Prostitution has been completely illegal in the U.S. since 1915 when all states passed legislation to ban brothels and the act of having sex for money.
Today, prostitution is criminalized everywhere in the U.S. with the exception of some counties in Nevada.
To many people, the idea of having sex for money may seem immoral, and prostitution is often associated with abuse, violence and the exploitation of women. There are several reasons why a woman might go into prostitution but one of the most common is money.
Many prostitutes are in need of money and lacking other opportunities, so they may see prostitution as a way to stay afloat financially.
The problem is by criminalizing prostitution, sex workers are put at a far greater risk of being abused or contracting STDs due to lack of legal regulation. If a sex worker who needs money incurs a criminal charge, this makes it even harder for them to find a legal job and pay potential fines, thus encouraging them to continue prostituting themselves — the exact opposite intention of laws banning prostitution.
The nationwide ban on prostitution is largely based on morality, viewing it as a modern day form of slavery and as inherently demeaning. Sex work may be viewed as immoral by some people, but that should have no bearing on its legality.
Women have autonomy over their own bodies and should not face criminal charges for engaging in sexual activity. Legalizing sex for money would not only be highly regulated with routine STD testing and requiring condoms for all sexual activity, but it also makes sex workers safer, giving them the right to refuse service at any time for any reason.
The many problems associated with prostitution primarily are due to it being pushed underground. Illegal prostitution forces many women into dangerous situations. Since it is illegal, if there is a problem with a customer no one can call the police out of fear of criminal charges.
In order to avoid detection by law enforcement, women are often forced to work alone or in isolated locations, making them much more vulnerable. At legal brothels there is security and the police can resolve disputes just as with any other legal business.
Many countries decriminalize the selling of sex and choose to only punish the buyer, but this does not go far enough and is not the most effective solution to the problem. Women may not face criminal charges for selling sex, but they still are at risk because it is not a safe, government-regulated service.
Prostitutes who need money will likely sell sex anyway, regardless of its legality, often forcing them to take risky clients or find a manager which may abuse or exploit them. Sex workers need legal protections which allow them to avoid abuse and report wrongdoing to the police without fearing arrest.
Laws against prostitution are purely paternalistic and perpetuate the demonization of sex work and gender inequality in society. Banning prostitution only contributes to the long history of laws attempting to control women’s bodies and the legality of sex behind closed doors.
Many sex workers like their job and many hate it, just like any other job. To say sex workers are “too victimized” or “too damaged” to look out for what may be best for them is merely to discredit sex workers and to continue to ignore the many problems in the industry.
People’s opinions both inside and outside of the industry of sex work should not be relevant. What is important is that those who choose to participate in prostitution can do so safely with legal protections.
The government should not have the right to intervene in the sex lives of individuals. Sex for money is illegal in the U.S., unless there happens to be a camera rolling for a pornographic film.
A legal, regulated and taxed marketplace for sex is safer for both the buyer and the seller of sex, and it could raise an estimated $20 billion in tax revenue annually based on the model set by Nevada.
Laws around sex work need to be determined by those in the industry, following the guide of sex worker-led organizations like the Sex Workers Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM). Many other countries around the world have already taken the step to legalize prostitution and it is time the U.S. follows suit.