Legalizing Prostitution

Prostitution is considered as misdemeanour or a “lesser” criminal act in almost all United States except Nevada, where the state government allows licensed brothels.
The police investigate and arrest persons involved in prostitution, even FBI glorifies itself from time to time while fighting against interstate prostitution.
A proper examination and understanding of the activity of prostitution and its prohibition explains that prohibiting or il-legalizing prostitution is a wrong step causing wastage of resources, reducing the quality of life and the individual liberty in the society.

What is Prostitution?

Prostitution involves buying and selling of sexual services, it is simple act of mutual benefits between two consenting individuals without any compulsion.
Having sex is not a crime; exchange of money is also not a crime because there is nothing wrong or illegal in exchange of money between two individuals. So, why is it illegal?

Most of the critics against the legalization of prostitution usually claim that if prostitution is allowed freely, the strong evil men may force women to involve in prostitution.
Forcing anyone to do anything is an obvious crime, force or compulsion is simply against the individual rights of any civilized society, but prostitution does not involve any force or compulsion on anybody, it is simple exchange of money for the service provided with mutual agreement.1

Sex as a Trade

People say that sex should be allowed only in marital limits and hence prostitution should be illegal. What people do not realize is marriage or a consensual love relation is nothing but transaction of love. If a man provides his girlfriend some precious gifts and in return she favours him with sexual affection, then it is no different than prostitution, similarly, a married woman providing sexual benefits for her husband in exchange of love and security of married life is nothing but trade of sex, transaction of love. What makes prostitution different from such love relations is the polygamous nature of prostitution. Thus, people opposing the demand of legalizing prostitution are not against the exchange of money for sexual services, rather they are against the polygamous nature of prostitution. Recent scientific researches show that it is quite natural for both males and females on biological levels to have a polygamous attitude and a desire to be in intimate relationships with many partners2 and animals of other species also get involved in activities like prostitution.3

Prohibition never helps

The Constitution of United States stands firm on individual liberty stressing on freedom of speech, religion and trade. Thus, illegalization of prostitution, which violates the premise of inalienable right of Individual, is simply against the Constitution that confirms full freedom for consenting adults for having mutually beneficial agreements, relations and transactions.
Prohibition never helps though it causes wastage and corruption. Alcohol consumption was prohibited from 1920 to 1933 through Volstead Act, which made Bootlegging as an underground industry, home producers created whiskey and gin. The prices of alcohol skyrocketed in black market sales of alcohol because of heavy demand and corrupt governmental officers who surreptitiously helped the black-market4 . Government lost a huge amount of tax from bootleg alcohol and it became impossible to check the quality of alcohol thus produced. The unsafe alcohol caused many accidents. Government spending to prohibit alcohol consumption increased $4.4 million to $13.4 million annually. Coast Guard spent at an average $13 million per year to check the prohibition during 1920′s. Government thought that prohibition would solve many social issues but the result was just opposite. The criminal activities increased as a result of prohibition. The homicide rates increased up to 66% during prohibition.5
History teaches us that prohibition never helps, rather they increase wastage of useful resources and causes increase in crime rates. Prohibiting prostitution also leads to similar results.

Legalization reduces crime rate

Prohibitionists suggest that legalizing prostitution may increase crime, but the facts say opposite. Serious crimes, such as rapes, homicides, robbery, kidnapping are noticed to be increasing because of prohibition. Countries that allow prostitution as legal activity do not suffer from high frequency of violent crimes. Canada, France, Israel, Singapore, United Kingdom all allows prostitution and all have lower crime rates than the crime rates in US.6
After being charged with a sex-crime, a woman faces the social stigma and she becomes unemployable and hence forced to get involved with further criminal acts. Once she is jailed, it becomes impossible for her to gain any other means of living and that enforces her to work as prostitute for longer than they otherwise would. The experience of jail further makes women prone to get involved in other serious crimes.
When police bans brothels, motels or other places where prostitution might generally be practiced, prostitutes find themselves forced to work in neighbouring streets and hence spoiling the neighbourhood. The dangers for prostitutes also increase many folds and they find themselves unable to care for health and safety precautions. Such prostitutes can easily be soft target for serial killers and sociopaths.
Better way is to legalize prostitution in certain areas of cities where the prostitutes and their clients may work in safe environment.
Other criminals who consider prostitutes and their customers as easy target to rob, blackmail, or rape also remains unchecked. Many a times, even the corrupt police also engage in corrupt exploitation of prostitutes. Thus, the criminals realize that prostitutes or their customers are most unlikely to report to police and that provides them an incentive to commit crimes against such people.
If prostitution is legalized, such people would not flinch from reporting any criminal activity against them and that will reduce crime rate.

Legalization promotes health care

Prohibition causes health hazards. Because of laws against prostitution, most of the prostitutes often find themselves forced to involve in unsafe sexual activities. They cannot go for medical help too because of the fear of police. Prohibition on prostitution thus increases the probability of unsafe sex and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, gonorrhoea, Chlamydia and herpes. If prostitution is legalized, the prostitution can be monitored and medical facilities can be provided to them and that will control the spread of such diseases.
A public health review of World Health Organization7 states:

“In Kenya, where the importance of chancroid in HIV transmission was first described in the late 1980s, interventions targeting sex workers and STD patients were implemented. Reported condom use by sex workers has since increased to over 80% in project areas and the incidence of genital ulcers has declined. Chancroid, once the most common ulcer etiology, now accounts for fewer than 10% of genital ulcers seen in clinics in Nairobi, Kenya.
In Senegal, HIV prevalence among pregnant women has been below 1% for more than a decade. A strong multisectoral response, an effective STD control programme and early legalization of prostitution have been credited for this low level. Special clinical services, for example, offer regular examination and treatment for registered sex workers. Not only has there been a significant decline in STD rates among sex workers and pregnant women between 1991 and 1996, but genital ulcers are also no longer common and chancroid is reportedly rare.”

It is very reasonable to legalize and regulate prostitution and medically monitoring the sex-workers and hence providing a safe environment to their client. Legalizing prostitution will also encourage the sex-workers to learn more about health issues, and ways of prevention. Canada, France, Denmark, Israel, Singapore and many other countries that have legalized prostitution have much less number of people living with HIV AIDS and the number of deaths due to HIV when compared with the records of US.

Legalization of Prostitution and Social Condition

The societies that have allowed prostitution as a legal activity are providing much better social environment for the individuals. Countries like Canada, France, Denmark, Israel etc are spending much more of the percentage of their GDP on education and health-care than what US government spends. The suicide rates in such countries is also lesser.
Legalization of prostitution promotes individual liberty and privacy; it also provides a way for the poor to alleviate their situation. In a free society, it makes no sense for the government to dictate people, specially the poor one that they cannot take money in exchange of the service they are willing to provide freely. Legalizing prostitution will also promote the privacy of individuals about their intimate relations and it will reduce the stigma the sex-workers suffer.
Prohibition on prostitution causes a lot of wastage of resources. The law-enforcement bodies that devote a lot to monitor the prohibition on a harmless activity in between consenting adults can be used for better works and prevention of serious crimes. That will certainly help the society to reduce the crime rate and establish peace. Legalization will also reduce the police corruption and dangers of underground industry and provide safety for the sex-workers against organized crimes.

Prostitution is such an activity that harms nobody. Legalizing prostitution will serve the society in better way because that will tend the police to direct their efforts towards preventing and solving actual crimes which involves clear exploiter and victims and that will help the cause of justice. Legalizing prostitution will also help in improving the health care and social condition of United States.

  1. Reason for Liberty, Discussion on the issue of Prostitution on Objectivistic perspective []
  2. Dr. James J. Hughes, Monogamy as a Prisoners Dilemma: Non-Monogamy as a Collective Action Problem []
  3. A New York Times report, on a recent scientific research signifying that even monkeys get involve in money transaction for sex, that is Prostitution. []
  4. Nancy Nixon, Nancy Nixon discusses over the effects of Prohibition on Alcohol during 1920 to 1933 []
  5. Mark Thorton analyzes the policy of prohibition on alcohol consumption during 1920′s, stating that Alcohol Prohibition was Failure, Mark Thorton []
  6. Crime Statistics in Canada, 2006, Canada Government []
  7. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Bull World Health Organ vol.79 no.9 Genebra 2001, Richard Steen []

2 comments for “Legalizing Prostitution

  1. Keith
    May 18, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Another thing I would add is that while prostitution itself is a misdemeanor, efforts made by prostitutes to protect each other for safety falls within the scope of pimping, a felony. Lower personal risk means higher legal risk.

    Not as a reason not to legalize, but a challenge in legalization that I see is in the area of contrast and parental rights / obligations. To my understanding only in recent years at the Bunny Ranch in Nevada girls may turn down offers by clients without penalty. Previously if a girl did not want to serve a client she would be held liable to the house for their share of lost profit. Not wanting to put girls into uncomfortable situations, girls are free to accept or decline offers as they please.

    But what if this came down to a legal battle? In the exchange of most goods contract law can provide equitable relief on unique goods and services. How would the law remedy such a situation as in my experience every woman is unique in both beauty and talents.

    Also, the US has unique anti-discrimination laws from other countries. If a girl does not want to be with men but only women, has issues with people of certain cultures, only want to be with older or younger clients, married or single clients? How do we address and remedy these civil rights issues when the law needs to be blind? Should sex workers get a special pass?

    Also, would a sex worker that gets pregnant, despite all precautions, be entitled to the same child support as in other circumstances? Is it an assumption of the risk? Could abortion as an individual policy of a sex worker be advertised? Could it be legally enforceable? I would think that if it wasn’t a legally enforceable provision of a contract (with advertisements being ‘offers’) then it could not legally be advertised, but it still makes the matter complicated. What risks would be assumed by the client and by employees?

    I am not a fan of anti-bigamy laws for many of the same reasons listed above, and while I reject the common “ethical reasons” for a ban on bigamy, I see the greatest challenge being a legal one. As if family law is not complicated enough.

    Finally, a major challenge I see is from liberal progressives that still hold egalitarianism as a social ideology and goal. I agree that many people get into prostitution because there are low financial and educational barriers to market. The most well educated and subsequently skilled sex works are always going to make the most money as in any business, but I am certain on the job training is always allowed. Not to mention that since sex work is typically commission based, brothels would need to be having exceptional difficulty with someone to turn them away. Most sex workers not bringing in good money get out of the business first. I believe all people pick goals based on their circumstances, but to an egalitarian opportunities that exist in nature for poor people are immoral and “unlovely”. Thus, while people have sex for free, this punishment where appropriate to apply is seen as morally equitable.

    Defeating socially conservative opposition to prostitution might very well be easier.

    Recognizing that, sex workers rights is an issue that is exclusive to libertarians. “centrists” will go along with anything, but the further you get from the center either left or right I expect one to find a more difficult time getting actual support for any real reform. Even in this age of budget crisis, solutions, imo, have become even more aggressively partisan. This leads me to believe that an issue such as sex works rights that do not split on the political line, despite having very different reasons for supporting their position, I see it even less likely in this current environment that anything will change in the near future.

  2. Arvind Singh
    May 26, 2010 at 1:35 am

    The first and foremost argument put forth by the proponents of legalization of prostitution is that it is inevitable. The benefit is that we will have a track record of sex workers and thus can design a comprehensive strategy to combat the medical and other problems faced by them.

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