The Hardship Chicken, or the Prostitution Egg

Here’s where the prostitution decriminalization narrative begins to unravel for me:

“We urge Rhode Island to go forward, not backwards, in the fight against human trafficking,” Andrea Ritchie, director of the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center in New York City, said. If Rhode Island wants to “eradicate prostitution,” she said, the way to do that is to address the underlying causes, which include sexual abuse, drug addiction and economic hardship. To make sex-for-money a crime, she said, would only hinder efforts to root out sex-trafficking by making victims less likely to come forward because they fear prosecution.

On first glance, the notable thing is the suggestion that addressing a concrete social blight like prostitution must follow resolution of endemic root causes that can never really be overcome — “sexual abuse, drug addiction, and economic hardship.” More fundamentally, though, one must wonder what it says about prostitution that it reliably follows those causes. An occupation that preys on sexually abused, drug addicted paupers has very little claim to the freedoms that ought to be granted to economic activity. A prostitution industry gives victims of such problems somewhere to capitalize on them, not to address them.
If the concern is that illegality traps victims, then sentencing guidelines should specify the targets. Making it illegal to profit from somebody else’s sale of sex, for example, would be targeted law. Warnings that victims will not “come forward,” however, often seem to be founded in an irrational fear of prosecution; that is, no matter the laws, advocates declare that the women won’t think that wholly. At any rate, jailing the pimp puts the victimized prostitute at economic risk.
Which really should tell us something about the, ahem, business model. It begins to feel as if we’re all pretending not to know that the whoring biz is inherently abusive, both to the women and to the society that permits it.

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