Business Insider’s Dylan Love had his expectations shattered when he reported on a Nevada brothel and observed that legalized, well-regulated prostitution can be both safe and profitable.
Nevada only allows prostitution in licensed brothels that test workers routinely for sexually transmitted infections. While Love is not the first to observe legal prostitution can be relatively safe, Nevada’s rural counties are the only place in America where the world’s oldest profession is officially allowed.
Here are seven solid arguments for why the rest of the United States should let people sell sex in a well-regulated capacity, as they do in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and parts of Mexico, among other countries.
It Would Reduce Violence Against Women
Prostitutes in America (mostly women) are vulnerable to violence from customers and pimps.
A study of San Francisco prostitutes found that 82% had been assaulted and 68% had been raped while working as prostitutes. Another study of prostitutes in Colorado Springs found they were 18 times more likely to be murdered than non-prostitutes their age and race.
Prostitutes who experience violence may be reluctant to call the cops since what they’re doing is illegal. Sex workers in licensed brothels, on the other hand, can have somebody to back them up, according to a paper by Barbara Brents and Kathryn Hausbeck of the University of Nevada. Brents and Hausbeck interviewed brothel owners and made these observations:
Brothel owners have a clear interest in maintaining their image as law-abiding, trouble-free businesses to keep their licenses and maintain good relations within their communities. The owners we interviewed ensure this by making it policy to call the police at the slightest hint of trouble to send a message that they don’t tolerate bad behavior. “The whole name of the game is control. But that control also makes us get along pretty well with the sheriff’s office,” one owner told the researchers. “There are two reasons for doing it, one, the sheriff’s office, but also the girls’ personal safety.”
The study concluded that “brothels offer the safest environment available for women to sell consensual sex acts for money.”
Legalization Would Make Sex Workers Healthier
Illegal street prostitutes might face pressure from pimps and Johns to forgo condoms. But states that legalize prostitution can require sex workers to use condoms and get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
Sex workers in Nevada have to get monthly tests for syphilis and HIV and weekly tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia. Nevada also requires condoms for all sex in brothels. This law is posted on the outside of the state’s brothels, according to the paper by Barbara Brents and Kathryn Hausbeck of the University of Nevada.
Making sex work a crime can drive prostitutes underground and make them less likely to practice safe sex and get tested for sexually transmitted disease.
An April 2012 study by the Urban Justice Center found that New York City cops were actually using condoms found on women as evidence in criminal prostitution cases against them. It’s easy to imagine how this practice might deter sex workers from carrying protection.
The United Nations Development Programme published a report last year on illegal sex work in Asia and the Pacific that highlighted just how damaging the criminalization of sex work can be to women’s health. Here’s what it said:
Criminalization increases vulnerability to HIV by fueling stigma and discrimination, limiting access to HIV and sexual health services, condoms and harm reduction services, and adversely affecting the self-esteem of sex workers and their ability to make informed choices about their health.
Prostitution Is Arguably A Victimless Crime
While some advocates argue that prostitutes are victims of Johns and pimps, sex work can be a victimless crime if women sell their bodies of their own volition. (Moreover, it doesn’t make sense to arrest sex workers if they are their own “victims.”)
As Cornell law professor Sherry Colb has written, “Prostitution should not be a crime. Prostitutes are not committing an inherently harmful act. While the spread of disease and other detriments are possible in the practice of prostitution, criminalization is a sure way of exacerbating rather than addressing such effects.”
Legal Prostitution Can Be A Source Of Tax Revenue
While brothels in Nevada pay no state taxes, they pay “significant amounts of tax” to the rural counties where they do business, according to The New York Times. (Nevada Republicans blocked a plan a couple of years ago to subject brothels to state taxes, as they didn’t want schools and other state services funded by sex work.)
Illegal prostitution businesses in America, of course, pay no taxes. If those brothels were legalized, then state and county governments could gain significant revenue.
“Let government share in the revenue, but otherwise stay out of the affairs of consenting adults,” MSNBC political analyst Michael Smerconish has written.
Legalization Could Save Precious Law Enforcement Resources
The investigation into notorious John, and former New York governor, Eliot Spitzer is a perfect example of how costly it can be to probe sophisticated prostitution rings.