September 16, 2009

The Fallacy of Victimless Prostitution

Marc Comtois

My last post on "Pro-Prostitution Progressivism" generated a debate on the conservative/libertarian side. Justin entered the fray and, after some back-and-forth in the comments, expanded his thoughts, touching on political philosophy, ideology and making assumptions about those with whom you disagree. Those were his thoughts.

As for me, my opposition to indoor prostitution doesn't stem from some overarching political ideology. Call me old-fashioned (!), but I have the funny notion that people selling their bodies for money is neither empowering nor can it be sufficiently sanitized as an economic transaction to remove the emotional and physical scars said "entrepreneurs" will undoubtedly suffer. Face it: this isn't a profession that most would choose. Little Suzie or Joey don't put "Prostitute" at the top of their "What do I want to do when I grow up" list.

Prostitution is most often a last, desperate means to an end. It's a way to make money to support a habit. Or it's a "career path" people "choose" when under the thumb of those looking to exploit them for financial gain. It may not be particularly incisive or sufficiently philosophical, but my gut tells me that legalizing prostitution isn't going to clean up the "industry" or save us money in law enforcement dollars or provide a great new business opportunity for young entrepreneurs.

Until recently, I didn't know that Australia had legalized prostitution a decade ago. Now it offers a cautionary tale that shows that legalization is no panacea and that human trafficking goes up when prostitution is legalized:

Ten years ago, Australia made a risky policy move it thought would help protect women and children: it legalized prostitution. Today, only 10% of the prostitution industry operates in Australia's legal brothels. The other 90% takes place in underground, illegal sex markets thick with forced prostitution and human trafficking victims.

The University of Queensland Working Group on Human Trafficking recently released a report stating that the prostitution laws in Australia had failed. Since 1999, women in Australia have had the option of working legally in licensed brothels or on their own. The hope was that women with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for commercial sex would set up their own businesses, and make everything safe, legal, and regulated. That hasn't happened.

What has happened, instead, is entrepreneurial pimps have lured and trafficked Asian women to Australia and set up illegal brothels with lower prices....And as legal brothels try and compete with the trafficking boom, they cut costs, which often involves cutting freedom and benefits for women. Even in the legal, licensed brothels of Queensland, women have reported being coerced into working under unfair conditions or against their will. {It's not a stretch to suppose that some would think this last could be alleviated via unionization, no?}

Unintended consequences. There are other examples and others have studied the issue and concluded:
There are two major consequences of the legalization of prostitution. First, the institutional officialization (legalization) of sex markets strengthens the activities of organized pimping and organized crime. Secondly, such strengthening, accompanied by a significant increase in prostitution-related activities and in trafficking, brings with it a deterioration not only in the general condition of women and children, but also, in particular, that of prostituted people and the victims of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution.
A victimless crime entrepreneurial activity?

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Two questions:

1. Do states who have criminalized prostitution have human trafficking and underground prostitution? It seems by this post, you're trying to say that because it was legal in Australia, that they had those things. If that's the case, then I wouldn't find any prostitutes in NYC? No human trafficking?

2. Because prostitution is legal, that's why some take it underground and undercut the prices of the legal brothels? Doesn't that happen with other items too in this state, like cigaretts, alcohol, etc? Isn't that called the gray market, which even stores like Costco and Sam's uses?

I don't see where your post has made a point about why it should be criminalized in RI.

Oh, one other point. You wrote:
"Call me old-fashioned (!)"

But isn't this known as the world's oldest profession? So shouldn't that mean you support it? :)

Posted by: Patrick at September 16, 2009 5:35 PM

So in other words, all the same things happen in Australia as happen in the United States already, minus the cost of "enforcement" against those victims and the peaceful people who make use of their services.

Or are we to believe that women being "human trafficked" and forced into that life against their will by violent gangs are going to care about a prostitution law or the criminal records they will inevitably accrue and inevitably make their lives more hopeless.

Perhaps Australia and our own country should worry about enforcing existing human trafficking and abuse laws instead of chasing an activity which has no victim in itself. Unless you'd simply like to trade one unenforced dead-letter law for another.

For what it's worth, I am not for "regulating" the industry either, which I do agree could create a gray market with manhy or all of the negative externalities our black market has now.

Posted by: Dan at September 16, 2009 5:57 PM

Little Suzie or Joey don't put "Prostitute" at the top of their "What do I want to do when I grow up" list.

Well, they don't put "Sanitary Engineer" at the top of their list either, but there are people that go into that unsanitary profession.

Bottom line, it is NOBODY's business what someone decides to do with their bodies. After all, it is THEIR body, not yours nor Justin's nor the Government's.

Who are you to deprive / restrict someone from making a living, particularly in the privacy of their own home?

Playing Professional Football isn't healthy or victimless...ask Earl Campbell and numerous others who struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Should we outlaw that occupation too?

Call me old fashioned, but live and let live.

Arrest the abusive Pimp, not the Prostitute.

Posted by: George Elbow at September 16, 2009 10:35 PM

I have to agree with Patrick, Dan, and George. Legalizing indoor prostition, however distasteful prostitution may be in and of itself, will allow for more regulation. Legal brothels would have to apply for licenses and part of that process could include keeping in line with basic health and safety codes. The brothels would be responsible for verifying that all prostitutes are of age, tested for STDs, practicing safe sex, and working of their own free will. A violation could lead to the loss of the license and, if applicable, criminal charges (e.g., hiring underage girls).
Law enforcement can then focus on the more troublesome issues of abusive pimps, child prostitution, forced prostitution/human trafficing, and the public nuisance of street prostitution.
Certainly no one starts out in life hoping to be a prostitute and no one wants this life for their children. However, prostitution has been going on since time immemorial and will continue to occur whether or not it is legal. So let's pick our battles and focus on the worst aspects - the aspects that result in clear cut victims.

Posted by: Tabetha at September 16, 2009 11:21 PM

I realize you are not for regulation. I was agreeing with the section where you describe focusing on the laws that clearly have victims - i.e., laws against human trafficking. Spending money on jailing people who are willingly involved in prostitution is a waste and will not help those who are truly enslaved.

Posted by: Tabetha at September 16, 2009 11:27 PM

Agreed Tabetha. I am simply not for regulation in general, so it's not particular to this one issue. I understand that most people who are for legalization of prostitution would still most likely prefer to have it regulated, and I would far rather that be the case than engaging in the waste of time, money, and human life that occurs through prohibitions of victimless crimes.

Posted by: Dan at September 16, 2009 11:53 PM

Legalising something doesn't remove the corruption.I wonder if anyone thinks there is any corruption in the licensing process. It is naive to believe that men can't control women whether prostitution is legal or illegal. Money and power allow people to pull all kinds of strings, involving police and other regulatory authorities to selectively prosecute who they like. This is the way that women who want to operate legally and women who don't want to be involved in prostitution at all are controlled.

Posted by: adele pace at September 17, 2009 1:24 AM

Good point, Adele. Another very good reason why I do not support licensing.

Posted by: Dan at September 17, 2009 8:21 AM

We have had a rather severe "human trafficking" law on the books since about 1920, the "Mann Act". Since then there has been about 20 enforcements of it, mostly rock stars with groupies, black sports figures with white women, etc.

If we won't enforce current laws, why will we enforce new ones?

Posted by: Warrington Faust at September 17, 2009 9:26 AM

Also, Donna Hughes says 'we haven't had a human trafficking conviction in Rhode Island' and concludes that it must be because we're not looking for it.

The women who've been unconstitutionally arrested multiple times for running a legal business will tell you that they got worked-over for -hours- by detectives trying to find trafficking that wasn't there.

The 'bust' in Warwick a few years ago used trafficking as justification, and those women got worked-over too, and the police found out that it was two sisters and a friend who ran the three-person business. No trafficking there.

Has anyone from the criminalization side considered that they're forcing the rest of us to 'prove a negative'? The reason we can't get a trafficking conviction here is because we have a heck of a lot less trafficking here than other places. We're not a haven for traffickers, the same way that post-prohibition America wouldn't be a haven for Al Capone's bootleggers. When there's no underground business, there's no need for expensive underground suppliers.

Over the last five or so years, we've arrested over 1,000 prostitutes. The authorities are chomping at the bit to get a trafficking conviction, and haven't been able to. Is it ethical to declare an entire industry invalid over 'trafficking' when you've concluded that under %0.1 of the workers are trafficked?

Posted by: mangeek at September 20, 2009 11:10 PM
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