Today is another joint post by jmb275 and Hawkgrrrl.  Some of the comments in the post about decriminalizing pot also referenced the possible implications of decriminalizing prostitution, an even more divisive issue.  The underlying arguments seem similar:  these are “illegal” activities that inevitably crop up in society, it could be argued that consensual sex (involving an exchange of money) is a victimless crime, and regulation can lead to safer working conditions for the prostitutes.  There are already some states and countries in which prostitution is legal and regulated.

So, for or against?

jmb275:  I come down on the legalize it side, for reasons similar to the Marijuana issue.  I think it’s an interesting discussion because LDS members, on the whole, generally believe that having something be illegal is the way to indicate its immorality (also explaining why those nasty ‘ole democrats are so immoral).  I noticed this is encouraged by leaders as well.  In GBH’s talk on gambling he explicitly encourages us to vote for laws that discourage immorality.  That really represents a Republican point of view.  I’m also not in favor of people practicing prostitution, but I’m also not in favor of having it be illegal.

Hawkgrrrl:  I am against legalizing it (as well as illegal prostitution).  What is truly truly sad to me is the poverty and lack of choices that leads some women to have no other viable means of sustaining her own or her childrens’ lives as well as societies that create a situation in which the only commodity women have that is of value is their own body.  While legal prostitution is certainly safer than illegal, it’s all, IMO, pretty damaging to both men & women and society at large.  It’s not a victimless crime IMO.

And of course there’s the somewhat valid argument that some marriages are essentially the man paying and the woman providing sex and maid service.  I kind of want to make those illegal, too, but it’s clearly impossible to legislate.

jmb275:   I saw that Onion article.  Hilarious!

Hawkgrrrl:  I could argue pro due to the safety issues, but even so, it’s a profession that pisses me off because it’s not like there are a bunch of men out there whose only choice to get by is selling their bodies for sex.  And yet I acknowledge that there are some women who consider themselves professional sex workers and enjoy doing that work.  Pimps and johns are really the people I can’t stand.

jbm275:  Well, I’m afraid I don’t understand your position.  We need to be clear what we’re talking about.  I agree with everything you said, but it seems like you’re talking about prostitution in general (which I’m against morally).  If we’re talking about legalizing it, then I am in favor for the exact reasons you specified (safety issues).  My friend lives in a country where it is legal. He said it’s very clean, and the part of town where it occurs has many family establishments and it is not considered a dirty, or otherwise bad or unhealthy culture (even though he doesn’t agree with prostitution morally).

I have two problems with prostitution:  1. Illegal prostitution makes for a very bad and unsafe culture that usually involves violence and disease.  This problem is taken care of in large measure if prostitution is made legal and participants are protected instead of treated as criminals.  2. As long as we continue to view women as objects, sexism will abound.  I view prostitution and porn as two of the largest contributors to the status of women in today’s society (I know there are many women who would argue against that though).

However, the world’s oldest profession is NOT going to go away – ever.  Given that reality, I think we only make the situation much worse by criminalizing it.  BTW, we haven’t touched on sex trafficking or anything like that in this.  Those are a bit different and would warrant a different discussion.
Hawkgrrrl:  If we’re talking about the 20% of prostitutes (and that is a very generous estimate) who are in it for kicks and not because they have no other options but to be exploited sexually by pervy men, then I suppose I would agree with outright legalization.  There’s also always been child labor, but I’m not in favor of legalizing sweatshops.  As I said, it’s not a victimless crime (although I do acknowledge that there are some out-of-work gymnasts who consider prostitution an easy way to make a buck doing something they love).
So, I guess, coming around on the legalization angle, if the legalization involved requiring that those involved be college educated (or otherwise able to get other forms of gainful employment – some proxy to indicate that they really WANT to be a prostitute), then I’d feel somewhat mollified.  Does that clarify my position?
jmb275:   My question would be, does making it illegal actually help the problem?  Prostitution exists, and it always has and always will.  Does making it illegal curb it, discourage young girls from being involved in it, and save lives, or otherwise improve society?  And to what extent it does or doesn’t do those things, does it outweigh the negative effects on those who become involved in it?  To me, making something illegal doesn’t intrinsically actually do anything (doesn’t make something right or wrong).  Prostitution is a well known illegal activity, but because of that a stigma becomes attached to the people, and a negative culture is created (much like the war on drugs).  Making something illegal is only effective if it is enforced (incentives).  It appears to me it is insufficiently enforced to really be effective (like the drug war) and hence the negative culture is created with no real benefit.
My position on the issue would be one of abolitionism – that is decriminalize prostitution but criminalize (and enforce) the exploitation of prostitutes (including human trafficking).  This is what the UN favors, and is the situation in many places in Europe.  I think this really drives to the heart of the problem – that cultural forces are primarily responsible for prostitution.  One alternative to the way it is here is to do as Norway has done and outlaw paying for a prostitute but make prostitution legal.
Hawkgrrrl:  I like the Norway solution best in this case.  I would not prosecute prostitutes, but I would absolutely prosecute all who exploit or abuse them.  Basically, it’s one profession where I have low tolerance for a middle man (or woman).
To recap, here are some of the key discussion points:
  • Morality and legality are not the same thing.  We are both against prostitution on moral grounds.  Legality is about how society is regulated, not morality.
  • Making prostitution illegal has been proven to be an ineffective deterrent.
  • Prostitution being illegal only makes it more unsafe for women who are often already being victimized and exploited.
  • If it is legal and regulated, the suggestion is to require prostitutes to prove that they have other forms of gainful employment available to them.  Create qualifications other than the right plumbing.
  • To provide the right kinds of incentives, we should make it illegal to pay for sex (being a john), illegal to collect money for services provided by others (being a pimp), but legal to accept money for sexual services personally rendered (being a prostitute).
What do the rest of you think?  Has this discussion illuminated anything new for you (as it did for me)?  Would you decriminalize solicitation but prosecute exploiters and abusers (the Norway solution)?  Would you legalize prosecution?  Or would you continue to prosecute prostitutes and customers alike?  Discuss.