Should prostitution be legal?

Think back to your first boyfriend or girlfriend, how exciting it was to be in a relationship. How old were you? Twelve? Fourteen? Now imagine coming from a place of no love and no support and suddenly finding someone who meets every emotional and physical desire. He sends you flowers and candy and wows you with his cool sports car and you think you are in love, so when he asks you to go on a trip with him,  you eagerly climb into that fancy car and drive off into the sunset, a fairytale happily ever after, right? Wrong.

At first when you arrive in that new city, it’s fun to be somewhere other than your hometown, but soon this man whom you thought loved you, is leaving for days to weeks at a time. Then, when he comes back he’s really sweet and apologizes for being gone for so long so you think it’s going to be okay. Wrong again.

He starts to ask you for favors you don’t really want to do, but since it’s him asking, you do it anyways. Before you know it, he’s taking you to a new apartment and leaves you with some man that you’ve never seen before. This man kisses you, and you try to fight him off but he’s too strong. So he rapes you. You lay on the floor and think it can’t get any worse. That maybe it was a mistake. He loves you, he wouldn’t do this on purpose. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

You ask him about it and he threatens you, saying if you tell anyone or try to run away, you will be punished. So you endure it, thinking you must have gone wrong somewhere. At first it was so good, everything was perfect. You end up ashamed and fearful, dependent on the drugs that he gives you and all his other “girlfriends” to keep you in a haze where you don’t feel anything.

Now, stop imagining because this is the horror that millions of people face on a daily basis in sex trafficking. I know what you’re thinking, “Literally in the title, it’s about the legalization of prostitution. Prostitution and human trafficking are different.” And they are. However, legalizing prostitution can lead to dramatic increases in human trafficking and that is the main reason it should be illegal.

The advocacy side argues that legalizing prostitution will give sex workers more rights and improve their work environment while the opposing side addresses the morality of prostitution and how it affects those involved psychologically. Physically, prostitutes will not benefit enough from legalization to make it plausible and mentally, prostitution takes a toll on the sex workers and can result in personality disorders (Calder).

Although the legalization of prostitution has potential health and human rights benefits, the harms of violence, psychological trauma and human trafficking far outweigh those few perks.

In the physical aspect, the leading argument for legalization is that pimps’ and johns’ use of violence will decrease since prostitution will be more regulated. However, according to two different studies conducted by psychologist and researcher, Janice Raymond, the prostitution establishments, whether legal or not, did little to keep their workers safe. In research done by reporter Erin Fuchs, of prostitutes questioned in San Francisco, 82% had been sexually assaulted or raped at some point and 80% had experienced some kind of violence at the hands of pimps and johns (Fuchs). Do you think that’s going to stop just because we legalize the actual practice of selling yourself?

So now I’m going to ask, is prostitution a victimless crime? People say, it’s just adults doing business. Women should be able to do what they want with their bodies. Sherry Colb, a Judge Frederick Lacey Scholar at Rutgers Law School, compares the sex industry to the alcohol industry, stating it’s a victimless crime. However, 80-90% of prostitution is controlled by pimps, not to mention the fact that prostitutes are 60-100 times more likely to be murdered than a non prostitute (Farley & Kelly). Sex workers are virtually defenseless at the hands of their pimps and customers.

Advocates for legalizing prostitution argue that making prostitution a legitimate field of work will give them labor rights and a healthier work environment. Pimps and customers often ask prostitutes not to use condoms, but brothels can require their workers to use them and get checked for sexually transmitted diseases, according to reporter Erin Fuchs. Security cameras in brothels are supposed to protect the prostitutes’ rights, but are typically used to protect johns, not the workers. Pimps have been compared to batterers in domestic violence cases. They both use threats, physical and mental abuse, manipulation, seclusion and male dominance to get what they want (Farley & Kelly). Do they sound like the type of people who would care about those working for them even if prostitution were legal?

If not more important than the actual physical danger, is the psychological damage caused by prostitution. First of all, there is a common denominator in almost every prostitutes’ past and that is financial stress. Many of them have backgrounds of poverty and sexual abuse. 67% of prostitutes helped at an agency in California had been homeless at some point in their lives (Farley & Kelly).

Not to mention, many were coerced with promises of wealth into the sex industry, meaning it wasn’t necessarily a free choice. After actually entering prostitution, many become dependent on drugs to bear them through the shame and pain. In addition, “Both domestically and internationally trafficked women experience terror, despair, guilt regarding behaviors that run counter to their cultural or religious beliefs, blame themselves for the abuse perpetrated on them by pimps and buyers, feel a sense of betrayal not only by family and pimps but also by governments that fail to help them” (Farley & Kelly). The experiences these women face on a daily basis is too horrific to bear so they “go somewhere else” when they are working because it is difficult for them to experience abuse over and over again. Even after leaving the sex industry, many prostitutes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms include “anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, flashbacks, emotional numbing and hyper alertness” (Farley and Kelly). Further, some develop complex PTSD, which affects their ability to form healthy relationships with others.

Finally, I’m going to address the correlation between prostitution and human trafficking. The main difference between them is choice,  but what is choice? The Webster Dictionary defines it as “the act of picking or deciding between two or more possibilities.” So tell me, why are the women with the fewest alternatives the ones prostituting? When faced with the choice between selling themselves or starving, the choice seems simple. Raymond records that sex workers typically use prostitution as a last resort to make ends meet.

We all make big choices and decisions right? Where to go to college, what to major in, what career path to choose, how best to manage our money… Do you think your middle school self would have been able to make those decisions? No, right? Well the average age people join prostitution is 13. Do you think that is really something they chose? “Hey mommy, today I decided to be a prostitute so we can eat.” Many young teen runaways are found by pimps and coerced and manipulated into dependency on him and then will do whatever he says. One such girl from San Francisco states “We’ve all been molested. Over and over, and raped. We were all molested and sexually abused as children, don’t you know that? We ran to get away. They didn’t want us in the house anymore. We were thrown out, thrown away. We’ve been on the streets since we were 12, 13, 14.” These kinds of girls are especially vulnerable because they don’t know love and when these young men find them and sweet talk them and say they love them, these girls accept it and come to depend on him and then he turns on them and sells them back into the lifestyle they had tried to escape from at home. Does that seem like a choice to you?

Legalization of prostitution results in higher human trafficking numbers. According to a study done in 116 countries to analyze the effects of legalizing prostitution on the human trafficking industry, there is more human trafficking inflow with legalization and less with criminalization. Margareta Winberg, former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, a country where prostitution has been legalized, is quoted as saying “I believe that we will never succeed in combating trafficking in women if we do not simultaneously work to abolish prostitution and the exploitation of women and children. Particularly in light of the fact that many women in prostitution in countries that have legalized prostitution are originally victims of trafficking…” (“Top 10 Pros and Cons: Should Prostitution be Legal?”)

Because of the negative physical, psychological and human trafficking consequences of legalizing prostitution, I believe it should be made illegal around the world. Obviously, the violence and rape and murder that is not uncommon in the sex industry makes a strong case for my side of the argument.

However, if that is not enough, the psychological mind games being played whether it is coercion into prostitution or the shame and disgust for oneself while in it or even the PTSD and struggle to build healthy relationships after, should be enough.

If you still aren’t convinced, know that when prostitution is legalized, more slaves are created and are sexually exploited by strangers day after day. We fought to end slavery in the Civil War when there were 3.5 million slaves, but now there are 27 million slaves worldwide and I don’t see much of a fight.  Wake up to what is going on in the world. Men are being sold. Women are being sold. Children are being sold. The question is not IF this is happening, but WHEN this will personally affect you. Are you going to sit back and wait until you get a call from the police station where they picked up your little sister in a prostitution ring bust? Or are you going to make sure people know about what’s really going on behind the closed doors of the sex industry?

Sources

Calder, Daniel. “Prostitutes exhibit antisocial personality traits, study suggests.” TheExaminer.com, 15 Jun. 2014. Web. 4 May 2016.

Farley, Melissa and Vanessa Kelly. “Prostitution:  A Critical Review of the Medical and Social Sciences Literature.” Women and Criminal Justice, 11 (2000): 29-64. Web. 3 May 2016.

Farley, Melissa. “Trafficking for Prostitution: Making the Connections.” American Psychological Association, (17 Aug. 2007): 1-7. Web. 3 May 2016.

Fuchs, Erin. “7 Reasons Why America Should Legalize Prostitution.” Business Insider, (13 Nov. 2013): 1-5. Web. 2 May 2016.

Raymond, Janice G. “Ten Reasons for Not Legalizing Prostitution and a Legal Response to the Demand for Prostitution.” Journal of Trauma Practice 2 (2003): 315-332. Web. 2 May 2016.

Tan, Carol. “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?” Journalist’s Resource, 2 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 May 2016.

“Top 10 Pros and Cons: Should Prostitution be Legal?” ProCon.org, 2004. Web. 3 May 2016.

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