The Nature of the Prostitution Business

The other afternoon, Dan Yorke was discussing, on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO, the human trafficking side of Rhode Island’s legal prostitution business, and several callers put forward the argument maintaining the occupation’s legality in Rhode Island prevents a slide down the slippery slope of interference in our bedrooms. The obvious response that came to mind was that the slope seems otherwise no better preserved in Rhode Island than in the 48 states that explicitly outlaw whore-biz.
Until I’d read a recent story about an intervention program in Chicago to help women escape that life, a larger point lingered just beyond the edge of articulation. Here’s the key statement:

Over the years, the department has discovered, more than 40 percent of the women in the jail have worked as prostitutes at some point in their lives. Prostitution was not a choice but rather a consequence of all the other failures in their lives, the staff says.

Selling sex, in other words, is an industry that tends toward depravity and abuse. It draws in and destroys the vulnerable.
What the ratio might be of such women to those who take up the trade as an economic calculation — the old “put myself through college” claim — I won’t hazard to guess. As a matter of morality, I’d suggest that all who perform such acts are behaving immorally, but our pluralistic society ought at least to be sufficiently confident to declare it illegal to profit directly from this particular moral failing in our fellow human beings.

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14 years ago

Even though I’ve never contracted such services myself, I have no problem with the way the RI law is constructed. I don’t want streetwalkers on any street in any city, but if someone wants to advertise their services on Craigslist or in the Phoenix, good for them. In that industry, everyone has something of value, why not let them capitalise on it? Otherwise, should we outlaw bar ownership to a recovering alcoholic? Background check anyone getting a liquor license and prevent anyone who’s had any alcohol related offense or been to an AA meeting?
As for the human smuggling and trafficking, maybe the one change to the law can be that all workers need to be licensed and checked for legal status. Each worker is privately and individually interviewed and given a health screening periodically and given a brief counseling. Give them the opportunity to “exit” right there and then. Yeah, maybe that means no one will go in for the licensing, so maybe there is a good way to work with them to keep it all clean and above-board.

Justin Katz
14 years ago

And what would that proffered “exit” entail, Patrick? When the article says that “prostitution was not a choice,” it means that the women perceived that they had no other options. Shall we force them all into rehab? Pay for college and a few years of living? Or do we close off leeches’ lure of helping them to sell their bodies in the first place?
I always see red flags when the small-government, big liberty impulse begins requiring intimate registration and bureaucratic interviews and judgment. As often seems to be the case when it comes to carving out room for sexual license, the loss of deeper liberties receives its stamp of approval with hardly a thought.

14 years ago

Justin, the context of the “exit” was for those who are smuggled to the US and enslaved in the industry. The “exit” could entail a quiet walk out the back door and the ability to get back home, wherever that is.
I’m for small gov’t too, but I do understand that one thing that society’s job is to do is to protect those who can’t protect themselves. Young girls grabbed off the streets of Beijing and sent to the US to work need to be protected. The “Ivy League Stripper” getting paid to do what many other college kids do for free is on her own.

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