Some years ago, I watched a report on a New York high-class call girl. On German TV, she complained about the prudery of US Americans and about the fact that her job is not considered a real job where she lives. Imagine my surprise when I learnt that in the supposed ‘land of the free’ you are not even free to have consensual sex (for money). Back then, I hadn’t yet been familiar with US hypocrisy. So, this actually came as a shock to me.
As the legal situation for prostitutes in the USA hasn’t changed since then, I decided to argue the case that prostitutes should not be regarded as criminal scum.
Prostitution consists of two things:
- having consensual sex, and
- demanding money in exchange for a service.
Both things are legal in the USA. Therefore, when you combine them, it must be legal, too. ‘Legal’ plus ‘legal’ cannot equal ‘illegal’. That’s very basic logical thinking.
Prostitute is a service occupation. That’s why prostitutes deserve the same respect and the same rights as all other working people. It’s a matter of equal rights. Isn’t the USA supposed to be big on equal rights? Apparently, that’s just empty words. As far as I am concerned, there are no people whom I hate so much that I would want to deny them equal rights.
In Germany, none of the main political parties advocates outlawing prostitution. Wanting to withdraw workers’ rights doesn’t exactly make a party popular with voters. A party is either pro-working class or anti-working class. If a party sought to take away sex workers’ rights, then it’s reasonable to fear that this party also plans to reduce the rights of other workers. Therefore, it is important that all workers unite in order to achieve their common political goals. Why is there such a lack of solidarity and empathy among US workers?
A further aspect to consider is that the vast majority of prostitutes are women. Therefore, prostitutes’ rights are not just workers’ rights but also women’s rights. And as a feminist I am all for women’s rights. A woman’s body is her property. That’s why she deserves the right or the freedom to do with it whatever she wants. This includes things like having abortions and having consensual sex for free or for money … whatever she likes. Also, people have a right to sexual self-determination. A state must not simply take this freedom away from them. So, clearly there’s a lack of freedom in the self-proclaimed ‘land of the free’. Calling a country which forbids consensual sex ‘land of the free’ is like calling Fox News ‘fair and balanced’. Either US Americans have a total lack of self-awareness or a great sense of self-irony. A more realistic slogan for the USA would be, ‘USA – the land where consent is irrelevant’.
Repressive legislation inevitably drives people into illegal activities. Take abortion as example. Outlawing abortion would lead to an increase of unsafe underground abortions and maternal mortality, due to a lack of professional abortion services. A global study conducted by the WHO and the Guttmacher Institute shows that most unsafe abortions occur where abortion is illegal.
A further example is the prohibition of alcohol in the USA from 1920 to 1933. According to Wikipedia ‘organised crime received a major boost from Prohibition. […] A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Powerful gangs corrupted law enforcement agencies, leading to racketeering. In essence prohibition provided a financial basis for organised crime to flourish. […] In a study of over 30 major U.S cities during […] 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicide by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6% and police department costs rose by 11.4%. It has been speculated that this was largely the result of black-market violence as well as law enforcing resources having been diverted elsewhere. Despite the beliefs of the prohibitionist movement that by outlawing alcohol crime would surely be reduced, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to worse social conditions than were experienced prior to prohibition as demonstrated by more lethal forms of alcohol, increased crime rates, and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organisations.
Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. […] As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended.’
Wikipedia states a further negative side effect: ‘Heavy drinkers and alcoholics were among the most affected parties during Prohibition. Those who were determined to find liquor could still do so, but those who saw their drinking habits as destructive typically had difficulty in finding the help they sought. The self-help societies had withered away along with the alcohol industry […].’
From the prohibition of abortion and alcohol one can infer that prostitution exists anyway, whether it’s legal or not. And in such a case, it’s better to allow it, because only then you can regulate it. Regulations are absolutely necessary to combat exploitation. Workers who don’t have any rights are much easier to exploit, because they have no legal claim to proper payment and proper working conditions, e.g. a clean and safe workplace. The illegality of prostitution leaves prostitutes vulnerable to theft, assault, rape, or murder. You don’t protect prostitutes by treating them like criminal scum. Legal protection requires legal recognition. Legalising prostitution is not a matter of sexual morality. Actually, it’s a matter of saving lives and improving quality of life. Therefore, even if you can’t make yourself accept prostitution as a useful service, you should at the very least tolerate it as necessary evil.
Legalising and regulating prostitution will contribute to the health and safety of prostitutes as well as their clients. Prostitutes can be required to undergo mandatory health checks. You can also make the use of condoms compulsory in order to prevent the spreading of STDs. Brothels would serve as a clean and warm workplace. They should also have security personnel to protect the workers from abusive clients. Apart from that, prostitutes could report violent actions to the police without fear of facing criminal charges themselves.
Some people oppose prostitution because of the objectification of women. I can understand that to some extent. However, have you ever watched TV or looked at a magazine? The way that women are depicted there contributes much more to their objectification than prostitution. Therefore, if you want to fight the objectification of women, you should do that by reprimanding the media and not by denying certain workers their rights.
Furthermore, legalising and regulating prostitution will make this kind of objectification less visible, because prostitutes would work in brothels instead of patrolling the streets.
Apart from that, men objectify women anyway. So why not allow women to benefit from the situation and make money with it?
Some people oppose prostitution because they believe that prostitutes are pressured into sex work. There are indeed more than just a few people who do sex work involuntary. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with legalising prostitution. It is very important not to confuse prostitution with forced prostitution. These are two fundamentally different cases. You need to distinguish between prostitution and forced prostitution in the same way you differentiate between marriage and forced marriage. When you are told that a couple got married, do you think, ‘oh no, I hope they weren’t forced into marriage’? No, you don’t. When you hear ‘marriage’, you by default assume that the couple tied the knot voluntarily, unless the expression ‘forced marriage’ is used. However, when hearing the word ‘prostitution’, many people falsely associate exploitation and human trafficking with it. Why oh why? Such a double standard is unfair. A recent ESRC research found that ‘the large majority of interviewed migrant workers in the UK sex industry are not forced nor trafficked. […] The stigmatisation of sex work is the main problem interviewees experienced while working in the sex industry and this impacted negatively on both their private and professional lives.’ You need to understand that the word ‘prostitution’, just like the word ‘marriage’, implies consent. Consequently, prostitution must be legal, whereas forced prostitution, just like forced marriage, is rightly forbidden. No person with a properly working brain would want to legalise forced prostitution.
Implying a lack of consent is a typical tactic of haters to make something normal appear evil. A few examples:
- Homo haters, such as Pat Robertson, keep linking homosexuality to paedophilia and bestiality.
- Opponents of non-monogamous relationships often fail to understand the difference between non-monogamy and cheating.
- Michele Bachmann insinuated in one of her anti-choice speeches that women were pressured into having abortions and that the only way to protect these women was to outlaw abortion completely. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Everyone agrees that it’s necessary to fight non-consensual acts. However, you don’t reduce non-consensual acts by criminalising consensual acts. Forbidding prostitution to fight forced prostitution would be like forbidding sex entirely in order to prevent rape. That’s moronic. Instead of arresting people for having consensual sex, US law enforcement officials should concentrate on prosecuting actual criminals, you know, the kind of people who really do harm.
Now, you may say you can’t imagine that a person would do sex work voluntarily. Well, whether you can imagine it or not is totally irrelevant. There are several professions whose appeal I don’t understand. For example, I don’t get why someone would want to work as a surgeon and open people’s bodies and mess about with their organs and bones. So, does that mean that being a surgeon should be illegal, just because I am unable to understand why other people seek this profession? Clearly not. Also, you might as well say something like, ‘I don’t understand why other people believe in a god. Therefore, let’s forbid all theistic religions.’ or ‘I don’t understand why other people are attracted to the same sex. So, let’s forbid homosexual acts.’
I recognise a strong parallel between LGB rights and prostitutes’ rights. What LGBs and prostitutes have in common is the way they are perceived by conservatives. They are seen as fringe groups and as anti-family, immoral, promiscuous, irresponsible, disease-spreading scum. Narrow-minded people argue that the legal recognition of these people’s private or business relationships equalled a state endorsement of their ‘lifestyle choices’. What conservatives fail to understand is that a state is expected to adopt a neutral position on ‘lifestyle choices’ in order to ensure that all people can enjoy freedom equally and fulfil themselves. Therefore, it is unacceptable of a state to favour opposite-sex relationships or marital sex over same-sex relationships or extramarital sex.
The thing is that mankind is diverse. People have different feelings, views, and abilities. You need to acknowledge this fact and allow others to live their lives the way they want. And what difference does it make to you if other people engage in consensual activities? Other people’s consensual relationships are none of your business. They don’t have any negative effect on your personal life or freedom. So why should you oppose their legal recognition?
I myself have pretty conservative values, e.g. I really dislike the idea of sex without love. However, unlike actual conservatives, I would never want to impose my personal lifestyle, likes, or dislikes on the rest of the nation. It is not okay to dictate other people’s lives. Subjective views must be irrelevant when it comes to legislation. When making law you need to be objective, realistic, and rational. You have to take the interests of all people into account, not just your own. And objectively, there’s absolutely nothing that speaks against legalising prostitution.
Some people oppose prostitution because they consider it immoral. However, moral values are subjective and must hence be ignored in the law-making process. Legislation requires objectivity. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to vote contrary to your own moral values for the sake of justice.
There are even more aspects that speak in favour of legalising prostitution, e.g. the possibility of taxation, but I leave it at that for now.
I really wish many more US Americans would understand the importance of prostitutes’ rights and stick up for them. It’s somewhat difficult for prostitutes in the USA to speak up for themselves, because sadly they are considered criminals.
As a side note: My British friend Eric informed me that prostitutes in English-speaking countries prefer being referred to as ‘sex workers’. However, I decided to stick to the expression ‘prostitute’ for two reasons:
- As a German, I have the pedantic nature of needing to be accurate and using official terms. In Germany, the legal term is ‘Prostituierte’ as in ‘Gesetz zur Regelung der Rechtsverhältnisse der Prostituierten’ (act for the regulation of the legal relationships of prostitutes). Oh, how I dig these long titles.
- I want to show that there is no need to shun the use of the word ‘prostitute’. It does not inherently have a negative meaning. In Germany, ‘Prostituierte’ is considered a completely neutral expression. If Germans wanted to insult prostitutes, they would call them ‘Nutten’ (hookers). In my blog entry, I use ‘prostitute’ in a neutral, if not positive, way. And you should do that, too. Don’t allow the haters to give this word a derogatory connotation.
European Network for HIV/STI Prevention and Health Promotion among Migrant Sex Workers
ESRC Project: Migrants in the UK Sex Industry (Please READ this report!)
Prostitution in Germany
Prostitution and the Law
Policing Prostitution: The Oldest Conundrum
Protection of Sex Workers
San Francisco Sex Workers Speak Out in St. James Infirmary Campaign
Should Prostitution Be Legalized?
Why We Should Legalize Prostitution Now
Whore, Prostitute, Hooker, or Sex Worker: What Should You Say?