Is Legalizing Prostitution the Answer?

Being in a mostly liberal environment at my school, I see many fellow activists who believe that prostitution should be legalized. Why? A woman has a right to her own body and, if prostitution was legalized, could possibly be able to protect it more. Prostitution would hypothetically be regulated, protecting the women from STDs and rape. Also, some claim it can help cut down on sex trafficking, but is that actually the case?

According to abolitionists from the Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Salvation Army, sex trafficking is stopped because prostitution is illegal. When the police catch a prostitute, they know there is probably a pimp nearby. Thus, the pimps involved in sex trafficking can be quickly caught (although this is not always the case, of course). However, the prostitutes caught still face harsh treatment and unfair punishments, sometimes worse than the pimps. In Ohio, the expungement clause only wipes their record clean of prostitution when trafficking is involved, often leaving the women with charges of drug possession and loitering (see post for more). Obviously, reform is necessary, but legalizing the act may in fact make it more difficult to detect sex trafficking. If the prostitute was legal, it would be much easier for her trafficker to hide in plain sight.

I have had activists talk to me about Amsterdam as a shining example of legalized prostitution, believing that the women are safe and in control. This may be the case sometimes, but there are still multiple cases of sex trafficking that are unlikely to be detected. In my favorite show Traffickers, one woman immigrated from Eastern Europe looking for a job. A pimp found her and brought her to Amsterdam, forcing her to get a prostitution license. Although she tried many times to show the government official that this was not a consensual business deal, he seemed to ignore her, issuing the license anyways. Now she works for the pimp, who continually threatens her in order to prevent her from leaving. Since she is legal, however, it is not an obvious case of sex trafficking to the government.

This happens to multiple women in Europe. Lately, Dutch abolitionists have realized that the legalization of prostitution has backfired and are actually demanding to end the operation (I find this ironic since many American activists wish for the opposite). The government has also started to pick up on this and has begun closing multiple brothels.

On both sides of the world, reform is definitely needed. But how much and in which direction? As usual, I don’t have a perfect solution, but I do not believe that legalizing prostitution is the answer.

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