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When you hear the term “prostitution,” what images come to mind? Women forced against their will into a profession that commodifies their bodies? What about the Hollywood hit “Pretty Woman,” which may have made prostitution seem like nothing more than a relationship speed bump? The truth is, prostitution is both and neither. It’s too complex a topic to fall into stereotypes, and, as a result, prostitution has caused more than its fair share of controversies.
The most recent issue? Whether legalizing prostitution would be another crime against women, or the best thing countries could do to protect their sex workers. While legalizing prostitution may sound like a gray area, several statistics and studies have made this issue relatively black/and white. Don’t believe us? Here are five reasons why legalizing prostitution is a no-brainer.
Seventeen years ago, Netherlands made history by being the first European country to legalize prostitution. According to researcher Dina Siegel, many women from foreign countries (mostly Eastern Europeans) who become sex workers decide to come to the Netherlands to work. Since prostitution is legal – although technically not for immigrants– it’s safer than it would be in their home countries. How? Because the women are “legal workers,” they can report crimes or violence against them to the police without fearing arrest.
100% in for legalizing prostitution and creating a legal system that keeps track of them so they’re protected and safe https://t.co/ssz21EFZBI
— White Cishet Man ✨ (@Bigpikachu1) October 17, 2016
Here’s just a few ways legalizing prostitution will make it safer for sex workers…
— 🌙Space Witch👽 (@AlienFaerie) November 16, 2016
Legalization can improve prostitutes’ health and safety in other ways, too. As Indian filmmaker and activist Bishakha Datta explains, legalization allows prostitutes to access health services like any other citizen. Also, since men aren’t afraid of being arrested for solicitation, prostitutes can have more clients to choose from. As a result, women may feel more comfortable declining unprotected sex (rather than not being able to afford rejecting a paying customer).
Apparently, when you legalize prostitution, it may have the added bonus of lowering the prevalence of sex crimes. As crazy as it sounds, one of the prime case studies that shows this occurred in no other than Rhode Island. Although legislators didn’t realize it for almost thirty years, a 1980 change to state law deleted the ban on prostitution itself. This wasn’t reversed until indoor prostitution was banned again in 2009.
At first glance, the effects seem obvious: researchers found that decriminalizing prostitution decreased prostitution arrests and increased the indoor prostitution market. However, researchers found that the number of rapes decreased by 31%. Why? There are several possibilities. As awful as it sounds, having sex available for purchase may give people another way to satisfy sexual needs besides rape. As Indian novelist and journalist Khushwant Singh once said, “The more you try to put down prostitution, the higher will be the incidence of crime against innocent women.”
How much money do you think is spent on prostitution on in the US each year? According to some sources, the government spends more than $120 million a year policing prostitution, and each sex worker arrests costs around $2,000. That’s a lot of time, energy and money that could be saved simply by legalizing prostitution.
Not only that, but legal prostitution can also rake in the profits in terms of a government’s taxes. The sex trade in Atlanta was worth an astounding $290 million in 2007, and pimps “working” there received an annual income of $32,833. Meanwhile, the legal brothels found in Nevada earn around $59 million a year. However, that money only goes to the rural areas in which the brothels are located since the state reportedly doesn’t “approve” of the sex trade.
— 2Perfect1 (@2_perfect1) November 15, 2016
There’s no downside to legalizing prostitution
— Matthew Lopez (@Mattlopez53) October 26, 2016
Thinking about all the economic benefits of legalizing prostitution.
— Fours 😈 (@fourssiph) November 3, 2016
As the Baltimore Examiner wrote in 2006: “If history can serve as a guide, shame will not stop the profession. Because of that, the better solution would be to legalize prostitution as in parts of Nevada and the Netherlands – and tax the proceeds like any other business. That way the government could use the money to pay for programs to help women find a path out of it.”
Even if you remember how groovy afros and worn denim were in the 80s, you probably wouldn’t be rockin’ those fashion trends anytime soon. Just how fashion can change over time, so can perceptions of different aspects of society, including prostitution.
For example, in Greece, prostitution was not only legal, but also morally acceptable. Greek courtesans held very high social positions and some academics even consider them a type of “independent business woman engaged to entertain men for a fee.”
While studies have not shown stigmas decreasing in nations that have legalized prostitution so far, researchers are hopeful. After analyzing information from the World Value Survey and comparing it to a country’s policies on prostitution, Giovanni Immordino found that people are more tolerant of prostitutes and different opinions when prostitution is legalized.
Maybe the Greeks were on to something. In fact, maybe legalizing prostitution today could help prostitutes earn the same respect given to courtesans centuries ago.
It’s also important to recognize that if a woman wants to get paid for sex, it’s her choice. In fact, “To deny that prostitution is work not only infringes on women’s right to choose their work, but also … on other rights, such as their access to legal aid and recourse,” according to Gillian Abel, an associate professor and head of the Department of Population Health at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
As hard as it might be to imagine, some people honestly choose to make a living using their bodies. And, even if prostitution isn’t their first choice of career – and is instead, as many argue, caused by a lack of choices – penalizing prostitutes and their families isn’t the answer. Neither is assuming that women aren’t capable of making the “right” choice (AKA, avoiding prostitution), as Basheera Agyeman explains at The Daily Green. “Legalizing prostitution is not only a matter of allowing women authority over their own bodies,” she writes, “but also giving them state-sanctioned protection in every profession they enter.”
Once legislators start rejecting women’s right to control their own bodies, what rights will be denied or taken away next?
Whether you’re watching “Pretty Woman” with your girlfriends on a lazy Friday night or attending a feminism class at your college, prostitution is a topic that we can’t seem to escape. And perhaps that – “escape” – is the key phrase to the most recent prostitution controversy. Because, although some might argue that sex workers need to be “saved” by keeping prostitution classified as a crime, studies and stats seem to suggest the opposite: the best “escape” for sex workers would be letting them “escape” the stigma by legalizing prostitution.
The truth is, prostitution isn’t a fairytale as depicted in “Pretty Woman.” Women can experience violence, health risks, and lose their reputations. However, legalizing prostitution could give sex workers a happier ending by giving them legal power over their bodies and their profession. The extra money that would pour into the nation would only be an added bonus.
Maybe you agree logically on the economic need for prostitution, but disagree with the moral consequences of trading sex for money. Maybe your opinion can be eloquently summed up as, “You do you.” Either way, one fact should be clear: thanks to these five benefits, legalizing prostitution is one decision you shouldn’t have to think twice about.