Should Prostitution Be Decriminalized?

San Franciscans will soon vote on whether their city should decriminalize prostitution.

Supporters say that taking prostitution out of the black market will improve the safety and health of sex workers, and shave $11 million per year off the city’s law-enforcement expenses.

Opponents say the measure would encourage human trafficking, raise crime, and generally turn San Francisco into a magnet for pimps, prostitutes, and sex fiends.

The most effective solution might be to split the difference.

In 1999, Sweden legalized the sale of sex, leaving buyers subject to fines and humiliation through public exposure. While the jury is still out on how effective Sweden’s “Sex Purchase Law” has been, the approach has drawn international attention for its novelty.

Julie Bindel and Liz Kelly, at London Metropolitan University, found that the Swedish law decreased street prostitution by two-thirds between 1999 and 2003. But the law’s effect on the sex trade overall is difficult to determine — it may have simply driven sex workers indoors.

We’ve weighed in more than a few times on prostitution.

But what do you think?


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  1. Imad Qureshi says:

    I think men including conservatives would vote in favor of prostitution although publicly they would oppose it. Once the law passes economist can found out how many people lied by comparing male voter turnout with those who said they will vote against it. I think it would be interesting.

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  2. R Deans, Sydney says:

    Brothels here and in New Zealand are required to be licensed, approved by the municipitality and conform to regulations. Given that that taxes are for the most part paid, investigations into people trafficking have been successful and their employees and investors are largely in the formal economy; it’s extremely difficult to imagine ever going back. Legalisation isn’t a whacky liberal idea, it’s just plain common sense.

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  3. Arnold B says:

    Why in the world should there be any laws governing any action between consenting adults?

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  4. mfw13 says:

    The libertarian attitude would be to argue that any consensual transaction between two adults should be legal.

    The argument being made in San Francisco is that prostitution is a fee-for-service transaction no different than paying somebody to cut your hair, and therefore should not be illegal.

    However, to me, the real question revolves around whether or not prostituion is a victimless crime, since there is an argument to be made that behaviors and trasactions which impose a harm or cost to society should be illegal.

    Therefore, the crucial issue becomes whether the prostitute is entering the transaction voluntarily. There are undoubtedly plenty of very intelligent prostitues who have willingly entered the trade because they can make large sums of money in a short period of time. On the other hand, there are also plenty of women who are forced into prostitution against their will.

    So the trick is figuring out how to differentiate between the two, since it is women being coerced into prostitution against their will that really concerns people, not the act itself.

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  5. Steve says:

    Since 80 to 90 % of our “crime” is directly related to drug laws, the ban on prostitution and other similar things, this is long overdue. When you add in the 50+% of social problems that stem from this, it is really an emergency.

    Unfortunately, those religious groups led by failed game show hosts will dig in their heels. It has become avery profitible for these scum to use these “outsiders” to whip up hatred among their members and collect more donations.

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  6. Ben says:

    Wouldn’t this actually decrease the amount of human trafficing? I mean legalizing it would clearly subject the industry to some sort of regulation, I’d hope that you know San Francisco would certify providers as like STD Free and all of age and stuff like that

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  7. Evan says:

    Build a wall, and someone will go over, under, or just straight through it. At the same time, prices for goods and services that are forbidden continue to rise. Now we could was-morality all day long, but the saying goes like this: prostitution is the world’s oldest religion. Let’s make it safer and more transparent. That’s where I stand.

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  8. Nosybear says:

    Legalized prostitution works in Europe (which makes it self-evident it won’t work here, wink, wink, you betcha).

    Actually, if it’s a willing transaction between buyer and seller, no coercion involved to either party, I don’t know why it would be criminal. I assume there’s a supply constraint on the prostitute (time) and a demand constraint on the john (we won’t go there). So why not a regulated trade with market price controls?

    Interesting to me would be a survey of exactly who opposes legalized prostitution, who supports it and why.

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