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The only way to stop this trafficking in and profiting from the use of women's bodies is for prostitution to be legalized. Legalization will open it up to regulation; and regulation means safety. – Jeannette Angell, Callgirl.
According to a report from the London Metropolitan Police, Smith, a local sex worker, was robbed, sexually assaulted, and a blunt object inserted into her vagina on 3 April 1888. Her peritoneum ruptured, leading to the development of peritonitis. She died the next day at a London Hospital. Smith’s murder was one of a series of killings targeting prostitutes near Whitechapel. The police blamed one Jack the Ripper for these gruesome murders. Jack’s rule of thumb seemed simple: To murder, go for prostitutes; No one cares about them. He knew how to conduct his business, for he was never caught (London Metropolitan Police). As long as prostitution remains covert, Jack will never be caught. In fact, the 21st century has many Jack the Rippers riding on the illegal tag. Sex workers have a right to protection. To offer this protection, the government should legalize sex work now.
Reduce Harm to the Sex-worker
The government should legalize sex work in order to reduce harm to the sex worker. Legalization will enable the development and adaptation of laws governing the trade. Such laws will safeguard the fundamental rights of sex workers.
Brewer et al. note that killing and harming of sex workers has occurred since time immemorial. Psychopaths and other criminals have always found easy prey in sex workers. The covertness of sex work propagates these criminal activities.
If the government legalizes sex work, there may be adoption of measures to guard the life and dignity of sex workers. Such measures may involve specification of time, places, age, and fees among other things, which will ward off potential criminal activity. The governments should not continue to ignore the predicament of sex workers who are mostly innocent people seeking to earn a living. Just as Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts, every person should be guaranteed justice and protection, not condemnation to a lifetime of fear and disrespect. Furthermore, every citizen should be guaranteed his/ her fundamental rights, such as the right to free choice of employment.
Legalizing sex work will translate it into a safer society, as criminal activities involving the underworld of prostitution will be minimal. Sale of drugs, theft, pedophilia, and conspiracy in major criminal networks will significantly reduce by mainstreaming sex work. On the other hand, sex customers will shun from rape, sexual assault, and performing other dehumanizing acts to sex workers. Just as Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, and Kolata note, these actions will significantly reduce by legalizing sex work (37).
The community at large has at times discriminated against prostitutes through prejudice and malice. Instances of mob violence towards prostitutes are common especially in conservative societies. Legalizing sex work will save the society from these evils, as the practice will now be mainstreamed leading to the realization of the right to nondiscrimination and respect as envisaged in Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Working in the sex industry can reduce the harm caused by poverty. Poverty has resulted to escalating levels of crime in the society. Keire argues that legalizing sex work will offer an alternative means of employment to the poor and destitute (50). Sex work will enhance a safe society, as potential criminals will get an alternative source of income.
Reducing the Spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Legalizing sex work will reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The government may put in place mandatory healthcare regulations to be observed before one is certified as a sex worker. Such regulations may consist of screening for sexually transmitted and other contagious diseases. Sex customers may also be bound by government regulations to undergo screening or to use condoms before indulging in sex. This is not achievable if sex work is not legalized. Thus, legalization of sex work will allow for the adoption of stringent government healthcare regulations; this is critical in reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Besides, legalizing sex work can serve as an important source of revenue for the government. McCall estimates that over one million people in the United States of America have at one time worked as prostitutes (70). If the trade was legal, the government could impose a tax on both sex workers and their clients. This could earn the government billions in revenue each year, money that can improve the healthcare system of the citizenry, and thus, help fight sexual transmitted diseases. In addition, lending this money to poor countries could help fight HIV/AIDS and other sexual transmitted diseases.
The Democratic Freedom of Choice
Governments should endeavor to uplift the freedoms guaranteed by democracy. In a democracy, the freedom of choice is a major tenet. That is why, for example, gay rights continue to be accepted and safeguarded in many democracies in the world. This arises from the fact that every person has the freedom to do whatever he or she wants, provided it does not harm other people. Prostitution is no different here. Phoenix posits that as long as sex is done consensually (of course taking the question of age of consent in mind); no one has the right to stop it (17). The state does not possess the right to decide on the sex partner one should have, provided the age question is taken into account. One has the right to take a man/ woman out, buy dinner and drinks, and go on to have sex consensually. Why does it seem illegal when instead of the outing cash is exchanged upfront?
Many constitutions of democratic nations safeguard the right to choice. In addition, Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees all citizens the same right to choice. This is saying that a democratic society has no business debating the legality or illegality of prostitution. It should simply uphold the fundamental right of choice. It is also ironical that illegalizing prostitution has made the practice thrive even more.
Sending the Wrong Message to the Youth?
An argument has is that legalizing sex work sends the wrong messages to young people as their understanding of sexual matters will be undermined. Campbell says that young people will find it easy to indulge in sex without caring about the consequences (20). The basis of this argument is moral and is only valid in case of a lack of solution to it. We can counter argue that legalizing sex work will also come with strict regulations of the trade. This may involve restricting transactions of sex work to people aged under the age of 18 and above. Imposing strong penalties for those found breaking these rules would discourage other people from attempting to lure or indulge underage youth in sex work.
Castillo & Jenkins argues that legalizing sex work will undermine the marriage institution (34).
A quick rejoinder to this argument is acknowledging that sex workers do not have the right to force or request sex customers to do anything about their marriages. Just as Kotulski observes, the sex customer goes to the sex worker voluntarily, and the deal is sealed after payment and the services being rendered (25). No business concerning marriage and life is a part of the contract. In addition, the husbands/wives of sex customers will have a chance to confront sex workers and ask for explanations; sex work will no longer be a covert trade. This will make everybody feel secure. In fact, husbands and wives will desist from having long lasting affairs, as the services will be easily available. This has the advantage of improving marriages and decreasing the rates of divorces.
Spreading of Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
Campbell has claimed that legalizing sex work will increase transmission of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (21). This proposition may not hold water as adopting strict rules and regulations may ensure safety of all the parties involved. Potterat, Woodhouse, Muth & Muth suggests routine health screenings and compulsory use of condoms among other things to make sex work disease free (25). For example, testing kits may be availed in shops and brothels and people be asked to use them whenever indulging in sex work. Another approach would be establishing special clinics to offer guidance and counseling services to prostitutes and their clients. This as a whole will go a long way in reducing the spread HIV/AIDS and other sexual transmitted diseases.
The Way Forward
The world should change its attitude towards sex work. Stigmatizing and discriminating prostitutes is against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Constitution, and a majority of the tenets of democracy. Illegalizing prostitution has not helped stop sex work, but enabled it to thrive under miserable circumstances. Why should we condemn our brothers and sisters to a lifetime of fear and disrespect? Is the law illegalizing prostitution supported by rational facts, or is it guided by wanton ignorance? A society that is blind to the injustices done to some of its members is barbaric and not civilized. Let us choose civilization to barbarism. Let us legalize sex work.