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]