Prostitution in the U.S.

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There has been much debate in the twentieth century about what in 1889, Rudyard Kipling termed the most ancient profession in the world (Kipling). Prostitution is as old as human civilization, but with the exception of Nevada, who leaves legalization up to individual counties, the United States continues to be one of the few nations in the world in which prostitution is still forbidden by law (NRS Section 201.354). While it remains a crime in every other state in the U.S. to offer, agree to, or in engage in sexual acts for compensation, sex workers are often tax-paying members of sex worker unions in the many European nations and in other countries where prostitution is legal and regulated (Sexual). There are more than a few perspectives when it comes to this debate. Many advocate for decriminalization and regulation arguing that the legalization of prostitution, commonly defined by these advocates as a victimless crime, would not only eradicate all of the criminal aspects of the sex industry, but also directly lead to an overall safer environment for prostitutes as well as their clientele (Fuchs). On the other side of the debate is a social movement dominated by the religious right and feminist abolitionists who argue that prostitution, commonly defined by those that oppose it as an unqualified evil (Weitzer, Movement), leads to the moral degradation of society or solely benefits sex industry bosses, pimps and brothel owners rather than workers in the sex industry (Bindel, Why). With acknowledgment and consideration of the aforementioned noble perspectives, prostitution has been around for centuries and despite the efforts of many political motivations still remains relatively unchanged worldwide. The United States should look to countries like New Zealand as well as internally to Nevada and formally regulate and legalize indoor prostitution nationwide to provide protection from the law and under the law to protect the human rights of the women and men of the United States sex work industry.

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People have been consensually exchanging monies or goods for sexual acts in every society for which there are written records, the earliest dating back to the Ancient Sumerians in 2400 B.C.E. (Frazer). Nevertheless, 4,418 years later prostitution is still an occupation that remains resolute. In countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, Latvia, and Nevada (the only U.S. jurisdiction) prostitution is legal; in every other state prostitution is still considered criminal. Similar but contrary to legalization, Denmark in 1999 and New Zealand in 2003 have alternatively decriminalized sex work. Decriminalization is the removal of criminal penalties with regards to sex work; sex workers receive the same protection from the law, health and social welfare benefits otherwise afforded to the workers of every other industry (All Women, All Rights). The Bureau of Justice notes 215,461 prostitution and commercialized vice arrests from 2010- 2014 (the latest year the bureau reports)(Bureau). A statistic that conservatives, moralists, and law enforcement officials appreciate, but liberals and abolitionists argue is a waste of valuable resources. The religious right, feminist abolitionists and those that advocate for legalization make up the majority of Americans in the argument of how the United States should formally handle the ongoing issue of prostitution.

Naturally, there are those who are simply morally opposed to prostitution be it that they subscribe to an organized religion; prostitution is widely condemned by leaders of faith worldwide. The religious right typically has overall conservative, moralist values and leanings heavily influenced by their religion or political party affiliation. In 2003, under the administration of George W. Bush, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was passed simultaneously imposing a requirement of an anti-prostitution pledge (The United States, Congress). The act identifies prostitution as contributory to the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and AIDS and moves to advance a new U.S. policy goal (The United States, Congress). John Dietrich of The Carnegie Council, a New York City based charity that provides a voice for ethics in international affairs, confirms that U.S. economic interests and conservative Christian views heavily influenced the implementation of this humanitarian program that provides billions of dollars of government aid to international charity organizations and advocacy groups with the caveat that aid not be granted to U.S. institutions that support sex work (Dietrich). Ten years later; however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the pledge unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment (Devi). Peter Piot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and the former director of UNAIDS described the court’s decision to strike down the George W. Bush-era law as a victory of public health and scientific evidence over ideology (Devi). Indeed this was a win for public health; PEPFAR has invested over 70 billion dollars and changed the course of the HIV pandemic, but has not been as successful in influencing America’s overall stance on prostitution (The U.S. President’s).

Though opposed to the political ties and views of one another, feminist abolitionists not only share a view with the religious right that prostitution is an unqualified evil, but also share a comparable mission in that both vehemently oppose and hold strong determination to take action against the sex work industry (Weitzer, Movement). Julie Bindel, a freelance British journalist, political activist, author of The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth and founder of Justice For Women is a feminist abolitionist, which she describes as a force in the plight of sex workers and the fight against the legalization of prostitution (Bindel, Why Prostitution). Bindel is dually a self-proclaimed radical lesbian feminist as well as an authoritarian on the subject of prostitution. She commonly represents a coalition of feminist abolitionists, who in order to illustrate their point, paint the picture of women’s inequality in a male-power rooted neoliberal world in which women’s bodies are commoditized and consequently bought and sold like burgers. Bindel and other abolitionists suggest that the decriminalization of prostitution does not benefit the women it attempts to protect and regulate, but conversely is advantageous to sex industry bosses, pimps and brothel owners further proclaiming that the only progressive solution is abolition. (Bindel, Why Prostitution). Abolition, the practice of formally putting an end to something such as slavery during the Civil War, feminist abolitionists subscribe to the popular idea that prostitution is an unqualified evil, with reference to slavery. The abolitionist opinion, Bindel declares is that prostitution is inherently abusive, a cause and a consequence of women’s inequality, there is no way to make it safe, and it should be possible to eradicate it; both bold and valiant points to make in defense of abolishment (Bindel, Why Prostitution). Viewing mostly if not all prostitutes as victims, abolitionists believe that a progressive solution should be implemented that criminalizes johns, pimps, and those driving up the demand of prostitution, while at the same time providing assistance to those who earn their living selling sex to exit the business completely (Bindel, Why Prostitution).

Although fighting on the opposite side of the argument, feminist abolitionists and those like Ronald Weitzer who advocate for the legalization of prostitution are both fighting for the health and human rights of sex workers; however, their ideologies could not be more different. Prostitution is being demonized, marginalized, and criminalized as the result of the efforts of a robust moral crusade, believes Ronald Weitzer, professor of Sociology at George Washington University and author of Legalizing Prostitution: from Illicit Vice to Lawful Business (Weitzer Movement). In his focused work on legal prostitution systems, Weitzer argues that street prostitution and indoor prostitution differ greatly, and that many of the problems and issues argued by moral crusaders are actually a result of not only how legalization in fact does work, and how legalization can essentially eradicate street sex work which would leave the police to focus on more pressing matters, prevent certain forms of harm to communities, with many other benefits

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Prostitution in the U.S.. (2019, Jul 08). Retrieved December 3, 2022 , from

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