The Other I

May 19, 2012

Let’s legalize prostitution

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:54 pm
Tags: ,

I have just read a heart-rending description of the lives of young girls trafficked for sex.  It is devastating.  The purpose of this post, however, is not convince anyone of the evils of trafficking.  It is rather to discuss how to deal with it.

A Maryknoll sister who has worked with women trafficked from Cambodia is convinced that both the supply side and the demand side of this problem must be tackled.  The demand side, of course, is composed of those willing to pay for sex, men mostly, living in developed countries.  Sister Helene and others working with trafficked women adamantly believe that until prostitution is criminalized and that the person paying for sex, rather than the person supplying it, is held accountable, that trafficking will continue.

I’m not so sure.  Yes, people trafficking young girls for sex treat them no less as a commodity than drug dealers treat drugs.  But criminalizing alcohol didn’t reduce alcoholism;  it drove it underground and contributed to thriving criminal organizations by those supplying it.  Criminalizing abortion doesn’t eliminate it:  it merely drives it into the back streets and makes it more dangerous.  Criminalizing drugs is not reducing its use, and there are those – including myself – who think we would be better making drugs legal so that they can be made safer.

Criminalizing prostitution – or enforcing the law against users as well as suppliers – isn’t going to stop it.  It’s simply going to drive it further underground, providing even less protection for trafficked and abused sex slaves.

I’d vote for legalizing prostitution and regulating it.  Many prostitutes, I know, are of this view as well.  They would prefer safer houses, better health checks, more sympathy from law enforcement officials when they are abused.

I know this sounds contradictory.  But I’d say let’s liberate women.  Let’s legalize prostitution.




  1. Just remember, there is a HUGE difference between the situation of women who choose to be sex workers and that of the girls—many of them children—who are kidnapped and turned quite literally into sex slaves. An industry in which people (male or female) freely engage other people for sexual services is quite different from the reality of “trafficking” where human beings are dehumanized and exploited for sexual and other purposes. Defining the problem accurately is the first and essential step to finding a solution.


    Comment by Margschu — May 19, 2012 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for clarifying an important distinction that may not have been clear in my post. I couldn’t agree more that there is a huge difference between sex “workers” and sex “slaves.” What I was suggesting is that people trafficking and slavery is already criminalized, but people still do it because there is a “market” for sex. If that market were fully legalized, I think perhaps the monetary reward for trafficking sex slaves would be greatly reduced. And quite possibly as well, the police in developed countries would be more willing to take the hard line on human trafficking for whatever purpose that it deserves.


      Comment by theotheri — May 19, 2012 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

  2. Terry, Yes, the trafficking issue is very complex. I’m not against legalizing prostitution, but I just don’t think it will achieve the result you imagine. It might have a moderating effect in the West, but not elsewhere for a variety of cultural and economic reasons. None of those girls who are trafficked from Nepal to New Delhi or Mumbai would be protected if prostitution were legalized. It is basically legal now—the police don’t do anything about it and when they do (rarely) they punish the women. Of course, you may know, there has been a big split within the women’s and human rights communities about this over the years. Often the split is West vs East rather than progressive vs conservative. As I say, it is complex . . .


    Comment by Margschu — May 19, 2012 @ 6:45 pm | Reply

    • Marge, no, I didn’t know there was a split within the women’s and human rights communities about this whole issue. I’m not nearly as well-acquainted with the many different cultural aspects of the problem as you are. Here in England I have seen how often women (mostly from Pakistani villages and not educated in Britain — in fact, mostly not educated at all) support things like honour killings and forced marriages even here in Britain.

      I do agree that legalizing prostitution is unlikely to have any positive effect on reducing trafficking of girls to countries like India or Nepal or Pakistan, etc. What I do think is that Sister Helene is wrong to think that criminalizing the demand side of prostitution in developed countries is a necessary – even critical – step in controlling sex trafficking. In fact, as I said, I think just the opposite.

      But is that a total global solution? No.

      If you have any more thoughts or insights on this question, please please try to find time to share them!


      Comment by theotheri — May 19, 2012 @ 7:25 pm | Reply

  3. yes i am for it, too. but only if purchasing sex is made a crime. I do think that it would slow down street sex – high price call girls would still go on and perhaps i am naive but i wonder if the violence with the call girls is as great as the street prostitutes. at least they make considerably more than 10/trick.


    Comment by kateritek — May 21, 2012 @ 12:52 pm | Reply

    • I’m not only in favour of decriminalizing the actions of the prostitute. I think buying sex should also be legalized but regularized and brought under the control of the rule of law which I think would give greater protection to the prostitute. But at the same time, I think trafficking should be brought under the full force of the law with grave consequences for the traffickers. I don’t know any place in the world where this has been tried, but I think it could help the prostitute immensely. Let’s face it: the buying and selling of sex isn’t going to stop. It just isn’t. So let’s legalize it and protect the women. Or at least let’s experiment with protecting the women. I suspect most men in developed countries don’t really care or know whether their prostitute is a sex slave or not. But if it’s clear that some prostitution is legally available, all other things being equal, I think men would prefer it. As I said, I’m in favour of legalizing drugs and abortion and alcohol for the same kind of reasons. It’s not going to stop. Driving it underground only makes it worse.

      I would be most interested in hearing why you think, nonetheless, that buying sex should be criminalized and presumably violators seriously prosecuted.



      Comment by Terry Sissons — May 21, 2012 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

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