Sex work has famously been coined “the oldest profession”, dating as far back to biblical times, and although there is no real way to prove whether or not the title holds true, humans have been exchanging money or goods for sex since the beginning of civilization.
Currently, sex work is legalized in many countries around the world, predominantly within Europe, where the infamous Amsterdam Red Light District stands, attracting tourists from all walks of life to see the roundup of beautiful women, and to experience one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city.
Although sex work is only legal in Amsterdam and a few other places, it is still very much an active profession globally, especially in America. For years, sex workers in the United States have pleaded their cases on decriminalizing their profession. Not only will it offer legal protection; sex workers will have access to health care, protecting both themselves and clients, from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. As the vast majority of sex workers opt to do sex work as a means of survival, potential criminal implications can be incredibly stressful for those who are desperate to make a living.
The Silver State Loophole
Unless of course, you happen to be a resident in certain counties of Nevada where sex work has been legal since the middle of the 19th century. In fact, under state law, any county with a population of no more than 700,000 is legally allowed to fully operate a brothel. Although Nevada is the only U.S. jurisdiction to allow sex work, from 1980-2009, sex work was decriminalized in Rhode Island but was eventually overturned and outlawed after a heated legislative battle.
The change to criminalize sex work in Rhode Island was another blow to the industry, especially since there was a reported 30 percent decline in rapes and a 40 percent decline in female gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease that can result in serious, long-term effects for both men and women if left untreated.
Another Side of Police Brutality
Aside from the many health benefits legalizing sex work would grant, there is another avenue of fear that many women, particularly trans and women of color face on a regular basis, police brutality.
Police brutality is common amongst sex workers but is largely unreported due to fear of further criminal implications. Officers often take advantage of the illegality of sex work through extortion or coercion; forcing them to commit sexual acts to avoid arrest. Another word for this rape.
Decriminalization would give sex workers the protection needed from law enforcement; a metric that has been proven to decline in other countries where sex work became legal. In one study from the Christchurch School of Medicine, researchers found that 57 percent of New Zealand sex workers felt safer around the police once sex work was no longer a criminal act, and believed the stigma of sex work changed within law enforcement once they were given rights.
Rape, Assault, and the Spread of STD’s Would Significantly Decrease
Lawmakers continuously argue about the ramifications of legalizing sex work. Although the numbers clearly indicate a probable decline in rape, STDs, and police brutality, U.S. officials are concerned about the potential rise of trafficking should restrictions against sex work lessen. Sex trafficking predominately forces women and children into sex work, an issue not because they are having sex for money, but because they are forced to.
Although there has been an influx of human trafficking in recent years, in certain countries like Germany; other countries, like New Zealand, have had the opposite impact to decriminalization, seeing little to no increase in human trafficking within their borders. All in all, it seems officials use the fear of trafficking as a ticket to keep sex workers unprotected when, in reality, there is little evidence to suggest decriminalizing sex work will increase the potential of trafficking.
Decriminalizing sex work improves worker’s lives, making it possible for them to refuse certain clients, report instances of abuse or assault, and worry less about criminal charges due to the nature of their profession. 84 percent of sex workers in Nevada who are employed at brothels across the state agreed that their jobs made them feel “safe”.
In short, the U.S. government should not be dictating what two consenting adults should and should not do when it comes to the intimate details of their private lives. Sex work is work and to better protect the lives of women, the trans community, as well as women of color, we need to start here and now.
To help amplify the voices of sex workers across the United States, visit the ACLU to donate and see ways to reach out to local legislation.