Should Prostitution Be De-Criminalized in the U.S? Free Essay with the Answer

Published: 2017-09-13
Should Prostitution Be De-Criminalized in the U.S? Free Essay with the Answer
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  United States Society Policy analysis
Pages: 10
Wordcount: 2544 words
22 min read


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Prostitution, also known as hooking or commercial sex is one of the most controversial topics in the American society today. It is the practice of engaging in sexual relations for some form of benefit or financial payments (Vandepitte 28). Prostitution is one of the biggest commercial activities within the broader sex industry. The controversy on prostitution mainly results from the differences in attitudes towards the practice among different people. In the US, attitudes on prostitution have traditionally been influenced by Judeo-Christian religious beliefs, which argue that commercial sex is immoral (Ringdal 23). This is usually based on the religious beliefs that ones body is the body of the Holy Spirit and that sex is a sacred practice meant to be done in marriage for purposes of procreation. However, due to growing global trends, there have been significant changes towards the attitudes that people have regarding prostitution in America. There is a growing support for self-determination, which is a philosophy that grants freedom to each person t lives their life as they desire (Widom and Kuhns 74). Nevertheless, the debate on prostitution mainly focuses on whether the practice should be legalized or criminalized. This in itself is a polarizing discussion, with different people holding different views on the matter. Some people consider prostitution to be a moral question; hence, no need for regulation (Ringdal 25). The government has no business in regulating the morality of individuals. On the other hand, the socio-economic impact that prostitution is so rampant that some people feel that it should be regulated. Nonetheless, Prostitution is still criminalized in majority of the states in the US. However, there is growing pressure from human rights activists and sex workers movements calling for decriminalization of the practice. This leaves the legal status of prostitution in the US in a balance while many other leading developed countries have legalized prostitution in their jurisdiction. Prostitution should be decriminalized because it will help in the efficient management of the industry, which is mushrooming dangerously in the underground under the control of cartels.

Decriminalization of prostitution refers to the process of removing or doing away with certain aspects of the criminal law that are related to the functioning of prostitution or the sex industry in general (Ringdal 17). Thus, the consequence of decriminalizing prostitution will be the fact that consensual sexual activity between adults will never be viewed as a crime. Therefore, decriminalization can be regarded as a significant step towards full legalization of prostitution. When the practice is decriminalized, the prostitutes will be required to obtain permits and pay taxes, just like any other business, failure to which they will face penalties. However, decriminalization does not imply legalization of commercial sex or prostitution. It only instructs the law enforcement officers to give a low priority to commercial sex offences than they do in a criminalized setting (Ringdal 33). The main objective of decriminalizing prostitution is to create a framework where the government and other agencies can use the available laws and structures to promote the health and safety of the prostitutes. Those advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution usually base their arguments on the fact that there are currently many labor laws other anti-discrimination laws in the country that promote the human rights of prostitutes.


The practice of prostitution is as old as human history. For example, there is historical evidence showing the rampant nature of prostitution I the Ancient Near East, especially around the Tigris River System, which had many brothels dedicated for prostitution (Jenness 42). There were also prostitution temples dedicated to various deities in the Ancient Greek culture. in Ancient Greece, both men and women were allowed to participate in prostitution. Moreover, in ancient Rome, prostitution was widely accepted and seen as normal. It was a widespread practice that was in some instances done in public. However, between the 16th and 17th centuries, attitudes on prostitution in Europe began to change, especially with the outbreak of Syphilis in Naples, Italy and the prevalence of many other sexually transmitted ailments in the 16th century (Jenness 47). Prostitutes also became associated with plague, leading to most people to shun form prostitution and many prostitutes practicing their business in private or in secrecy.

In the US, Prostitution was widely considered a legal practice before the 20th century. Most of the states began criminalizing prostitution between 1910 and 1915, mostly due to growing pressure from the Womans Christian Temperance Union organization. In the 1980s, most states in the US hardened their stance of prostitution by introducing harsh penalties for those involved, especially in instances where a prostitute is knowingly HIV positive. The penalties for felony prostitution vary between 10 and 15 years in prison (Jenness 71).

Since the current legal status of prostitution is criminal in the US, it is extremely difficult to gather actual statistics on the numbers of commercial sex workers. This is because most of those involved in the business operate underground to hide from the law enforcement authorities. Nevertheless, it is estimated that the number of commercial sex workers in the US is between 350, 000 and 1 million (Vandepitte 52). It is also estimated that prostitution is a multibillion business generating about 100 billion annually worldwide. Prostitution can occur in brothels as escort prostitution. Brothels ate establishments set aside specifically for conducting prostitution. On the other hand escort prostitution takes place at a hotel room or in a clients residence.

The prostitutes come from diverse backgrounds are from different races and ethnicities. There are those who come from impoverished or marginalized environments such as the homeless, poorly educated, sexually abused, and drug addicts. Conversely, some individuals are forced into prostitution through trafficking (Erickson et al, nd). Huge numbers of both men and women are trafficked annually for purposes of sexual exploitation. Nevertheless, there are also numerous prostitutes who choose to become prostitutes on their own volition. There are also different motivations for people joining in the field of prostitution including flexible working hours, high earnings, and in some instances a genuine passion for the job.


The first perspective in the discussion of decriminalization of prostitution in the US is the arguments in support of decriminalization. Those who support decriminalization of prostitution have put forward a string of arguments that all aim at creating a safe and healthy working environment for the prostitutes to conduct their business. For example, it is argued that decriminalization will help reduce violence against prostitutes in the US. This argument is based on a recent study conducted in San Francisco, which indicated that about 82% of the commercial sex workers in the area had been assaulted (Farley 33). Furthermore, another 68% had been raped while going about their business in the sex industry (Farley 33). In addition, a similar study in Colorado found out that female prostitutes are about 18 times more likely to be victims of murder as compared to women who are not prostitutes in the same demographic (Farley 35). These studies implies that while prostitutes are victimized more often as compared to non-prostitutes, hey are more reluctant to seek help from authorities due to the criminal nature of their business. Therefore, decriminalization is seen as an avenue for opening up communication between the police and the prostitutes with the objective of protecting the commercial sex workers from abuse or victimization. Decriminalization will allow prostitutes to report instances of victimization and other crimes related to their business without the fear of being detained or charged with prostitution.

Decriminalization of prostitution is also considered to be a good move in the fight against human trafficking. Most of the women and men who are trafficked are transported to other places for purposes of sexual exploitation. They are coerced into prostitution by their captors and are warned against revealing the information to law enforcement agencies. Decriminalization will help create a good rapport between the investigation agencies in human trafficking cases and the prostitutes (Farley 62). This will allow for a free flow of intelligence from the prostitutes themselves, who will be willing to come forwards and speak to the investigators and provide evidence of human trafficking. This will be a significant step towards cubing human trafficking. This will law enforcement agencies save a lot of resources that are being spent in the fight against human trafficking with little success.

Furthermore, prostitution is a costly crime in the US. States are spending millions of dollars on fighting prostitution in their jurisdictions, sums of money which would otherwise be put to other good use. For example, the state of Texas spent about 8million dollars in 2011 on prison expenses that are related to prostitution. Therefore, while decriminalization will not do away with these expenses, it will be a good move towards reducing the expenses that are being spend on prostitution, which will be channeled towards fighting other crimes or improving the social welfare of the communities.


The arguments raised in the perspective supporting decriminalization of prostitution seem to be valid and sound. I concur with this perspective because it will help bring about sanity in the sex industry. For a long time in the US, the sex industry has been mushrooming in the underground despite the criminal nature of most of commercial sex activities. The government and its agencies seem to be in denial that practices such as position; sex tourism, human trafficking, and pornography among others are vibrant ion the country. Besides, the prostitutes exist only because there is demand for their services (Davidson 18). Therefore, it is not right to criminalize the business from one end, by targeting the prostitutes at the expense of their clients. Most of those charged with prostitution are the prostitutes themselves, while their clients are usually set free.

Therefore, based on the arguments raised above, I believe that decriminalization of prostitution will help bring sanity in the sex industry. Prostitution will become a trade like any other that will be subjected to common business regulations such as taxation and licensing. This will help the government generate income form the multibillion dollar industry that is currently benefiting the cartels involved. Furthermore, decriminalization will ensure that the prostitutes have their rights respected and protected by the law, which will prevent instances of victimization (Ayalew, and Berhane 56). Finally, decriminalization will allow many other players in the industry such as commercial sex workers movements to create forums for educating their members on the health and safety measures to take in their business, which will make it safer for them. These advantages are impossible to attain in an environment where prostitution is criminalized.


On the other hand, the arguments against decriminalization of prostitution view the practice as being central to major criminal operations in the country. There is strong evidence showing a close connection between prostitution and other forms of organized crime such as human trafficking, murder, and exploitation. According to Davidson, (24) criminal gangs use prostitution as one of their income generating activities to fund their other crimes. Therefore, decriminalizing the practice will also be one way of allowing these criminal gangs to expand their operations. Decriminalization will give more power to pimps and other cartel leaders who will take advantage of the legal loopholes to recruit more people in the business for their own benefit.

Decriminalization of prostitution is also likely to have a negative social and cultural consequence. By creating room for prostitution to flourish, the government will be indicating that it is moral to engage in prostitution. This is about to create a negative sociocultural image in a country where a majority of the populations are either Christians or Muslims. These Judeo-Christian religions teach that prostitution is immoral and socially unacceptable (Ayalew, and Berhane 56). Therefore, by allowing the practice to grow there is likely to be social unrest amidst a backlash from the religious people.


In as much as the arguments against decriminalization seem to make sense, I do not agree with the perspective against decriminalizing commercial sex work. I feel that the arguments for decriminalization far outweigh those against. For example, the argument that most of the people in the US are religious and that decriminalizing prostitution will result in social unrest due to this is untenable (Edlund & Korn, nd). The US is a secular state that distinguishes itself from religious matters. Therefore, decriminalization of prostitution is mainly a state affair that has nothing to do with the religious beliefs of individuals. Further ore, by decriminalizing prostitution, the government will not coerce people to quite their religious beliefs, but rather, it will be admitting that there are people who hold different opinions on one subject matter, and that each of them must be heard by the state.


Conclusively, prostitution is a very controversial topic in the contemporary American and global society. The main debate on commercial sex work today revolves around the need to decriminalize the practice. This has elicited many different opinions from different people, yielding two main perspectives for those against and those in support of decriminalization. The main argument for decriminalization is the fact that it will make it easier and safer for prostitutes to engage in their business in a more structured and respectful way. The government and other agencies will be at hand to help the prostitutes by protecting their rights and educating them on how to engage in their business, issuing them with licenses and collecting taxes from their proceeds. This will help create structures in the sex industry that will help the government collect legitimate revenue from legitimate registered prostituted. Furthermore, decriminalizing prostitution will also make it easier for the law enforcement agencies to fight organized crimes such as human trafficking and drug peddling. Prostitution acts as the main form of revenue generation for gangs; thus by decriminalizing, the prostitutes will be free to interact with the police without the fear of being victimized by gangs. On the other hand, those against decriminalization argue form the perspective of religious and moral dimensions by pointing out that decriminalizing the practice will result in negative sociocultural consequences. Nevertheless, on the balance of arguments from both perspectives, I believe that prostitution should be decriminalized to help in the efficient management of the industry, which is mushrooming dangerously in the underground under the control of cartels.

Works Cited

Ayalew,T. and Berhane, Y. Child prostitution: Magnitude and related problems. Ethiopian Medical Journal. Europe PMC, 2000. Print.

Davidson, Julia Oconnell. The rights and wrongs of prostitution. Hypatia, 2002. Print.

Edlund, Lena, and Korn, Evelyn. A theory of prostitution. Journal of Political Economy, 2002. Web.

Erickson, Patricia G, Butters, Jennifer, Butters, and McGillycuddy, Patti. Crack and prostitution: Gender, myths, and experiences. Journal of Drug Issues, 2000, Web.

Farley, Kelly. Prostitution: A critical review of the medical and social sciences literature. Women and Criminal Justice, 2000. Print.

Jenness, Valerie. From sex as sin to sex as work: COYOTE and the reorganization of prostitution as a social problem. Social Problems,1990. Print.

Ringdal, Nils Johan. Love for Sale: A world history of prostitution. New York. Grove Press, 2004. Print.

Vandepitte, J. Lyerla, R. Dallabetta, G. Crabbe, F. Alary, M. and Buve, A. Estimates of the number of female sex workers in different regions of the world. British Medical Journal, Jun 2006. Print.

Widom, C. S. and Kuhns, J. B. Childhood victimization and subsequent risk for promiscuity, prostitution, and teenage pregnancy: A prospective study. American Journal of Public Health. November 1996. Print.

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