This is a real story of Theresa Flores, age 15 and a victim of sex trafficking.
"She was a self-described "blond, white girl" from an upper-class Detroit suburb and went out on date with a boy she knew from school. That night she was attacked and raped as the boy’s cousins took photos. It was the beginning of an agonizing two years for Flores. Her attackers - members of a gang - blackmailed her with the threat of revealing the photos and forced her to become a sex slave. Fearing for her life, she escaped only after her family moved from the state, taking her with them. "You don’t think that it happens here" in the suburbs, "and until it hits you between the eyes, you don’t realize it," she said. "But it can happen to anybody."
I share this particular story with you because, as Theresa says, "it can happen to anybody." Often people will push social problems aside if they are not effected by them. Well this problem of sex trafficking and involuntary prostitution cannot be ignored which is why I argue that prostitution should be legalized. If prostitution is not made legal, then involuntary prostitution and sex trafficking will continue to exist. The victims of the sex industry, women and girls, will continue to be exploited and abused for the pleasure and profit of others.
I would like to make some clarifications on the different types of laws regarding prostitution. The United States currently has a no tolerance policy of prostitution where the buying and selling of sex is illegal. (Later on I will explain why this approach is ineffective.) Then there is the complete decriminalization method where the buying and selling of sex are both legal. Lastly there is a partially legal approach where the selling of sex is legal, but the buying of it is not. Dictionary.com states that prostitution is “the act or practice of engaging in sexual intercourse for money.” I argue that the act of licensed prostitution, of selling sex, should be legal, but the buying of unlicensed sex should be illegal. Thus, it is the last approach that the United States government should adapt into policy. There are many advantages to making prostitution legal, but I will be focusing on these three.
1. The health of prostitutes and their clients would improve once other policies are implemented to regulate the sex industry.
2. Our current system targets prostitutes rather than the clients and pimps promoting the industry.
3. Legalizing prostitution will decrease the sex trafficking.
A large argument against prostitution is that it causes STDs. Well, with legal prostitution, the government can regulate the trade, and laws would be implemented to improve health for prostitutes and clients alike. To do so, regular monitoring and treatment of incident STDs, and the implementation of 100% condom rules would be enforced as well as other procedures aimed at reducing the threat of STD transmission. A prime example of such procedures are currently being utilized in Nevada’s legal brothels, which are described in the 2003 book Sexual Rights in America: The Ninth Amendment and the Pursuit of Happiness by Paul R. Abramson, Steven D. Pinkerton, and Mark Huppin.
In these brothels, clients are thoroughly examined for any indication of STDs and refuse sex to those who fail the inspection. Customers are also required to wash themselves with an antiseptic solution and water, and to wear a condom. Furthermore, the prostitutes undergo weekly medical exams to test for any STDs.
This method has proven effective because there have been few instances of detected STDs in Nevada brothels. In 2010 there was a study conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and University of California, LA, that compared STD rates between L. A. porn stars and Nevada brothel prostitutes. The study found that 47 out of 168 adult film performers were tested positive for STDs, and the rates among legal prostitutes in Nevada brothels were negligible. There were also no cases of infection because prostitutes are required by law to wear condoms and frequently get tested for STDs. Aside from the law, logically prostitutes would be more motivated to keep their own health in check, because the alternative would mean losing their job and any possibility of continuing an occupation as a prostitute. Therefore, legalized prostitution, and enforced health regulations of the trade could potentially decrease the overall level of STDs in American society.
Our current policy of illegal prostitution is insufficient because it means criminalizing the prostitutes of the trade, rather than the perpetrators of the sex industry including clients, pimps, and traffickers. Sherry Colb, a Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, asserts this claim in the ProCon.org article “Should Prostitution be Legal?”
One thing I would add is that there is a double-standard that permeates the enforcement of laws against prostitution. The prostitutes are harassed, arrested, and sometimes prosecuted, while the johns (and often the pimps, who are far more likely to be engaged in violent and master/slave-like treatment of the prostitutes) are ignored. This reflects the view that men who traffic in women are not as bad as the women in whom they traffic.
Colb is correct in that our current system of illegal prostitution unfairly targets prostitutes rather those who demand the service of sellable sex, and those who make a profit off of women’s labor. Illegal prostitution is also insufficient because it decreases the motivation of prostitutes to report assault crimes, and to leave the industry and seek help, since they are at risk of being arrested themselves.
For those prostitutes who are nonconsenting adults or are victims of the sex industry, decriminalized prostitution would mean an increase in programs designed to help prostitutes escape their situation and integrate them back into society. Once such program is described in the 2013 FBI law enforcement bulletin “Prostitution and Human Trafficking: a Paradigm Shift.” It started when the Anaheim Police Department in Orange County, California, changed from their traditional approach of handling prostitution, which was enforcing illegal prostitution by arresting and trying prostitutes, to a new approach of rescuing prostitutes that are suspected sex slaves, and recruiting their help in identifying their pimps and/or traffickers.
The goal became rescuing women from their pimps and redirecting their lives, reducing prostitution one life at a time. This paradigm shift meant considering prostitutes as potential victims and identifying pimps as suspects. This role transition became the basis of a new approach where prostitution activity was viewed as potential human sex trafficking. The department adopted new strategies to—
1. Assist women in escaping prostitution
2. Help them realize their situations and the circumstances that got them there
3. Provide services to assist with redirecting their lives in a positive direction
4. Seek cooperation in pursuing the pimps who trafficked them as prostitutes.
Programs like these assist the victims in escaping their situations and addresses the real evils of society who perpetuate violence against women. However, these programs will not be accepted, nor applied, on a national level until prostitution becomes legal.
Illegal prostitution is also insufficient because it actually encourages sex trafficking rather than eradicating it. In their 2015 article “Human Trafficking and Regulating Prostitution,” Samuel Lee and Petra Persson created models that mathematically analyzes the supply and demand of prostitutes and sex trafficking in different scenario markets: one with a complete illegal prostitution market, one with a complete legal market, and one with a legal and illegal market combined.
1. Illegal market: Their analysis of an illegal market show that its end goal of eradicating trafficking is unattainable as long as voluntary prostitution exists, and because trafficking actually increases in markets where the sale of sex is difficult since the low supply will increase the demand. Even though arresting a prostitute would cut off the supply of sellable sex, their trafficker remains undetected which means they will continue to traffic in women because the demand still exists.
2. Legalized Market: Lee and Perssin also analyzed at a completely legalized model with regulations such as registration, licensing, and zoning requirements. In such a model there are two markets, one with licensed prostitutes and one without whereby unlicensed prostitutes will be arrested. Although this model increases voluntary prostitution, it does not eradicate trafficking.
3. Illegal and legal market: The third model they analyzed was a combined model of legalizing and regulating prostitutes, and criminalizing the customers of unlicensed prostitutes. Under this model, customers would value licensed prostitutes over unlicensed ones, and prostitutes would be motivated to obtain a license in order to meet the demand for legal prostitutes. Because the demand for unlicensed prostitutes would decrease, sex trafficking would as well.
The United States government has good intentions of making prostitution illegal in the hopes that it will eradicate sex trafficking, but statistics on the 2016 National Human Trafficking Hotline website clearly indicates that this approach is insufficient. The hotline shows that out of 5,748 reported human trafficking cases this year, 4,177 of those are sex trafficking cases. This number could be dramatically decreased and even eradicated if the United States government decided to start using more sufficient approaches other than simply criminalizing prostitution altogether. Specifically, Lee and Persson’s model analyses demonstrate that the legalization of licensed prostitution and criminalization of unlicensed prostitution is the most adequate method of regulating the supply and demand of legal sex while decreasing sex trafficking.
Imagine that you are Teresa and you have just been coerced into the sex industry. You are now forced to sell your body for sex so that your pimp can profit off of your labor. Wouldn’t you want prostitution to be legal so that your escape will be easier? Say another prostitute recognizes that you are a victim. They can report to the police without fear of arrest themselves under a legalized system. Remember that legalizing prostitution has health benefits for prostitutes and clients, prostitutes will be more motivated to report instances of involuntary prostitution and sex trafficking, and the level of sex trafficking will decrease. These advantages cannot occur under our current system which insufficiently deals with prostitution and sex trafficking. So I strongly encourage you to contact your representatives in congress and explain why prostitution, must be legalized.