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The Benefits of Decriminalization of Prostitution in The United States

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Every year in the United States between 70,000 and 80,000 people are arrested under prostitution charges, costing tax paying citizens over $200 million yearly. 204 out of every 100,000-people involved in sex work are murdered. In San Francisco, 82% of prostitutes had been assaulted and 68% had been raped during their time working as a prostitute. In an effort to decriminalize and regulate prostitution, the United States would be safeguarding the human rights of sex workers, protecting the health of all those involved, and would stop using tax payer’s money to hurt more than help the parties affected. 67 countries throughout the world have legalized or limitedly legalized prostitution around their countries and seem to be benefiting since the legalization.

In the United States, prostitution was sporadically controlled until the 1910 federal Mann Act. The Mann Act which is also called the “White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910” states that it is a felonyto engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of ‘any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitutionor debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose’ Although, the act was put into place to stop sex trafficking and to prosecute men for having sex with underage females, the phrase “immoral purpose” came into light during the Supreme Court ruling of Caminetti vs. United States (1917) which stated ‘illicit fornication’, even when consensual, constituted an ‘immoral purpose.’ Therefore, allowing the Mann Act to allow the imprisonment of prostitutes throughout the United States. In 1918, the Chamberlain-Kahn Act was put into place allowing the United States Government to arrest any women within a 5-mile radius of the military bases and quarantining them if suspected of having a venereal disease. If proven to have an STD, after a mandatory medical examination, this would warrant proof of prostitution and thus follow with imprisonment. Basically, if a woman was detained while walking 5 miles within a military base with an STD, she would be charged with prostitution whether involved or not. January 25, 1917 in San Francisco an antiprostitution rally ran by Reverend Paul Smith included over 20,000 participants speaking out against prostitution. 300 prostitutes attended pleading that they had been forced into sex work due to poverty and circumstance but were ignored. Over 200 brothels were closed the following week. In 1971, Mustang Ranch Nevada’s first licensed brothel opened with success and lead to 17 counties legalizing prostitution which eventually lead to the legalization of prostitution throughout the state. Mustang Ranch’s profits almost doubling every other brothel in the state of Nevada combined. From 1980 to 2009 prostitution was decriminalized in Rhode Island as long as it was being done consensually indoors. In 2009, Rhode Island placed a bill into law making prostitution a misdemeanor. Finally, on April 11, 2018 the United States Congress passed the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” which imposed several penalties on websites and online platforms that facilitated illicit sex work. Purposely endangering sex workers and has proven to be ineffective in catching sex traffickers and its victims. Over a hundred years have passed since the Mann Act being put into place, countless legislation against prostitution, and years of debate on how it is morally wrong. But it is still around and thriving.

“Normalizing the act of buying sex also debases men by assuming that they are entitled to access women’s bodies for sexual gratification. If paying for sex is normalized, then every young boy will learn that women and girls are commodities to be bought and sold.’ (Jimmy Carter) Putting aside moral prejudice, stemming from religion or an idealistic form of feminism, we as a society have to discuss if prostitution is illegal because of patriarchal beliefs of morale during the earliest parts of our century or if it is illegal because it is in violation of regulation and ordinance that can cause harm to others. Prostitution has been around for hundreds of years and have included both women and men. Decriminalizing prostitution will not change young boy’s mentality to portray women as a commodity because prostitution has and will always be a known thing. Therefore, their mentality would have been already changed. Everyone can gain access to a prostitute right now even though it is illegal. Whether it be on the street, the internet, or through a friend people can gain access to prostitutes. Whether or not the prostitute is STD free, doing it by her own volition and safe is not guaranteed. The problem is the extent that we disown individuals, especially women, who do sex work. In the case of porn and prostitutes, we disown them while simultaneously enjoying the work they produce. By legalizing prostitution, the United States is acknowledging something that has been happening for years and creating a system that won’t harm the buyer or seller. Living in a society built on the foundation of male Christians we have to ask ourselves if the illegality of prostitution was made morally or if it has plausible reasoning without religion or morale involved. Morality is for churches, employers, family members, and peers. It is not a matter of government and law. Criminal law should not be used here as an instrument of punishment or shame, because sex work isn’t inherently immoral or demeaning.

“Prostitution flourishes in the black market that would not exist if brothels and hookers were legitimized, licensed, medically inspected, zoned and taxed. Like drugs, gambling and other crimes of morality, or alcohol prohibition of years past, the black market is nourished by draconian laws that forever fail to accomplish its intended purpose…”. Whether or not we agree with paying for sex is moral or not the duty of a government is to protect its people and prosecute those who harm others. We’re wasting resources on two consensual adults having sex in exchange for money. If your argument against this is “how do we know the prostitute is consenting?” then my answer is we don’t. We do not know if he/she is consenting if it is not regulated.

Criminalization of prostitution does not help men/women get out of prostitution and legalization does not trap them in it. Regulating however will protect them with whatever they choose. ‘It is argued that legalizing or decriminalizing sex work is beneficial to curbing the HIV epidemic because it allows governments to monitor and regulate the sex trade. In doing so, they can ensure that sex workers are empowered to negotiate condom use, improve their access to public services, and protect them from violence and abuse…”. In the state of Nevada where licensed brothels and legalized prostitution exists there are laws and regulations that they have to follow. These laws include:

  • Brothels are not allowed to be located in counties with less than 400,00 residents.
  • Prostitutes must be at least 18 years or older and must be employed by their own free will.
  • Prostitutes must submit weekly HIV and STD testing.
  • Prostitutes must have sex worker registration cards
  • Prostitutes must use condoms.
  • Brothels can’t be located within 400 yards of a school or place of worship.
  • Brothels can’t be located on a principal street
  • Brothels may not advertise in a public theatre, on a public street or highway, or in any county, city, or town where prostitution is prohibited.

Legally employed people in America get rights like a minimum wage, freedom from discrimination, and a safe work environment. Since prostitutes don’t work legally, they don’t get any of those rights. An analysis of data from 27 European countries found that in countries that have legalized some aspects of sex work there is a significantly lower HIV prevalence among sex workers compared to those countries where all aspects of sex work are criminalized. Dr. Joseph Iser chief medical officer spoke to the Southern District Board of Health stating that Clark County where Las Vegas is located has the highest STD rates in Nevada. This is because in Clark County prostitution isn’t legalized and regulated. Therefore, illegal prostitutes who may not have the means to get tested or the requirement are spreading venereal diseases. Dr. Iser stated “The fact is that in surrounding counties that have legalized prostitution, the transmission of STDs is diminished because workers are being monitored,” Iser said. “They are tested every week. I think that legalizing sex work in Clark County would help to bring our rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and other sexual diseases under control.” Legalized brothels don’t have these problems with STDs because there are mandatory weekly health checks. On top of lowering the spread of diseases, regulating also calls for safer work environments for the prostitutes. Nevada brothels offer specific protocols to protect workers by the way transactions are organized, the ways technology is ordered, the visibility of customers, the bureaucratic relationships among customers, managers, and workers, and the cooperation with police based on the mere fact of their legality. All of these mechanisms work to eliminate systematic violence and to discourage an atmosphere of danger and risk. In 2015, Amnesty International issued a policy recommending the decriminalization of prostitution, claiming such action would drastically improve the lives of sex workers through destigmatization. Currently, under New York Criminal Procedure Law, sex workers who have been victims of sex offenses, including assault and rape, face greater obstacles than other victims. Indeed, women describe being told, ‘What did you expect?’ by police officers who refused to investigate acts of violence perpetrated against women whom they knew engaged in prostitution. The stigma that violence should be expected when engaging in sex work is dehumanizing. An example of this is Gary Ridgway. Gary Ridgway said that he killed prostitutes because he knew he would not be held accountable. In the end he was right, he confessed to the murders of 48 women, committed over nearly twenty years.

A huge argument as to why prostitution should not be legalized is that it increases the trafficking of women to meet the demands of the customers. Criminalizing prostitution for the sake of stopping sex trafficking only pushes it deeper underground. Therefore, hiding it more than stopping it. “The ACLU explains that people being trafficked are vulnerable because they often work in jobs that are hidden from the public view and unregulated by the government.” After legalizing prostitution in 2003, New Zealand found no incidence of human trafficking. The Netherlands, Australia, and Germany, all of who have legalized prostitution, received top marks from the Bush administration in the most recent Trafficking in Persons Report. Therefore, legalization made it easier for sex workers to report abuse and for police to prosecute sex crimes. When decriminalizing prostitution, it creates a stronger bond between those in sex work and police. Data gathered from the Chicago Police Department shows that prostitutes are more likely to have sex with officers than to be arrested by them, indicating the dangers sex workers and sex trafficking victims face when interacting with authorities. If prostitution gets legalized it can get to the point that sex workers can become key information sources in attempts to uncover human trafficking. Currently, sex workers are afraid to do so because they risk getting arrested. Criminalization forces prostitution into the underworld and black market. Legalization would bring it into the open, where abuses such as trafficking and underage prostitution can be more easily seen and taken care of. Brothels would develop reputations worth protecting that they wouldn’t want to risk.

On top of adding physical safety both from violence and diseases, legalizing prostitution can also be monetarily beneficial to the United States. ‘Prostitution a multimillion-dollar-a-year business in Las Vegas, and nobody gets any taxes off of it… The city and the county could probably make about $25 million a year in taxes off of legalized prostitution.” (Dennis Hof) 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. Because the state of Nevada doesn’t have prostitution over the entire state legalized the brothels do not pay state taxes. If legalized the brothels claimed they have no issue paying state taxes. Also, when thinking about the $200 million taxpayers pay yearly towards the arrest and incarcerations of prostitutes the expense would be erased if legalized. So not only would the United States be benefiting off of legalizing prostitution through taxes, it would be cutting a $200 million expense. Illegal prostitution businesses in America pay no taxes. If those brothels were legalized, then state and county governments could gain significant revenue. The Auxiliary Bishop of Prague even stated “it would be better to have prostitution take place there – with medical check-ups and prostitutes paying taxes. It would be the lesser of two evils.’ If you aren’t looking at it from a viewpoint of morality or religion the only way to view prostitution is as a business. In the United States, we thrive on taxing big businesses with questionable morale like cigarettes, alcohol, and gambling. What would be the difference with prostitution?

In conclusion, when looking at whether or not prostitution should be legalized you have to ask yourself the question: if I take out moral and religious judgements what are my reasons against prostitution? If you’re looking at it from a morally righteous perspective, you must ask yourself if you are willing to allow human beings to get beaten, raped, and murdered because you didn’t agree with their profession. And because of this they couldn’t get regulations. Prostitution would be a victimless crime if both prostitute and buyer were consenting adults. Without regulations, this can never be guaranteed. After over 100 years of prostitution we still haven’t figured a way to end it so we can at least regulate it so the workers are safe. These regulations of STD checks, Sex Worker identification cards, age limits, and everything else put into place to protect the men and women in this line of work. Not only protecting prostitutes but bringing to light sex trafficking victims and saving them. People won’t look at two options, one being legal one being illegal, and stray to the illegal one. If people can legally go to a brothel where the workers are STD free, identity checked, and consenting; over an illegal prostitution ring where they have a huge possibility of getting arrested they will pick the legal brothel. The legal brothels that will be making the United States millions of dollars rather than taking over $200 million of taxes to detain these men/women. If you don’t like fighting, don’t be a boxer. If you don’t like dead people, don’t be a coroner. If you don’t like prostitution, don’t be a prostitute. But don’t let your opinions get pushed onto the people who do to the point they are dehumanized, mentally and physically abused, and not fought for.

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The Benefits Of Decriminalization Of Prostitution In The United States. (2020, September 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
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