Prostitution's problem is not the U.S. Secret Service

The US Secret Service received attention last week after some of its members were involved in a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, where prostitution is legal.  The scandal reignites the question of whether or not to legalize the oldest profession

WEST PALM BEACH, Fl., April 20, 2012 -  Before President Obama’s trip to the Summit of the America’s in Cartagena, Colombia, Secret Service Agents engaged in a night of entertainment that included prostitutes. 

Secret Service Agents initially were quick to point out the prostitution is legal in Cartagena, and they did nothing wrong.

One question is certainly whether we want Agents with poor judgment protecting the leader of the free world.  But the second question is about prostitution. 

Is it ok if it is legal?  Is the fact that prostitution is illegal the only thing that makes it a problem?  If prostitution was legal, would all the ugliness fade away? 

Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. Since it has been in existence, society has struggled with how to deal with prostitution and the sex trade. 

The Argument for Legalization

One side supports legalization to control and regulate the sex trade, arguing that legalization reduces human trafficking, which unwilling participants into the trade through coercion or threats, and criminal activities associated with prostitution by reducing prostitution to a simple business transaction between consenting adults. Advocates point to Amsterdam as a bastion of clean, safe sex, where the government monitors sex workers and even collects revenue on their actions. What could be better 

Why the Legalization Argument is Wrong

The other side says that legalization not only fails to stop criminal activities currently associated with prostitution, but creates an environment where they can flourish.  Additionally, prostitution is not a simple commercial matter, but one in which the seller places herself or himself in physical danger each time he or she accepts a client.  

The truth is that prostitution is not Julie Roberts in “Pretty Woman.” It’s ugly, brutal, sad and dangerous. It is not a light business deal where one person needs some extra cash so she decides to sell her body for a few hours to a nice customer who treats her well, and then she goes on her way to the grocery store. 

If you have ever seen prostitution up close, you know it is not pretty.  Not at all. 

People become prostitutes as a last resort. It places them in danger every day, is traumatic, and forces them to engage in unwanted sex many times throughout the day. No one grows up hoping to become a prostitute, and no parents secretly pray that their sons or daughters will pass middle school so they can hit the streets and sell their bodies. 

The overwhelming number of prostitutes are poor, addicted to drugs, and have suffered from sexual abuse as children, often entering the sex trade after running away from an abuser at home. A 2011 study of prostitution in five countries found that 76% of women become prostitutes before the age of 18, and the average age to start prostitution is 13.5 years old. The same study found that 92% of prostitutes surveyed wanted to leave the sex trade immediately if they could find an alternative. Counselors at facilities that help former prostitutes believe the number of prostitutes abused as children is close to 100%.

Legalized Prostitution Does Not Eliminate Child Trafficking

The idea that legalizing prostitution eliminates illegal trafficking and prostituting minors is factually wrong.  Authorities in every jurisdiction where prostitution is legal or decriminalized, including Amsterdam, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and the Czech Republic, report that the number of people forced into prostitution and the number of child prostitutes increased after legalization.

In Amsterdam, after prostitution was legalized, child prostitution increased 300%. Legalization provides a veil of acceptability to prostitution, making it easier for pimps and traffickers to operate. They will meet demand, whether it is for underage children or certain ethnic populations, regardless of the law.  

Prostitution is not a regular job. It is an occupation where a person puts herself at constant risk. It also carries a stigma, even in countries where prostitution is legal. In Germany, where prostitution is legal, the trade union ver.di expanded membership to include sex workers.  his would give the workers health care, legal aid, paid holidays and a five-day work week. Of the estimated 400,000 sex workers, only 100 joined the union. Follow-up studies found that prostitutes were “too humiliated” to admit they were sex workers. 

A Career of Violence

Violence is a major part the daily life of a sex worker. More than 62% of prostitutes in countries where it is legal reported being raped, and 73% had experienced physical violence.  Violence includes assault – being slapped, punched and kicked – beatings with instruments, threatened with weapons, strangulation, kidnappings, being forced to provide oral sex, rape, and forcible anal sex. Sex workers who work indoors report coercion from pimps and brothel owners to meet the needs of clients.  This includes forcing prostitutes to have sex without using condoms, having sex with more men in a day than women on the street, and having sex with brothel owners or friends.    

Lynn and Rick Fred, the parents of a young woman who was a prostitute in Canada and who was murdered by a customer, strongly oppose legalizing prostitution. They point out, “To think the best we can do for these women is giving them a safe place to sell their bodies is a joke. There is no such thing as a “clean safe place” to be abused in. For a man to think he can buy a woman’s body is insane and should show us the attitudes that women have to fight against in society.  Marnie did not choose prostitution; her addictions did, and any man who bought her body for their sexual pleasure should go to jail for exploiting her desperation.”

Even high price call girls don’t run out the door in the morning, condoms in hand, eager to start their day as a prostitute.  Karen, an expensive call-girl in the UK, became involved in prostitution after she lost her job, was bullied in the workplace, and found she had MS which made other work difficult.  She also had been sexually assaulted when she was in her 20s. She says 2/3 of prostitutes  she knows have faced violence, and the worst part of being a prostitute is the complete lack of control over the situation. You have no power.  She says her clients are “creepy,” and that prostitutes “don’t have clients they like having sex with.”  She says prostitution is damaging and dangerous, and she would get out if she had any other choices. 

Prostitution makes people commodities, bought and sold for the pleasure of another, at an incredibly high price for the victim. 

Legalizing prostitution does not put an end to child prostitution or forced trafficking or violence.  It allows all three to thrive, with authorities turning a blind eye because legalization makes the sex trade acceptable. 

Legalizing Prostitution Exacerbates the Problem

The only proven way to stop prostitution is to criminalize the demand. In Sweden, where it is a crime to buy sex services, there is a very small problem with prostitution. In Stockholm, a city of close to 900,000 people, there are fewer than 130 active prostitutes. Less than 500 foreign women are trafficked into Sweden annually to participate in the sex trade. That compares to 5,000 active prostitutes in Oslo, and more than 15,000 foreigners trafficked into Finland each year.

Legalizing prostitution does not regulate or control the sex trade. It does not eliminate forced trafficking or child prostitution or un-registered businesses. It does not make prostitution pretty or fun. 

The sex trade is a violent industry that puts workers – the true victims – in constant danger, and legalizing prostitution only puts the most marginalized, youngest and weakest parts of our population even more at risk.

Why would anyone say that is a good thing?


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Lisa M. Ruth

Lisa M. Ruth started her career at the CIA, where she won several distinguished awards for her service and analysis.  After leaving the government, she joined a private intelligence firm in South Florida as President, where she oversaw all research, analysis and reporting.

Lisa joined CDN as a journalist in 2009 and writes extensively on intelligence, world affairs, and breaking news. She also provides investigative reporting and news analysis. Lisa continues to write both for her own columns and as a guest writer on a wide variety of subjects, and is now Executive Editor for CDN and edits the Global, Family and Health sections.  She is also a regular contributor to Newsmax and other publications.

Contact Lisa M. Ruth

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