Prostitution, for those of you who live in a commune somewhere, is the exchange of money or goods for sexual acts. In 49 states of the United States prostitution is a crime, punishable by fines, public outing, prison time and a number of other, unpleasant things that vary from one jurisdiction to another. Nevada is the only state that has made prostitution legal, and the result? Leaps and bounds in tourism revenue, tax revenue shot through the roof and the state has attracted thousands more residents and businesses inside its borders. If prostitution is so good for a state though, there has to be a downside somewhere, right? After all, prostitution is associated with sexually transmitted diseases, infidelity, drug use, violent crime, illegal immigration and organized syndicates just to name a few. However all of these things, except perhaps for the infidelity, go away when prostitution is made legal.
Just because prostitution (which is documented as one of the world’s oldest professions, mind you) is illegal, this doesn’t make the demand for sex go away. The same is true for the prohibition on alcohol that went on during in the early part of the twentieth century. And what did making alcohol illegal do? It made everyone who had regularly consumed it a buyer in a black market, which meant that rather than dealing out in public with reputable figures they had to deal with bathtub gin manufacturers and home brew specialists. Also, since drinking was illegal it brought a lot of honest people who wanted alcohol into contact with a lot of unsavory types, such as the other criminals who were partaking and the organized gangs that had a clamp on the business. But what could they do? If you wanted alcohol you had to deal with the robberies, extortion and other things that came with it… and the same is true for prostitution as long as it’s illegal.
Let’s say for a moment that being a prostitute was the same as being a nurse. You would have to be tested for drugs and disease, you would need to prove that you were a citizen of the United States, you’d have to pay taxes on your income and you’d be subject to government oversight. At the same time it means that if you’re assaulted by a client that you can bring him up on criminal and civil charges, that you have to keep yourself clean of any criminal acts, and that you are no longer a non-person in the eyes of the law. Additionally it eliminates the question of how old a sex worker is, since they have to register with the city and those who are under age won’t be given a license.
Making prostitution legal cleans up a lot of the ugly aspects of the profession. If prostitutes must be disease and drug free, then the issue of health is resolved. If prostitutes have to pay taxes on their income and register their fees with the government, in addition to paying licensing and business fees, then they are actively contributing to the economy. If you make prostitution legal, then all of the crimes associated with the abuse of women like rape and assault could be reported to the police, and the perpetrator charged and punished accordingly. Legalization helps eliminate these crimes, and by creating a legitimate market to serve the obvious need in the population the black market for sex will shrink. It won’t vanish entirely since illegal sex acts will remain illegal, but it will minimize it greatly.
Of course the argument about whether or not paying for sex is morally acceptable still remains. Even if you make prostitution legal and safe, and you cut its ties to human trafficking, gang violence and drugs, there’s still the question about whether or not having sex for money is wrong. Is selling someone a bottle of vodka wrong if they’re of age and want it? Is selling someone a pack of cigarettes at overtaxed prices wrong? The answer is in the eye of the beholder, and if you believe that patronizing prostitutes is wrong or immoral then don’t do it! However, if you can’t beat the act by making it a crime, then you might as well go with the flow of the market and make participating as safe as possible for all those concerned.