Maggie McNeill throws out some numbers and calls for a political coalition to put the cause of legalizing prostitution on the radar:
Though roughly 10% of modern women have taken money for sex at least once, the great majority of such cases are informal and the payer an acquaintance; only about 1% of women actually work as hookers at some point in their lives, and less than a third of that (just under 0.3%) are thus employed at any given time. That’s a pitifully small minority, smaller even than the fraction of the population who identify as homosexual (which is between 2-3%); in a more just world even the smallest minority would be treated fairly, but since that isn’t the case in this one it’s imperative we have help from outside our own group. Gay rights activists drew bisexuals and transgender people into a coalition, but even that would have been too small a minority to matter without the help of friends, family, libertarians and others.
Sex workers, on the other hand, have allowed our already-small numbers to be divided by laws which make arbitrary distinctions between “legal” sex work (such as stripping, phone sex and in some places porn acting) and “illegal” sex work (such as some forms of prostitution; in most of the US it’s all prostitution). But even if strippers, porn actresses and the various types of what I call “halfway whores” rallied together, I still can’t imagine that making up over 10% of the female population. As with gay rights, we’re going to need the help of friends, family, libertarians and even true feminists (as opposed to the anti-sex crowd I refer to as “neofeminists”).
Maggie elaborates on what she sees as the “feminist approach” to advocacy for legalization:
[W]hy does society have the right to tell women they can’t make a living with their natural sex-based attributes when it allows men to do so with boxing, bodyguard work, etc? Furthermore, laws against prostitution invariably subject women’s dress and mannerisms to police scrutiny; women are accused of prostitution for dressing sexily,acting sexily, carrying condoms in their purses, being in certain areas, not wearing underwear, etc. This is “slut shaming” with criminal consequences.
“Slut shaming with criminal consequences.” Powerful, and to be expected from a wit as sharp as Ms. McNeill.
The real onus of legalization, in my view, has always been the fact that outlawing prostitution does not protect the prostitute. It protects the pimp. When a poor prostitute gets the shit kicked out of her by an abusive pimp, she can’t go to the police for protection. The law makes her hands unclean. Even more so if she happens to have brown skin.
It would be bad enough if the negative collateral consequences of outlawing prostitution were limited to poor women getting beaten and blackmailed with impunity by abusive pimps and Johns. But another well-known side effect of outlawing prostitution is that it makes prostitutes uniquely subject to sexual assault and rape: if things get out of hand with a John, the client knows that the prostitute can’t go to the police, because she will be arrested too. 90% of the individuals arrested for prostitution are the prostitutes themselves, not clients. Furthermore, some academics have demonstrated a correlation between legalization of prostitution and reduction in the incidence of rape. The fact is that criminalizing prostitution allows both Pimps and angry Johns to abuse and blackmail sex workers with little to no risk of repercussion. That’s probably why the homicide rate for prostitutes has been measured at 204 in 100,000; absurdly higher than the next most dangerous profession at the time.
It is a peculiarly human impulse to use the power of the state to outlaw that which seems to us to be harmful. But where the results of prohibition are clearly ineffectual, or do more harm than they seek to prevent, the law becomes the greater crime. You can criminalize the act of prostitution, but you can’t criminalize the economic desperation that leads many (though certainly not all) women to become sex workers. That’s why criminalizing prostitution has never stopped people from buying sex, or women from choosing to become sex workers (or men, for that matter). If you actually want to protect these women from harm, the best way to do it is to stop punishing them as criminals. When they are not condemned by the law, they can actually seek help from the authorities when they are being abused.
History should be our guide that we can’t stop prostitution from happening by making it illegal. It still happens; it just gets pushed underground, where the people we were supposedly trying to protect end up getting abused, injured, and killed. You can support these women (and men), and protect their interests by pushing state legislatures to abandon criminal sanctions for prostitution. It may not be politically popular, but it is right. And sex workers in jurisdictions that criminalize their livelihood need our help now as much as ever.
End all prohibition of consensual behavior.
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- makemenfree said: If the problem is that prostitutes are mistreated because they do not have the protection of the police, then maybe the solution is to make it illegal to buy sex, but not illegal to sell it?
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