Sex Markets


In Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business (New York University Press), George Washington University sociologist Ron Weitzer draws from the experiences of Europe and New Zealand, where sex work is legal and regulated, to make the case for legalizing prostitution in the United States. reason asked Weitzer to debunk three myths about the dangers of legalizing sex work. 

1 Prostitution will proliferate when it is legalized. Most people will continue to behave as they did in the past, opting not to buy or sell sex, either because of the stigma attached to prostitution or because they prefer to engage in unpaid sexual relationships. In the years since New Zealand decriminalized prostitution in 2003, there has been no increase in the number of prostitutes working in the country. 

2 Legalization does not help prostitutes; it makes their situation worse. Legalization doesn't automatically empower sex workers, but the evidence shows it has the potential to do so. Much depends on the kinds of new regulations imposed on brothel managers and other third parties.

3 Legalization will lead to an increase in sex trafficking. Legalization gives the authorities greater oversight over third parties who are involved in prostitution, and thus can serve as a deterrent to trafficking and other abusive practices. When prostitution is illegal, sex workers and their managers are forced to operate clandestinely, and we know that organized crime thrives where a vice is illegal.