If we seek to erase the world’s oldest trade from practice, we are incredibly foolish to think that it can be accomplished. West Michigan University studied Toledo, Ohio and found that each time a person is arrested for prostitution, it costs the government $2,025. The average sex worker studied had been arrested 10 times. That’s a cost of $20,250 of taxpayer money being thrown away to control one person’s body. If only for economic reasons, we need to find a better system of handling prostitution.
Most who fight to keep the trade illegal would see sex workers themselves, as the “face” or the victims, but, while that is often true in our present system, legalization, and the regulation that legalization would lead to, would help to free the true victims of the sex trade, the underage, and exploited. Sex trafficking would be incredibly reduced, if not expunged from our country, if each sex worker were to be documented, proving them to be citizens, of age, and engaging in sex work of their own free will. If we use Nevada’s regulations as a model, the process one has to go through to become a licensed prostitute is complicated and detailed. On average the process takes about 2 weeks. This process prevents many of the things that we as a society fear in prostitution because it prevents anyone underage from engaging in prostitution, and ensures that the person applying for a license is there of their own will. The background checks done during this process work to stop sex trafficking, or force of any kind.
Criminalization of sex work puts sex workers in danger in many ways. It forces them into the backs of massage parlors, or far more commonly onto street corners and dark alleys. This puts them at an incredible risk for attack. In Spain, sex workers are required to wear yellow reflective vests when walking the streets, to protect them from being hit by cars, and to make them more noticeable, in the event that they are attacked (as is unfortunately common)
Legalization also protects the health of sex workers. Condom use is mandatory by law in all Nevada brothels, and as a condition of employment; sex workers must be tested for HIV and other STDs monthly. They are also trained to identify common STDs in order to protect themselves from diseased patrons. As a result of these policies, 0% of sex workers in Nevada have contracted HIV as a result of their occupations. In a society where prostitution is criminalized, what sex worker has the ability to force a patron to use a condom? Most sex workers who work street corners and back alleys do not have access to medical care- never mind the assurance that it will be provided to them, as the Nevada law does.
But the largest danger that criminalization creates comes from the attitudes that it fosters. In the 1990s researchers Melissa Farley and Howard Barkan studied prostitution, and found that a staggering 85% of sex workers had been assaulted in some way. Yet next to nothing is done about it. Very few homicide cases involving sex workers are ever solved. In fact violence against sex workers has become a joke to most Americans. Many times before I’ve heard the sarcastic question posed “If you rape a prostitute shouldn’t it be considered theft?” Criminalization teaches us not to care about sex workers as people. It tells Americans that because sex workers are “bad girls,” violence against them is their own fault, and they should not be protected. Criminalization teaches us that when a person’s actions do not line up with our moral standards, they have no value, and do not deserve to be protected by law.
It is time for this attitude to change. It is time for the government to begin protecting all citizens regardless of their morals and personal choices. While I believe that prostitution is morally wrong, I also believe that God created each person with brains, a conscience, and the right to make our own choices. Until I use it to injure another human being, keep your laws off my body.