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Legalize Vice!

Once upon a time we tried to make drinking alcohol illegal. We all know how that turned out. And finally (after WAY too long) states are starting to make recreational use of marijuana legal, with promising results.

Likewise, we finally eliminated laws against gay sex, and the world didn’t end. In fact, we took the next step and started giving civil rights to gays, including the right to get married.

It seems like attempts to legislate morality, in particular by creating “victimless crimes” is not only doomed to failure, it is pretty stupid. This is one area where I completely agree with libertarians.

And now, there is a stunning new study out from Baylor University about an accidental experiment in legalizing prostitution.

In 1980, Rhode Island updated their state law for prostitution. They didn’t realize it at the time, but they accidentally made prostitution legal by deleting a paragraph of the law by mistake. However, things like pimping and streetwalking were still illegal, so nobody noticed the change until the Internet gave prostitutes a new way to find customers without standing on street corners.

In 2003, police closed down two spas for prostitution, but when the case went to trial the judge ruled that they couldn’t convict the prostitutes of streetwalking because they were staying off the street. Prostitution remained legal in Rhode Island until 2009, when legislators finally revised the law to make it illegal again.

Which gave researchers an opportunity to study the effects of prostitution becoming legal in their state. What they found was extremely interesting: the statewide incidence of gonorrhea among women in the state (not just prostitutes) went down by 39%. Even more fascinating, the number of rapes reported to the police declined by 31%. That’s a very significant decline in a violent crime.

The decline in the number of rapes was so large that Cunningham and Shah felt obliged to examine their data with three separate statistical methods, but the effect persisted. The authors were eventually persuaded that their result was not a fluke, and that imposing criminal sanctions on prostitutes and their clients might cause violence against women. “The human costs are so big, if this is in fact a very real causal effect,” Cunningham said. “I think we have convinced ourselves that we have done everything we can do rule out alternative explanations.”

This is just one study, so sweeping generalizations are premature, but further research is definitely warranted.

The Puritans who helped found this country were against dancing, but we soon got over that. With these new changes, maybe “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” should become our new political slogan. In fact, there was even a study done about that!



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    Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 9:55 pm | Permalink
  2. stephen m wrote:

    I am disappointed that there seems to be such a lack of true understanding of what prostitution is really about. Prostitution for the average prostitute:

    – starting your career at the median/mean age of 13, 14. (Old enough to make this decision and look after your own interests with the pimps, right?)

    – having to disassociate your self from your body (with or without drugs or alcohol) while you sexually abused 10-20 times a day, such that in a short time you cannot stand to have any man, even your lover touch you with out disassociating self and body. Probably unable to maintain a loving relationship with a man for the rest of your life.

    – expecting to be beaten on a regular basis by your pimp or your johns regardless of where you work, brothel or on the street.

    – you may have read about prostitution and how it is just sex work written by organizations or unions that purport to represent prostitutes but these organizations have very very few or NO prostitutes as members. They do not support the prostitutes, they support the wealthy sex industry.

    Political solutions:

    From Der Spiegel which is known in German-speaking countries mostly for its investigative journalism. It has played a key role in uncovering many political scandals:

    “How Legalizing Prostitution Has Failed

    When Germany legalized prostitution just over a decade ago, politicians hoped that it would create better conditions and more autonomy for sex workers. It hasn’t worked out that way, though. Exploitation and human trafficking remain significant problems. By SPIEGEL Staff”

    An excellent paper on the origin of the Nordic model:

    “Sweden’s Prohibition of Purchase of Sex: The Law’s Reasons, Impact, and Potential

    Max Waltman

    Stockholm University – Department of Political Science

    August 16, 2011

    Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 34, No. 5, pp. 449-474, 2011

    In 1999, Sweden passed a law criminalizing the purchase of sex and decriminalizing the prostituted person. The law was part of an omnibus bill against violence against women, recognizing prostitution as related to such violence. This article analyzes the reasons for the Swedish law and documents the law’s impact, concluding that the law has significantly reduced the occurrence of prostitution in Sweden compared to neighboring countries. In addition, it addresses some important remaining obstacles to the law’s effective implementation and responds to various common critiques of (and misinformation about) the law and its effects. Finally, this article argues that, in order to realize the law’s full potential to support escape from prostitution, the civil rights of prostituted persons under current law should be strengthened to enable them to claim damages directly from the tricks/johns for the harm to which they have contributed.

    Friday, July 25, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    And how does making prostitution illegal help this situation?

    Note that I am absolutely NOT defending prostitution. Just like I am not defending the taking of recreational drugs. Or drinking. Or abortion. But you can be against these things, while believing that it is none of the government’s business and it just makes things worse to make them illegal.

    Just for the record, I have never done any recreational drugs, I don’t drink, and I would never consider having sex with a prostitute. I have no personal stake in this. But I still think they should be legal.

    Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  4. stephen m wrote:

    Sorry for any misunderstanding, and that I might have inferred your support for prostitution.

    I believe the following quote sums up the essence of my attitude and the attitude that should be taken toward prostitution by the legal system.

    “it is understood any society that claims to defend principles of legal, political, economic, and social equality for women and girls must reject the idea that women and children, mostly girls, are commodities that can be bought, sold, and sexually exploited by men” (Ekberg)

    I hate to just repeat what I posted above but it would be silly for me to paraphrase these citations.

    Why criminalize the pimps and johns involved in prostitution? The paper by Max Waltman explains the excellent rationale for this and discusses some of the problems too.

    The Der Spiegel article explains by example what happens when prostitution is legalized and how conditions actually became worse in Germany with the legalization of prostitution.

    Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink