhaps feminists will come to play the more positive role they should be playing now in the fight for freeing prostitutes.
Finally, freedom for the prostitute means not just freedom for those who ply the profession, who choose the life style; it means more freedom for all the members of society: freedom from hypocrisy; freedom for individuals to join the profession they choose, to spend their time as they choose; sexual freedom for all, and perhaps most important, freedom from yet another set of irrational and hypocritical laws criminalizing an act without victims.
Timothy Condon is a third-year law student at the University of Florida. He received a B.S., with honors, in journalism from the University of Florida and was elected to Phi Kappa Phi honor society. While editor of the student newspaper, he led the successful fight to make it independent.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "What to Do About Prostitution".