The oldest bordello in the red light district of Hamburg Germany has closed its doors. The madam cites a lack of business for the closure.
Let me get this clear…sex isn’t selling anymore?
That place has been around since 1948, and like any business, certain trends can effectively close it down; not the least of these trends is the ban on sale of alcohol in the area, the loud dance clubs nearby, and, oh let’s not forget, it costs about $3000 per night to enjoy its services. So, the madam can blame it on all those other things, but I’m sure her high price tag figured into the demise of her business. Her prices were prohibitively high in today’s economy. It’s also not economically feasible when the Internet lets you download porn for cheap.
The other reason I can think of for sex not selling, is that you can’t sell anything that is being given away for free so often. I’ve always been a bit dismayed by the inherent contradiction in those who look down on women who sell their bodies, when there are so many other women who give it away for free. And somehow the ones who give it away, behave as though they are more ethical than the women who recognize the value of their bodies, and demand compensation for the use of it. The problems inherent in prostitution have more to do with the environment in which it is forced to operate, than the profession itself.
So if it’s not about the act, but the nature of the act, then from whence do our notions of sex derive? My suspicion is that it derives from the nature of our society. We are a nation steeped in religion, and religion has a long history of framing sex as a “dirty” act. Even in the Garden of Eden myth, Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness, and then become ashamed before God. This didn’t happen until after they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, which meant that knowledge equals awareness, and awareness brings with it responsibility and questions and confusion and–by extension–an opportunity for evolution. Yet most Christians believe, and the creation story implies, that this message has more to do with the value of ignorance and innocence than it does with wisdom and growth. I reject that tenet.
In one of my favorite series, Firefly, a futuristic world included the normal practice of having paid “Companions”–this was framed in an aesthetic manner, including none of the seediness that usually goes along with this activity when illegal. A need was recognized and met by two consenting adults agreeing that one would pay for the service of another. No different than paying for a massage, or electrolysis. I have to say this little bit of futuristic fiction helped sway me toward agreement with the legalization of prostitution, since I had not considered the possibility of viewing it from a standpoint outside the normal stigmatization. There are high-priced call girls in America, but the practice is still illegal, (except in 10 counties in Nevada), and much of this misunderstanding of its usefulness is fraught with the common erroneous ideas that preclude its implementation.
Accordingly, from an ethical standpoint, how do we categorize legalization of prostitution? Is the concept of sex-for-sale as a tainted morality a knee-jerk reaction, or does it actually adhere to ethical precepts? Consider these statistics:
- 78 percent of women who sought help from the Council for Prostitution Alternatives in 1991 reported being raped an average of 16 times a year by pimps, and were raped 33 times a year by johns.
- 62 percent reported having been raped in prostitution.
- 73 percent reported having experienced physical assault in prostitution.
- 72 percent were currently or formerly homeless.
- 92 percent stated that they wanted to escape prostitution immediately.
- 83 percent of prostitutes are victims of assault with a weapon.
- 75 percent of women in escort prostitution had attempted suicide.
- 67 percent meet diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In short, the victims of prostitution are mostly the prostitutes themselves. It just may be that they no longer have the ability left to “consent” to be a willing participant in their so-called victimless crime. Estimates of the prevalence of incest among prostitutes range from 65 percent to 90 percent. The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon Annual Report in 1991 found that: 85 percent of their prostitute clients reported history of sexual abuse in childhood while 70 percent reported incest.”**
Some might see this as a case against legalization, when really it is a case FOR it. Legalizing prostitution eliminates almost all of these things. While it won’t prevent women from being abused in their own homes before becoming prostitutes, it does help insure that these women aren’t re-victimized. And it’s crucial to point out, too, that these women didn’t suffer abuse because they were prostitutes, they suffered abuse because they were WOMEN. About 80% of the women I have known well enough to ask has confessed some form of abuse in childhood… and none of them were prostitutes. Let’s don’t confuse the sex-trade with the prevalence of rape and abuse in general.
More confusion can be found in the rhetoric of Feminists and Conservatives, who claim that the anti-prostitution laws protect women. Yet statistics show that 90% of those arrested are the prostitutes themselves. Additionally, 50% of street prostitutes are drug users, and this illegal and street-bound profession perpetuates this.So, in considering the viability of legalization, what are the negative aspects of prostitution in general? Most would say:
- Spread of disease,
- Gateway into drug-use
- Degradation of women
- Property values in prostitution districts
- Exploitation of young women or men
Immorality–since the principals of right and wrong are largely subjective, we can only go by the degree or presence of harm, when making a judgment about immorality. If a person enjoys sex and engages in sexual activity with someone else who enjoys sex, and there is an equitable agreement that sex will be traded for money, and this harms no other person or causes no other equal or greater negative result, then how is it immoral? The most common argument in this regard stems from religiosity, and this, too, is highly subjective and has no basis in empirical fact. It is merely opinion by rote.
Disease–Statistics show that only 3 to 5% of STD’s are prostitution-related, while 30-35% of STD cases are found in teenagers. (Sad commentary on the parenting issue). If the safeguards would include the use of condoms, and the testing for STD’s in the employed Paid Sexual Companions, plus the proof of clean STD status in the customers, this would completely avoid the spread of sexually transmittable disease. More so, ironically, than adults who do this non-professionally, by merely being promiscuous.
Infidelity– this is perhaps the one ethical drawback, as customers for PSC’s could be married. I’m not sure there could be some way of insuring that customers were not married. Maybe being able to screen clients via legal ID, check marriage records, and even calling the spouse, if there is one, to verify that he or she gave consent. Many of those who seek sexual gratification in someone other than their spouse, do so because they have a loveless marriage and their needs aren’t being met, or else, their needs are copious, and they believe those needs can’t be met with just one person. My thought on this is that maybe people wouldn’t get married or stay married if their needs weren’t being met, because they can be single and get those needs met with a legalized PSC’s. It might not cost any more than it would to go through the rituals of dating. This might actually help the stats for marriage and divorce. There might be both fewer marriages, and fewer divorces.
Gateway into Drug Use–drug use begins BEFORE the decision to be a prostitute, not after, as some believe. Individuals don’t “dabble” in prostitution, and subsequently develop a drug habit. They develop a drug habit and often turn to selling themselves as a way to afford the drugs. The contrary is a misconception at least, and misinformation at worst.
Degradation of Women–the defining point of degradation seems to be subjective. Many women choose this trade for economical reasons, and don’t necessarily enjoy it, or as stated, find themselves forced into it due to addiction or other economic precursors. Those women should be afforded other choices, and if they do not have those choices, then this is a geopolitical, economic and social services issue, and not one of morality. But many others enjoy sex and have their own copious need for sexual activity and so providing this service as a legal career allows them to meet their needs both sexually and financially, without all the negative consequences attached to illegal prostitution.
Property values– in “red-light” districts, property values are notoriously low. This is due to the illegal nature of prostitution, and the environment it encourages. If prostitution was legalized and transferred to attractive establishments, and effectively removed from street corners, neighborhoods would not be downgraded, and those that were transformed from street prostitution to legalized brothels, would be able to enjoy the safety, normative property values, and aesthetic values such a legalization would offer. Property values are not contingent upon perceived morality of the inhabitants. They are contingent upon location, location, location, as real estate agents are fond of saying. This refers to the value of surrounding properties and the fiscal decisions by local governments. If a bordello is paying taxes, those monies can be used to maintain a quality neighborhood. And we all know sex sells and it will always sell.
Exploitation of young or under-privileged individuals– madams and PSC’s would benefit equally from the legal sex-trade arrangement, and the vocation would be one of consent rather than desperation. Since PSC’s would have to be of legal age, this would prevent the exploitation of those below the age of consent. The under-privileged would have a legal means of supporting themselves in an environment that wouldn’t compound the problem. Legalized prostitution would also reduce violence against women, since women and men in this vocation would be less likely to be in a position of danger, and more likely to report any misbehavior or abuse.
Within the milieu of prostitution as it stands, is the fact that prostitutes won’t report abuse and rape, due to fear of being arrested for their illegal profession; though 80% of prostitutes have been raped 16 or more times per year. Accordingly, crimes against prostitutes are among the “safest” crimes to commit. Thus, the illegal status perpetuates violence against women and men who are prostitutes. Another 35 to 85% of prostitutes have suffered abuse in the form of rape, incest and molestation, mostly by family members, well before becoming a prostitute. Thus, the current laws make them victims again.
Contrary to popular belief, in comparing “House” prostitutes–those working from a house or other structure specifically for that purpose–and street prostitutes, 97% reported higher self-esteem. Surprisingly, statistics also show that abuse of prostitutes and women in general were about the same. So the violence against women is the issue here, not prostitution.
With these precepts in mind, here’s how it would be plausible and beneficial:
If prostitution were legalized, and practitioners became Paid Sexual Companions, with the expected safe-guards, regulations and oversights in place, and it was mandatory to run the business from an actual building designed for it (a brothel/bordello), then this would, I believe, solve many, if not all, of the aforementioned issues. Some women have practiced prostitution for a short time, and prefer to call it “survival sex.” If a woman feels that all she has to offer at any given time is her body, in order to survive, then first, she needs more options available.
Second, legalized prostitution would provide the PSC a place to live, regular income, and a support group. Women who have economical challenges or are single mothers, or otherwise lack appropriate resources, would be free to choose the vocation of PSC in lieu of homelessness and poverty. If these legal brothels also hire trained security guards or “bouncers” and implement educational opportunities for employees in the form of GED teachers or night classes in college, then the PSC is effectively building a future for her or himself, and any children the PSC may have. Arrangements could be made for a daycare nearby for those who live on-site. This would create a community of support that will allow the PSC to make other choices later, if he/she chooses, instead of spiraling into poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism and hopelessness.
So legalizing prostitution is at once a viable and feasible solution to the problems that illegal prostitution presents.
*Prostitutes Education Network. http://www.bayswan.org/index.html
**”Prostitution: Fact sheet on Human Rights Violations” by Melissa Farley, PhD of Prostitution Research & Education. http://crime.about.com/od/prostitution/a/prostitution.htm