Why Decriminalizing Prostitution Could End Human Trafficking

by Alexander Salvi

Corporations use sex appeal in their advertisements to get us to buy everything from cologne to cheeseburgers. Essentially, everything in our society today is about sex, except for sex. Unfortunately, in many instances, actual sex is about money and power.

If our society regulates selling consumer products masked by sexual promotions, it only makes sense to regulate selling actual sex, as well.

While discussing such a controversial subject, however, it is vital to distinguish what sorts of actions we are attempting to regulate in order to assess proper restrictions and responsibilities.

Generally, when we talk about the sex industry, we are referring to two drastically different categories: sex traffickers and sex workers.

It is vital to understand the differences between the two terms in order to properly address the victims in each group.

Victims of sex trafficking refer to individuals who are in the sex industry against their will, usually being held captive as a result of outside influences such as force and coercion.

It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to determine who the victims are in this scenario.

On the other hand, sex workers (or, generally, prostitutes) are members of the sex industry who have consciously decided to participate. In this scenario, the determination of the victim is a little vaguer.

Regardless of an individual’s profession, law enforcement officials, as well as government policy itself, must provide protection to all individuals in their constituency.

The problem we face in the United States is these two industries are usually categorized into one.

This poses concerns because by integrating sex traffickers and sex workers, we are delegitimizing the true victims in each scenario and creating a moral panic that manifests itself in harmful legislation.

The primary concern in addressing the sex industry is determining whether or not the correct parties are being punished.

Of course, criminalization of prostitution seems logical at the broadest level; however, often people assume these measures as a means to support his or her family.

While many women may be categorized under the same title of prostitution, it is naïve to think they all enter the industry under the same circumstances.

Entering the industry is the easy part; getting out of it, however, is a different story. If a woman decides to cease her profession as a prostitute, she often faces threats by those who benefit from her work.

Additionally, the criminalization of prostitution in the United States eliminates any safeguard for a woman to approach authorities for assistance in these circumstances.

Does it make sense to criminalize the victim of these policies (the women) instead of the true, dangerous violators?

This is where the most important issue exists. Despite centuries of human history proving governments cannot eliminate a market demand for sex, our current legislation criminalizes sex workers, regardless of their intentions or propensities, further alienating them from protection against violent clients in the same industry.

Prostitution opponents love to promote images of abused prostitutes to trump hostility toward sex workers. While it's true ill-intentioned criminals do exist and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, these conditions do not apply to the vast majority of sex workers.

As a result of current legislation, it seems highly unlikely that a woman would come forward to the police in an attempt to exit the industry in a safe manner if there is a threat of her being prosecuted.

Perhaps our society's mentality is what prevents any substantial change from taking place. Too often, we look at the participants in the sex industry as the guilty culprits instead of the true victims.

Many members of society view prostitutes as lost souls who are incapable of changing or making their own decisions because they are “damaged” people who have resorted to an undesirable line of work in a desperate situation.

There seems to be an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that causes most people to look the other way when it comes to the sex industry. For example, victims of human trafficking are thought to be overseas individuals who don't fall under United States law, a false premise acknowledging the fact that according to the

For example, victims of human trafficking are thought to be overseas individuals who don't fall under United States law, a false premise acknowledging the fact that according to the 2012 Polaris Project, 41 percent of sex trafficking cases referenced US citizens as victims.

It is important to acknowledge that although the law is the very thing that prevents anarchy from rising, it is not infallible. There are many times when morality trumps the lines of the law, which can be exemplified by the fact that slavery was legal in the United States for more than 100 years.

Despite this being the law, it didn’t make it right. There was one legal principle that supported a finding for legal prostitution, and that’s the historic case of Roe v. Wade. In this case, the court established a right of personal privacy to a woman’s body was protected by the due process clause.

While this case, of course, referred to a woman’s right to abortion, it seems illogical that this protection would not include the woman’s right to engage in the acts that resulted in the pregnancy itself.

Of course, it is easy to address the problem, but providing a solution is more difficult. Sweden, however, has seemed to find a way to drastically improve the safety of its citizens in the sex industry while decreasing the number of people entering it.

They did so by passing legislation that (1) decriminalizes the selling of sex and (2) continues to criminalize the buying of sex. The rationale for this legislation is the acknowledgement that prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It's hard to disagree with that.

Likewise, they recognize the sex industry as a form of exploitation that constitutes a more significant problem: that gender inequality exists and will remain to do so as log as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting or trafficking them.

In addition to the reformed legislative strategy, they provide a vital element for their success: A comprehensive social service fund aimed at helping any prostitute who wants to get out of the industry, as well as additional funds to help educate the public on the issue.

This policy assists in treating prostitution as a form of violence against women by criminalizing the men who exploit women by buying sex. It is also progressive in the sense that it recognizes female prostitutes as victims who need help, while educating the public in order to counteract the historical male bias that has long impeded thinking on prostitution.

If we truly want to criminalize the guilty parties while creating a safe route for victims to get out of the sex industry, it seems that decriminalization of prostitution is the best course of action to protect the victims.

Without the fear of being arrested for prostitution, sex workers can be assets to the anti-trafficking movement by criminalizing the true predators in out society.

Under current laws, the government punishes the wrong parties by arresting and incarcerating trafficked individuals for crimes they were forced to commit.

When the law decriminalizes prostitution, sex workers can safely report workplace violence and trafficking survivors will be able to seek assistance from law enforcement without the threat of legal repercussions.