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Legalizing Prostitution … is it worth it?

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Ok, here we go off the beaten path for a bit… But… How to bring this topic up?? …Hmmm… Ok, let’s just get out with it…

After having this conversation quite a bit, I thought it would be a good idea to publish my own thoughts on the topic of legalizing prostitution.  This is a topic birthed from another topic near and dear to my heart, which is Sex-Trafficking.

So without further ado, here is an excerpt from my thesis, entitled: Children: The Modern Commodity, A Treatise on Sex-Trafficking. 

Appendix I: Considerations in the Effectiveness of Legalizing Prostitution


The vote is still out on regulating or legalizing prostitution.  This is still a highly controversial issue with strong opinions held on both sides.  On one hand, it is argued that legalizing prostitution exposes what is done in private and forces change, in that taxes must be paid, licensure for brothel owners must be obtained, health inspections must be allowed, and other governmental controls can be enforced to ensure the safety of “sex-workers.”  This, of course, would imply that these workers are indeed “voluntary” and not forced or coerced.  The idea is that regulating prostitution will make honest work out of it. 

Furthermore, advocates argue that by criminalizing prostitution, women working freely in the sex industry would be stripped of their means to provide for themselves and their families.  This makes one wonder: should as much sympathy be doled out to the local drug dealer, as well?  Nevertheless, the Netherlands have adopted this stance toward prostitution.  Under their governmental regulations for prostitution, brothels are legal if the owners provide the same benefits to their employees as other business owners, and if they have proper licensing to prove they are following the mandates set up by the Sex Purchase Act. 

The goal is to minimize trafficking by regulating the types of brothels and by declaring which workers are allowed to conduct business within them, i.e., no illegal foreigners are granted permission to work either as a prostitute or in any other capacity.  On the other hand, advocates for the abolition of prostitution argue that the only way to eradicate sex trafficking and to prevent it in the future is to dismantle its market entirely, which in turn, would protect those most vulnerable to it.

Regardless of the method utilized in the greater goal of eliminating trafficking, efficiency is what is sought after.  Brothel owners, traffickers, and the “Johns” that support them are all criminals, and prior to the 1999 decision, which legalized their business, they were already involved in it illegally with relative impunity. This is obviously the one thing that simply slipped past the radar of those legislators fighting for governmental regulation of prostitution in the Netherlands. 

Incredible, as it may seem, this fact alone was a major contributing factor in the decision to legalize the brothel-run business: because the Netherlands were not enforcing the original law outlawing brothels, they moved to legitimize them, in an effort to better control them (MFA, 2004).  If this type of “efficiency” seems a bit counterintuitive or even a little ironic, it’s because it is.

In other words, the likelihood of organized crime members smiling and handing over the profit they worked so hard to steal just to pay taxes- seems quite farfetched to say the least.  What is more probable is that those running these types of “businesses” made the move to be more discreet in their business dealings and continued running their show underground or illegally. 

While it is true that some brothel owners, or others seeking a business investment, may have taken advantage of this new system and converted to it wholeheartedly, the obvious situation is this- once owning a brothel was decriminalized, those choosing to remain in anonymity could do so more easily and gain an even higher profit than their tax-paying counterparts, by continuing to offer the best rates in town.  In fact, not only have many sectors of the brothel-run sex industry in the Netherlands failed to do any such “required” reporting, traffickers in the sex trade now view the Netherlands as a safe house where they can easily attain a somewhat cloaked status. 

In essence, what power is there to stop this?  By creating a law to legalize a previous crime based on the fact that there was no enforcement of that previous law, only seeks to suggest that a further problem lie ahead in the enforcement of the new law requiring taxes.  Now, to save face, the Netherlands will lead the world in believing that it was not an enforcement issue, but rather an air of nonchalance surrounding the issue that guided their decision. 

However, in light of the sheer numbers involved and the enforcement issues faced around the globe, this appears as no more than a scapegoat law.  Thus, if there were too many illegal brothels running to be able to properly incriminate them in the past, it would seem only logical that by legalizing them, in an attempt to regulate such a trade, would make it all the more difficult to enforce.  Again, unless properly enforced, a simple law does nothing to stop the average criminal from choosing to play by different rules.

Interestingly, the Netherlands and Sweden made opposite decisions about how to approach this criminal activity at virtually the same time in 1999.  So, with more than ten years into the plan, onlookers are curious to know the effects of each decision.  So much so- that according to the Women’s Justice Center in Sacramento, CA in 2003 the University of London did a comprehensive analysis on the outcomes of prostitution policies in other countries, such as Sweden, the Netherlands, and others after being solicited to do so by the Scottish government, then seeking to update their own laws.  What they found was that,

“legalization and/or regulation of prostitution led to: a dramatic increase in all facets of the sex industry, a dramatic increase in the involvement of organized crime in the sex industry, a dramatic increase in child prostitution, an explosion in the number of foreign women and girls trafficked into the region, and indications of an increase in violence against women” (de Santis, 2004).

As the first to implement this type of legislation, in Sweden, there is a “Zero-Tolerance” stance on prostitution: the buyers are prosecuted while the sellers are not.  So, ten years later is there still prostitution in Sweden? The answer is yes, however, there has been a substantial decrease in the numbers of prostitutes found; on the street, that is.  With that being said, there is a group of people that claim that this legislation has actually made it less safe for sex-workers, in that, it is all done underground now, where the hope of rescue is slim to none (Ritter, 2008).  Ritter also quotes a local escort who reasons that:

“if a sex worker seeks to establish contact with a client on the street, and police are waiting around the corner, she’s going to jump into the car without making a security assessment,”

which can result in more violence and abuse for these “hidden” workers. Supposing this to be true, the underground, un-regulated, illegal sex trade of human beings is happening everywhere with Sweden being no exception.  Thus, to be so obtuse as to suggest that as a result of Sweden passing this legislation, an underground prostitution network has evolved, rather than acknowledging its prior existence, one must really reach far. 

In actuality, the underground network in question, has been and continues to be omnipresent or everywhere, including in those countries in which prostitution has been legalized, and perhaps even more so now, due to all of the newly formed “legal” business aggregating there.  It must be a comforting realization for traffickers to see that there are not enough people or agencies, to govern, properly monitor, and enforce these laws and regulations for even the known or registered working population in this field, let alone any others slipping in unnoticed. 

So, while the number of prostitutes in the underground network is unknown in Sweden, likewise in the rest of the world, it is still a huge risk for the traffickers and pimps to set up shop in a country so openly averse to this type of business.  To expound on this assertion,

“when the buyers risk punishment, the number of men who buy prostituted persons decreases, and the local prostitution market becomes less lucrative.  Traffickers will then choose other more profitable destinations” (Ekberg, 2004). 

As more time passes, this seems to be the case.   For instance, it is becoming more apparent in countries like the Netherlands that a lack of restriction in this area breeds more rebellion; and many have spoken out about their disapproval of the increasingly larger number of individuals who have been quite-obviously trafficked into their country.  In response to this, some sources indicate that even,

the Netherlands appear to be taking a step in the direction of how Sweden has been approaching the problem for the past ten years.” (de Jong, 2009). 

Still, the question remains-: what makes more sense for a trafficker? The decision may seem a bit taxing for even the most astute trafficker: whether to set up shop in a country that openly declares the illegality of his actions or in a country that embraces his lifestyle to some degree.  Add to this a multitude of like-minded individuals, and the choice becomes much easier to make.  Kajsa Wahlberg, a member of the human trafficking unit of Sweden’s National Police board, says,

“police know from eavesdropping on human trafficking rings that Sweden is considered bad business because of its tough stance” (Ritter 2008). 

Not only are underground networks the only ones viable in Sweden, but they are also prey to the laws and legislation prosecuting even the “Johns” or customers, which also makes the choice for the Netherlands, and other countries like it, a little more appealing for traffickers.  Once again, as a reminder, it does not take too much brainpower to become a trafficker, but ignoring this fact requires even less.  Traffickers are

“calculating profits, costs and marketing [along with] the risk of getting caught,” Wahlberg said. 

Essentially, they are trying to create a bad market for these activities, and their success is being noticed around the globe (Ritter, 2008).

In conclusion, while trafficking and forced prostitution occur everywhere, those countries choosing to take a stand against the outward manifestations of it within their own borders by fighting for abolition, are making greater strides in seeing the eradication of trafficking than those choosing an alternative path.  As to those fighting for the “right” to prostitute themselves, it should be noted that the devastating results of such an industry where there is more demand for services than those willing to perform said services freely, will always require trafficking to ensure a balanced number of workers available.  

The case at hand, then, is whether to allow the rights of some to hinder the freedom of all.  There comes a time when the government has the power to make a decision for the betterment of all, if compromising a few, to do the right thing.  In the case of legalizing prostitution, where the rights of some directly interfere with the freedom of others to the point of the exaction of that freedom, the means to gain economically will never justify the end result of slavery.

So, there ya have it folks, my take on the legalization of prostitution… Now, what is YOUR take on it? I would love to know!


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