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Op-Ed: 'For their own good'

By John Rickman     Jul 19, 2007 in Politics
There is some rather sad and sick about wanting to control other people “for their own good.” That is what those who support bans on prostitution demand that they be allowed to do despite centuries of evidence that this approach does not work.
Whenever the topic of legalizing the exchange of money for sex between consenting adults comes up the “guardians of other people’s morals” immediately go a little bonkers and start throwing lurid examples of how horrible the life of a prostitute can be. They seem to labor under the delusion that this somehow makes the case for outlawing the practice. What they fail to realize is that what they are really doing is demonstrating the desperate need to do just the opposite and make the profession legal so that it can be monitored and the health and safety of the sex workers can be safe guarded.
Like the almost comical attempts to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol during Prohibition or the ugly and murderous failure to prohibit the use of drugs today, every single attempt to control prostitution in history has ended in dismal failure. If all these misguided attempts at moralizing had done is fail however there would not be much of a case against the idea of try, try, trying again but this is far from the case. The inevitable outcome of not allowing the sex trade to operate openly is forcing it to operate in the shadows where the abuses inevitably grow worse and where there is an added danger from organized crime and from those who would force people into the business against their will.
As former sex worker Carol Leigh, Founder of Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network BAYSWAN) explains the situation
"Decriminalization is not at all a solution to every injustice that exists in the sex industry; it is a starting point. If prostitution were not an underground activity it would allow us to much more effectively address the serious problems of forced prostitution and juvenile prostitution and the other abuses which are part of an industry that operates completely in the shadows.
When we examine cases where prostitution has been brought out into the light through legalization and regulation we find that this is exactly what happens. In the Netherlands, where prostitution was legalized fully in 2000 the disasters that moralists eagerly predicted failed to materialize. On the contrary the Dutch remain very satisfied with the results of their wise decision. Poll after poll show that the Dutch continue to support keeping prostitution legal. (1)
The Norwegian government, which was trying to craft their own legislation, commissioned a study that compared the Swedish model, which outlawed prostitution with the Dutch system and found that “…the Dutch approach seems to be much more effective than the Swedish one in ruling prostitution and fighting crime.”
Not only has the crime gone down for the average citizen, but the health and safety of the sex workers has been greatly improved as well. In the US, Great Britain and all other countries of the world where prostitution is illegal violence against sex workers and even murders are common occurrences but in Holland the lives and safety of the workers is very carefully protected. Even the streetwalkers are carefully guarded by security cameras set up in the official “street walking zones.” There are also social services workers available who provide advice, medical information, condoms and other amenities. “ Ms Timmermans, the coordinator of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers (ICRSW), writes:
"You can talk to a social worker, you can get a shower, a cup of coffee, things like that," says the ICRSW's coordinator.
"I have never heard of anyone ever being hurt, or at least seriously hurt, in a zone."
Other benefits include a reduction in the number of women driven to prostitution by drug addiction. Unlike prostitutes in other EU countries only about 10% of the sex workers in the Netherlands are addicted, the result of good drug outreach programs according to Ms. Timmermans. The fact that the women seeking help for their drug problems are not afraid of being arrested for prostitution greatly facilitates these programs.
Are there abuses in the system? Of course there are but that is true of every business on earth. As Ms Timmermans puts it:
"We know, for instance, that there is exploitation in the textile industry but we don't scream 'Stop buying clothing' - we talk about labor rights and working conditions," Ms Timmermans says. "We need to start talking in that way about prostitution."
Since all sex workers in the Netherlands are regulated they must be tested for STD’s on a regular basis and safe sex practices are mandatory. Because prostitution is legal the sex workers have the right, which they often exercise, of refusing service to anyone who resists the use of condoms or demands services the worker is unwilling to provide.
Prostitution is legal in some parts of Nevada and Rhode Island and thus far the residents of those states are sufficiently satisfied with the results that they have turned back repeated attempts to re-criminalize the profession waged by moral and religious groups and even by casino owners in Nevada who feel legal prostitution draws business away from their legal gambling.
Other countries with legal, or largely legal prostitution include Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England and Scotland.
In Thailand the practice is officially illegal, and therefore unregulated, but the very corrupt government of that country turns a blind eye to the business and as a result the abuses are rampant. Since 1990 around 80,000 women and children have been sold into Thailand’s sex industry and, unlike those countries where prostitution is legal, "Trafficking of children on the rise," Bangkok Post, 22 July 1998).
In India
Over 7,000 women and girls work as prostitutes in Sonagachi, Calcutta’s largest red-light district. Often forced into the trade by poverty, abandonment or the rampant trafficking business which forcibly transports young girls from Nepal and neighboring Bangladesh, they come from all castes, but have been pushed down the social scale to Sonagachi, a seedy landscape of narrow alleys, the next ground zero in the global AIDS epidemic.
World health officials are calling India the next Africa, forecasting more Indians will die from AIDS in the next decade than all the HIV-related deaths since the disease was discovered in 1981. With an estimated million prostitutes in India, prostitution is the lit match of the AIDS tinderbox. A host of local non-government organizations have collected millions of dollars in aid money to halt the transmission of the disease. Plagued by infighting and corruption, however, little of it has funneled down to the alleys of Sonagachi. There, cheap condoms are readily available, but women remain ignorant of their importance or powerless to make customers use them.
Since the practice is illegal and unregulated in India cheap condoms, although readily available, are not often used since the women remain ignorant of their importance or powerless to make customers use them. Recently an Indian prostitute, Mrs. Nalini Jameela published her autobiography "Smriti Kak Ramachandran." A veteran of over a thousand sexual encounters Mrs Jameela is a staunch supporter of legalization and regulation of her industry to help control the abuses that are rampant under prohibition.
Everywhere look the story is the same. Every single solitary attempt to criminalize prostitution has met with unqualified disaster. Not one single solitary example can be found in the entire world where prohibition has worked or has not caused tremendous hardships for the sex workers and health risks for society at large. Let’s face it the moralists have lost—big time. It is long past the time when we need to quit trying to control the behavior of consenting adults “for their own good.”
Norma Jean Almodovar, Executive Director of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE) LA and Southern California and former prostitute, wrote in a Jan. 2, 2007 e-mail to
"As a long time sex worker rights activist, I believe that a system of decriminalization of all private, consenting adult commercial sex would be of greatest benefit to those in the sex industry....
Treat adult women who become prostitutes as adults who are capable of making choices for their own lives. Stop trying to impose moral or social values on us and then tell us 'it's for our own good!!!!'"
1."Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry" (2000), Weitzer, Ronald. New York and London: Routledge, 2000. p.78
This thoughtful piece on legalizing prostitution, pointing out the inherent benefits coming from letting the women of the night operate openly wins lensman67 TopOpEd Award.
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