Should Prostitution be decriminalized in the U.S?

ShouldProstitution be decriminalized in the U.S?

Prostitutionis considered the most ancient profession in history. It can bedefined as the business or act of engaging in sexual activities inexchange for payments or other favors. Prostitution is one of thelegal issues that has created a raging debate in the United States adiscussion that will continue in the lips of American citizens in theyears to come. The business of selling sex or prostitution remainsillegal in the United States. The debate of whether to legalizeprostitution is a controversial topic that breaks through the middleof American citizenry receiving positive and negative criticisms ofequal measure. Therefore, this paper will present a report andanalysis of the debate on why prostitution should or should not bedecriminalized in U.S. The paper will support the view thatprostitution not be decriminalized in the U.S.


Historianstrace the background of prostitution in the United States back to the18th century with the arrival of the early European settlers in NorthAmerica. However, during this period there were no Native Americanswho were willing to offer themselves for sex in exchange for money orother favors. Over time, the practice took root in the Americanculture flourishing to become a very attractive business. Despite itsgrowing popularity among the people, it did not auger well with thetemperance and religious groups in the United States. It forced thesegroups to start public campaigns against the practice arguing thatthey not only considered it immoral but also unethical by religiousand cultural standards. The spirited efforts of these groups finallybore fruits, and the trade was consequently abolished and outlawed.

Thishas remained the law in all the American States except Nevada, whichhas certain exceptions. Prostitution regulation does not fall withinthe jurisdiction of the federal government. According to the tenthamendment to the constitution, this mandate was passed down from thefederal government to state government. This amendment, therefore,sanctions the state governments with powers to allow, disallow orotherwise control commercial sex. However, this must be in line withthe interstate commercial laws as passed by the Congress. Today,Nevada is the only state that is exercising these powers by allowinglegal prostitution which is done within strictly regulated frameworksincluding designated and licensed brothels.

Firstperspective (argument for)

Everyonehas an opinion on the debate of whether to decriminalize prostitutionor not. According to Flowers (155), decriminalizing prostitutionmeans lifting or lessening the criminal charges in relation tocommercial sex while allowing for its regulation within theconstitutional frameworks. Several arguments have been advanced fordecriminalizing the business of prostitution in America. Thesearguments include the following. According to Fuchs oftheNewYork Times,“decriminalizing prostitution will reduce violence against women.”The reasoning behind this argument is the fact that women who are theprincipal participants in this trade are the most vulnerable andprone to violence from their customers (Dutting 15). Existing reportsindicate that about 80% of women have been attacked while working asprostitutes with a further 18% suffering rape and some even beingmurdered in the process (KorvinusET al. 87). However,in these cases, the victims have been reluctant to seek the help oflegal authorities including the police given that the business isillegal. By decriminalizing the trade, it will essentially mean thatthe business became legally binding and carried out in licensedbrothels. The brothel owners will also take it upon themselves toensure the security of their clients to market themselves as lawabiding and safe business havens. This will reduce if not eliminateviolence against women (Inter-Agency Standing Committee 6).

Firstperspective continued

Thesecond argument advanced by people advocating for thedecriminalization of prostitution is that it will make sex workershealthier. Given that this trade is illegal, commercial sex workersillegally operating in the streets might face undue pressure fromtheir clients to forego the use of protection. However, by legalizingprostitution, this will no longer be the case since the business willbe conducted within the parameters of the law in an organized settingwithout any undue pressure. Furthermore, the states that choose topermit sex trade can make it compulsory for the sex workers toregularly undertake tests for sexually transmitted diseases alongsidea requirement to use protection. For example, in Nevada, the policyframework for prostitution requires the prostitutes to undergo acompulsory monthly test for HIV and syphilis, as well as weekly testsfor both the gonorrhea and chlamydia diseases. In New York City, copsused condoms found on women as evidence to charge them with the crimeof prostitution. This makes it difficult for some women engaging inthe trade to carry with them protection. By legalizing commercialsex, all these fears will be catered for in the legislation and theexposure of women to sexually transmitted diseases effectivelycurtailed.

Thethird reason for pushing for the decriminalization of prostitution isthe argument that it is a victimless act. Prostitutes have fallenvictims of sex worker because they carry it out illegally. However,should there be legal framework regulating the business where womenoffer themselves out of their own volition? In this case,prostitution would be a victimless crime. They further reason that itmakes no sense arresting sex workers who are their own “victims”.According to Altink (8), prostitution should not be criminalizedsince it is intrinsically a harmless act. In as much as diseasespread in regards to sexually transmitted infections are almostinevitable in prostitution, and they are detrimental, illegalizingthe trade amounts to dealing with the elements of the problem asopposed to addressing the real problem. Legal prostitution can be asource of income and tax revenue to the state, argues another schoolof thought supporting decriminalization of prostitution. The New YorkTimes reports that the rural communities in Nevada where the brothelsare located receive a lot of revenue from the business. As it iscurrently practiced outside the law, they pay no taxes, but if thebusiness can be legalized, then the brothels can pay some taxes tothe state governments. The probe and investigations into the crimesof prostitution have proved to be very costly as it involvessophisticated rings of gangs. By legalizing the practice, the stateand the law enforcement agencies will save the resources channeled insuch probes and direct them to other gainful economic activities.This is another argument for decriminalizing the commercial sex work.


Theabove arguments that have been advanced by the support to legalizeprostitution are valid and can serve best to professionalize theindustry. The fundamental issues in the debate feature most on theindividual security of the people who out of their volition havechosen to trade in sex. Therefore, the debate should not be aboutdecriminalization, but the freedom to take part in the business. Thefreedom of choice is enshrined not only in the constitution but alsothe holy books. While it is important that the law protect such legalchoices, it does not make them ethical and acceptable in the society.It may be true that by legalizing prostitution, the women in thebusiness will be secured and protected, but the business has bothbuyers and sellers. Commercial sex workers must also receiveprotection just like other workers.


Incontrast, there are numerous arguments against decriminalizingprostitution with religious organizations being on the lead. Some ofthese arguments include the following. Decriminalization ofprostitution and the sex industry, in general, will increase sextrafficking. The argument here is that legalization of commercial sextrade provides avenues for sex trafficking in the pretext that it isillegal. Evidence gathered from countries that had lifted a ban oncriminal charges against prostitution like Netherlands indicates thatsuch a ban facilitated the offense of sex trafficking than neverbefore (DaleyA1).This is, therefore, a lesson that legalizing prostitution willincrease human trafficking for sex (Richard 12).

Thesecond argument against legalizing prostitution points to the factthat decriminalizing prostitution will do very little in controllingcommercial sex industry. The reason here is that decriminalizingprostitution will lead to the expansion of the industry, this willmake it tough to monitor the industry as has been the case in othercountries. For instance, there will be a high number of migrantsentering the country both legally and illegally to voluntarily workas sex workers. Aghatise (1129)argues that bylegalizing the business of prostitution, there will be a rise inother related illegal activities, such as an increase in the sale ofpornographic materials.

Secondperspective continued

Contraryto the arguments that prostitution will improve women’s health, thepeople against decriminalizing the trade argue that it will actuallydeteriorate women’s health. This counter-narrative claims that itwill extremely be difficult to implement such regulations as lawsrequiring women to use protective measures since the final decisionrests with them. Moreover, this legalized prostitution systems onlysanctions the said heath checks on the female participants and notthe male consumers. Carrying out health checks and examinations onwomen while ignoring men achieves nothing short of promoting therelated STIs at the expense of women.

Dothe women involved in the trade want it legalized? The answer is noargues the opponents of the legalization of the trade. There is noevidence that decriminalizing prostitution will make things betterfor the women involved in the practice. The counter-narrative is thatit is the government that will enjoy the benefits from the industrywhile exposing women to sexual exploitation as well as degradation.The move to legalize the trade will also promote child prostitution.Legalization of prostitution will also lead to a massive increase instreet prostitution with the kids desperate for quick cashmasquerading as adults to practice the trade (Altink7).


Thereare very convincing reasons based on available evidence thatlegalizing the business of prostitution might not necessarily solvethe challenges that women currently involved in the trade. Noevidence substantiates the arguments advanced in support of thedecriminalization of prostitution. Existing evidence available fromcountries, such as Netherlands, which at some point legalizedprostitution reveals that it did not solve the problems it wasintended to (Dutting15).


Inconclusion, the debate to decriminalize prostitution continues withtwo extreme ends pulling in opposite direction. It is true thatprostitution is here to stay, and as long as it exists, it willalways come with its share of challenges. Criminalizing prostitutionhas never solved these problems, and neither will decriminalize do.By decriminalizing prostitution, a number of illegal activities willbe legalized without knowing. For example, the overnight pimps willbe sanitized into ordinary and successful entrepreneurs. Prostitutionshould not be decriminalized as it will lead to more challenges thanit has created.


Altink,Sietske, StolenLives: Trading Women into Sex and Slavery. London:Scarlet Press, 1996. Print.

Aghatise,Esohe. Trafficking for Prostitution in Italy: Possible Effects ofGovernment Proposals for Legalization of Brothels in Italy. ViolenceAgainst Women,10.10 (2004):&nbsp1126-1155.

Daley,Suzanne. New Rights for Dutch Prostitutes, but No Gain.The NewYork Times,August 12, 2002: A1 and 4.

Dutting,Gisela. Legalized prostitution in the Netherlands – RecentDebates.Women’sGlobal Network for Reproductive Rights,3 (2000): 15-16.

Flowers,Ronald. TheProstitution of Women and Girls.London: McFarland, 1998. Print.

Fuchs,Erin. 7 Reasons Why America Should Legalize Prostitution. BusinessInsider,13 Nov. 2013. Web. 25 June 2016.

Inter-AgencyStanding Committee (IASC). Task Force on Protection from SexualExploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises. Planof Action. NewYork. June 13, 2002. Print.

Korvinus,Anna, National Rapporteur, Bureau ofthe Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings.Traffickingin Human Beings: First Report of the DutchNationalRapporteur.The Hague:BNRM,November 2002. Pdf.

Richard,Amy. InternationalTrafficking in Women to the United States: AContemporaryManifestation of Slavery and Organized Crime.DCI Exceptional Intelligence Analyst Program. Washington, DC: CentralIntelligence Agency, 1999. Print.