7 Reasons Why America Should Legalise Prostitution

ProstituteAP Photo/Jae C. HongGeisha, a prostitute working at the Chicken Ranch brothel, rests in her bed in Pahrump, Nev.

Business Insider’s Dylan Love had his expectations shattered when he reported on a Nevada brothel and observed that legalized, well-regulated prostitution can be both
safe and profitable.

Nevada only allows prostitution in licensed brothels that test workers routinely for sexually transmitted infections. While Love is not the first to observe legal prostitution can be relatively safe, Nevada’s rural counties are the only place in America where the world’s oldest profession is officially allowed.

Here are seven solid arguments for why the rest of the United States should let people sell sex in a well-regulated capacity, as they do in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and parts of Mexico, among other countries.

It Would Reduce Violence Against Women

Prostitutes in America (mostly women) are vulnerable to violence from customers and pimps.

A study of San Francisco prostitutes found that 82% had been assaulted and 68% had been raped while working as prostitutes. Another study of prostitutes in Colorado Springs found they were 18 times more likely to be murdered than non-prostitutes their age and race.

Prostitutes who experience violence may be reluctant to call the cops since what they’re doing is illegal. Sex workers in licensed brothels, on the other hand, can have somebody to back them up, according to a paper by Barbara Brents and Kathryn Hausbeck of the University of Nevada. Brents and Hausbeck interviewed brothel owners and made these observations:

Brothel owners have a clear interest in maintaining their image as law-abiding, trouble-free businesses to keep their licenses and maintain good relations within their communities. The owners we interviewed ensure this by making it policy to call the police at the slightest hint of trouble to send a message that they don’t tolerate bad behaviour. “The whole name of the game is control. But that control also makes us get along pretty well with the sheriff’s office,” one owner told the researchers. “There are two reasons for doing it, one, the sheriff’s office, but also the girls’ personal safety.”

The study concluded that “brothels offer the safest environment available for women to sell consensual sex acts for money.”

Legalization Would Make Sex Workers Healthier

Illegal street prostitutes might face pressure from pimps and Johns to forgo condoms. But states that legalise prostitution can require sex workers to use condoms and get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

Sex workers in Nevada have to get monthly tests for syphilis and HIV and weekly tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia. Nevada also requires condoms for all sex in brothels. This law is posted on the outside of the state’s brothels, according to the paper by Barbara Brents and Kathryn Hausbeck of the University of Nevada.

Nevada BrothelReuters/Adam TannerSusan Austin, the madam at the Wild Horse Adult Resort & Spa outside Reno, poses outside the World Famous Brothel in Nevada.

“All of the women we interviewed were passionate about expressing their support for these law. For example, they insisted that they always use condoms, whether the client prefers to or not,” the report stated.

Making sex work a crime can drive prostitutes underground and make them less likely to practice safe sex and get tested for sexually transmitted disease.

An April 2012 study by the Urban Justice Center found that New York City cops were actually using condoms found on women as evidence in criminal prostitution cases against them. It’s easy to imagine how this practice might deter sex workers from carrying protection.

The United Nations Development Programme published a report last year on illegal sex work in Asia and the Pacific that highlighted just how damaging the criminalization of sex work can be to women’s health. Here’s what it said:

Criminalization increases vulnerability to HIV by fueling stigma and discrimination, limiting access to HIV and sexual health services, condoms and harm reduction services, and adversely affecting the self-esteem of sex workers and their ability to make informed choices about their health.

Prostitution Is Arguably A Victimless Crime

While some advocates argue that prostitutes are victims of Johns and pimps, sex work can be a victimless crime if women sell their bodies of their own volition. (Moreover, it doesn’t make sense to arrest sex workers if they are their own “victims.”)

As Cornell law professor Sherry Colb has written, “Prostitution should not be a crime. Prostitutes are not committing an inherently harmful act. While the spread of disease and other detriments are possible in the practice of prostitution, criminalization is a sure way of exacerbating rather than addressing such effects.”

Legal Prostitution Can Be A Source Of Tax Revenue

While brothels in Nevada pay no state taxes, they pay “significant amounts of tax” to the rural counties where they do business, according to The New York Times. (Nevada Republicans blocked a plan a couple of years ago to subject brothels to state taxes, as they didn’t want schools and other state services funded by sex work.)

Illegal prostitution businesses in America, of course, pay no taxes. If those brothels were legalized, then state and county governments could gain significant revenue.

Let government share in the revenue, but otherwise stay out of the affairs of consenting adults,” MSNBC political analyst Michael Smerconish has written.

Legalization Could Save Precious Law Enforcement Resources

The investigation into notorious John, and former New York governor, Eliot Spitzer is a perfect example of how costly it can be to probe sophisticated prostitution rings.

Ashley Alexandra DupreReuters/Carlo AllegriAshley Alexandra Dupre, pictured here, was a high-priced prostitute who had Eliot Spitzer for a client.

“In this case, they wiretapped 5,000 phone conversations, intercepted 6,000 emails, used surveillance and undercover tactics that are more appropriate for trapping terrorists than entrapping Johns,” famed Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Dershowitz has also told MSNBC’s Michael Smerconish, “Every hour spent going after prostitution is an hour that could have been spent going after terrorists and going after people who victimize.”

Legal Prostitutes Could Get Labour Rights

Legally employed people in America get rights like a minimum wage, freedom from discrimination, and a safe work environment. Since prostitutes don’t work legally, they don’t get any of those rights.

The United Nations Development Programme’s report on sex work in Asia and the Pacific highlighted why it’s problematic when sex workers don’t have legal rights.

Sex workers in all countries of the region except New Zealand and the state of New South Wales (Australia) lack the labour rights afforded to other workers, including the legal right to a safe and healthy workplace and to reasonable terms and conditions of employment … Labour laws and social security laws that do not recognise sex work as legitimate work contribute to stigma and marginalization of sex workers.

Prostitution Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon

There will always be lonely or kinky men in America who will pay for sex, and there will always be women willing to rent out their bodies. As the anthropologist Patty Kelly has written in the Los Angeles Times, prostitution has become a “part of our culture” in the United States.

It’s high time to legalise and regulate this part of American life, even if a lot of people have ethical problems with it.

We legalise and regulate a ton of commerce that’s morally controversial — like gambling, alcohol, tobacco, lap-dancing, and pornography. Yes, women can be coerced into prostituting themselves. But we’re not helping them by making consenting sex work a crime.

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