In August of 2018, Spain’s Labor Ministry covertly approved The Organización de Trabajadoras Sexuales while many politicians were vacationing. Spain is one of the sex tourism capitals of the world bringing in approximately $26.5 billion a year and now that prostitutes have an official union, the profession should be becoming more regulated and less stigmatized. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez found out about a month later and was appalled. He vowed to ban all prostitution, and some feminists support him.
After years of building up an organization, sex workers are now having to fight not only policymakers, but women who are supposed to stand by them. This reality is too real for many sex workers in the United States as well. No social security, pensions, or basic labor rights. No STD screenings. No way to report violence without damning themselves. No perceived difference between workers and trafficking victims. There are many faults in the sex work industry, but how many of them could easily be solved by treating prostitutes with respect and granting them the rights they deserve as workers? Prostitution should be legalized because most problems with the profession stem from it being criminalized.
There are many people who feel that prostitution should be completely banned. Janice Shaw Crouse is affiliated with a Christian women’s action committee known as Concerned Women for America. She serves in several tasks forces that deal with violence against women and sex trafficking. Crouse believes that decriminalizing prostitution would increase human trafficking and make it easier for pimps to exploit and profit off of young girls. ‘…[P]imps control and reap the profits from 80-95 percent of all forms of prostitution. No wonder most prostitutes (90 percent) desperately want out. One study found that 80 percent of prostituted girls and women were assaulted by their pimps, and over one third received death threats against themselves or their families. A majority of the girls and women end up drug-addicted, bruised, and battered; they get older, worn out, infected with STDs, and used up.’ (Crouse)
Ms. Crouse’s argument seems reasonable, but she is deeply prejudiced, and she lets that get the best of her. Earlier in her piece she bashes those who support the legalization of sex work by stating that they also supported causes like the legalization of marijuana and the redefinition of marriage (gay marriage). Her concern may be real but she lays bare her true problem with prostitution, which is that Christianity frowns upon it.
A rich, Christian woman on a panel may have certain beliefs, but those who ‘walk the walk’ want prostitution to be decriminalized. Heidi Fleiss is an ex-prostitute and an ex-Madame. She argues that engaging in prostitution is ‘a woman’s right’ and that she took meticulous care of each and every one of her girls. She also argues that many problems with prostitution are only a problem because the practice is banned. ‘There is no downside to legalizing prostitution.’ Fleiss says. ‘The government would benefit by collecting taxes on the industry. And regulation would clean up a lot of crime and help to protect women.’
Decriminalizing prostitution would help prostitutes a lot, but it would also really assist a different and exponentially more vulnerable demographic. Many people see sex workers and victims of human trafficking as two sides of the same coin, but they are different groups and lumping them together hurts everyone involved. Olivia Dugenet works at a non-profit social justice organization in Spokane, Washington known as Lutheran Community Services Northwest. She says that it can be difficult to separate willing sex workers from victims.
If prostitution was legalized and regulated for safety, clients would be far less likely to risk legal consequences by engaging in illegal acts, and prostitutes would be more likely to work under safer conditions. “If a person is to choose sex work as a profession, then he/she should always be able to manage her/his own money in an environment that is monitored for safety. (A lot of the trauma that goes along with sex work results from financial exploitation, enslavement, violence, etc. Legalization would help eliminate these dangers.)” (Dugnet) Dugenet argues that if prostitutes were licensed professionals it would be easier to find and help trafficking victims. By making prostitutes simultaneously criminals and victims, society takes the spotlight off of those who truly need attention.
Legalizing prostitution would also allow prostitutes to be acknowledged as part of the workforce. If sex work was recognized as an industry, prostitutes would have the same benefits as other workers. Sex workers currently aren’t entitled to severance pay or social security, trainings, or unions. Consenting prostitutes deserve these rights. Without them, Tina Dupuy suggests, prostitutes are forced into a contemporary slavery. Not sex slavery, but the same kind illegal immigrants are subjected to; we force them into the shadows and profit off of their lack of rights. “If we really believe in freedom, then let people live their lives and let sex workers work in the light of day.” (Dupuy) Sex workers, like all workers, should have access to workers’ rights.
One of the leading problems with prostitution is violent crime committed against prostitutes. Sex workers are threatened, beaten, and even killed by their clients, but if prostitution was legal, sex workers could report such instances to the police without damning themselves. Abigail Blanco, an assistant professor at the University of Tampa, says that by illegalizing prostitution, the government undermines its own goals.
“Prostitutes could report abuse, seek damages, and call for help without risking their own freedom… Sex workers would be more likely to seek medical care and less likely to be trafficked by violent cartels. Legalization made it easier for sex workers to report abuse and for police to prosecute sex crimes.” (Blanco) She also states that researchers from Canada, India, and Kenya agree that legalizing sex work could decrease HIV infections by 33 to 46 percent. Lynn-nore Chittom and Cheryl Bourassa “Legalizing prostitution could significantly reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including AIDS.
The Royal College of Nursing in Great Britain has called for legalization of prostitution so that these women will feel empowered to seek necessary health care. They believe that criminalization forces prostitutes with STDs or significant mental health issues to avoid seeking medical assistance out of fear that they will be reported to the authorities.”(Chittom and Bourassa) If prostitution was decriminalized, laws could be set in place to regulate sex workers health. Such laws could require trainings on sexual health and regular examinations.
In addition to the ways decriminalizing sex work would help prostitutes and trafficking victims, there are financial benefits that would affect everyone. If prostitution was legalized, the government could collect sex workers’ tax revenue. Prostitutes could file their taxes without being forced to commit tax fraud and the government would receive more money. Abigail Blanco agrees that legalizing prostitution would be financially beneficial to everyone involved. “Street prostitutes in America earn approximately $18,000 annually for their services. Those working as high-end escorts can earn upward of $200,000 a year. The price of a trick ranges anywhere from $15 to more than $1,000, “Blanco says. Additionally, law enforcement would spend less money arresting and imprisoning prostitutes and their clients.
A possible way to combat the decriminalization of prostitution is a variant of semi-legalization. More and more Northern European countries, along with Canada, implement a model for prostitution known as the Nordic Model. The Nordic Model is a legal framework in which selling sex is legal, but buying it is a crime. While the model has been criticized, it works in favor of sex workers by seeing them as victims. William Wicki, a writer for the Stanford Daily, argues that it works, but is flawed, in the U.K. by only placing a ban on purchasing sex from victims who have been subjected to force.
‘Prostitutes are overwhelmingly victims. This is why the American model, where both the buying and selling of sex are criminal, is unjust. Police departments across the U.S. now even officially acknowledge that most prostitutes are victims. Accordingly, many departments claim to be shifting their focus to arresting purchasers as opposed to prostitutes.'(Wicki) Studies show that criminalizing only sex with victims does not decrease sex trafficking, or even pressure sex buyers to confirm that they are doing business with a consenting worker. Wicki argues that banning all buying is the best choice.
Not everyone agrees with Wicki. Angela Campbell, Professor and associate dean at McGill University’s law school believes that The Nordic Model falls short in a few ways. She says that the Nordic Model continues to stigmatize sex work and regards all prostitutes as victims. This both blurs the line between consenting workers and trafficking victims and drives prostitutes work in more dangerous environment. The Nordic Model is simply just another way to paint sex work as immoral and dehumanize the individuals who take part in it. Luckily, many countries have found ways to decriminalize prostitution that don’t thwart the people they were designed to protect.
Chittom and Bourassa also argue that full or semi-legalization is better than The Nordic Model. New Zealand legalized all sex work in 2003, and has outlined health and safety policies, including the mandatory use of condoms, zoning for brothels, and bylaws regarding brothels’ signs. Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, but sex workers serve as Guest Relationship Officers and take regular STD tests. Furthermore, in a few Islamic countries sex outside of marriage is forbidden, so transactions are treated as short marriages.
In this day and age, some people still are not used to the world’s oldest profession. Many people who oppose it claim to champion women’s rights, but ultimately do not want the decriminalization of prostitution. These views stem from ignorance and the inability to differentiate between consenting sex workers and human trafficking victims. Nearly all problems prostitutes face are problems they suffer because they are forced to operate in the shadows. If the United States adopted prostitution laws similar to New Zealand’s, prostitutes would be able to operate legally out of brothels and have very clear, very strict health and safety codes. It is time to stop forcing these individuals to live in the dark.