New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Prostitution should be legalized for individual protection, rights

There are some things that are going to happen, regardless of who tries to stop them. Go to any maximum-security prison, and there will be inmates who do drugs. Similarly, no matter what laws the government makes, prostitution — “the world’s oldest profession” — will happen. And it should be allowed to happen. If a person chooses to use his or her body to make money, what right does the government have to deny her that choice?

The absurdity of our legal system regarding prostitution is this: It is legal to have sex with a stranger for money — you just have to film it. Pornography, a multibillion-dollar industry, is legal in many states and readily available for free to anyone with an Internet connection.

The government exists to regulate interactions between people, not to serve as a moral authority. It should have no power over what a person sitting in his house can do. Its responsibility is to protect its citizens in business transactions — by criminalizing prostitution, it has done just the opposite.

In countries where brothels and prostitution are illegal, women are forced to walk the streets in search of clientele instead of working in the safety of a brothel. They often have to work for pimps, who take a portion of their money and can be abusive. It is difficult for them to get the same sexual health care that major porn actors get. Most crucially, they are put at a disadvantage when interacting with customers. They have no legal recourse for a client who decides not to pay. All their clients know this, and the threat of not receiving payment or being abused is persistent.

Compare this with rural Nevada, where prostitution is legal. Some 500 women work as independent contractors for approximately 30 brothels. They come and go as they please, are bound only by their contract, receive health care and don’t fear the proposition of not being paid. A survey of these women found that 84 percent of them feel safe in their workplace.

The stereotype of a prostitute is the drug-addicted former cheerleader who is abused by her pimp and hates her life. Most people imagine this dire situation, and they believe the government should make prostitution illegal to prevent it. But what they don’t realize is that doing so enables the situation. There will always be prostitutes — making them criminals forces them to associate with real criminals, like drug lords and gang members who will enslave them and pimp them out against their will.

It’s time to realize that we can’t make things we don’t like go away by making them illegal. Where there is a big enough demand, there will be a supply. When the government outlaws something for which there is huge demand, like prostitution, marijuana or, long ago, alcohol, it hands control of that product over to gangs.

A version of this article was published in the Tuesday, March 12 print edition. Ian Mark is a staff columnist. Email him at [email protected].

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  • B

    bommuvaOct 1, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Okay majoriy of the people commenting have no clue what goes on- THERE IS vast majority of women That only cry human trafficking when they are caught because they dont want to be shamed-degraded etc etc- I KNOW this for a fact- There is a vast majority that choose to have pimps- Out of love for the man many have made their boyfriends pimps i see it everyday – (wanting the dream of im his bottom down chick, we gone get more girls and make more money) you see more females turning other females on to this lifestyle- Dont label every working girl a victim-!!! Some just choose it- and they have made it even harder by charging every female or male that is working with someone or around someone else at the time of the exchange with human trafficking smh thats absurd!!!! Smh! And yes i know there is a darker side of it where girls and children are sold and ofcourse they should be prosecuted but other than that- Leave ppl alone- Help the in dangered – Leave the rest alone hell

  • M

    mustangmatieJul 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Well stated. Despite having a useless law on a piece of government paper, this industry strives. The girls (and johns) will be better off if we regulate the industry, and criminalize it.

  • G

    GuestJun 22, 2013 at 6:56 am

    The lives of women and men in prostitution are harsh, whether selling sex is legal or illegal. To present legalisation as a solution to problems that are inherent in prostitution is simplistic.
    Brothels are not safe havens. Even with security staff on hand, it takes time to respond (if the prostitutes have managed to press the alarm button at all). The real threat to these men and women isn’t law enforcement, it’s the clientele. They may rape them. They may beat them up, they may stalk them. They may expose them to STIs by pulling off condoms mid-coitus.
    The justice system is not known to support prostitutes, so many working men and women won’t bother to make an official complaint about theft, rape or other crimes on the job (look at how the justice system treats people who aren’t prostitutes in a rape case). Besides, doing so may out them as a prostitute, and the stigma doesn’t go away just because the practice is legal.
    Bosses also don’t magically become better when prostitution is legal. In fact, having lived in nations where it is legal, and having known women who worked in legal brothels: they are run by the same damn people. All you have managed to do is give the pimps and mafia pawns a legitimate enterprise.
    The money is not that good when you account for rental of rooms, a fee to work there per evening, fees for locker hire, fees for pay advances, and so on. Plus the house takes a fairly big cut right off the top.
    Addiction will also not go away with legalisation. Again, the lives of people who are in prostitution were often hard to begin with (sexual and/or physical abuse in childhood, death of parent(s), homelessness, addiction), but even if they weren’t, the lifestyle is so rough that addictions are likely to form or worsen as a coping mechanism. Arguing for legalisation of prostitution without simultaneously condemning the sale of human bodies is essentially making the suffering of these people invisible.
    The Swedish model is the closest thing I have seen to doing justice to this issue. It’s not perfect, but we need to eradicate demand. We also need real options for men and women who are doing this kind of work, since most seem to be at the end of their financial tether.
    The tolerance, and even encouragement of sex work in the media is a cynical exercise in shipping unemployed people into sex work, to avoid them becoming reliant on government support. A government which is heavily responsible for the current job climate to begin with.
    Individuals will support legalisation for their own reasons; usually, because they wish to support their own use of sexual services without the possibility of legal consequences. They may feign an interest in the safety of these women and men, but if they were remotely interested in the well-being of prostitutes, they would buy one of them a house. Without asking for sex in return.

  • P

    ProstitutionShouldBeLegalMay 27, 2013 at 5:54 am

    If only kidnapped sex slaves would ever work as prostitutes then why hasn’t the FBI and ICE shut down all the legal brothels in Nevada? Think of all the 13 year old girls they could reunite with their families. Does a normal woman want 8-10 different sweaty smelly guys sticking their thing in each orifice of her body? No. But for those who are willing, they should be allowed to name their price, and not have to be treated as a criminal for doing so. Does anyone really WANT to clean a diaper, especially one worn by someone they’re not related to by blood? Not really, that’s why nursing and childcare pay well. As far as the behind the scenes nightmare you describe, what’s to stop a dentist from slapping around his hygienist, or a chef from beating his wait staff? Probably the fact that those employees can report abuse without admitting to a crime themselves.

  • N

    Nick CanusoMay 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Articles such as this are so disappointing. The display of ignorance in the issues related to Human Trafficking such as the manipulation, coercion and mental bondages that are used to force women into a lifestyle of sex, just proves how far we have to go in educating people. I’m curious, do you really think that a normal young lady wants to have 8-10 different, sweaty, smelly guys stick their thing in each orifice of her body on nearly every night of year? This notion of the self-empowered entrepreneurial woman is about as real as Julia Roberts becoming a street walker. The most intelligent thing about this article is when you say – “Where there is a big demand, there will be a supply”. As long as we teach society that it’s okay to buy another human being for sex, which is tantamount to ‘masturbating in another persons body’ then we are culpable in the modern day slave trade. The adult entertainment industry is just like the modern day slave trade of Human Flesh. They want people to either look away, or buy into a fantasy. Very few people see the behind the scenes of suicide, self abuse through drug and alcohol addictions, or the constant threat of abuse from their boss – whether they are called pimp or producer, their methodology is very similar. It’s time that people wake up to this issue of modern slavery and quit making excuses that echo the same sentiments of pro-slavery from Centuries ago.

    • R

      Real Nick CanusoAug 15, 2015 at 11:59 am

      What you saying is true in SOME prostitution and adult entertainment industry. Clearly no one should be forced into sexual slavery of any kind (sexual slavery and human trafficking must stay illegal), but there are lots of people who have no choices in life due to various reasons. This includes people who work normal and LEGAL 9 to 5 jobs, who want to leave their job, but can’t because they have no other choice. I will say some of the men who seek prostitution are criminals, but lot of them are seeking prostitution they can’t find a way to meet their needs from their wives, girlfriends or lack thereof.
      Sex is a way for women to control men, and given that sex is one of the three basic needs of any humans (food, shelter, sex), there are men who suffer and lose out, and have no choice but to pay for sex. STOPPING THE DEMAND FOR SEX IS ABOUT THE SAME AS STOPPING THE DEMAND FOR FOOD.
      Again, forced sexual slavery and human trafficking must stay illegal, but if prostitution is done voluntarily and under legal regulation between consenting adults, that should be left alone.
      I hope you or others will stop stereotyping prostitution and adult industry from one angle. You need to examine this issue from various angle.

  • G

    goldenbearApr 21, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    Prostitution should be decriminalized. To put someone in jail for having consensual sex with another adult should be outrageous to everyone. I can pay a girl’s rent for the month and she can come over and have sex with me, but if the cash changes hand directly and in proximity to the sexual act, I can be charged with a crime. Incidentally, isn’t the premise behind putting someone in a cage, even temporarily, that they pose some threat to society. What threat are two people in a hotel room posing to society? (if you say STD’s, then you should be in favor of regulating non-commercial sex as well; it causes much more problems including unwanted pregnancies).

    I’m not sure prostitution should be allowed in every manifestation. Streetwalkers and those who frequent them can justifiably be given at least a fine for soliciting in public. Please do not conflate child prostitution with adult prostitution. Sex between an adult and a child is already illegal and obviously should be prosecuted. To support the legalization of prostitution should not invite a response that includes the phrase “child prostitution” (even if there were no statute addressing child prostitution directly, the perpetrators could be prosecuted under ordinary statutory rape laws.)

    There are serious ethical concerns regarding human trafficking and legalizing prostitution won’t make those problems disappear. But still, the demand will always be there–it is a fact of life–and the men who see prostitutes will take risks to satisfy there desire. If prostitution were at least legal, you would give the more cautious ones the option of buying sex legally without the risk of winding up in the newspaper (a scarlet letter they will never shed).

    • N

      Nick CanusoMay 16, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      Prostitution IS becoming decriminalized, because we are recognizing that the VAST MAJORITY of prostitutes are in fact Victims of manipulation and abuse. Most prostitutes begin at a very early age and are abused into submission after being lured by false promises and empty romantic sentiments. What needs to happen is a STRONGER criminalization of Customers, those depraved souls who are willing to BUY another human being to satisfy their depraved selfish lusts.

      • P

        ProstitutionShouldBeLegalMay 27, 2013 at 5:56 am

        You mean the Swedish model, which basically hands girls a license to commit blackmail?

  • P

    PeterMar 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    You don’t mention human trafficking – something which I think more than sets it appart from issues of prohibition. In fact, I think it’s a completely separate one. Look at Germany as an example. Prostitution is legal there and it has become a magnet for human trafficking and additionally underage prostitution. Prostitution and human trafficking and sexual slavery are all things which are very interconnected, and not easily separated. Legalizing one of them won’t necessarily diminish the…

    • P

      ProstitutionShouldBeLegalMay 27, 2013 at 5:58 am

      Human trafficking is already illegal and should stay that way. If you really believe that prostitution=human trafficking, why not stand outside a legal Nevada brothel with a sign urging the FBI to free all the kidnapped underage girls working there?