The research topic that I am delving into is prostitution, specifically I am looking into the reasons that prostitution is illegal and the case being made for decriminalization of prostitution in the United  States. To fully answer this question I need to look at the reasons for prostitution and the effects this profession has one one’s mental, physical and emotional health.  I am interested in this topic because in ,some ways, I feel that prostitution is misrepresented with movies like Pretty Women and even books like Belle De Jour and misunderstood by most people. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of polarization: glamorizing or completely demonizing  prostitution.


One article that I looked at for this topic was in the New York Times, “Runaway Teenager Slowly Reveals Tale of Horrors While Away”  in this article Michael Wilson interviews a seventeen year old girl, Joannie, who ran away from home and went to live with a man who she met on a messaging app. While she lived there with him he told her that she had to make money; that she had to prostitute. Joannie did not want to return to the home she had run away from and as she said, “I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t have any options.” She was prostituted through the website Backpage which is almost like craigslist, where you can find jobs, apartments and things to sell or buy. This website has been used often as a place to buy or sell sex, although this is supposedly against the website’s rules. This is an interesting article as it gives an example of an actual person’s reason for turning to prostitution: the feeling that she had no other place to go and then how she became trapped, with the man breaking her phone and threatening her with a gun. It is fodder for both supporters and opponents of the criminalization of prostitution because Joannie was both a victim of the man, Raymond Johnson, as well as the system. It can be argued that Joannie was seventeen years old and not of the age for consent so even if prostitution was legalized she would not have been able to participate. Many countries like France have laws in place to protect women from trafficking and being forced into position by making pimping, human trafficking and  brothels illegal. Which would make what Johnson did a crime even if Joannie was over eighteen, ( to prostitution can point to the feeling of desperation and helplessness that Joannie experienced as commonplace, and indicative that the solution to this precarious situation means not legalizing prositution but that we should do more to help women so they do not feel that they have no other option but to sell themselves.


Part of the push for the legalization of prostitution comes from the dangerous nature of the work. Prostitutes are more likely to be assaulted, a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that 82% had been attacked and 68% had been raped. It is important to note that 88% of the women wanted to leave prostitution but felt for many reasons that they were unable to. It can also be argued that making prostitution legal helps the workers stay healthy. The only place where prostitution is protected legally in the United States is in Nevada and the workers are tested weekly for gonorrhea, HIV,  other STDs and STIs by certified medical professionals. If the person if found to be positive,”the person shall immediately cease and desist from employment as a sex worker.” It is funny to note that the prostitutes are required to be tested weekly but the patrons do not have to be tested at all ( The prostitutes in Nevada are also required to use condoms, the clientele will be thrown out if they do not comply with this and other rules.  This helps the prostitutes insist on safe sex practices and enforce then knowing that there is security in case someone resists. The legalization of prostitution would also allow women to get help from the police if they are victims of a crime. It is also important to note that women prostitutes are more likely to be arrested that male prostitutes and all prostitutes are more likely to be arrested than johns or pimps, with those arrested for crimes associated with prostitution 70% women prostitutes, 20% male prostitutes and 10% johns. This means that the more than 200 million dollars the American taxpayers spend on arresting those involved in prostitution by a huge margin affects the prostitutes not the people paying for sex.  This is ironic because it is not a crime to have sex but it is to buy it. It also means that women are less likely to get out of prostitution as a criminal record makes it harder for them to get a good job and get out of prostitution (     

In some views prostitution is seen as a profession, and as such is deserving of the same protections that any other job would be. Some would argue that even forcing women to have health checks is a putative action, as it does not help protect prostitutes themselves but is another way for government to regulate a marginalized and rejected section of society. In this it is important to note that even the World Charter of Prostitutes Rights says that, “  All women and men should be educated to periodical health screening for sexually transmitted diseases. Since health checks have historically been used to control and stigmatize prostitutes, and since adult prostitutes are generally even more aware of sexual health than others, mandatory checks for prostitutes are unacceptable unless they are mandatory for all sexually active people.” There is a bit of a strange stance to take because there is an increased risk associated with prostitution, in regards to the contraction and spread of disease, due to the higher number of sexual partners.  Some surveys say prostitutes have an excess of sexual partners, with an average of 347 sexual partners a year, (  this is way more than the average number of sexual partners with an estimate of 9 for men and 4 for women. It is, however, important to take these numbers as an extremely rough estimate as often times people will lie about the number of sexual partners they have. The fact remains that on average prostitutes will have a higher risk factor of sexualy transmitted deisses and infections. The population of sex workers be they survival or monetary, trading for food, shelter, and basic necessities vs. monetary exchange, are more likely to have risk factors, obviously more sexual partners, but also higher instances of drug use and unprotected sex. Often times people who engage in sexual activity for money will insist on condoms, however prostitutes may receive more money for sex without a condom. Prostitutes will also be more likely to use condoms less often with regular clients and partners than with one-time clients. The unequal power structure in prostitution can make it hard to negotiate condom use.

The idea that prostitutes can significantly change the STD and STI rate of a population is, however with the information we have, unfounded. In one of the more complete scientific studies of Brazilian prostitution with 50,000 sexual encounters between 16,000 people found that the system did not facilitate sexually transmitted diseases and infections,especially HIV, due to the rather small viral loads and the tendency to use protection. It is also important to note that studies both show an increase and decrease of sexually transmitted diseases and infections so it is difficult to completely say one way or another how legalization or decriminalization would affect disease transmission. That being said, I agree more with the viewpoint that it would cut down on transmission like the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing says, “Most U.S. street prostitutes persuade their customers to use condoms, which reduce the risk of infection. In addition most sex acts performed by street prostitutes are oral rather than vaginal or anal. This also cuts the risk of infection. In some parts of the world, however, the situation is different. In South Africa, for example, women who work as street prostitutes are often particularly impoverished, and their clients are extremely reluctant to use condoms. Many men will pay more to have sex without protection, and women sex workers desperately need this additional money.”  (  It is important to look at the society to see how prostitution would fit and the effects it would have. Most American’s are extremely aware of the unintended consequences of having sexual intercorse, be that pregnancy or infection, and so I think that we would see a decrease of transmission if prostitution was legalized. If the prostitutes were able to legally work and bargain for prices fairly, it stands to reason, that they would make enough money that they would not accept a client not wearing a condom for just a little more money.

Street prostitution is a huge problem, not just for how dangerous it is for prostitutes themselves, but also for the neighborhoods they work. In the Gale opposing viewpoints it says, “ Though street prostitution accounts for only about 10 to 20 percent of all prostitution, its negative impact is disproportionately high. Residents and business owners in areas where street prostitution occurs complain that the practice makes their neighborhoods unpleasant, contributes to crime, and creates public health problems. Prostitutes who work in clients’ cars, for example, may not have access to toilet facilities and may urinate on the street or throw used condoms in the gutter. Prostitutes who are drug addicts may discard used needles and other paraphernalia in public areas.This is a point that most people do not consider when arguing about prostitution: that it affects not only the women and clients but also the communities at large. Women and men are understandably leery of turning to the streets to sell sex due to the danger they face and want safer sites like Backpage as Gale says, “ One woman named Maria, who sells sexual services to supplement her income as a hairdresser and an artist, said in an article for the Daily Beast, that is a safe way for her to work. “If Backpage and the many other adult services sites were to be removed as an option for [men and women like me],” she said, “I fear we will be forced to the streets, where the most abuse occurs.” Another woman, a single mother named Zoe, said in the same article that if were shut down, she would be at risk of being homeless: “I’ve never been a streetwalker, but to have to go to that as an option puts me at much greater risk of harm than having the control over who my clients are when I post on such sites.” However as we saw in the first article says sites like these can be a haven for sex trafficking and child prostitution. While it is important to allow men and women to stay off the streets it is also important that we do not just trade one bad situation for another.  

The debate continues to rage about the difference between sex trafficking and prostitution. To allow for even the argument of prostitution to be entertained there has to be an extremely clear difference between a woman or man sold into sexual slavery and forced to perform sexual activities against their will and someone who freely chooses this profession. The argument for prostitution only has validity if the person freely chooses to engage in sexual activity in exchange for monetary, material or other gain and the are also able to give consent. Sex trafficking and child prostitution are abhorrent practices that need to to be stopped and the perpetrators brought to justice. It is my hope that if we decriminalize the practice of prostitution and instead used the money to fight sex trafficking, child prostitution and other immoral crimes that we could do more good than we are currently doing. Sex work is a constant throughout history and location and despite people cries for the whole system to be abandoned it simply is not going to happen. It is quite a lucrative business as Simon Hedlin says, “Simply put, prostitution can be seen as a market: the demand side comprises individuals who purchase sex, while the supply side includes both voluntary prostitutes and sex-trafficking victims.“  In some ways I can see the argument that legalizing prostitution will lead to a decrease in sex trafficking,but there are people who argue that legalization actually leads to more sex trafficking. One of the strongest opponents to the legalization of prostitution is Melissa Farley.  I initially was drawn to her due the the extensive research she had done on the topic of prostitution and her bold claim that the legalization of prostitution led to an increase of sex trafficking, in the review of her study I found a surplus of ridiculous and biased claims. She makes the bold claim that men who buy sex a should be put in the same category as “rapists, paedophiles and other social undesirables”, which is an extremely strong statement that implies that the men who pay for sex even where it is legal deserve to be grouped with criminals. She also has major problems with her credibility in the studies she conducted. In one study she said that due to the decriminalization of prostitution in New Zealand there was a “200-400% increase in street-based sex workers, a 300% increase in illegal brothels”, but this is flawed because the studies done in New Zealand recently by Able, Fitzgerald and Brunton from the Department of Health and General Practice show that, “there has been little impact on the number of people entering the industry post-decriminalization”, ( Though the legalization of prostitution will not bring the the number of sex trafficking victims down to zero, due to the larger cut that pimps can take from women who are exploited, the illegal sex industry for child prostitutes and other reasons. It however, is not totally unreasonable to think that the legalization of prostitution will lead to a decrease of sex trafficking, allowing for the supply of sex to meet the demand in a legal way, though could empower women and men.     

In a system where position is illegal there is a disincentive for voluntary prostitution and not difference in the risk vs reward for sex traffickers, because selling someone into the sex industry remains illegal no matter the other laws of prostitution. I am, however, unsure of the system that could facilitate safe and profitable prostitution for the workers themselves, and not just the pimps and brothel owners.

Of the major 100 countries 49 have legalized prostitution, 39 have it as illegal and 12 have prostitution legalized but only in specific cases. In almost all of the countries the creation of brothels and the profession of pimping is illegal. This is due to the exploitative nature some of these practices, with someone taking the money form the prostitute and at some times the prostitutes are required to service anyone their pimp or madam wants. This is clearly way too close to exploitation and trafficking for it to be an acceptable practice. That being said, I think it is reasonable to have places where prostitutes can meet and have relations with their clients that is safe and clean. These places would need to charge to the prostitute for the space and security, but not interfere with the clients.        





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March 6, 2017 7:20 pm


Thank you so much for bringing such a human approach to such a difficult topic. I really look forward to reading more about this!!!

March 6, 2017 6:00 pm

I thought this was really interesting and I appreciated how both sides of the story were considered. I definitely agree that this is a very controversial topic and should be discussed more within society.

March 1, 2017 1:56 pm

I really appreciate this research topic and think you have done a really good job at examining all sides of the problem while remaining firm on your claim that prostitution should be decriminalized. I like how you show the polarizing viewpoints on prostitution because it is those extreme views that are making it very difficult to decriminalize prostitution. This is a topic that is not discussed enough but considering the harm that it causes to woman and men I think it should be brought to the table more.

February 28, 2017 10:44 pm

Thanks for your writing. I look forward to seeing what you write next, because you clearly showed the pros and cons of either the legalisation or decriminalization of prostitution, when more often than not, it is looked down upon or not even discussed at all. As well, it was very helpful for me when you further explained how this affects not just the prostitiute or the person paying for the prostitute’s services, but the community the prostitute is working in, as well as it being helpful how the society at large should contribute to the decision made about whether prostitution should be legalised or decriminalized.

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