Prostitution: To Legalize, or Not To Legalize?

Marissa Iamartino
December 05, 2019

What is Prostitution?

Prostitution is the act of engaging in sexual behaviors for money – but this definition changes wildly between countries, states, and regions, leading to a confusing and complex enforcement system. Within the past thirty years, the term “sex work” has been used to refer to sexual commerce in a non-stigmatizing way. Many women and a smaller percentage of men fall into sex work either because they have been forced into the global sex trade, or simply, they need money. Over 180 billion dollars each year is spent on the global sex trade. Worldwide, it is estimated that there are 40-42 million people selling themselves for sex; and 80 percent of this population are females between the ages of 13 and 25. 

A Human Right

With the rise of feminist ideologies since the 1960s, women demand control over their own bodies. A woman can lie anywhere on the spectrum between prude and promiscuous, and that is her human right. From a feminist perspective, governments should not be able to police bodies, and contrary to history, especially the female body: it is the sole owner of a body who should be able to make decisions regarding that body. Perhaps the answer is to legalize prostitution and allow sex workers to do their work. Laura Lee, a sex worker, and writer wrote a 2014 article for Ravishly titled, “Sex Workers Want Rights - Not Rescue” which explains her desire for sex work to be legalized. Nevada is the only state in the U.S. where prostitution is legally permitted in some form -- and all but one of Nevada’s counties are permitted by state law to license brothels. Prostitution is also legal and regulated in The Netherlands, where brothels and the red-light district in Amsterdam are taxed to benefit the state. There, sex workers are treated as individuals, self-employed business-women; just working to make their income like everybody else. 

A Dark, Secret Underworld

Now, the difference between decriminalization and legalization is significant. Decriminalization would eliminate laws by state and law-enforcement from intervening in prostitution-related activities. Legalization would mean that the United  States would support the regulation of prostitution with laws regarding where, when, and how it could occur, like in The Netherlands. Just like gun control, there are people on both sides of the argument, some believing that decriminalization would increase sex trafficking inflows of women and girls, and some believing that legalizing the act would make things safer for women by eliminating pimps and giving them rights that may protect them from rape or assault. The biggest fear is that legalization or decriminalization would increase human trafficking, which is ‘the recruitment, transportation, and harboring of persons by abduction, coercion, or threat of force for the purpose of exploitation’, a definition paraphrased from protocol written by the UN in 2000. Some people also just believe that sex for pleasure is simply, morally wrong – and can’t imagine United States law putting regulations in place or promote sex work. So, should sex work be legalized or decriminalized? Or should it continue to be a dark, secret underworld, like the illegal drug trade? 


“Should Prostitution Be Legal?”,, 2018/11/13, 2019/11/5
Hughes, Donna M, “Women’s Wrongs”, National Review, 2004/10/20, 2019/11/05
“Prostitution Statistics: What You Need To Know”, 2016/09/26, 2019/11/05
The United Nations, "Protocol To Prevent, Suppress And Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women And Children, Supplementing The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime" a&chapter=18&lang=en, 2000/11/15, 2019/11/05
Lee, Laura, “Sex Workers Want Rights – Not Rescue”, 2014/09/08 2019/11/05

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