Some argue that legalizing prostitution would be society’s betrayal of women. They may say it threatens the safety of young women, that it exploits those who financially have no choice but to sell their bodies to make a living or that prostitution is inherently sexual harassment. But many overlook the fact that the stigma, shame and criminalization that shrouds the sex industry is the very reason that all of these assumptions are a problem. If prostitution were to be legalized and normalized, it would make it exponentially more safe to be a prostitute, help prostitutes actually make a living wage and make it possible to regulate the constant sexual harassment that occurs in the industry.
It is true that prostitution is currently a very unsafe business: only 17.7% of brothel workers report never having been affected by sexually transmitted diseases. This is mainly because the industry is not regulated; prostitutes are not required to wear a condom and 78% say that wearing one will make a customer more likely to pay less. But what many overlook is that the only reason there are so few rules on what can and cannot happen during these exchanges is that it is not protected by the law. Studies show that legalizing prostitution could actually reduce HIV in sex workers by up to 46 percent. It would give the U.S. a chance to control the industry and make sure that businesses follow a set of rules designed to keep prostitutes safe from STIs and the violations that they face on a day to day basis.
Legalizing prostitution is the first step towards fixing the overwhelming issue of sexual harassment and assault in the industry. 1 in 5 of sexual assault reports filed in U.S. emergency rooms came from sex workers and many studies have shown that the stigma around their business only increases the violence against them. Prostitutes have been known to be arrested after they report their own rape and so it is no wonder that many are too afraid to come forward after their trauma. But decriminalizing sex work may help prostitutes feel valued; as if the agonizing experience they have suffered is legitimate and their pain is valid.
As we have seen time and again, the first step towards fixing our culture problem around sexual violence is to talk about it. And the first step towards solving this issue in the sex industry is to stop making people feel as if they are fundamentally in the wrong because someone else raped them.
The main reason why society wants to keep prostitution illegal is that they think it is an unattractive, vulgar job to have. They believe that the very notion that the government could have a hand in the sex industry inherently objectifies people. But the only reason that we see prostitution as so horrendous and appalling is that the law tells us that we should think it is immoral.
Women are already seen as objects. And that is entirely the patriarchy’s fault, not the sex industry’s. It’s time to stop objectifying these citizens and start constructing a society where it is not only legal to be a prostitute, but socially acceptable.