Should Sex Work Be Legalized?

Illustration by Juho Choi

Legalize Sex Work 

By Anika Talia-Griffiths 

We’ve all bought something at some point in our lives. Whether we pay to get our teeth cleaned, buy a ticket for a concert or tip a valet, we depend on the service industry for convenience, help and entertainment. Many of us have also sold a service at one time by offering our skills or labor for money. Yet, some people are angered that sex is bought and sold in the same manner.

Some men and women chose to do sex work because they enjoy it and see it as a meaningful and legitimate line of work. Psychology Today explains how sex work has grown into a broader field that is also becoming less stigmatized. Many sex workers find themselves in the industry because it is an easy way to make money when it becomes difficult to find another job. In both cases, there are people who have a service to offer — sexual gratification through various methods — and there are people who want to purchase. Why is this specific form of service criminalized when it is done between consenting adults?

Of course, many fear legalizing sex work because of the forms that aren’t consensual. They argue that legalizing sex work would permit more sex trafficking, particularly with underage girls. Sex trafficking is definitely an issue that still needs to be fixed and should have the attention of law enforcement. However, sex trafficking and sex work involving minors should not to be confused with legal adults who are willing to engage in sexual services.

Legalizing sex work stops the criminalization of people who are simply trying to make a living, and protects consenting sex workers from harm. It is important to note that many sex workers, especially those who are women, are abused by their clients. According to the Huffington Post, 45 to 75% of sex workers have experienced sexual violence in their careers. Whenever this happens, women are not able to report it for fear of putting themselves at risk since their work is illegal.

 This was the case for Laya Monarez, a former sex worker in D.C who was stabbed by a client after he refused to pay her. If sex work is legalized, it would become as legitimate as any other line of work, and clients who assault workers can be appropriately punished by law. This would ensure the safety of sex workers while on the job. In the interview, Monarez also pointed out another benefit.

“If sex work is decriminalized, workers will also feel more comfortable reporting minors and other victims of trafficking to police,” Monarez said.

Legalizing sex work can also make the experience of buying and selling sex less taboo. All kinds of service are legally regulated — so should brothels. Regulations will create safe working conditions, establish healthcare benefits and provide avenues to report abuse in the workplace.

Sex work has been discussed more in the political realm recently because of bill being passed by President Trump. The bill, known as FOSTA-SESTA, is meant to curb the trafficking of young girls by allowing website owners to be prosecuted if they allow sex workers to advertise through them. This bill will no doubt harm adult sex workers. For one, it makes it more difficult for legal and consenting adults to conduct business safely. The bill also removes the ability for sex workers to screen customers. Since sex work is illegal, it is difficult for workers to determine if potential clients are dangerous. Legalizing sex work creates a platform to ensure proper safety measures for all adults within the industry.

Legalizing Sex Work Doesn't Solve the Problem

By Shay McHale

Sex work has always been a touchy subject. The idea of someone “selling their body” seems dehumanizing and objectifying.  Even for those who join the industry willingly, the ability to perform such work in a safe environment is limited. As a whole, the sex work industry is a dark entity that is unpredictable and lacks the regulation that most service jobs have. Naturally, this raises the questions: Do we legalize sex work? Can it be regulated? What does the industry need? However, legalization is not the right way to go.

The idea behind legalizing practices is that you can eliminate connected illegal activities, like violence connected to the drug trade. This concept is not necessarily unfounded, but it is often not proven in practice. For example, just four years ago Amsterdam closed down its famed “red light district” which was home to much of the legal prostitution in the country, due to the high concentration of organized crime in the area.

Another issue with legalization is the commercialization and consequential explosion in popularity in many of these areas where sex work is completely legalized. In Germany, it is estimated that 400,000 women service 1 million men a day. The industry has become extremely popular, and with that comes other risks. Running brothels, even upscale ones, can leave some women stuck in undesirable situations. With legalization, these women can be even further trapped within lengthy contracts.

Another option, which has been explored to some success in Sweden, is to legalize prostitution, but make it illegal to buy services from prostitutes. This allows the workers to get away without being persecuted for their jobs, but has still cut down severely on the market for prostitution. The argument is made that this helps the workers because rather than being arrested, they can get “help” in ways like education or housing or other forms of economic and psychological assistance.

Whether sex work is legalized or not the stereotype that sex workers are poor, uneducated and may be in the need of therapy will continue to stigmatize the industry. The main issue with sex work is that it is seen as a “lower” form of work, which stems from the criminalization but also public perceptions of the practice. While it would certainly be more humorous to call it “alternative massage therapy,” prostitution is workers using their sexual skills to service customers. It is not inherently dirty, it is not fundamentally immoral, and it is not a profession only for those with no other option yet the general public sees it that way.

The legalization of sex work as a whole ends up as more of a means to an end, rather than an end itself, to the stigma surrounding the industry. Even so, it does not serve as an effective way to stop crimes related to it, nor does it more easily protect the workers involved. Regulation would certainly be a step in the right direction in an ideal world, but we do not live in one. As it stands today, the legalization of sex work would only further harm those involved and would sacrifice freedom for more exploitation.