Decriminalizing Prostitution Might Create a Major Morality Shift
Editor’s Note: This article is the sixth article in a seven-part series that discusses the necessity of crafting laws that have both solid moral underpinnings and reasonable methods of enactment in order to gain public compliance. Start the series here.
By Dr. Gary Deel, Faculty Director, School of Business, American Military University
In the preceding article, I discussed the issue of criminal laws prohibiting prostitution in the United States, and the reasons why they have been largely unsuccessful.
So what has been the result of these ineffective criminal prostitution laws? The same thing that results whenever the morals or methods of any other laws are rejected by the public: People rebel and continue the behavior through creative legal workarounds and brazen criminal conduct.
For example, you might be wondering how Las Vegas street peddlers get away with selling a “good time” on street corners. It has to do with how the “product” is defined. Although prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas, nude, exotic dancing is perfectly permissible. Would you like to hire a woman or man to come to your hotel room, strip, and dance for you? No problem at all. That’s totally legal.
Then, after the money and the entertainment have been legally exchanged, what two consenting and not financially incentivized adults choose to do on their own free time is entirely their own business. Right? Perhaps the client chose to tip the dancer very generously for the dance (wink, wink). And the dancer suddenly and unrelatedly decides that she is romantically interested in the client (wink, wink). You can see the giant loophole at work here.
Making Prostitution Illegal Can Spur Further Illegal Activity
Legal gymnastics aside, some sex workers simply accept the criminalization of their profession and decide to maximize profitability through additional criminal conduct. It comes as no surprise that often times women or men involved in prostitution would rather just skip the sex and collect the money if they could.
To do so, in places where prostitution is illegal, sex workers often reason that, since they are already considered criminals just by virtue of the work they do, they might as well increase the return for their risk in what is commonly referred to as a “trick roll.” Here’s how it works: An unsuspecting client is solicited by a prostitute and is taken to his house, car, or hotel room. At that point, instead of following through with the expected transaction of sex for money, the prostitute robs the client at gunpoint, or puts medication in his drink to knock him out, or uses some other means to subdue the client so that she can take all of his valuables and flee.
Morality aside, from the perspective of the prostitute this behavior makes a lot of strategic sense. For her, just going through the act of paid sex makes her a criminal, so the additional theft or robbery doesn’t change much in terms of the risk of prosecution and jail. This strategy at least increases her potential reward for the risk. And the prostitute need not have sex with someone she may not want to.
Incidentally, the prostitute also knows that the crime is unlikely to be reported because in order for a client (a John) to make a report, he would have to confess his own participation in an illegal prostitution attempt. As such, most victims of “trick rolls,” after weighing their options, usually choose to lick their wounds and forget the entire episode.
Steps for Creating Common-Sense Prostitution Laws
In order to curb other illegal activity that often accompanies prostitution, it’s critical that lawmakers include mandates and controls when considering legalizing prostitution. Some basic common-sense parameters that are in place in the Nevada counties where prostitution is legal include:
- Minimum age restrictions for workers and clients
- Mandatory use of protection (i.e., condoms) for sex
- Mandatory periodic sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing for workers
- Zoning restrictions on the location of brothels
- Restrictions on advertising
Many brothels in legalized Nevada counties also provide robust security to ensure that the prostitutes are safe from harm by clients.
Through legalization, these Nevada counties benefit by creating a safer and cleaner environment for prostitution. That protects all parties involved, provides reliable income for prostitutes’ families, and contributes to the county tax base.
For example, it is estimated that a sex worker in Nevada can make $100,000 annually with just one week of work per month in a legal brothel. The legal side of the industry generates more than $75 million in revenue each year. But it is estimated that over $7 billion in illegal prostitution takes place annually in the Nevada population centers of Las Vegas, Reno, and Carson City.
As it stands currently, several states are currently considering legislation to legalize prostitution, including Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and the District of Columbia.
I want to be absolutely clear that I think it’s critical for societal stability that laws are followed. So for as long as prostitution is illegal, we should respect and abide by that. I also feel compelled to reiterate that — illegality notwithstanding — no one should ever be coerced into prostitution of any kind, be it for threat of physical violence, economic hardship, or any other reason. But if laws criminalizing prostitution are taken off the books in these more progressive areas, it’s possible there may be a major shift across the country, just as marijuana laws have changed over time. The impacts would undoubtedly be complex, but such changes could potentially eliminate a needless burden on the criminal justice system. They could also liberate more than one million people from the shame and discomfiture that comes from living in a society where laws on prostitution are less tolerant than public opinion.
In the final installment of this series, I will confront one final area of controversial criminal law in America: suicide.
About the Author: Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Military University. He holds a JD in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. He teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Military University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.
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