The Sex Trade

Well–meaning friends from all flavors of the political spectrum have advised me to not talk about drugs or prostitution even though most agree that the current approach is a failure. They usually say something like this: “I agree with you but you will lose if you talk about it. People are not ready to have this discussion.”

This explains why our leaders leave these and other issues to fester and become much bigger problems than they need be. In the present climate our legislators will veto any legislation that seeks to end sex and drug prohibition, but the dialogue has to begin. We know the status quo is bankrupt. If someone else has a better plan than what is proposed here, I have not heard it.

The other suggestion I often hear is: “Wait until after you are elected to bring this up.” Politicians who are willing to deceive the public want to get elected more than they want to do the right thing. I suspect this happens a lot. An idealistic person with all the right reasons decides to run for office, and then discovers he has to lie to get into office. He thinks, “I'll fight for what's right when I get in,” He has already comprised his principles to get into office so it is easy to continue the deception later. After a while the position of power allows rationalization to creep him. “Now that I'm older and wiser I see that the status quo is not so bad after all. I'm here to serve, not to challenge what others think.” Evil and banality fill the void. It is an old story and it is why people do not trust politicians.

I am putting forth my ideas without reservation to be tested in the fire of public discourse. My arguments are clearly spelled out and referenced on my websites and books. I have the freedom to say what I think is right and the obligation to accept rational arguments that show when I am wrong. By doing this, I hope to inoculate myself against becoming like other politicians.

In the early days of the Garden District I had the opportunity to observe the illegal sex trade up close – perhaps a little too close. I had to clean up old mattresses, condoms, and drug paraphernalia from the abandoned houses I bought. I also observed hookers selling their bodies for drugs, strutting their stuff down the main street in my neighborhood and calling out to passing cars. I interviewed some of them on my own. I also observed police interviews and arrests. It was clear the women needed help, but they were not getting it from law enforcement. I also talked to police who felt conflicted about the arrests, and who told me that they thought the laws on drugs and prostitution were counterproductive.

What is now called the illicit sex trade should be taxed and regulated for a variety of social, economic, and health reasons. Our goal should be harm reduction and there is clearly a lot of harm going on under the current policy. The homicide rate for illegal female prostitutes is 51 times higher than for a woman working in a liquor store (Potterat et al, 2004). Illegal prostitutes have high rates of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. We should pay attention because AIDS is a pandemic that since 1981 has killed more than 25 million people. Researchers (Farley and Kelly, 1995) reported that 57% of New Jersey prostitutes were HIV positive, for example. Sex workers should be regulated and taxed to protect them from exploitation by pimps, organized crime, and their customers. Mandatory health checkups should also be required, as in the parts of Nevada where brothels are allowed.

The police have no business peeking in people's windows or prying into the private sex lives of adults. Like drug prohibition, enforcement of the consensual adult sex trade is a waste of police resources. It is also dangerous, crimogenic, corrupting, and ultimately unenforceable. Drugs and sex are bought and sold even inside prison, and I have the filmed interviews from former inmates who told me about it in detail. It is madness to think that if consensual activities cannot be controlled inside prison, we are somehow going to control it in open society. Generally the women operating “escort services” through the Internet or even through the Yellow Pages get away with it, while poorer women, often with substance abuse issues and sexually transmitted diseases, are walking the streets. Pimps operate when the sex trade is illegal, and it is another opportunity for organized crime to traffic in human beings. Women, often underage, are routinely brought in from less developed countries under false pretenses and forced to work in the global sex trade for their pimp/kidnappers.

Even if legalized there should be a special class for sex workers, and other potentially harmful products and services. Advertising and the location of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and sexual services should be restricted so that our children are better protected than they are now. Studies show that marijuana use among teenagers is higher in the U.S. than in the Netherlands, where it has been de–criminalized. There is not a single documented case of AIDS among brothel prostitutes in Nevada while it is rampant among prostitutes – especially streetwalkers – in Florida and elsewhere. Streetwalking and pimping should be illegal, but discrete, regulated prostitution, combined with regular health checkups, should be allowed for adults. An agency or brothel may collect a percentage, but this should also be strictly regulated to prevent abusive practices. Brothels should not have monopolies on the sex trade, as is the case in Nevada.

Many sex workers engage in the trade to procure expensive illegal drugs, out of desperation, to escape extreme poverty, homelessness, or for other degrading reasons that do not add up to a “free choice.” Ending drug prohibition, while providing health and counseling services to sex workers, is the most helpful way to deal with these issues. One study shows 90% of illegal prostitutes want out of the business. The women who want to get out will be able to do so more easily if it is legalized and they get the counseling they need. The ones who stay in the profession will be happier if they are not reviled, abused, exploited, and marginalized. “The world's oldest profession” will never go away. The best solution is to learn to live with it in a way that does the least harm to everyone.

To read more about drugs click here. To read more about consensual crimes click here.

E-mail: campaign@MichaelEArth.org