Yesterday I posted to praise the efforts to do something about the plan to transform Berlin into the world’s biggest brothel in order to “accommodate” World Cup patrons, a plan that will inevitably involve human trafficking–because even though prostitution is legal in Germany, do 40,000 more German women really want to earn their living as ho’s? (See my “It’s Not ‘Sex Work’–It’s Exploitation,” June 12.)
I’m totally opposed to legalizing prostitution, a profession that, except possibly at the very highest “Mayflower Madam” level, is nasty, exploitative, and dangerous. Reader KB e-mails to disagree:.
“I’m not sure what I would do about prostitution if I ruled the world, but there are some advantages to legalization.
“I start with the assumption that there will continue to be prostitution no matter what the law does (‘oldest profession,’ and all that). If prostitution were legalized, there would be opportunities for regulation that do not exist now. Potentially, state regulation might reduce both the risk of women being forced into prostitution as well as the public health risks.
“Brothel prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada. It would be interesting to know what Nevada does in this regard. Needless to say, however, the fact that prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada does not mean that there is no illegal prostitution there, as it is not permitted in Las Vegas, but I’d guess that there are more than a few prostitutes there.
“In my view, it’s mostly an empirical question. If legalization would actually reduce the social costs of prostitution (including harms to the women themselves) then it might be worth considering.”
Yes, it’s the world’s oldest profession, and people have been doing it since the beginning of time–just as people have been bashing each other over the head with rocks, falling down dead drunk in the middle of the street, and having sex with children. That argument doesn’t cut much ice with me.
As for whether legalizing prostitution does much to make the job healthier or safer for the women who engage in it, this online memoir by a former prostitute who worked the legal brothels in Nevada and Australia (as well as illegally in Boston and elsewhere) may make you think twice:
“Women in voluntary illegal prostitution have much more control over their decisions on how to prostitute themselves than women working in legal systems. At the same time, legal systems do nothing to reduce illegal prostitution, involuntary prostitution or trafficking in women and girls. In fact, as the articles I am linking to will make clear, legalized prostitution increases all three of these aspects of prostitution. What is also worth noting is that most of the legal brothels operating in both Nevada and Victoria were already operating long before they were legalized and are run by crime syndicates.
“So what we are legalizing in reality is organized crime. We are turning CRIMINALS into ‘respectable’ businessmen. These respectable businessmen use their legal brothels to launder the cash that comes in from the illegal brothels and escort services that they are still running.”
And here is a report from Sheila Jeffreys on the situation in Australia, where both brothel and street prostitution are legal:
“Legalisation makes men more demanding of practices which women do not like and makes women more powerless to resist them because of greater competition, and gives more power to the brothel owners. One result is that there is a greatly increased demand for anal sex….
“Legalisation and decriminalisation lead to the growth of the industry of prostitution. The traffic in women to supply the legal and illegal brothels is an inevitable result. Sex entrepreneurs find it hard to source women locally to supply an expanding industry and trafficked women are more vulnerable and more profitable. Trafficked women are placed in both illegal and legal brothels in Victoria. They can work legally in legal brothels with work permits if the traffickers apply on their behalf for refugee status. The traffickers sell the women to legal and illegal brothels in Victoria for $15,000 each. The women are debt bonded so the profits of their enslavement do not go to them. There are ongoing investigations of several inner-suburban brothels suspected of using women brought from South-East Asia on tourist visas. Police suspect they are forced to have sex with 800 men to pay of debts to the traffickers before they receive any money.”
Yes, you could say that all of this is voluntary–that 18-year-old (or 14-year-old, or 12-year-old) Thai girls willingly sign up for this sort of thing–and the beatings from the traffickers that keep them in line. In Melbourne, Jeffreys reports, there are brothels on every streetcorner, and neighbors can’t do a thing to get rid of them, because, hey, they’re legal! Is this the sort of world we want to live in? Not I.