The history of people’s perception of sex work entails a fairly negative view of those that perform and solicit such activity. Many believe that prostitutes are talentless, have no respect for themselves, and that they have mental insecurities because of the line of work they have chosen. These ideas are stereotypes that may be true for some in the line of work, but do not reflect the entire population of sex workers. Let’s remember that correlation does not give causation for any argument. Having said that, people with two dimensional views on sex work need to open up to ideas that do not support these stereotypes, which will open serious discussions about legalization. With legalization the safety of the people involved is put first. In that case, prostitution and other consensual sex work should be legal, due to the fact that millions in this business are put in danger as they do not have any support from the legal system. With legal support, those involved will be more secure and protected, resulting in less misfortune associated with this line of work.
Decriminalizing prostitution is said to be the best way to ensure the safety of sex workers when paired with allowing their voices to speak for what they are comfortable with in regards to laws. In places around the world where prostitution has been decriminalized, such as New Zealand, sex workers had a say in the laws created for the protection of their own lives. As a result, these laws reflect the needs of the sex workers, rather than what others project on them.
In places where prostitution is not legal, many women account that they have been physically and sexually abused. Of these groups, only 26 percent of respondents felt they could report these episodes to the police. These are hauntingly low numbers considering the fact that the sex industry is the 3rd largest underground institution. In New Zealand, the Prostitution Reform Act (2003) was created for the purpose of decriminalizing prostitution in order to “safeguard the human rights of sex workers and protect them from exploitation.” ( New Zealand Legislation). Because this Act takes into consideration the workers safety first, it continues to be highly effective at keeping them as safe as possible. A study from the Christ Church School of Medicine reported that 90 percent of sex workers in New Zealand feel that they now have fair employment, health and legal rights. 64 percent of sex workers found it easier to refuse clients while 57 percent found that police treatment has changed positively as a result of the PRA. To contrast the feelings of sex workers in places where such is illegal, in places where their safety is put first as humans, the numbers show a true decrease in the dangers associated with this line of work.
In places where prostitution is illegal, the efforts of authorities are being undermined due to the fact that they are not able to perform their duties fairly. The job of a police officer is to enforce the law, protect the people and their property. In the case of prostitution, the two duties of law enforcement and protecting the people become conflicting ideas. With decriminalization, prostitution would be a victimless crime that the worker nor solicitor are put in danger in consensual and safe situations. In operations targeted at arresting those involved in trafficking and underaged prostitution, 97 percent of the convicted are women and 93 percent of such are consenting (Treating Sex work As Work). Obviously, the individuals convicted are not the targeted sources of crime, as the people running these trafficking services are still in business.
While the officers are still technically doing their job, you can hardly call these operations a success as they arrest people performing crimes instead of putting attention to those that are exploiting and infringing the freedom of others. Take the Cyntoia Brown case as an example, a sixteen year old was convicted as an adult for killing a man that paid her for sex. One problem with this is that a real victim of sex trafficking was sent to prison while those that jeopardized her freedom, and no doubt many other young women, are not brought to justice. The larger issue is that people immediately pair prostitution with trafficking when they are two completely different things. Trafficking is forced labor while prostitution is consensual, they are not the same and when people treat them the same, problems such as these occur. Unfair arrests made on these presumptions distract from the core issues, but legalization could help clear these assumptions by setting clear distinctions between forced and consensual labor.
The environments of legal and illegal prostitution would be distinctly different for the workers and solicitors as a result of decriminalization and the ability to create a legal, safe and integral industry. For example, the legal brothels in Nevada, according to Barbara G. Bents article for The New York Times, states that 84 percent of the workers there feel safe at work. This is due to the fact that employers, police and co-workers are there for their protection. Creating establishments that are explicitly for sex workers under legalization will result in a safe nonjudgmental place for sex workers and customers to do their business without legal stresses, resulting in a decrease of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, abuse in the line of work, and trafficking and underage prostitution. Those who do not agree with the morality of prostitution will often argue that it goes against the efforts of women’s rights. However, full decriminalization actually perpetuates their ideas in a modern setting. The ideas presented in the Declaration of Sentiments, a document created for the women’s rights convention held at Seneca Falls in 1846, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton detail these injustices and oppression women face in a patriarchal society. In the document, there is a long list of different scenarios in which men limit and control the freedom of women. One could apply all of the scenarios to the decriminalization of prostitution, but the one that will be discussed in regards to this topic will be, “ he has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.” This applies to decriminalization because consensual prostitution is considered illegal, which disregards the rights of the women involved. This states that women do not have the ability to dictate what they do with their bodies.
Another modern example of this might work in a current society is the Swedish model for legalization, which states that it is illegal to pay for sex, but not to sell sex. This system is popular in most countries that have legalized some form of prostitution, and in the process goes against women’s rights activists by reversing the blame from men, who are normally considered morally superior, to holding them accountable for the actions that take place between two consenting adults. The underlying idea behind this is that a grown woman is unable to legally give consent in regards to prostitution as an underaged person is unable to give consent to adults. Effectively, this model puts women in the same boat as children. Complete legalization needs to be put into effect to honor the ideas of these activist by putting men and women on an equal standing under the law as well as respecting the abilities of sexual workers.
In regards to prostitution, it’s existence is one of those things that are going to happen whether it be legal or not. With this in mind, it would be much more logical for prostitution to be legalized, as that allows for regulation by authorities who have the ability to protect sex workers under the law. Decriminalization of prostitution will only shed light on the issues that are hidden by the stereotypes and misconceptions of those involved. Some may say that legalizing prostitution will open doors for underage prostitution and trafficking, which is a groundless argument. On the contrary, legalization calls for higher security, with makes it harder for such activities to prevail when workers have a voice to report such activities. Prostitution is not the same as trafficking. It allows people to perform consensual sexual activities in exchange for monetary compensation. It is not the same as forcing others to do so. These are two different separate issues that too often are combined. Legalization needs to be put into effect for the safety of sex workers and citizens under the law.
Brents, Barbara G. “Nevada’s Legal Brothels Make Workers Feel Safer.” The New York Times, 23 January 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/04/19/is-legalized-prostitution-safer/nevadas-legal-brothels-make-workers-feel-safer
Fraser, Crichton. “ Decriminalising sex work in New Zealand: it’s history and impact.” Open Democracy, 21 August 2015, https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/fraser-crichton/decriminalising-sex-work-in-new-zealand-its-history-and-impact
Jennifer, Wright. “Why prostitution should be Legal.” Harper’s Bazaar, 26 April 2018, https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a20067359/why-prostitution-should-be-legal/
Lynzi, Armstrong. “ Decriminalising sex work is the only way to protect women- and New Zealand has proved it works.” Independent, 29 May 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/sex-workers-decriminalisation-of-prostitution-new-zealand-new-law-works-research-proves-sex-workers-a7761426.html
Maggie, Mcneill. “Treating Sex work as work.” Cato Unbound, 2 December 2013, https://www.cato-unbound.org/2013/12/02/maggie-mcneill/treating-sex-work-work
Prostitution Reform Act 2003 Available at: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2003/0028/latest/DLM197815.html
Declaration of Sentiments 1846 Available at: http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/docs/seneca.html
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