Legalized Prostitution: A Failed Experiment
A recent National Review Online article by Charles C.W. Cooke argued that legalizing prostitution is a good idea because, "There is really no good philosophical justification for forbidding a prostitute and a 'John' - 'Jane,' sometimes, too - from entering into whatever victimless agreement they so wish."
If only the world of prostitution were that simple. The sad fact is, where there is prostitution there is also sex trafficking, for when the demand for prostitutes exceeds the supply, pimps and traffickers create more supply by force.
In a 2003 study, Melissa Farley and colleagues interviewed 854 people in nine countries who were currently or recently involved in prostitution. Do you think they found women, children, and men happy to have participated in a "victimless crime?" The answer is "no," they did not. Here is what they did find about the multiple traumas suffered by the victims:
- 71 percent were physically assaulted in prostitution
- 63 percent were raped
- 89 percent wanted to escape prostitution but did not have other options for survival
- 75 percent had been homeless at some point in their lives
- 68 percent met the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Mr. Cooke also proclaims that prostitution is the world's oldest profession; that is, all prostitutes must have chosen to be prostitutes, because it has been going on since the dawn of time. The line about prostitution being the oldest profession has always been a puzzler. If the first specialized occupation was to sell sex, how did the first johns pay for it?
Mr. Cooke mentions the "moral majority" and Christians a few times in the article and is evidently skeptical of the efforts of Christians to seek the abolishment of prostitution. Christians in the fight against sexual exploitation believe no one should be bought and sold for sex. By the way, the Bible shows that prostitution was not the first profession. In Genesis 4:2, Abel became a shepherd and Cain became a farmer. Obviously, agriculture was the first profession.
Another problem with the article is the thought that legalizing prostitution will make all the nasty consequences related to prostitution - like pimps, traffickers, and organized crime networks - disappear. Having a government imprimatur to prostitution does not suddenly make it safe and crime free.
Take a look at what happened in The Netherlands, Germany, and Victoria, Australia. In Australia, after the legalization of prostitution, there was a 300 percent increase in illegal brothels. The Netherlands saw an increase in the number of trafficking victims, and 40 percent of the victims were Dutch girls pimped by their boyfriends. In Germany, 63 percent of the 400,000 prostitutes were from other countries, meaning German women did not want to take jobs as prostitutes, so Germany had to import women from other countries to meet the demand of German men.
Julie Bindel detailed all the problems seen in the Netherlands:
Since the Netherland's grand experiment began in 2000, Bindel points out that women are still abused, the commercial sex industry is expanding, prostitutes are not joining the government-funded union created to "protect" them (because they are "too scared to complain"), sex tourism is on the rise, women are being imported (read "trafficked") into the country to meet the increasing demand created by legalization, children are being exploited in the industry, and only five percent of the women signed up to pay taxes "because no one wants to be known as a whore," even if the government condones it.
Paying taxes? Yes, that is what happens when a government legalizes prostitution. Brothel owners, pimps, and traffickers, now known as "business managers," and prostitutes all must pay taxes on their earnings, because it is just another job. "Business managers" were raking in a lot of tax-free money before by engaging in criminal enterprise, and it is naïve of a government to think that just because they make prostitution legal those people are suddenly going to abandon their criminal ways and start paying taxes.
Initially, the German government thought that legalization would lead to the decrease in sex trafficking, safer conditions for prostitutes, and removal of "some of the stigma from the industry." But in reality, legalization not only increased sex trafficking of women and children but also failed to change the stigma attached to prostitution for the past few years. A study shows that the majority of prostitutes in Germany prefer to "do the job secretly because they still experience discrimination." The same study also shows that even the government agencies are not willing to broker jobs or offer retraining as they do for employees in other industries. Further, the health insurance company does not provide special health provisions for prostitutes. In terms of their rights, many prostitutes in Germany still live in poor conditions and are exploited by the pimps and the landlords who take the majority of the prostitutes' earnings.
In fact, government sponsorship helps to drive victims of sexual exploitation deeper into the shadows. Legalizing prostitution provides a government stamp of approval to the exploitation of women, children, and men - and charges them taxes while doing it.
Mr. Cooke says the government should recognize its failure to eliminate prostitution and admit legalization is the way to go. He points to an article by Jacob Sullum, who is mightily offended by Nassau County, New York's, public effort to go after johns in their "Operation Flush the Johns" campaign. The name alone should garner Nassau County an award. Cooke and Sullum bemoan the loss of liberty when people cannot purchase sex. Part of the reason it appears the government has failed to eliminate prostitution is precisely because law enforcement agencies do not see fit to enforce the laws.
In the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Concerned Women for America (CWA) requested a provision be added (Section 237 - commonly called the "Zurita Amendment," because it was authored by CWA's Brenda Zurita) that changes the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report "Prostitution and Commercialized Vice" category to reflect who exactly is being arrested: prostitutes, johns, or pimps and traffickers. It is CWA's contention that when the first report is finally published in 2014, it will show a disproportionate number of prostitutes being arrested and very few johns, pimps, or traffickers.
If law enforcement all across the nation went after demand like Nassau County, there would be a big drop in people trying to buy sex. Without demand, the commercial sex industry would shrink, and the government would be winning its war against the commercial sexual exploitation of women, men, and children.
Legalizing prostitution has proved a failure in the countries that have tried it and led to an increase in crime and exploitation. Groups like Concerned Women for America will continue to fight for the abolition of the commercial sex industry, because it boils down to a human rights issue; further, it is morally right to combat modern-day slavery and the exploitation of women.
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., a former Presidential Speech Writer for President George H. W. Bush, is now Senior Fellow for Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute.