The Riddle of Prostitution
“Banning something is the easiest way to make it desirable.” -TG
The ability to make reasonable decisions in a calm and sober manner based solely on the evidence presented is an incredible and underrated quality. It entails sublimating the emotional and often crowd-pleasing sentiments to the rational and objective ones, and making a decision based on the latter.
The ability for a politician to make decisions or craft policy according to neutral facts and evidence present rather than party affiliation, targeted influence or re-election bias has become so rare, it might very well be considered a superpower. The topic of prostitution, for instance, has been a hallmark of poor decision making on legislation by law and policymakers, based solely on outdated policies and a medieval approach to the pay for play issue.
Prostitution in the U.S. is an ever-growing social and political debate. The cracking down on the criminalized practice has resulted in huge numbers of arrests and imprisonment, which come at a high cost, and has precipitated the growth of an entire criminal industry. It has also augmented the criminal influence on populations living in the inner city, especially women, who when absorbed by the illegal sex trade are left at the mercy of their criminal captors.
Eight U.S. states (Texas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri) hand down felony charges for prostitution. And even though prostitution-related arrests have steadily dropped since the early 2000s, around 50,000-60,000 arrests happen every year.
Predictably, it’s clearly not affecting the sex industry. A 2007 study conducted by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority found that women who were released from jail with sex offenses, the vast majority of them with prostitution charges, were the likeliest to be arrested again on similar charges.
It’s simple economics: As a product gets more difficult to acquire (in this case due to government restrictions), its value increases, and therefore its price, profit, and appeal to potential businessmen lead to a growing criminal market. Sweden, Switzerland, and Holland, on the other hand, have always adopted modern, comprehensive, and rational stances concerning the practice, with laws more concerned toward how prostitution is conducted rather than criminalizing it.
The sex-for-goods transaction is one of the oldest existing exchanges in human history — there’s a reason it’s called the world’s oldest profession. Wherever we find evidence of human culture, we find evidence of prostitution, including in the earliest known societies emerging in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, as far back as the third millennium B.C.
Prostitution may not even be unique to our species, with studies showing that both Adelie penguins and chimpanzees engage in what is referred to as “transactional sex.” A 1998 study reports that shortage of stone needed for the construction of a penguin nest lead female Adelie penguins to trade sex for stones. Chimpanzees who appear to be trading food for sex have also been described as engaging in prostitution.
It is pretty fair to assume, based on the evidence at hand, that no amount of government policy or enforcement will eradicate this multi-species practice, which has been completely immune from regulation over the years. Nor should the government even attempt to do that.
In my opinion, it is an infringement on personal liberties for government to prosecute and imprison individuals solely for alleged “misuse” of their own bodies. Additionally, if the government stopped prosecuting prostitutes and their clients, an entire criminal market with an intrinsically complex hierarchy worth billions of dollars would disappear overnight. Some form of the industry would reappear in the legal private sector (as alcohol did after Prohibition).
Wouldn’t the legal, private, and safer alternative of prostitution render it a more attractive venture to potential clients? Since they will seek out this service no matter what, shouldn't pragmatic government regulations prevail to ensure the greatest safety and health to all? Similarly, an end to the criminalization of prostitution would give more power to private industries to capitalize on what is regarded as one of the most popular and sellable products in existence: Sex.
And most importantly, wouldn’t the safety and well-being of the prostitutes themselves be dramatically improved? They would go from outlaws, handled and supervised by dangerous criminals and exposed to all sorts of abuse and common medical dangers, to private industry employees protected by their companies as well as law enforcement and medical professionals.
Disease would plummet, if not vanish, for both clients and sellers given the surveillance and supervision provided by companies who want to maintain their safe and secure appeal. Plus, law enforcement would be charged with the general well-being of those employed in the sex industry rather than their imprisonment.
One only has to look at Holland, which legalized prostitution in 2000, and where being a “sex worker” is considered a regular job. They have the same rights, protections, and obligations as any worker in the Netherlands. Since 2011, they even pay taxes on their earnings. Sex workers also have access to medical care facilitated by the government, and have to do regular health checkups. Brothel owners also need to get a health certificate before being able to employ and start a business. All this in addition to several police controls who routinely check that no abuse is taking place. Clearly, they got it right.
It has always baffled me that pornography is entirely legal, and prostitution is not, with the only differentiator between the two being whether or not a camera is recording the act. Could similar medical constraints already put in place in the adult film industry for prostitutes be unimaginable? I think not.
Despite the clear upsides, just mentioning the legalization of prostitution today is likely to be met with laughter and ridicule in the U.S. This is no doubt related to an old and outdated view of sex itself, often taboo in religious circles and still regarded by the educational system as a health hazard.
It is understandable that for some this proposition might seem grossly uncomfortable or negligent. But the obvious benefits toward law and order, the decrease in criminal influence over young and vulnerable young women, and the incontestable financial incentive far exceed the need for comfort or reassurance.
Once more, it is through the struggle against government infringement and authority that personal liberties will come to fruition.