Opinion Station: Legalizing Prostitution?

HuffPost recently posted an article about Barney Frank, who will retire from Congress after the end of his term.  What fascinated me about the article wasn’t Frank himself (though I love the man), but rather his take on prostitution.  One of the interesting things Frank argues is that the illegality of prostitution in most of the U.S. is worse for women.  While it’s true that prostitution is often linked to violence against women, Frank is right to suggest that that has more to do with the fact that such women are subject to the underground rules and moral framework of illegal prostitution rings than which the act of prostitution itself.  Thus, most female prostitutes in the U.S. don’t have much choice in the matter, which is dangerous for the women and dangerous for all of us (without regulation, prostitution increases the likelihood of spreading STDs and other diseases on top of continued domestic abuse).

Is this woman protected under the law?  Nope.  She's a criminal even if she is abused...

Is this woman protected under the law? Nope. She’s a criminal even if she is abused…

Personally, I can’t imagine myself ever eliciting the services of a prostitute, largely for my own moral reasons.  But I find myself more than willing to compromise when it comes to issues like this, in part because prostitution is not a black and white issue.  Blanket condemnation of prostitution through legal bans doesn’t actually help the people who are in this “profession,” and in fact does more harm to them and to society as a whole than if we were to regulate the prostitution industry.  After all, I am not naive enough to think that banning something will prevent people from using it; in the case of prostitution, the service people are buying does not come with medical protections, etc. precisely because there is no legal requirement (with the exception of Nevada, I think).  And so, I am for a well-regulated prostitution industry in the U.S., in part because I believe regulation will give women (and men) greater freedom to choose the profession (not that prostitution is, in all cases, an ideal or desirable choice) and because it will protect women from physical abuse and disease (not fully, of course).

Other countries have already done this.  Their systems may not be perfect, but I think it’s fair to say that Americans have long since learned that making undesirable things “illegal” doesn’t always work.  It didn’t work with Prohibition, it doesn’t work with marijuana and most hard drugs, and it certainly doesn’t work with prostitution.  We can argue the morality all we want, but that moral argument excavates the ethical problems entailed in an illegal prostitution trade.  I, for one, think the ethics are more important than the morals in this particular case, because I care more about the women in this profession than whether I think people should have the moral right to elicit their sexual services.

What do you think about prostitution in the U.S.?  The comments are yours.

(FYI:  While prostitution is mostly a profession of women, we should acknowledge that there are certainly men in this profession.  So any mention of “women” here should also be exchanged with “men.”)

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