An Investigation into the Nature of Prostitution’s Potential Legality in America

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Prostitution, or the act of buying and selling sex, is currently illegal in the United States of America with the exception of the state of Nevada. In countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Germany: prostitution is legalized or the law is altered to decriminalize the act of selling prostitution while continuing to persecute those who buy sex. This poses the following question: should America as a whole follow in readdressing our own laws on prostitution just as these countries have in the past? In order to address this, the implications of legalizing prostitution must be explored. Throughout this essay the reasons behind potentially legalizing the buying and selling of sex, the dangers in doing so, and the findings of countries around the world that have either legalized or loosened regulation of prostitution will be addressed.

It is believed that legalizing prostitution will benefit the people who sell sex and enable local or national government to regulate and ensure the safety of prostitutes. Additionally, those in favor of legalizing prostitution claim it's a human right to dictate the happenings of one's own body”thus, the selling of sex should be warranted and undeniable. (Bowen, Devin). For example, in Sweden (where the selling of sex is legal while the buying of it is illegal), there was an encouragement for citizens to make a living and balance their lives safely and in accordance with their own principals. Those in support of the Swedish model note that legalizing the selling of sex makes the lives of prostitutes safer and healthier as they don't fear asking health care providers and police force for help when abuse occurs which enables them to control their bodies and make a living in accordance with the ways of which they see fit (M??nsson, Sven-Axel).

Another instance where prostitution might be supported is in the protection of minors and sex trafficking. Due to the nature of its illegality, it is difficult to accurately calculate how many children are involved in involuntary prostitution, or sex trade (Stransky, Michelle, and David Finkelhor). However, proponents of legalizing prostitution and encouraging government involvement in regulating said acts might suggest instances of minors involved in the sex trade would be reduced. It's important to note that this is merely a theory as statistics to back this up are inconsistent.

In the state of Nevada, prostitution is not entirely legalized but rather each county is granted permission to control prostitution in the ways of which they see fit. For example, in most counties of Nevada”prostitution is not legalized entirely but rather legalized in the case that it occurs at a recognized facility that oversees the acts and the transactions, i.e., brothels (NRS‚201.354). This law code encourages prostitutes to continue to feed the interest of sex as a commodity while doing so in a way that may be safer to the prostitute. If done correctly and with the aid of regular government intervention, not only abuse may decrease, but the prevention of children involvement in prostitution may decrease as well. However, as stated prior”statistically speaking it is difficult to back this theory up.

Prostitution is historically engrained in not only American culture but as an aspect of humanity. Thus, it might be difficult to eradicate prostitution entirely, so efforts to potentially make the act of buying and selling sex safer could be beneficial to society. In terms of its history, prostitution has been seen as early in as 2400 BCE and has continued in prevalence to this day. However, it has been seen as immoral or stigmatized albeit an important role of society. In terms of American history, prostitution was never illegalized until the 20th century with the exception of Nevada. This was due to stigma and concerns with general immorality in relation to the selling of sex (Bowen, Devin). However, with radicalized notions expanding and unfolding in American society, it could be beneficial to readdress these notions and what they suggest of prostitutes. In cases where acts of prostitution are consensual and nonviolent, more sex workers and citizens alike might demand for prostitution to be destigmatized and normalized so prostitution can exist just as any other career.

All of this aside, the dangers of prostitution remain. Firstly, it is argued that prostitution expresses or heightens the inequalities between men and women in cases where women are prostitutes selling sex to men, which is notoriously the most common circumstance of prostitution. Prostitution has been seen in many instances throughout history as a woman's task that has been both necessary yet shamed. Women involved in prostitution were seen as of a lower status yet the same standards lacked applicability to men. Due to this, it is suggested that enabling prostitution to exist legally would reinforce or heighten those notions, which could be harmful to women. Women might also be viewed as more of a commodity which could create negative side effects to the ways in which women view themselves and could inflict more dangerous opinions of women as a whole. However, this is only applicable in the case of heteronormative sexual engagements where the woman is the prostitute and does not reflect that of homosexual engagements or engagements where men are the prostitutes (Bowen, Devin).

Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that not only is violence prevalent in instances of prostitution regardless of its legality, but human trafficking might be easier to exist under laws that protect prostitutes”especially in wealthier nations. For example, in countries like Cambodia; prostitution is seen as a last resort. Public opinion regarding prostitution is also poor, so it is normal for prostitutes to receive regular harassment and abuse. Additionally, among countries and areas where prostitution was legalized, female prostitutes commonly claimed their safety was at risk more so in brothels that intended to oversee and protect transactions and engagements of sex. Anecdotal accounts from prostitutes in areas such as the Netherlands, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Washington D.C, and Zambia claimed female prostitutes experienced neglect and from those who oversaw or ran brothels they worked in. Even though the intent of modern brothels is to protect women and give them the option to safely engage in paid sexual relationships, their consent was sometimes compromised (Post, Dianne).

However, it is shown in cases of poverty stricken countries that where prostitution is legal, crime is less likely to occur to prostitutes. There is a link between crime rates and areas of poverty, so crime rates are already high in poorer countries. When prostitution is legalized in such areas there are statistical reports of less occurrences of violence happening towards prostitutes. This could be due to a lack of a need for rape to occur when sex is being sold as a legal and accessible commodity, and additionally police force is more likely to help prostitutes and prevent occurrences of abuse rather than ignoring it”especially in instances where corrupt police forces exist and actively engage in the buying of sex. On the contrary, studies report that in countries such as Sweden where the selling of sex is legal and the nation as a whole is wealthier, crime or abuse has been shown to exist more often in the area of prostitution. This could be due to the commodification of sex making poorer targets subject to abuse and wealthier prostitutes less likely to be abused, which ties back into the objectification of prostitutes; namely women (Bowen, Devon).

Although at first glance it may seem beneficial to destroy the stigma attached to prostitution to enable prostitutes the freedom to perform and make a living safely while protecting children from trafficking, there is evidence to support prostitution's current legal standing in America. Instances of differences between societies prove that there is no real way to solve the epidemic of abuse towards prostitutes and to enable them to make a living with their bodies safely. Therefore, prostitution's legality should depend upon a country's financial standpoint. Models of the likes that exist in Sweden”which make buying sex a criminal offence but protects the rights of those who sell sex”might serve as a baseline for countries world-wide as to protect the safety and well-being of prostitutes. However, whether a state or a respective province or county legalizes the buying of sex should depend upon the area's financial standing”thus, America as a whole shouldn't necessarily legalize prostitution nation-wide. It should remain as an issue each state or county should have the freedom to address. Areas rampant with poverty or police corruption should move for the legalization of prostitution as to aid in the prevention of further damage to prostitutes, while more wealthy areas should keep the buying of sex illegal. Prostitution's legality is not only a method of protecting prostitutes, but aiding in the regulation of crime prevention or crime relocation and its legalization could be a tool to help prostitutes feel safer, especially in instances of poverty-stricken areas where prostitutes engage in such as a last resort.

Works Cited

Bowen, Devin. The Impact of Legalizing Prostitution On Violent Crime. Mercatus Center at

George Mason University, May 2013,

M??nsson, Sven-Axel. The History and Rationale of Swedish Prostitution Policies. Univeristy

of Rhode Island Digital Commons, Sept. 2017,




RIGHTS. National Lawyers Guild Review ,

Stransky, Michelle, and David Finkelhor. How Many Juveniles Are Involved in Prostitution in

the U.S.? University of New Hampshire, 2008,

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An Investigation into the Nature of Prostitution's Potential Legality in America. (2019, Nov 26). Retrieved February 26, 2024 , from

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