The Truth Behind Legalized Prostitution
“It’s the oldest profession in the world”, “prostitution is a victimless crime”, and “sex work is real work”. These are phrases that are commonly stated by people who call for the legalization of prostitution.
Let’s clarify a few things before we dive into the pitfalls surrounding this type of thinking. First, sex work and prostitution are phrases that disguise what is really happening. The reality is that when people talk about prostitution, they are talking about sex trafficking. The vast majority of people who are so called prostitutes are being exploited, abused, and coerced into a life of commercial sex.
Legalizing prostitution essentially means that sex trafficking victims would have no legal protection or recourse from traffickers or sex buyers. Legalization would make it okay to pimp out and sell humans for sex. It would also make it okay for buyers to pay for sex without any repercussions. Victims would continue to be abused and sold for sex without anyone being held accountable.
The pro-sex work side argues that “independent” sex workers could work without repercussions and trafficking would decrease with legalization. However, research shows us that’s not true. In fact, in many countries where prostitution has been legalized, sex trafficking has actually increased (Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking? (harvard.edu). Part of the reason is that demand increases (aka there are more buyers), but not enough people to work in the commercial sex industry, so traffickers recruit and force more victims into prostitution to meet the demand.
A better model that holds traffickers and buyers accountable is the Nordic Model (What is the Nordic Model? | Nordic Model Now!). This model recognizes that trafficking victims often grow up in environments rife with trauma, abuse, and neglect. It advocates that victims should not be arrested, criminalized, or re-traumatized, but instead offered services. It also advocates that sex buyers, traffickers, and anyone facilitating trafficking/prostitution should be criminally charged. Countries that have adopted this model have seen a decrease in sex trafficking (Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking? (harvard.edu)).
The United States currently has laws that criminalize not only traffickers and buyers, but also victims. Advocating for that laws that defend victims, while holding perpetrators accountable is important. It’s also important to push our lawmakers to reject laws that legalize prostitution, as this hurts victims as well.