By Jackie Sedley
A recent federal court case decision regarding whether or not prostitution is a constitutional right has sparked debate about the potential benefits of legalizing prostitution across the nation.
In 2015, the Erotic Service Provider Legal Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) filed a lawsuit claiming that prostitution should be protected under the 14th Amendment, similar to the way the Lawrence v. Texas case initiated protection under the due process clause for “intimate conduct” between consenting adults. However, on Jan. 17, the prostitution case was officially rejected.
This case has brought about discussion of the advantages of legalizing prostitution as an act, not necessarily under a Constitutional Amendment, but through mandates and legislation. The legalization of the profession has the potential to lead to a safer sex trade industry with less violence and health problems, as well as lessen the stigma around the trade in general.
The United States began to criminalize prostitution as early as colonial times and society often views the sex trade as a perpetuator of male violence against woman, leading to the belief that customers should be held as criminals.
Yet, studies of Austria, Belgium and Denmark since legalizing prostitution have proven that decriminalizing the act and mandating laws and regulations, rather than treating all participants as criminal offenders, behold immense potential to create a safer environment for both workers and clients.
In a report issued in July 2014 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, an unintentional loophole in Rhode Island state legislation legalized indoor, privatized prostitution from 2004 to 2009. While inadvertent, the legalization paralleled with a 31 percent decrease in reported rapes and a 39 percent decrease in female gonorrhea reports statewide.
The term “victimless crime” is often applied to prostitution. While female prostitutes can become victims of assault and harassment, criminalizing the partakers is not a probable solution to making the profession safer. When carried out as a consensual transaction as intended, sex work does not promote any justifiably illegitimate activity.
According to a 2012 poll on havocscope.com, there are roughly 13.8 million prostitutes in the world. In the United States there are an estimated 1 million prostitutes, and 9.1 percent of men in the United States reported to have paid for sex with a prostitute in their lifetimes. Needless to say, prostitution would be nearly impossible to eliminate entirely. Therefore, working toward legalization seems like the most realistic path of reform to eliminate the significant flaws within the sex work industry.
Legalization of prostitution is not to be confused with simple decriminalization, as that would have too little regulation and could potentially breed more human trafficking rings and dangerous activity. Both sex with minors and sex trafficking — defined by sharedhope.org as occurring “when someone uses force, fraud or coercion to cause a commercial sex act” — would still remain criminal offenses.
People tend to embrace the stigma around prostitution because sex workers can be too ashamed or embarrassed to make their professions public. As a result, the most widespread stories and experiences of prostitutes are often the more negative, gruesome tales.
This leaves little room for exposure to more ideal and responsible experiences, and often prevents people from seeing any reason to regulate and legitimize the industry. Additionally, many sex workers tend to stray away from seeking medical care when they are in need due to fear of admitting their professions and facing judgment or attention of law enforcement.
The war on the sex trade parallels the war on drugs, in that it requires effort from law enforcement and siphons tax dollars from citizens. Criminalization also leads to arrests, fines and imprisonment for people who have oftentimes have done nothing more than partaken in consensual sex. Regarding those who do take advantage of sex workers, decriminalization paired with legalization would set labor standards and regulations intended to prevent or diminish any foul play.