Opinion: Decriminalize prostitution, protect sex workers

The profession of prostitution The idea of supply and demand in economics has been around since the beginning of human civilization. This economic theory explains the relationship between the quantity of a commodity provided by a producer and the quantity consumers are willing to purchase. However, much of society disagrees that this basic economic concept…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/meganhackbarth/" target="_self">Megan Hackbarth</a>

Megan Hackbarth

January 18, 2021

The profession of prostitution

The idea of supply and demand in economics has been around since the beginning of human civilization. This economic theory explains the relationship between the quantity of a commodity provided by a producer and the quantity consumers are willing to purchase. However, much of society disagrees that this basic economic concept also applies to the world’s most well-known and oldest profession — prostitution.

There is so much controversy and criminalization towards the profession of prostitution leading to growing disagreements and problems toward sex workers. The profession of prostitution should never have been a controversial topic when involving consenting adults. This profession continues to flourish regardless of the numerous bans and laws against it.

Prostitution is a profession, a freedom, a body choice, and a form of sexual expression for approximately 40-42 million sex workers as of 2016 according to ProCon. Criminalization only makes matters worse, not better. The legalization of prostitution needs to be addressed to reduce violence against sex workers, protect their health, and recognize sex is legal between two consenting adults no matter the circumstance.


Reduces violence against sex workers

The legalization of prostitution actively reduces the violence against sex workers by implementing regulations and protections helping sex workers. The criminalization that is prevalent in contemporary society places many sex workers at risk for violence.

The ingrained criminalization and “illegal status…makes prostitutes more vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse” according to “Street Prostitution Zones and Crime” research paper. Criminalization is a hate crime that grows as time progresses. Criminalization stems from the government’s lack of action to legalize prostitution. Law enforcement is one of many perpetrators of violence towards prostitutes.

Nongovernmental organization Tais Plus that supports sex workers reported one law enforcement encounter, “Central Internal Affairs … called on citizens of the city of Bishkek to photograph sex workers and bring photos to the police station” according to Network of Sex Work Projects.

In that situation, law enforcement took advantage of the prevalent stigma by supporting the disapproval toward sex workers. The sex workers were attacked and experienced both emotional and physical violence. Public humiliation enacted by law enforcement attracts only more people to follow and authorize violence. The intolerance of prostitution disregards the safety of sex workers. Legalizing prostitution at the government level, will ensure more safety for sex workers by prompting law enforcement to follow regulations and protocols.

There have been many countries that decriminalized prostitution which led to the decrease of violence. The Netherlands, which decriminalized and legalized prostitution has seen lower rates of violence — rape and sexual assault. A study conducted compared Dutch cities with and without tippelzones which are public areas that legalize prostitution.

The trends from the study indicated “[T]ippelzone reduces sexual abuse and rape … 30–40% reduction in the first two years…long-term decreases in sexual assaults.” Many government regulations including licenses and legalized prostitution zones illustrated in the study reinforce the importance of legalizing prostitution. The decriminalization and acceptance allow the government to help regulate the conditions and rules of prostitution. These regulations ultimately reduce violence against sex workers. The health of sex workers will also be protected from the legalization of prostitution.


Protect the health of sex workers

The decriminalization of prostitution positively impacts the protection of health of sex workers. Legalizing prostitution leads to better outcomes for sex workers by “Bringing the industry out of the black market and imposing strict regulations has improved the safety of sex workers. Brothels are required to obtain and renew safety and hygiene licenses in order to operate” according to Annamarie Forestiere’s “To Protect Women, Legalize Prostitution.”

Prostitution will still be present in society even without the legalization of prostitution leading toward terrible conditions for the workers. It is best for the government to step in by legalizing prostitution. This example shows with the legalization of prostitution, governments were able to take advantage of their authoritative power to enforce work inspections and license to provide safer conditions. These vital steps opened many doors to regulate and improve the conditions sex workers face.

For example, it is better to recognize a mistake made on a homework assignment and to fix the mistake to receive a higher test score in the future than not know the answer and receive a low test score. This analogy directly relates to the situation of the sex industry. Many governments accomplished the first step, which was acknowledging the presence of the sex industry in society as it will not disappear anytime soon. By recognizing that this industry will not disappear even with the illegal status declared by governments, the second step is to make the most out of the sex industry by regulating the industry to provide sex workers safer and less violence work conditions and have access toward the health services they deserve.

Research results from “National sex work policy and HIV prevalence among sex workers: an ecological regression analysis of 27 European countries” research paper supports the correlation between lower HIV prevalence and the legalization of prostitution, “[D]ata from 27 European countries…Countries that have [legalized] some aspects of sex work have significantly lower HIV prevalence among sex workers than countries that [criminalize all aspects] of sex work.”

The study suggests the legalization of prostitution reduces HIV in the sex industry. HIV is more often found in the sex worker population than the general population. The illegal status does not allow governments to have the opportunity to safely regulate sex and only worsens health conditions for sex workers. There is also evidence that supports how the legalization and decriminalization of the sex industry shapes sex workers’ perspective.

The legalization of prostitution in Nevada has shown, “[The legalized] brothel system…highlights that sex work environments that are legitimated and [bureaucratized] have the effect of empowering sex workers to control their working conditions and interactions with clients,” according to Teela Sanders’ “Female sex workers as health educators with men who buy sex: utilising narratives of rationalisations.”

There is a shift in perspective for sex workers, consumers, and society. Sex workers in particular were supported by the law allowed them to stand up against unjust actions and receive the health services they deserve. The law allowed them all to control their working conditions, making them safer when interacting with their clients. Without the law, sex workers’ health and work environment would be at risk and harmed because of the criminalization they faced. The unjust actions sex workers face should also be eliminated through sex regulations by the government since consensual sex is legal.


Legal consensual sex

Consensual adult sex, no matter the circumstance, is legal.

Other situations are classified as legal even when they are considered immoral to society. Ninos Malek’s “Why can’t you pay for sex?” states, “Perhaps you think sex work is an immoral lifestyle. However, it is arguably no less moral than a lifestyle of random ‘hooking up,’ or the stereotypical lifestyle of the professional athlete.”

People having different moral and religious standards is not a reason to criminalize prostitution. A religious person may find the nonreligious to be incorrect, but this does not mean being nonreligious is illegal. Everyone is entitled to have opinions. Some may believe prostitution is an immoral choice and lifestyle. However, prostitution is a profession that does not relate to murder or other illegal actions. People need to understand morality regarding prostitution is opinionated and does not define legal or illegal status.

According to Forestiere, those who have a negative position mainly have a concern that “[C]omes from a place of morality, presented as concern for the health and safety of women.”

Government policies and individual values do not mix. The legalization of prostitution should not be defined from the taboo that surrounds the subject of sex. A taboo subject that does not have an illegal status is virginity. Some believe to have sex after marriage and other people do not agree. Even though there are obvious different points of view, this topic is about two consensual adults having sex. People need to recognize not all taboo subjects are illegal.

The government needs to clarify these taboo subjects through the legalization of prostitution. The government needs to utilize their authority “[T]o stop wasting resources on voluntary, adult sexual exchanges…[police] who could be out stopping real crime…is instead assigned to a vice squad as an undercover prostitute, represents a lost opportunity to make communities safer” according to Malek.

The government should not focus their energy to determine whether the sex industry is moral or not. Moral and religious standards do not apply to the rights of the general public. Law enforcement deals with much worse crimes on a daily basis. Wasting time criminalizing sex workers who engage in legal consensual adult sex is pointless and wasteful prosecution. Although there are many research papers and data that show the importance and benefits of legalizing prostitution, there are still people who disagree.


Misinterpretation of legalizing prostitution

The legalization of prostitution needs to be addressed to reduce violence against sex workers, protect their health, and recognize consensual sex is legal between two consenting adults no matter the circumstance. However, there are still some who oppose the legalization of prostitution.

American author Janice G. Raymond’s “Ten Reasons for Not Legalizing Prostitution And a Legal Response to the Demand for Prostitution” states, “Over the last decade, as pimping was legalized, and brothels decriminalized in the year 2000, the sex industry increased by 25% in the Netherlands.”

Although Raymond states a fact that the sex industry expanded, this fact misinterprets the purpose of legalizing and decriminalizing. In other words, people who criminalize prostitution misunderstand the reason of legalizing prostitution. The decriminalization of prostitution is to maximize sex workers’ legal protection and rights to healthcare that they deserve.

Although there is some evidence that shows the growth of prostitution, the sex industry is just like any legal industry. Sex workers are involved in consensual adult sex that produces commodities for consumers who are willing to pay for them. Being a sex worker is a career like any other.

Society and government do not have the right to invade the privacy and body expression of consenting adults. The legalization of prostitution in society is to provide safety and prevent environments that criminalized individuals in the sex industry. Decriminalization towards sex workers worsen their lives through physical and verbal abuse. There are far more advantages of the legalization of prostitution than disadvantages.


Necessary action toward legalizing prostitution

The legalization of prostitution is the most effective way to combat the criminalization toward sex workers that led to unsafe work conditions and their inability to receive health care. The illegal status and criminalization toward individual sex workers should not even exist in the first place. Legalizing prostitution brings more positive outcomes than the negative. Prostitution is not going to disappear anytime soon even by declaring prostitution illegal. It is a large market that will not disappear in a short period of time.

Governments need to legalize prostitution to better regulate it, to protect the health of sex workers through workplace inspections and improve access to health care services. Many countries that legalized prostitution have shown great progress towards reducing the stigma and violence towards sex workers. Consensual sex between two adults is legal no matter the circumstance — whether payment is involved or not.

The economic theory of the relationship between the quantity of commodity provided by a producer and the quantity consumers are willing to purchase explains the straightforward occurrence that happens in the sex industry. Much of society disagrees just because it is a taboo subject and goes against people’s beliefs and opinions.

Prostitution is a profession, a freedom, a body choice, and a form of sexual expression. Criminalization does not make the situation better. The legalization of prostitution needs to happen now rather than later to prevent more individuals in the sex industry to suffer from unnecessary criminalization.

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