Arguments For and Against the Legalization of Prostitution

Arguments For and Against the Legalization of Prostitution

The Lost Girls
For the casual member of society, prostitutes are a disgrace, worthless and undeserving of any kind of respect or recognition. They are spoken of in whispers with audible disdain, the vermin of humanity. Albeit inaccurately, prostitution has been referred to as “the oldest profession” due to its references in the bible. Most citizens of major cities could readily list at least one location in their town known as a harbor for such professionals. However, the laws regarding prostitution are driven by self-righteousness and personal belief as opposed to the welfare of society. Regardless of the common societal perspective, for the lonely soul in search of companionship and/or emotional release of some sort, prostitutes are viewed as saviors. They are the friends to the friendless, the refuge in moments of despair. Prostitution should be made legal in recognition of constitutional rights, to improve marital status, to help control the spread of AIDS and other diseases, to minimize or prevent the objectification of women, and to protect the American citizens.

Part-time Freedom
Some argue that prostitution violates women’s rights, yet this claim is completely contrary to the truth. Prostitution, by definition, is a chosen profession. The violation of rights occurs in the sense that individuals are denied the right to sell the wares that are uniquely their own. The constitution supports the rights of the citizens of the United States to be free to pursue whatever profession they choose, provided it is legal. There are many professions that are, understandably, against the law. Selling drugs or guns, stealing, etc. are clearly harmful to others, sometimes the buyer, sometimes the buyer’s enemy, and other times the prior owner of the property. However, it seems unfeasible that the selling of one’s own property would be considered illegal. Prostitution is quite simply the selling of property that solely belongs to the seller – no other could lay claim to the item being sold. Germany acknowledged this fact and passed a law legalizing prostitution, as well as allowing prostitutes the right to unemployment benefits, pensions, and sick pay. Consequently, brothels have also been legalized in Germany, although the law preventing living off of prostitute’s earnings is still in effect. Sweden publicly opposes Germany’s decision, however, Sweden does not criminalize purchasing sexual services ( The dispute concerning prostitutes’ rights is clearly not limited to the United States, and the views of the people are as varied as their origins. contains extensive information regarding the controversy surrounding the legalization of prostitution. Those in opposition to the legalization of prostitution claim that it “violates the right to physical and moral integrity by the alienation of women’s sexuality that is appropriated, debased, and reduced to a commodity to be bought and sold (Hoffman, 1997, paragraph 1).” The Prostitutes’ Education Network, an organization devoted to the publication of the prostitute’s perspective, believes that an individual’s rights should not be violated based on their profession (Prostitutes’ Education Network, 2009, paragraph 1). Furthermore, the Prostitutes’ Education Network states, “Prostitution is the provision of sexual services for negotiated payment between consenting adults. So defined, prostitution is a service industry like any other in which people exchange skills for money or other reward (Prostitutes’ Education Network, 2009, paragraph 2).” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (2007) also contends that laws against prostitution violate the right to individual privacy by imposing sanctions pertaining to the private conduct of consenting adults (paragraph 3). Regardless of whether individuals are using sexual activity for recreational purposes or for business purposes should not be a concern of the government, but rather should be the choice of the individuals involved (American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 2007, paragraph 3).

Prostitution, by definition, is a chosen profession. The violation of rights occurs in the sense that individuals are denied the right to sell the wares that are uniquely their own. It is unconstitutional to call prostitution a crime. Unlike other professions considered illegal, prostitution does not threaten anyone. Prostitution provides a desired service based on natural behavior and should, therefore, be made legal.

Sacred Vows
Many staunch opponents to prostitution claim that it negatively affects marriage. Dorn Checkley, Director of the Pittsburg Coalition Against Pornography, stated in “Legalized Prostitution?” which was last updated on Jan. 22, 2007 on, that no one enjoys sexual competition or being cheated on and that such actions will always hurt. Additionally, Krishna-agrawala (2009) alleges that not only is prostitution damaging to marriage, but the legalization of prostitution would also require that adultery be legalized. This assertion is, however, rather presumptuous and dramatic. First of all, prostitution does not automatically imply that adultery is involved. Unmarried individuals are at least as likely to desire prostitution as married individuals. Also, some spouses might perceive benefits to their spouses engaging in relations with prostitutes. John Ince, an attorney and the leader of the Sex Party, stated in The Politics of Lust, Committed relationships have intrinsic rewards to both men and women. Most people report that sex within a committed relationship is superior to casual sexual contact. Further, such emotionally bonding sex costs no money. Commitment also offers continuing companionship, emotional security, and an opportunity to pool economic resources and share the responsibility for children. These positive outcomes will always make committed relationships appealing to most people, even those who have access to prostitutes. Further, sex workers can provide committed couples a way to gratify needs for sexual variety without risking the emotional attachments arising from sexual affairs. (2003, paragraph 1)
Paul Abramson, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of California Los Angeles, Steven Pinkerton, PhD, Professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Mark Huppin, JD, PhD, co-author, wrote in their 2003 Sexual Rights in America that the excess sexual energy men experience can be channeled away from such actions as adultery and rape with the availability of these commercial sex partners. An author and former prostitute in an interview on Court TV asserted that prostitution actually helps to maintain the stability of marriages (Quan, 2001). Rhia Mami (2011) points out that illegality has never stopped married men from cheating and legalizing prostitution is not likely to increase such activity. Deviant behavior does not stem from external circumstances, but rather from internal inclinations. Legalizing prostitution is not likely to increase adultery, but is more likely to lessen adulterous behavior and strengthen spousal relationships.

Social Diseases
Another argument against prostitution is that it increases the spread of AIDS. John Bambenek (2007) claims that support for the minimization of AIDS cannot be maintained while simultaneously supporting the legalization of prostitution (2007, paragraph 1). In fact, the opposite is true. Carol Leigh, the founder of Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network (BAYSWAN) and also a former prostitute, announced in a segment entitled “Justice Talking” on National Public Radio (NPR) that bringing prostitution out of the underground would enable us to more effectively combat such issues as forced prostitution, juvenile prostitution, and other such abuses (2002, paragraph 1). So long as prostitutes remain in hiding, disease will spread. However, if prostitution were legalized, as with the act itself, sexually transmitted diseases would be able to be monitored. Much like the pornography business, prostitutes would be required to maintain documentation proving they are free from illness. Furthermore, since prostitution would no longer be illegal, advertisements could discreetly encourage the buyers to ensure they “protect” themselves.

Less Than Human
Many in opposition to the legalization of prostitution claim that it dehumanizes and objectifies women. In the Harvard Law Review, Barbara Johnson refers to Mary Joe Frug’s A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto (An Unfinished Draft) (1992), stating,
Frug analyzes the ways in which the “random, demeaning, and sometimes brutal character of anti-prostitution law enforcement” exploits, criminalizes, and alienates female sexuality, ensures its continued control by and for men, maximizes the insecurity of the sex worker, and contributes to many women’s fear of “looking like a whore.” (Johnson, 1992, page 4)

Johnson reports Frug’s perception that law enforcement itself is chiefly responsible for the treatment of prostitutes and their continued reliance on the profession and its abusive environment. Bill O’Donnell, who was formerly a Nevada state senator, was quoted by Alexa Albert in her book, Brothel (2001) as having compared the state’s legal prostitution to the stamping of cattle, claiming that the state was putting a stamp on the butts of the prostitutes when they should be helping them return to society (2001, paragraph 1). However, Lenore Kuo, PhD, a Professor at Women Studies at California State University at Fresno, CA wrote in her book Prostitution Policy: Revolutionizing Practice Through a Gendered Perspective that the normalization of the sale of sexual activity is the key to making sex and, consequently, women, unremarkable (2002, paragraph 1). In other words, so long as prostitutes are identified as obscene and taboo, they will continue to be perceived as objects of desire. The only way to change that perspective is to make the profession legal and commonplace, thereby eliminating the element of mysticism and bringing prostitution back the level of everyday employment. The fact that prostitution is considered a stigma is the greatest factor in its negative effect on society and its participants. If prostitutes are no longer viewed as filthy and unworthy of respect, they can begin to respect themselves. With self-respect comes concern for one’s own welfare. A prostitute who considers herself to be no better than a rat in a gutter is not likely to care for her own safety, much less the safety of those she interacts with. Contrarily, a prostitute who recognizes that she is as much a member of society and as worthy of respect as an accountant, administrative assistant, or chemist is far more likely to ensure her own safety and protect against the threat of disease.

Battered, Beaten, and Broken
The most consistent argument against prostitution is the psychological and physical damage it causes for the prostitutes. Here again is where the stigma cloud comes into play. Nursing Standard published an article addressing the health issues prostitutes suffer due to their fear of discrimination at the hands of the nursing staff. They are convinced they will not receive the care they need due to the perceived prejudice in the medical community, and instead choose to deal with their medical and drug problems on their own (Harrison, 2005). The Journal of Political Philosophy recognized the detestable conditions regarding health and security for prostitutes stating,
Prostitutes who work in regulated houses of prostitution are less likely to be raped, killed, infected by venereal or sexually transmitted diseases, and to transmit them to Johns. If one tries to abolish prostitution rather than regulate it, it does not actually get abolished. Instead, the medical control, the legitimation of condom use, and the security provisions created by a bouncer downstairs are what are abolished. (Stinchcombe & Nielsen, 2009)
Stinchcombe and Nielsen understood the plight of the prostitute and her consternation in seeking public assistance in times of distress or danger. Harrison’s analysis confirms the observation that the public treatment of prostitution ensures their continued health issues and the spread of disease, not to mention the fatalities they suffer, which is directly linked to the criminals’ knowledge of their fear to seek protection.

Modern Slavery
Pimps are commonly identified as chief sources of abuse for prostitutes. Those opposed to prostitution often refer to pimps as supporting evidence of the need to abolish prostitution. I do not disagree concerning the negative aspect pimps can have on prostitutes, however, I disagree with the proposed action. Pimps derive their power from the fear the prostitutes suffer, a fear generally originating not only from the pimp, but also from society. Women exchange either all of their earnings or at least some portion of their earnings for the protection a pimp offers from customers who refuse to pay or are abusive as well as from other pimps who might attempt to force the prostitutes to work for them (what-when-how, n.d.).
The relationship between pimps and slaves is generally regarded as being similar to the relationship between a master and his slave. It is for this reason that even in societies where prostitution is permitted, a stipulation is often added preventing one individual from using a prostitute’s earnings to fund their existence. A Chocolate City blog posting refers to the Wikipedia description of a pimp as an agent who lives off of the earnings of the prostitute. The posting points out that the relationship between a pimp and a prostitute can be abusive and that the pimp may use manipulation, psychological intimidation, and physical force in an attempt to gain control over his prostitutes (sekle, 2011).

In actuality, it is the pimps that help to increase and simultaneously degrade prostitution exponentially. Like the drug dealers who steadily work to increase the quantity and dependency levels of their customers as they increase their supply, pimps take pride in the quantity and quality of the women they prostitute. Celia Williamson and Terry Cluse-Tolar writing for the University of Toledo in Violence Against Women, Vol. 8 No. 9, September 2002 did a study on prostitutes being controlled by pimps. The article analyzed the methods used by the pimps as well as the perspectives of pimps and prostitutes. The article states, “A pimp offers hope for the future, and women see this as an opportunity to be financially successful. During the time a prostitute is entering the profession of street-level prostitution, the pimp is said to be “turning her out” or has “turned her out” on the streets to make a profit (Page 7, paragraph 4).” The women analyzed in the article were enticed with compliments on their beauty and told that they were wanted, so much so that men would pay for them (Williamson & Cluse-Tolar, 2002). In this manner, pimps create prostitutes, utilizing them for their own benefit while providing only as little as needed to keep the women working for them, sometimes nothing more than abuse and oppression.

Abhorrence Breeds Self-Loathing
Prostitution, being illegal, attracts generally those individuals who are in the most desperate state of affairs and have reached the point where they feel they have no other choice. As they see it, they are alone in the world and feel selling their bodies is their only method of survival. Arrest is frequently viewed as a temporary shelter for such poor souls. Those who manage to avoid arrest often feel they are stuck in their environment and see no means of escape. The very perception of the act draws those who are already in a sad state of affairs psychologically, and often physically. Legalizing prostitution would prevent this draw, making the profession more controlled. The young and desperate would find the selling of their bodies to be quite so easy, given the regulations and expectations of the buyers. Therefore, they would no longer consider prostitution as a last resort, and would be forced to seek out help.

John Bambenek (2007) claims that forced sex will increase with the legalization of prostitution (paragraph 6). The US Department of State wrote an article entitled “The Link Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking” on November 24th of 2004, which it has provided on its website. This article claims, “Where prostitution is legalized or tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery…(US Department of State, 2004, paragraph 2)” This has been debated at length in countries all over the world. The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote their own article in 2005 entitled “Dutch Policy on Prostitution: Questions and Answers”, which it also provided on its website. The Netherlands found that the best way to counter such abuses was to update the law to the current reality (Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2005, paragraph 1). The article further states that, “The legalization of brothels enables the government to exercise more control over the sex industry and counter abuses (Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2005, paragraph 2).” The article supports this claim by pointing out that regular controls of the brothels allows them to more easily discern signs of human trafficking (Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2005, paragraph 2). The main purpose of the legalization of prostitution is to control such abuses.
If the efforts the police forces currently exercise patrolling and arresting prostitutes were redirected towards such regular visits to the brothels to verify their status, not only would they not lose any effort, they would save themselves the trouble of hunting down the murderers and traffickers by staying in control of the situation, not to mention the lives and minds that would be saved in the process. So long as prostitutes cower in darkness, afraid of the only ones that are sworn to protect them for fear of prosecution, they are subject to the mercies of the pimps and sex criminals, marketing them like cattle and treating them with far less care. Placing restrictions on prostitution (such as age, consistently updated disease testing, documentation to be maintained by the head of the brothel of those receiving the “treatments” [such documentation should, of course, be protected by the law, much like patient records, etc. in order to protect the privacy of those individuals, and would only be applicable in legal matters for the protection or defense of the performer], possibly even classes and/or licenses to perform such personal acts, etc.) and requiring certain standards will make it far easier for the law to recognize and control forced sex slavery, not to mention that those in such situations would no longer be afraid to seek legal assistance for themselves. If they are no longer the criminals, then they have nothing to fear from the law.

Overall, there are many arguments for and against the legalization of prostitution. Such debates could continue for hours, yet what cannot be disputed are the rights of the individuals. American citizens deserve the right to seek out employment in whatever profession they desire, and should not be denied lawful protection from those who would abuse and exploit them in the performance of their tasks. Additionally, Americans should not be dehumanized and identified as unequal or unworthy of such rights solely on the basis of their profession. As with such prejudicial circumstances throughout history, this injustice must be publicized and dealt with, misconceptions must be eliminated, and the truth must be emphasized. The rights to freedom and safety should never be questioned.

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