It's time for America to have a sensible conversation surrounding what is often referred to as "the world's oldest profession": prostitution.
At present, prostitution is criminalized across the United States. It is permitted in a few rural counties in Nevada, where licensed brothels operate under strict regulations.
Concurrently, this has done nothing to slow the demand for sex work. In 2010 alone, the Bureau of Justice reported that over 60,000 people were arrested for prostitution. Simply put, regardless of whether or not it's legal, prostitution will continue.
Likewise, by keeping it illegal, America perpetuates an unsafe and unequal system that stigmatizes and exploits sex workers. Not to mention, there is widespread evidence that legalizing prostitution has significant public health benefits.
Legalizing sex work is a controversial subject for obvious reasons. One might argue that decriminalizing prostitution condones an industry that degrades and abuses people, especially women. This is a fair point.
Yet, by keeping prostitution illegal America has created an environment in which sex workers are subjected to violence, disease, ridicule and inequality.
We have seen evidence to suggest that the criminalization of sex work leads to social marginalization and an increased risk of human rights abuses against sex workers. The evidence also suggests that decriminalization could be the best means to protect the rights of sex workers and ensure that these individuals receive adequate medical care, legal assistance and police protection.
Amnesty International also noted that other prominent groups have supported or called for the legalization of sex work, including the World Health Organization, UN Women, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Foundations, among others.
Indeed, the time has come for America to legalize prostitution. Here are three reasons why:
1. Legalizing Prostitution Would Greatly Reduce Sex Trafficking
As noted above, regardless of the fact that prostitution is illegal, there is still a demand for it. Consequently, this helps fuel one of the most heinous industries in the world: sex-based human trafficking, or sex trafficking.
It's estimated that there are around 30 million victims of human trafficking around the world. More than half of the victims (55 percent) are women or girls.
According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking generates around $150 billion per year. Two-thirds of this money ($99 billion) comes from commercial sexual exploitation.
The United States is not immune to the perils of this disgusting industry. Somewhere between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States every year. The vast majority of these individuals are trafficked for sex work.
Tragically, 100,000 children are forced into prostitution every year in America.
At the same time, there is widespread evidence that legalizing prostitution reduces sex trafficking. In 2001, Germany legalized sex work. Over the course of the next 10 years, instances of sex-based human trafficking decreased by 10 percent within the country.
Correspondingly, as Cathy Reisenwitz notes for the Daily Beast:
Working with instead of against sex workers will lead to more slaves being rescued. In Germany, it already is. While prohibitionists claim that legalizing prostitution has increased human trafficking in the country, the data don't support them.
Additionally, by keeping sex work illegal, victims of sex trafficking are less likely to go to the police out of fear of being arrested. Unfortunately, sex trafficking victims are often treated like criminals. At the same time, there is evidence that cops are frequent customers.
One of the keys to combatting sex-based human trafficking is opening up the communication waves and exposing traffickers. We can't do this while prostitution remains illegal, which stigmatizes sex workers and pushes them to the fringes of society.
2. Legalizing Prostitution Would Make Sex Workers Safer (Fewer Assaults And STDs)
Belle Knox, known primarily as the Duke University Porn Star, recently wrote an informative op-ed for Rolling Stone supporting the legalization of prostitution in the US. She contended that it's contradictory that she's allowed to have sex for money on camera, but when someone does it behind closed doors it becomes a crime.
Prostitution is criminalized in every state and locality across the country. As a result, sex workers are pushed onto the street, leaving too many at the whims of pimps and dangerous johns without access to police protection and labor representation. If only the practice was brought indoors, sex workers could have more freedom to perform on their own terms in a safe, legal environment like I do.
The United Nations Human Rights Council recently published a report expressing similar sentiments, stating, "The criminalization of clients has not reduced trafficking or sex work, but has increased sex workers' vulnerability to violence, harmed HIV responses, and infringed on sex workers' rights."
Indeed, 45 to 75 percent of sex workers will experience workplace violence. Yet, as long as prostitution remains illegal, sex workers who are assaulted will be extremely unlikely to report anything to the police for fear of legal ramifications.
At the same time, there is evidence that legalizing prostitution helps reduce violence against sex workers.
In Germany and New Zealand, where sex work is legalized, occupational health and safety laws protect sex workers. Correspondingly, as the brothels also screen clients and use credit cards, violence has decreased. Sex workers there can report instances of violence and harassment, and the perpetrators are held accountable.
Likewise, five years after it decriminalized adult prostitution, New Zealand had no increases in trafficking or the number of sex workers.
Relatedly, as a result of a legal loophole, state legislators in Rhode Island unintentionally legalized prostitution in 1980. A criminal case brought this to the public's attention in 2003. The error was eventually corrected in 2009, and prostitution was made illegal again.
During the six years in between, however, the number of rapes in the state declined by 31 percent. Simultaneously, gonorrhea infection amongst women in Rhode Island dropped by a whopping 39 percent.
Indeed, the data show that decriminalizing prostitution has a very positive impact on public health and safety. The World Health Organization (WHO) supports it for this very reason.
In a recent report, it stated: "Violence against sex workers is associated with inconsistent condom use or lack of condom use, and with increased risk of STI and HIV infection. Violence also prevents sex workers from accessing HIV information and services."
Similarly, cops in cities across the US have actually used condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses.
Hence, as long as sex work remains illegal, prostitutes will be less likely to use condoms and seek STD tests. If it were to be decriminalized, they would be safer and healthier.
3. Legalized Prostitution Would Be A Substantial Source Of Tax Revenue
As long as prostitution remains illegal in the United States, those within the industry will pay no taxes. In turn, the government is missing out on a lucrative source of revenue.
In 2007 alone, Atlanta's sex trade was worth a staggering $290 million. Not to mention, between 2005 and 2011, the average weekly cash income for pimps in the city was $32,833.
In Nevada, legal brothels collectively make around $50 million a year, and pay significant amounts of tax to the rural counties in which they are located and operate.
The state, however, does not share in this revenue because it does not approve of the sex trade. The brothels have said they'd be happy to pay state taxes. All the while, Nevada's economy is suffering.
Not to mention, police spend a great deal of time, money and resources in an attempt to disrupt the sex trade. Yet, it's not going anywhere. If it were legalized, law enforcement could save money and spend more time addressing more pressing matters, such as terrorism.
In other words, if the government legalized prostitution, it could potentially make enormous monetary gains.
Thus, There are clear social, health and economic reasons to support the decriminalization of prostitution. It's time for America to come to its senses and face the facts.
Citations: Legalized brothels fantastic for New Zealand prostitutes say (Toronto Star), Opinion Prostitutes Are People, Not Criminals (Rolling Stone), When Rhode Island accidentally legalized prostitution rape decreased sharply (The Washington Post), The Impact of Using Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in New York City (Sex Workers Project), Its Time for Legalized Prostitution (Slate), Why Its Time to Legalize Prostitution (The Daily Beast), Addressing Violence Against Sex Workers (World Health Organization), Written statement submitted by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women a non governmental organization in special consultative status (United Nations Human Rights Council ), POLICY CONSULTATION ON DECRIMINALISATION OF SEX WORK (Amnesty International ), Legalize Prostitution (Huffington Post), Legal Prostitution The Pros And Cons (ProConOrg), 9 Things You Didnt Know About American Prostitution (Huffington Post), 5 Things You Didnt Know About Human Trafficking Read (Rolling Stone), Sex Trafficking in the US (Polaris), 10 Things You Didnt Know About Slavery, Human Trafficking And What You Can Do About It (Huffington Post), 100000 Children Are Forced Into Prostitution Each Year (Think Progress), ILO says forced labour generates annual profits of US 150 billion (International Labor Organization ), Human Trafficking Trends in the United States (Polaris), UN and partners launch initiative to end modern slavery of human trafficking (UN News Centre), The Entrapment of Eliot (The Wall Street Journal)