Benefits of Legalizing Prostitution

Note: For Mature Audiences Only.

Recently there was a news article that a proposal was to be put before the Supreme Court Panel for legalization of prostitution. The news article can be found here. This has sparked a debate on legalization of the trade. Around 50 countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece have legalized prostitution and about 11 countries such as Australia, Iceland and India have limited legality.

In this article we will discuss the benefits of legalizing prostitution:

  1. Reduction in Human Trafficking: Contrary to popular belief, legalizing prostitution may reduce human trafficking and forcing of women into the trade. I will try to explain this with the help of economics. Criminalization of prostitution will reduce voluntary prostitution due to risk of conviction. This risk is also for the trafficker but less harsher, as in case of a prosecution it is the victim who bears the criminal penalty but the trafficker bears only an income loss. Criminalization of prostitution will therefore reduce voluntary prostitution which will in turn put an upward pressure on price thus incentivizing the trafficker. Therefore, instead of reducing human trafficking, criminalization will tend to increase it[i]. Further, as prostitution is criminalized, the prostitutes and Johns will not tend to report human trafficking fearing prosecution.

New Zealand decriminalized prostitution in 2003 passing the Prostitution Reform Act. One of the important evidence of benefit of the reforms was no increase in the number of people entering sex work and enforcement of laws against underage prostitution[ii].

  1. Improving Working Conditions of Women: Legalizing prostitution would improve the working conditions of commercial sex workers, primarily by way of:
    • Medical Facilities and reduction in STDs: Programmes could be implemented for medical facilities and STD control. As per a study conducted in Australia, prevalence of sexually transmitted sexual infections was 80 times greater in illegal street prostitutes as compared to their legal brothel counterparts[iii]. Legal commercial sex workers encourage condom usage and / or access screening services both of which reduce STDs.
    • Reduction in Violence: Legalized bordellos generally offer a safer working environment for commercial sex workers as compared to their illegal counterparts. Being legal, seeking police assistance is possible which reduces violent work environments[iv]. Legalization also increases public scrutiny of the bordellos thereby improving the working conditions and reducing violence.
  1. Tax Collection: Legalizing prostitution can covert the underground economy into a mainstream one. The bordellos can be taxed for revenue. It is estimated that prostitution in India generates about US$ 343 bn[v] on a yearly basis (~Rs. 21-lakh crores). This would amount to about US$ 145.3 bn of tax revenue (US$ 103 bn of Income Tax and US$ 42.4 bn of service tax) ie. Rs. 8,71,769 crores, higher than the fiscal deficit of India.
  1. Reduction in incidences of crimes against women: Empirical studies have shown that legalization of prostitution tends to reduces instances of crimes against women such as rapes. Linda M. Rio Reichmann in her article, Psychological and Sociological Research and the Decriminalization or Legalization of Prostitution, mentioned that a ‘A study conducted in Queensland show[ed] a 149% increase in the rate of rape when legal brothels were closed in 1959, while other offenses against the person by males increased only 49%.’ A similar result was found in a study for Rhode Island in the paper titled, Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health.
  1. Allows commercial sex workers to integrate into the society: Legalizing prostitution will allow commercial sex workers to integrate into the society and lead a dignified life. This will also improve their quality of living.
  1. Access to Capital: Legalizing prostitution will improve bordello organization and QoS. Access to capital would be possible by way of loans and public markets. Planet Platinum Limited (formerly known as The Daily Planet Limited) is a listed entity in Australia which owns the building leased to the bordello, The Daily Planet. The prospectus of the issue can be found here (contains nude images). Legalization would also lead to innovation as found in bordellos here.

Do feel free to comment on the article if you have any concerns with the same. Your concerns will be appropriately responded / updated.

———————-

[i] http://web-docs.stern.nyu.edu/old_web/economics/docs/workingpapers/2012/NEWLeePersson_HumanTraffickingandRegulatingProstitution.pdf

[ii] http://www.gaatw.org/publications/MovingBeyond_SupplyandDemand_GAATW2011.pdf , Page 44.

[iii] http://myweb.dal.ca/mgoodyea/files/Prostitution,%20public%20health,%20and%20human%20rights%20law%20Loff%20Lancet%202000%20356%201764.pdf

[iv] http://esplerp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Violence-and-Legalized-Brothel-Prostitution-in-Nevada.pdf

[v] http://globalmarch.org/images/Economic-Behind-Forced-Labour-Trafficking.pdf , pg. 21

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6 Responses to Benefits of Legalizing Prostitution

  1. The idea that it will reduce trafficking is not clear. If ‘legal’ prostitutes are too expensive, cheaper women will be trafficked. That is what is seen in Germany – having prostitution there since the 1920’s hasn’t prevented trafficking. In addition, when you have legal prostitution, it makes it more difficult to act on trafficking because law enforcement has to take extra efforts to be sure that what they are investigating is legal or illegal. By the time they decide, the traffickers have moved and are unavailable for arrest. Where it is illegal, the decision making is easier. The theories prostitutes like to put forth about preventing trafficking just aren’t seen in reality.

    “Legalizing prostitution will allow commercial sex workers to integrate into the society and lead a dignified life.” If you work an occupation that is not dignified, you won’t live a dignified life. Prostitutes like to say that they work in the world’s oldest ‘profession’. However, disdain for what they do has been around for as long as there has been prostitution and it won’t go away. What they fail to recognize is that over 40% of the population, i.e. women (and this low percentage takes into account the few women who don’t care whether their husbands have sex outside of marriage), don’t use their services, have no sympathy for them and don’t want them to be available to seduce their husbands. And, whenever there is any discussion about prostitution, it’s always involves prostitutes and men, and doesn’t get into how it impacts women. Prostitutes think they can excuse themselves from responsibility when they have sex with married men. That idea fits their business plan. However, there is no way they can exclude themselves from the situation – they actually create the circumstances. Not recognizing that will always leave them in a condition where they will not be viewed as ‘dignified’.

    • Burt Phoenix says:

      Georgefinnegan, you have raised interesting questions.

      1) Legalizing prostitution may not make it expensive. Criminalizing prostitution will reduce voluntary CSWs due to the risk of conviction. This reduction will typically put an upward pressure on price thereby incentivizing the traffickers. Therefore instead of reducing trafficking, criminalization could be counterproductive. Further, more people such as the CSWs and Johns would be open to report human trafficking and forced prostitution to authorities in case it is legalized without fearing action against themselves. You may want to refer to a report by Dutch Rapporteur – Does legalised prostitution generate more human trafficking? for a discussion on effects of legalizing prostitution and human trafficking.
      2) Legalizing prostitution would allow the CSWs to integrate into the society and lead a dignified life by way of a) registration of CSWs will allow government schemes for their benefits to be formulated and implemented b) Improvement in their working conditions, c) healthcare facilities to reach the CSWs, d) CSWs could be in a position to keep a higher share of their earnings, d) access to authorities for rescue in case of exploitation etc…

      • The problem is, you assume that economic conditions will be such that legal prostitutes will be cheaper than trafficked prostitutes. There is nothing that will guarantee that. You present one situation; I present another. If, in a specific area, there just aren’t many women interested in being a prostitute, then those who are legal will charge more money and cheaper, trafficked women will fill in. There are too many variables in the market – that’s why this argument shouldn’t be used. Markets can’t be predicted so easily.

        As for 2.) it takes tax dollars and allotment of labor to register prostitutes, develop benefit programs for them, see that they get tested for STDs, etc. Time and money has to be spent in writing the laws and implementing the programs. How long will the arguments, in a conservative run congress, take? How many tax dollars will have to be spent to just write the implementing regulations for something only 1 to 2% of the population regularly engages in and is unpopular, politically? All of this work has to be done up-front, before any taxes can be collected from prostitutes. Moreover, it still doesn’t mean that they will lead a ‘dignified way of life’. No matter where prostitution is legal, stigma is still attached to it. Government programs aren’t going to give them dignity, when the stigma won’t go away.

        The only viable argument for legalized prostitution is that doing so could make life safer for prostitutes. Even though I think all of the other supporting arguments are spurious blather meant to gain widespread support, I would go along with legalization of prostitution – especially if it were taken off the streets – so that they could be safe.

        • Burt Phoenix says:

          1) In the hypothetical area presented by you a) How is the current demand being serviced? b) Would there be increase of voluntary CSWs if its legalized? You will automatically derive a reply to your query once you answer these questions.
          2) We live in a ‘Welfare State’ where it’s the responsibility of the state to ensure minimal provisions for a good life for its citizens. Even if no tax dollars are being collected from CSWs, schemes for their upliftment ought to be implemented. How long will it take etc… are questions best left to the legislature, but once a decision for legalizing prostitution is made after extensive legislative debate, examining questions of morality etc ought not to form a part of debate again during formulation of government schemes.

  2. rinzu rajan says:

    I am happy to have discovered you blog. I write about gender issues, so its easy to connect with you thoughts.
    Keep up the good work!

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