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Debate

Debating Legalized Prostitution

Two scholars debate whether or not to legalize prostitution. Professor Janice Raymond is the co-executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, the author of 5 books, and Professor Emerita at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Dr. Melissa Ditmore was the principal investigator for Revolving Door, the first report released by the Sex Workers Project, and is currently a research consultant for the organization.

Against Legalization

Professor Janice Raymond - When the question of legalization of prostitution is discussed, many commentators start with the unproven assumption that legalization protects women. Who said so? Let’s look at the evidence in countries that have legalized or decriminalized prostitution.

In the Netherlands, Germany, and Australia, legalization has failed to protect the women in prostitution, control the enormous expansion of the sex industry, decrease child prostitution and trafficking from other countries, and prevent HIV/AIDS -- all arguments used for legalization. And it has transformed these countries into brothels.

Legalizing prostitution is legalizing the prostitution industry. What many people don’t realize is that legalizing prostitution means not only decriminalizing the women in prostitution, but also the pimps, brothels and buyers. My organization favors decriminalizing the women but not the pimps who promote prostitution and trafficking and exploit the victims. In countries like the Netherlands when legalization took effect, pimps overnight became sex businessmen. One day, they were criminals and the next day legitimate entrepreneurs.

Legalization led to open season on prostituted women in the Netherlands. Organized crime took over the sex industry, and this is the main reason why 30 percent of the window brothels have recently been shutterd by the mayor of Amsterdam. Because they had become a haven for traffickers and unsafe for women, Amsterdam and Rotterdam have also closed down their tipplezones -- what some call tolerance zones, but in truth are out-and-out “sacrifice zones” where certain women can be bought and sold.

Germany’s legalized prostitution system has become a magnet for sexual exploiters, so much so that Germany has become the destination of choice in Europe for traffickers. Legalization in the State of Victoria in Australia has encouraged 3 times more illegal than legal brothels. Even the Australian Adult Entertainment Industry acknowledged that the illegal sex industry is out of control there. At the same time, many legal brothel owners have been involved in setting up and profiting from illegal brothels. “Customers” want more “exotic,” younger, cheaper women and those who can be induced not to use condoms. Victoria has the highest rates of child prostitution of all the states and territories in Australia.

In the 21st century, how can any individual or country say they support gender equality when, at the same time, they fortify the legal segregation of a class of women who can be bought and sold? So often we hear that prostitution is inevitable, and that a zero tolerance approach is unrealistic. It is no more unrealistic to work for an end to sex slavery than it was and is to work for an end to race slavery.

There is no evidence that legalization of prostitution makes things better for women in prostitution. It certainly makes things better for governments who legalize prostitution and of course, for the sex industry, both of whom enjoy increased revenues.

Instead of abandoning women to state-sanctioned brothels, laws should address the demand. Men who use women in prostitution have long been invisible. There is a legal alternative to state sponsorship of the prostitution industry. Rather than cozying up with pimps and traffickers, States could address the demand – as Sweden has done -- by penalizing the men who buy women for the sex of prostitution. And as in Sweden, this would help create a chilly climate for the buyers and the traffickers.

For Decriminalization

Dr. Melissa Ditmore - Prostitution should be decriminalized. This would remove prostitution from the criminal code and thereby render prostitution akin to other businesses. It’d be taxed and subject ot business requirements. Decriminalization of prostitution has been a success in New Zealand and parts of Australia. They cite decriminalization as an advantage over legalization because removing prostitution from the criminal code avoids both the problems of graft and abuse associated with police jurisdiction over prostitution and the sometimes overbearing regulations that accompany legalization. (For example, in Nevada’s brothels, brothel-owners decide whether licensed prostitutes are allowed to leave the brothel during their off hours. Prostitutes can be required to stay on the premises for weeks at a time, no matter their working hours.) Decriminalization would better protect people in the sex industry from violence and abuse.

In many places, legal reform of prostitution laws is not a high priority for advocates for the rights of sex workers. One reason is that in the majority of the world, consenting adults exchanging sex for money is not per se illegal, but this does not prevent the harassment of sex workers and their colleagues by law enforcement. Legal reform clearly does not solve all problems related to the sex industry.

However, advocates and activists would rally behind legal reform that would lead to police addressing violence committed against sex workers. Police cannot and do not simultaneously seek to arrest prostitutes and protect them from violence. 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 consequences of such attitudes are tragic: Gary Ridgway said that he killed prostitutes because he knew he would not be held accountable. The tragedy is that he was right – he confessed to the murders of 48 women, committed over nearly twenty years. That is truly criminal.

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Comments (29)

James Gibbonsdale The Fourteenth:

I very much agree with the "10 Reasons Why Non-Sex Workers Should Not Write Papers About Sex Work" post, particularly points 4: "By far the most 'degrading' aspect of sex work is the associated stigma, discrimination and vilification - a direct result of the disempowering misinformation propagated by the media and the anti-sex work lobby.", 5: "It is exceedingly arrogant to assume not only that you understand the intricacies of an industry you don't even work in, but that you have the right to speak for those who do.", 7: "By denying sex workers the right to have their voices heard in the political arena, and attempting to limit their sexual and financial independence, anti-sex work feminists make a mockery of the fundamental principles of feminism" and 9: "The portrayal of sex workers as degraded victims is, in itself, a form of degrading victimisation.".

Many arguments against the legalization of prostitution are based on stereotypes, preconceived notions and myths. As for Janice Raymond's arguments concerning the Netherlands, they are not supported by anything other than rhetoric and the efforts of Job Cohen (Amsterdam's current mayor) to make the Red Light District - which upsets his sensibilities, apparently - into a shopping district. Incidentally, Cohen has not substantiated his claims that prostitution in Amsterdam is intrinsically linked to organized crime (the Hell's Angels in particular) with anything more than sweeping generalizations or anecdotal statements.
As far as I see it, Cohen's political efforts amount to a huge step back. Cohen is destroying Holland's progress in regards to the sex industry. To put it into a clumsy analogy, he is hacking off limbs when a band-aid would have sufficed.

broda wayo:

Dear Secretary ,
i missed the last years conference and i want to know whether it will be organize this year.I really want to be part.
u can reply through - chicksfather@yahoo.com .Thank you

broda wayo:

Dear Secretary ,
i missed the last years conference and i want to know whether it will be organize this year.I really want to be part.
u can reply through - chicksfather@yahoo.com .Thank you

Marcus Aurelius:

Legalize the Brothels

#1, No one is forcing anyone to have sex.
#2, Can be taxed and gets women off the streets and abuse.
#3, No one has the right to tell two consensual adults what they can do with their bodies if it's not hurting anyone else which brings us to #4.
#4, Wife's don't want the competition. What wife after 4 kids and works wants to perform like she did when they first got married? They already got their meat hooks into you, why should they?
#5, If a man discreetly get's his fantasy out of the way for an agreed upon price (not forcing anyone) and goes back home, he puts no pressure on his spouse to do anything she doesn't want to do.
#6, Going to a brothel for your fantasy with a younger women would not only help that mid-life crisis but keep the mistresses from breaking up a family. Wife is not pressured, kids keep father, father get's fantasy out of libido, he get's taxed and dies!
#7, Cuts down on date rape by giving an alternative than Jane Doe accepting all of those free drinks and then telling you to drop dead when you want her number, which brings you back to #4 and the competition concept, she may think twice and may save money on drinks that go no where.
#8, What better way to introduce your son to sex than in a safe, healthy, controlled environment that does not get the neighbor’s daughter pregnant or some disease. Instead, nowadays he ends up getting raped by some teacher in the mid west.

We can clearly see that this whole illegal nonsense was contrived by the feminist movement in order to control men, if they really wanted to push for women’s freedom to choose they would band together to have prostitution legalized in order to allow women to do whatever the hell with their bodies.

If I want to sit naked and watch a women parade around with nothing on that's perfectly alright and if she touches me behind closed doors and away from prying eye's that's even ok, but if I even so much as give her one red penny for her to do so we commit a crime? What Religious Order came up with that idea?

As before, no one is forcing anyone to do anything they are not willing to and with regulation and licensing it has been proven world round that it can work and has never been healthier than ever. This practiced has been going on since the beginning and will go on well after, it's just those same bunch of backwards, sexually repressed feminists from the bible belt and wife's who do not want to lose her place in the "hen" pecking order to a younger, more attractive, and sexually active woman who is just using what God gave her to make some money. This whole country is run off of sex, why are they the only one's banned for making a living at THEIR CHOICE?

In closing, Men are constantly getting the shaft. We die earlier than women, We take the more stressful jobs, We are 99.9% the first ones going into battle, divorce is usually harshest on men, we are over taxed, over worked, and under sexed then we die. When are we going to take back this country from the feminists and be men again? We are Gladiators! Do you hear me guys? Bring back the A-Team Damn it! I say legalize prostitution! What's worse, a man who spends a few bucks for a 30 minute fantasy or someone who finds a mistress who tries to blackmail for either cash or a divorce and breaks up a family. How about the guy being frustrated every day because after 4 kids and twenty years of marriage his wife has had enough already so he comes down with cardiac disease and dies of a heart attack!

I am Marcus Aurelius

ashkara sands:

10 Reasons Why Non-Sex Workers Should Not Write Papers About Sex Work

1. The only people truly qualified to speak to the experiences of sex workers, are sex workers themselves.
2. Basing a theory on myths and stereoypes and then 'proving' that theory using other myths and stereotypes is not a study - it's a creative writing exercise.
3. Sex workers are living, breathing human beings with hearts and every time you describe them as something other than living, breathing human beings, their hearts break.
4. By far the most 'degrading' aspect of sex work is the associated stigma, discrimination and vilification - a direct result of the disempowering misinformation propagated by the media and the anti-sex work lobby.
5. It is exceedingly arrogant to assume not only that you understand the intricacies of an industry you don't even work in, but that you have the right to speak for those who do.
6. Contrary to popular belief, sex workers are perfectly capable of putting pen to paper and telling their own stories.
7. By denying sex workers the right to have their voices heard in the political arena, and attempting to limit their sexual and financial independence, anti-sex work feminists make a mockery of the fundamental principles of feminism.
8. You don't see sex workers writing papers on the work practices of marine biologists or the psychological wellbeing of accountants.
9. The portrayal of sex workers as degraded victims is, in itself, a form of degrading victimisation.
10. You risk looking like a fool who wrote a paper on a topic you quite obviously know nothing about.

Nathan kunzi:

I am really confused.when was the deadline for the pre-registration for the i.c.i.o conference?

Jonglly:

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julia:

fortunately or unfortunately men seem to sense my availability for sex work. it is better to get paid than not to. so having some legal means to compel payment makes sense to me.

julia:

fortunately or unfortunately men seem to sense my availability for sex work. it is better to get paid than not to. so having some legal means to compel payment makes sense to me.

julia:

fortunately or unfortunately men seem to sense my availability for sex work. it is better to get paid than not to. so having some legal means to compel payment makes sense to me.

Jean:

If after all this you're still unsure of where you stand you really should take a look at http://www.prostitutionprocon.org Kudos to WP and Newsweek for putting this issue in the spotlight

Jean:

If after all this you're still unsure of where you stand you really should take a look at http://www.prostitutionprocon.org Kudos to WP and Newsweek for putting this issue in the spotlight

KIRAN PD SIGDEL, INSAF NEPAL GPO BOX 9181 KATHMANDU NEPAL, EMAIL: acc@info.com.np:

PETITION.....
TREAT PRIORITY GIVEN TO NEPAL............
Kindly Help to Petition to consideration from the least developing country like Nepal conference (www.idealconcept.org) participation.
Submitted Our INSAF PROFILE AND ICIO DOC ATTACHEMENT FOR YOUR INFORMATION.

I HOPE THIS PETITION WILL BE WORKED FROM ALL YOU CONCERN.

by

kiran pd Sigdel
INSAF NEPAL,
gpo box 9181 kathamndu nepal,
acc@info.com.np,insafnepal_org@yahoo.com,kiran_sigdel@yahoo.com

Surprize !!! Very Surprise !!! would be Unjustice !!! from ICIO
our requst to
To:
Chief organizer Dr. Phillip Rick chieforganizer@idealconcept.org
Secretary elna_gabriella@yahoo.com
icio USA ,
webmaster@idealconcept.org,
Ideal Concept International
ICIO Building
#22 Crest Drive,
East Olive Way
Seattle,98104
Washington,
USA.
Tele/fax: +1 206-350-5880
www.idealconcept.org
Email: info@idealconcept.org

Surprize !!! Very Surprise !!! would be Unjustice !!!

What kind of your last information is it in given below ? and we are facing great difficulties to see your mail.

Our participants are mentally ready to come there ICIO , all action are ready including to pay the hotel bills in spain.We officially decided that 5 participants would send participation in the conference.
Let me contact your problems and barriers but we were timely sent the information details information as your demanded before 30 April 2007 according to your dead line . Do not hasitate us our efforts to share the child labor,abuse and neglect from developing country like Nepal.
Do you have any misunderstanding, documents with our team and one of the top experts will feel the unjustice.
We want to actual reason other wise, it creat us burden by big problems,issues to us like developing country like Nepal thus , we want to see your better justification but consider once them for the program participation if possible to adjust or remove to other country participants from developed country or give prioriy to least developing country like Nepal.But you know Nepal as honesty and democratize in all level by the peace as well.
We are waiting your reply very soon to be heared good positive result by the better justiced.
Sincerely

CEO,
INSAF NEPAL, on behalf of Human Right Activity Social service Department,
GPO BOX 9181 KATHMANDU NEPAL
Note: if you need our all correspond to ICIO can be forward for your all information,
-we dispatched - Passport and Organization profile and so on as demanded by icio

Proposed Participants Delegate team at ICIO conference on 21 Aug -30 Aug 2007 at USA AND SPAIN.
1-Mr.Kiran Pd Sigdel-Sociologist and democrat -23 years work experiences in Social service sector in Nepal, Human Right Activist,
2-Mr.Prem Raj Subedi- 13 years Social service and Lawer
3.Mr.Suman Ghimire-10 years social service and democrat
4.Mr.Keshav Raj Ghimire-10 years service in teaching, victims from physical lamb
5.Miss Menuka Suwal- 10 years service child service in teaching professional and victims from social sector.


Secretary wrote:

Dear delegate(s),

We wish to bring to your notice that we will be unable to register your organization at the moment due to the fact that we can only register selected delegates on the method of
first come first serve. Please bear with us for the moment for we shall re-contact your organization if we have a vacant slot. All the slots now had been filled up. We are only limited to our resorces.

Yours sincerely
Gabriella Elna
Secretary
Youth concept international organization YCIO
OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY,
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CHILD LABOUR, ABUSE AND NEGLECT

Ideal Concept International
ICIO Building
#22 Crest Drive,
East Olive Way
Seattle,98104
Washington,
USA.
Tele/fax: +1 206-350-5880
www.idealconcept.org
Email: info@idealconcept.org

empower:

we sex workers have worked through all kinds of systems, laws and policies...through economic boom and economic crash....through flood and tsunami...in war and peace...in the richest cities and poorest villages...bombs and bird flu...DAM THE LAWS... we work... we raise our families... we reach our dreams...we don't need legal or moral permission from academic self- appointed matriarchs...sorry this is so short my customer just rang and I'm going to work!
cheers
empower
thailand

Vanica Love:

I am a high end escort, and have seen the good and bad sides. In any business, legal or illegal corrupt comes from those who want to take advantage of others. So sorry to say legalization of prostitution will not create end illegal activity, but rather just change the type of victims.

As well, in a society where prostitution is looked down upon, the over all degredation and exploitation of women will continue, just as in the porn industry.

I, myself, operate well below the radar and value my privacy and that of my friends more than anything. Not because of legal ramifications, but rather the public ridicule of a world and career they do not understand.

As well, since this world and the ladies in it are so taboo, I believe this add to the appeal of the women which is why prostitution is so popular regardless of its illegal status.

Michael Goodyear:

Decriminalisation of Prostitution is a Public Health and Human Rights Issue


Discourse on commercial sex has been made difficult by campaigns based on the generation of moral panic, dissemination of misinformation and strongly held opinions based on moral beliefs, as opposed to being informed by best practices based on evidence. This is as unhelpful now as it was in the late nineteenth century when the social purity movements successfully pushed for the legislation that is the topic of this debate.

A number of people associated with the Coalition against Trafficking in Women have already contributed to the debate here. Nobody supports exploitation and coercion of anyone, least of all minors. However claims that are not based on evidence have succeeded in clouding the issues by conflating corollary issues such as these with sex work, variously claiming that all migrant women who pursue sex work are trafficked and coerced, and that all sex work is coerced. This approach is also referred to as abolitionist, equating racial with what is depicted as sexual slavery.

While such things exist, these claims simply bear no relation to the highly complex and diverse phenomenon of commercial sexual services, but contribute to public opinion and public policy in a manner that is ungrounded and harmful.

With respect to the Australian scene, the claims of Sheila Jeffreys and Mary Sullivan have been refuted by Basil Donovan and colleagues recently in the British Medical Journal. The evidence generated by these researchers evaluating legislative change in Australia is contradictory to abolitionist claims. Elena Jeffreys, speaking for the women themselves also refutes these writers, while Ron Weitzer and others have pointed out the many flaws in their arguments in general.

The 1986 World Health Organisation Ottawa Charter commits its signatories to build healthy public policy by “enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health… to enable all people to achieve their fullest health potential” which “requires the identification of obstacles to the adoption of healthy public policies in non-health sectors, and ways of removing them. The aim must be to make the healthier choice the easier choice for policy makers as well.”

The United Nations has described criminalisation of commercial sex as the “Violence of Stigmatisation” marking women as targets for abuse, and setting up major barriers to the access of vital health and social care for a population with greater than average needs, making it a human rights issue.

Signatories to international treaties are also obliged to reduce violence against women in the context of both public health and human rights. There are thus many compelling reasons for governments to adopt policies that do not discriminate against women involved in commercial sex, and which will protect them.

Healthy public policy dictated the decision of the Parliament of New Zealand to remove commercial sex from the Crimes Act, reasons that have nothing to do with any personal code of sexual morality. If there is a moral imperative it is to restore equity and to eliminate discrimination and persecution of a sector of the population. Similarly the Dutch Parliament was persuaded to unpack the corollaries of crime, underage sexuality and exploitation from the act of commercial sex, and to deal with those issues separately, a separation which abolitionist voices have obscured.

Raymond uses terminology loosely, in particular confusing legalization and decriminalisation. In looking at models from different jurisdictions, it is important to examine details of the legislation, and not aggregate different regulatory systems. There also seems to be a reluctance by abolitionists to examine the New Zealand experience, where commercial sex was decriminalized in 2003, and where women have become more empowered to seek justice, and police resources have been diverted from prosecution to protecting women. She also makes sweeping claims about an expanding industry, whereas research has shown it to be quite stable. Furthermore sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS are not a large problem in this population by comparison with the general population and, as in that population are associated with intravenous drug use. Her credibility is called into question by comments like “transformed these countries into brothels” and other extravagant and value loaded expressions.

These assumptions which feed on popular fears are typical, namely that all those who are involved in the organization of commercial sex are criminal and exploitative. There is little truth in her statements on the Netherlands situation which ignores the complexity of the Dutch regulatory system and the problems with implementation there which is largely a local government responsibility. There has been a deliberate reduction in indoor commerce which has resulted in displacement onto the street, an unintended consequence. The Dutch authorities have also tried to eliminate some criminal elements that were already involved, and this is what has led to refusal of licenses (currently under appeal), not a campaign against commercial sex, as implied.

It is actually criminalization that segregates a class of women and invites violence against them, not the other way round. Raymond assumes that making money is evil, and denies both voice and agency to the women involved.

Finally she provides no evidence for the value of the Swedish model and ignores the harm done by it as documented by both the workers and researchers such as Don Kulick. Her support for criminalizing male clients shows a lack of understanding of contemporary sexual culture and the relationships between worker and client. Yes, there is abuse in commercial sex as in other sectors of the economy, but the abolitionist argument is not only unrealistic but harmful and lacking in compassion. Providing optimal health and social services to the population can only occur in a transparent environment outside of criminal law.

The existence of harm justifies abolition with about as much sense as abolishing motor vehicles because there are bad drivers, rather than reducing harm.


Chris Schmidt:

As a former child sex worker, and present feminist I struggle with this question. I agree that criminalizing prostitutes only exacerbates their present marginalization and believe that state endorsed stigma increases violence directed towards women. However, decriminalizing prostitution per se will not make prostitution safer, although it is a step in the right direction.

However, I must say that I simply do not buy, (and I believe that I am being sold a marketed idea here) in my heart of hearts, this new, and quite frightening 'trend' within feminism to attempt to situate prostitution along the continuum of 'work like any other'. I suppose for some women that may be possible, although I suspect that the handful where this is the case is getting more coverage and legitimacy than their actual frequency suggests. (in fact, I also know that some prostitutes have felt pressure to minimize some of the downside in order to please academic females and continue to enjoy their approval) Just as no one woman represents feminism, I don't understand how we can allow a minority of sex workers to so impact feminist theorizing around prostitution.

There are few other 'jobs' that bring with it the absolute horror of having to have someone touch you, to having to tolerate in a most intimate way someone who you may find repulsive - for money. I have no difficulty separating the act from the social fall-out from the act. In other words, I am not referring to the stigma, or the isolation, or the risk of violence, or the lack of legitimacy or any such nonsense. I am referring to the horror of having sex for money.

I tend to think that legitimising men's access to womens' bodies for cash is one enormous step backwards for women and I vehemently oppose it. Legalising prostitution runs the risk of further institutionalizing and normalizing mens access to women. I oppose it theoretically and on strategic grounds - this is simply not a wise move.

This is not to say that I do not support women who engage in prostitution - I do. I see no tension at all between the long term eradication of prostitution as an oppressive and demeaning social practice of men towards women and supporting women who are presently engaged in it.

I also must say that as a former 'sex worker' I find that in academic circles I need to be silent regarding my views, because after all I am a feminist and good, well behaved feminists support prostitution because it's simply work like any other (I realize I am grossly over- simplifying this). Ironically, it is I the former sex worker who is anti-prostitution who now gets ghettoized and accused of 'false consciousness'.
Lastly, I do not feel the need to be able to quantify, or qualify, or even articulate particularly well why prostitution is not a job like any other. I find the demand of feminism that I do so more of a paradigmatic and ontological problem with feminism as a discipline than an indication that prostitution then must be a job like any other. Conceptual tools get developed over time because as women we develop them. Not having the right descriptors or tools to describe difference doesn't eradicate the difference.

Theresa Anasti:

There are three issues that I would like to point out which I believe undermine the argument to criminalize any aspect of prostitution.

1. At the risk of making a blanket statement about feminism, I do believe that the majority of feminists are “pro-choice,” save for a select few who rally under the flag of pro-life feminism. However, many of those in the pro-choice camp continually deny the right of women to choose for themselves whether or not to enter the sex industry. These women are either seen as having a “false consciousness” in regards to their perception of the patriarchal society which exploits them, or they are helpless victims who cannot escape their exploitation. Indeed, as both of these statements deny these women any sort of choice or autonomy, they are inherently harmful. Furthermore, by outright prohibiting prostitution, do we not run the risk of relegating it to “dark alleyways” where the conditions are far less conducive to the safety and security of these women?

2. Criminalizing clients does not, and will not work. While this may technically make the prostitute “safe” from law enforcement, it will not make the transaction between clients and sex workers any easier. Clients will be far more wary of the risk of arrest, and more concerned with making the transaction as quickly as possible. In turn, this will minimize the possibility of negotiating safe sex with the client.

3. Finally, the last point is simple: criminalizing prostitution will result in driving the industry further into the underground, minimizing the ability of police and other law enforcement agents to assess situations which are dangerous and harmful. Indeed, despite fear of law enforcement agents, many individuals who report trafficked victims are clients and other sex workers who recognize these situations. We must do our best to encourage these types of reports.

Also, I do want to point out, that Dr. Raymond only mentioned women who enter prostitution. Men do so as well, for many of the same reason that women enter the industry.

bunny ranch company:

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Juhu Thukral, Esq., Director, Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center:

Criminalizing and stigmatizing transactional sex drives the practice into the shadows where violence, extortion and coercion are more likely to thrive, making persons more vulnerable to trafficking; discourages sex workers, their clients, and brothel managers from responding to groups offering information or services on preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS; and ultimately does not address the basic human needs for education, equal opportunity and a realistic array of economic options which empower people to make informed choices about their employment.

In fact, much violence directed at persons engaged in sexual services comes not only from their clients or pimps, but from law enforcement officers, who routinely harass, denigrate and assault sex workers rather than protecting their human rights.

As a group that provides legal services to sex workers, we regularly hear from sex workers who have been victims of violence, who are too frightened to go to the police with their claims. Often, when our clients do report crimes against them, the police tell us that they will do nothing to help.

With respect to sex work and trafficking, focusing on “demand” is counter-productive. “Demand” for sex work is not a predominant driving factor for trafficking, which is driven by poverty, race, and gender inequities.

The term “demand” also refers to the legitimate concerns raised by migrants and labor rights advocates who address the issues relating to the need in the global north for exploitable labor and services. However, this narrow focus of the term in the context of sex work represents a dangerous move towards policies which, under the guise of protecting sex workers, is another way of undermining sex workers’ autonomy and causing more harm to them.

Ron Weitzer:

Janice Raymond claims that "there is no evidence that legal prostitution makes things better for women." She is wrong. There is evidence by researchers studying Nevada's brothels, as well as brothels in Queensland, Australia and in the Netherlands that legal prostitution can improve the safety and security of women, as well as having other benefits. Raymond, like too many other blind abolitionists consistently distorts the empirical evidence regarding prostitution in order to further their goal of eliminating prostitution. She is the director of a staunch anti-sex industry organization, so it is not surprising that she makes kinds of wild claims we read here. These claims certainly cannot be taken at face value. In a previous article in an academic journal (Violence Against Women, July 2005), I exposed a ton of specific errors and a general pattern of unscientific reasoning pervading Raymond's writings, in addition to other writers in her camp, such as Melissa Farley. It is a shame that journals and newspapers continue to publish such ideologically tainted writings. Serious scholars of prostitution find their writings laughable.
Ron Weitzer, Professor of Sociology and author of Sex For Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry

Mary Sullivan:

Ditmore states that decriminalisation of prostitution has been a success in Australia. On the contrary, as Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys maintain, Australia’s treatment of prostitution as a job like any other has not controlled the harms of prostitution. The purported benefits of decriminalisation for women in prostitution are a myth.

While the prostitution industry has escalated both in terms of size and profits, the beneficiaries have indeed been sex businesses, mainstream financial institutions and the Government. Most women continue to enter and be entrapped in prostitution through economic necessity, histories of sexual abuse, lack of family support and substance addiction. This did not change because prostitution became legal. In these circumstances women continue to be coerced either overtly (rape and assault), or through economic necessity to meet the demands of both brothel owners and clients to provide whatever sexual acts are demanded.

Studies have shown that male buyers in the Australian State of Victoria, where prostitution has been legal for over 20 years, will not use condoms, with one in five men having admitted to unsafe sex. Men have also become more demanding and violent about the type of sex they want. The demand for oral sex, for instance, has been replaced by the demand for anal sex and the market for sado-masochistic practices as well is expanding. Women have reported that despite claims that legal brothels supposedly provide safer working environment, many prefer to work alone and risk violence at the hands of buyers than be subjected to violence by both buyers and brothel staff and security. Even the sex industry has reported that 7 out of 10 of women in prostitution want to leave. Despite Governments’ legislative promises to use licensing fees from brothels and escort prostitution to fund exit programs, these promises have not been met.

The belief that the prostitution industry can be neatly categorised into a well–regulated business where occupational health and safety can be applied, and where law enforcers law effectively deal with any clandestine operations is also unfounded. Sex exploiters indiscriminately traffic women for commercial sexual exploitation, into both legal and illegal brothels, the former often a safe entrepot for the illicit trade. The State of Victoria has the highest child prostitution in the country. Trafficking, underage sexuality and organised crime cannot be uncoupled from prostitution per se. Legitimising prostitution as work, in effect, mandates a steady flow of women and girls to meet the demands of the vastly expanded and lucrative market. Along with illegal prostitution, street prostitution was so supposed to disappear. Again the contrary has happened. The State’s tolerance of prostitution has led to higher levels of street prostitution together with escalating violence against women and girls on the street as well as harassment of women and girls who live in the vicinity.

Sex industry advocates will still continue to promote the idea that legal prostitution businesses provide optimal conditions for creating a safe place and system of work. However, both Government and sex worker organisations’ OHS literature state clearly that prostitution is a high-risk occupation in terms of violence and coercion, irrespective of whether it is legal or not. Sexually transmitted infections, sexual harassment, physical and mental abuse, unwanted pregnancies and rape remain among the workplace hazards listed in OHS guidelines. As Sheila Jeffreys suggests, solutions to try and deal with the consequences of these dangers are ludicrous and tragic. The use of prophylactics as protection against STIs is prioritised. Yet the OHS literature makes clear that condom breakage and slippage are inevitable, highly dangerous and the consequences are immediate. That is assuming that a woman can negotiate safe sex, which, as suggested above, is improbable. Risk prevention strategies to guard against violence include panic buttons in rooms, video surveillance to screen clients and ultimately when these ultimately fail, self-defence courses.

The real problem is that legitimising prostitution as work in Victoria has allowed violence that is unacceptable in any other workplace to become normalised for women in prostitution as just sex and just part of the job. No occupational health and safety strategy can deal with this reality. Criminalisation does indeed harm women in prostitution. But legitimising prostitution as work has simply worked to normalise the violence and sexual abuse that they experience on a daily bases.

Raymond’s solution that any society genuinely committed to women’s rights to equality and safety must eliminate the demand for prostitution is the only one that makes sense. Of course to do this governments must be prepared to challenge the presumption that men have a right to purchase and use women sexually for their own needs–the male sex right.


Dr Mary Sullivan
Author: Making Sex Work: A Failed Experiment in Legalised Prostitution (Spinifex Press, 2007).

Sheila Jeffreys:

The Australian situation of legalised brothel prostitution in most states is not well characterised by Elena Jeffreys' comment above. In 2007 in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria the legal brothel owners are campaigning to have the illegal brothels, which they estimate to be 4 or 5 times the number of legal ones in these states, closed down because they are unfair competition. On legalisation police monitoring is removed. Councils have to, at great expense, pay private investigators to engage in sex in suspected illegal brothels to have a hope of closing them, and then they just move elsewhere. Legalisation normalises prostitution and the market grows. Unfortunately the illegal market grows faster. IbisWorld, which creates industry reports, reported on the brothel and strip club industry in Australia in 2006 which they estimated was worth 1.78 billion Australian dollars with 7% growth in profits per year. The report explains how demand is created and how social acceptance is crucial. It also says that the earnings of prostituted women go down as the profits go up because competition increases. Legalisation is about creating a hugely profitable industry from this abuse of women.

Yes, as Elena says, occupational health and safety codes are introduced and these show very clearly how abusive the industry is. In the safety tips for escort workers on the website of Rhed, part of community health in Victoria and thus a state organisation, women are told to look for numbers of cars and lights on as they approach houses to avoid gang rape, they are told to leave their clothes at the door so they don't have to run out naked. They are told to pick up a heavy ashtray if their 'gentling' of violent male buyers is not effective and smash his stereo or throw it out of the window and much more. One Australian code advises prostituted women to feel behind themselves to see if the man has pulled the condom off, but without him knowing, presumably he would become enraged if he know. With legalisation states become involved in the regulation of this abuse. But the social harms of prostitution, street prostitution, destruction of neighbourhood amenity, organised crime, police corruption, all increase as the industry, legal and illegal increases in size. The number of women suffering the abuse of being prostituted increases considerably and the numbers of male buyers. The industry wants a good press, and social acceptance to increase its profits. Spruiking for the industry, emphasising its harmlessness, resembles the way the tobacco industry until recently promoted its product despite the clear harms.

Sheila Jeffreys, Associate Professor in Political Science, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Magical Lizzy:

I would never want to make my chosen career path legal, because my rate would drop.

Gregory Carlin:

The sale of human breast milk to fetishists was the first notable development relating to legalized prostitution in New Zealand. Decriminalized prostitution is about men who buy the bodies of other people not being accountable. Decriminalizing prostitution will remove prostitution from the criminal code, yup, and thereby rendering prostitution akin to other businesses? nope, that part is not really true, prostitution is a violation of human dignity. Standing on a street to sell sex to buy drugs is not work, it is something for sure, it is not a career. To descend further is unthinkable, to ascend is very difficult. To offer that two-story cycle to a prostituted girl is inherently evil.

Maxine Doogan:

Prostitution in the U.S.A. ought not to be taxed like any other business because it is not like any other business. What other business has been systematically subjected to such justified violence and economic and social injustice for the past 100 years at the local and state level?
The occupants of prostitution ought not to be subjected to any local or state tax until such time the occupants have become fully enfranchised into the all socio-economic systems where we no longer suffer the institutionalized discrimination based on our occupation.
And then and only then ought the occupants of prostitution have say as to what and which kind of tax we ought to pay.
We're not stupid, we want full citizenship first before we pay required to pay first class taxes.
The local and state governments have a responsibility to make proper and complete reparations to the occupants of the prostitution industry for the damage the occupants have suffered as a result of the criminalization and the third party exploitation that resulted first before we ought to be required to pay tax.

Elena Jeffreys:

Raymond wrote: "...of women who can be bought and sold...."

Performing sexual services for money is not the same as being 'sold.' Sex is an interaction between two consenting adults, and sex workers generally charge by the half hour or hour. Neither clients or workers are 'sold' or 'bought' in the process.

In Australia the sex industry is decriminalised, legalised, regulated and tolerated. Occupational Health and Safety standards, access to industrial and equal opportunity law, and recourse to justice have been improved. Most importantly the wide spread police corruption that dominated last centurys' treatment of the sex industry has been tackled head on.

Raymonds claims in regards to Victoria, Australia, are unfounded, and asserted only by her counterparts there, not by policy spokespeople or researchers. There is no hard evidence that the illegal industry has grown in Victoria since legalisation - prior to legalisation EVERYONE was illegal so there is no real measure of the success of the laws. Saying/repeating that the illegal industry "is out of control" perpetuates notions of sex panic and social disorder in relation to the sex industry. Measured responses that promote industrial and human rights of sex workers AND clients deserve and warrent critical assessment, not anti-sex work rhetoric.

With held:

Those who seek to criminalize prostittuion are forgetting some very important facts (abuse and exploitation aside):

1) You CANNOT legislate morality. It plain doesn't work. Look at Prohibition.
2)With out legal prostituion, what are men supposed to do for sexual release? Criminalize protituion and watch the rape rates skyrocket. Prostituion addresses a verifiable need for men.

Brian Goodwin:

I want to thank the Washington Post for encouraging discussion regarding the regulation of sex and prostitution. I have personally met with MP Tim Barnett, author of New Zealand's law decriminalizing prostitution, and think he makes an interesting argument. It's obvious that prostitution is a very complex topic, and like almost everything, intertwined with the controversial topic of immigration. I hope to someday see more large "mainstream" news organizations become open to the concept of addressing debate regarding how prostitution is, or is not, regulated.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.