Sex Work

Outlawing Prostitution Is a Crime

Forbidding paid sex just pushes it underground and makes it dangerous.

|

Credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz | Dreamstime.com

Banning things you don't like has a long history, though not a happy one. Americans have tried banning alcohol, marijuana, pornography and homosexuality. All of them persisted anyway. 

So we learned to not only tolerate but allow them. Nowadays, you can have a glass of Scotch in a gay bar while looking at porn on your iPad, and the police won't care. In Colorado and Washington, you can walk out and buy weed at a state-licensed dispensary. 

Prohibition has also been a failure for commercial sex. Finding an "erotic massage parlor" on the Internet is about as hard as finding a pizza place. Websites offer page after page of female and male "escorts." 

Fourteen percent of American men admit to patronizing a hooker at least once—which adds up to nearly 17 million customers. An estimated 1 million women in the United States have engaged in prostitution. 

Faced with this reality, Amnesty International recently endorsed the decriminalization of "sex work." That position has the support of the World Health Organization, Anti-Slavery International and the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women. 

They grasp that banning prostitution doesn't get rid of it. It merely pushes it underground, where abuses are more likely and harder to detect. As long as it's a crime, says the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, "sex workers will be at risk of police violence, arrests, rape, blackmail and deportation, and will be unable to report abuse." 

Where their trade is decriminalized, prostitutes can more easily work in settings where conditions are controlled, clients are screened and health safeguards are obligatory. They also don't have to worry about being arrested or blackmailed by police. 

But Amnesty International's stance brought on a flurry of criticism. A letter signed by feminist activists, clergy and celebrities accused the group of empowering pimps and upholding "gender apartheid." Cindy McCain, chairman of the Human Trafficking Advisory Council at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, called the decision "a heartbreaking abandonment of those being sold for sex each and every day." 

What outrages the critics is the idea that rational adults choose to rent their bodies for erotic gratification. McCain insisted, "The decision to sell one's body for sex made in the absence of better circumstances is not a human right." But the same reasoning could be applied to people who do any number of unpleasant jobs, from slaughtering chickens to guarding prison inmates.

Prostitution may be a terrible way to earn a living. But the women (and men) who choose it regard their other options as even less appealing. Barring them from sex work, by definition, makes them worse off. 

Amnesty International's opponents insist that the business relies on the enslavement of women. But that's a rare phenomenon. The George W. Bush administration set up 42 Justice Department task forces and spent some $150 million trying to find women and girls forced into prostitution, reported The Washington Post. Over seven years, these efforts produced only 148 prosecutions. 

Time magazine says the data "suggests that the majority of people who work in the sex industry do so against their will"—a claim that George Washington University sociologist Ronald Weitzer, author of the 2012 book Legalizing Prostitution, says is "nonsense. There are no representative surveys of sex workers, which would be needed to confirm that 'the majority,' or any percentage, of sex workers do so against their will." 

Rutgers University criminologists James Finckenauer and Ko-lin Chin interviewed 149 Chinese women who went abroad to engage in sex work. "None of the women we interviewed said they had been subjected to abduction, force or coercion," they reported. Many did it "to make the kind of money they could never make through any other means." 

Human trafficking has been discovered in various industries around the world, including Manhattan nail salons. But no one thinks we should outlaw manicures. 

The denunciations of decriminalization come from a strange alliance of feminists who regard all sex workers (including porn stars and strippers) as victims of oppression and Christians who see them as drenched in depravity. Both exploit the sense that some types of sex are shameful, dangerous and intolerable—an attitude that long fueled the persecution of gays. 

But one thing we have learned is that different people have different types of sex for all sorts of reasons that are really no one else's business. Doing it for money is no different.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

NEXT: They're Going to Need a Bigger Currency: Venezuela's Socialist Meltdown Continues

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s difficult enough for the ladies to keep their men faithful, and you want to make it legal for husbands to buy their way into infidelity? Wives will never find out about it without seeing it reported in the local paper’s police blotter if it’s not an arrestable offense.

    Instead of prohibition, how about offering tax credits for not engaging in sex work? That’s the best a politician can do.

    1. How much credit for an anal probe?

    2. What? and have married cops hog all the free perks?

    3. What about those poor social outcasts who couldn’t get a girlfriend if their lives depended on it? Patrons of prostitution aren’t ALL married guys looking for some side snatch. We shouldn’t be just leaving it up to Howard Stern et al. to play this social angle. THINK OF THE MALE VIRGINS!!!

      1. Seriously though, ugly, fat, or just extremely shy men would find their life less stressful is booty could be purchased discretely.

        1. IF BOOTY

    4. So what? At least there would be records for the inevitable divorce.
      Regulate sin if you must, but don’t forbid it. Making criminals out of people performing a sought after service doesn’t compute. Nor the johns that have no other outlet for a primal drive.
      Its like they can’t bear to acknowledge sex by itself.
      What would you have the awkward guy do? Die a virgin?
      It has proven health benefits, it’s a thing we’re born for and because of, and it’s a primal drive. Shouldn’t it be a basic right to pursue it legally?
      For women, too. If it feels like a gigalo night, go for it.
      Condoms should be mandatory of course.

    5. It is legal for government workers to engage in sex offenses. Just not non government actors. The government crooks can do whatever they want. Everyone else goes to prison and forfeits their assets and home.

  2. Nothing like starting the day with lunacy! Just what IRS agent is going to pend his day trying to determine whether or not some guy/girl was compensated with something of value for a roll in the hay?

    1. Sex toys and condoms become deductible business expenses!

    2. Well, does the IRS audit cops for putting their pistols in the girls’ faces? A Wikileaks-type channel for informing the IRS of cops who blackmail working girls for sex just might secure repeal faster than any other approach. When Herbert Hoover informed state governments of state income tax evasion on the part of corporations in the illegal alcohol supply chain, alcohol became legal within two months.

  3. I hated how that jealous cop harassed Deuce Bigalow.

  4. Did I read that right? McCain Institute for International Leadership? as in loser who lost to the Kenyan? as in on-fire participating in undeclared random genocide against Vietnam? as in Palin’s… um… nevermind. With enemies like these, who needs allies?

  5. Let’s see… the taxi monopolies distort the economy by purchasing legislation, along come Lyft and Uber apps, and prices fall, customers have choices, entrepreneurs get work–everybody wins.
    So cop monopolies are busy sticking their pistols in these girls’ faces, getting applause from media whores and fake Amnesty impersonators. Along come apps like AdultWork, and snap! no more cops shoving guns down those girls’ throats. What’s worse, voluntary exchange rears its head!
    I can see how “both” looter prohibitionist parties would hate that idea.

  6. Nowadays, you can have a glass of Scotch in a gay bar while looking at porn on your iPad.

    Who doesn’t do that nowadays?

  7. I’m shocked more Democrats are not in support of legalized prostitution. In my experience they typically get irritated when government allows things to get away tax-free.

  8. Prostitution threatens married women, so they will never support it. cheating is taboo no matter what kind of fish or harridan the wife might be.

    1. There are two counter-arguments for this.

      1) Women cheat, too.

      2) Not all men who hire prostitutes are married men.

  9. There’s a rumor that a certain Austrian (no, not Hayek) was given syphilis by a Jewish prostitute, so…
    You know who else used prostitutes?

    1. Hans von Mannschaft?

    2. Arnold Schwarzenegger?

  10. The more things change, the more they remain the same. The same, old, tired, nonsensical arguments over and over again. And in the end, they’ll pass more stupid laws with more unintended consequences, and we’ll all be the worse for it. Are the busybodies really just moral hypocrites, or do they really think that coercive power over other people is the solution to all our problems? Surely, there must be some way to reach them and point out the fallacies of their ideas.

  11. The best tactic would be to first decriminalize male prostitution. Few people would object because men are incapable of being bullied/coerced/threatened into doing something they don’t want to do (unlike women, apparently). In time people will scream “sexism” and demand women be treated the same and female prostitution will be decriminalized as well. Perhaps I’m too optimistic and giving average people too much credit, but it’s just a thought.

  12. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,

    http://www.onlinejobs100.com

  13. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.jobnet10.com

  14. ‘Fourteen percent of American men admit to patronizing a hooker at least once.’

    I NEVER patronize hookers. I treat them as equals.

  15. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

  16. I suspect that one reason for much of the left supporting the criminalization of prostitution is that it is one more way to attack heterosexual males (who are probably the majority of sex work clients). Recently, the Department of Defense made it a UCMJ offense to solicit sex workers. We can send men to their deaths in combat, but heaven help us if they have sex!

  17. start making cash right now, it’s the best job ever! i just bought a brand new porsche 911. make $3-$5000 a day working from home, someone else’s home or a street corner. it’s easy, just go to HOOKERKITS.XXX for details.

  18. If a married man is going to cheat with a prostitute , he will do so even if it is illegal. At any I doubt many married men who cheat are more faithful because prostitution is illegal, there is an abundance of free talent. Men who are faithful, and I am one of them, will not cheat regardless. Interestingly enough in my experience many of the male cheaters fall into some of the groups opposed to legalization, that church going husband may be less dependable than you think.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.