VIII. Views on How to Deal With Prostitution
Given the differing views on the causes and effects of prostitution, there are also competing views on how to deal with prostitution (Phoenix, 2007). This is one arena of major contention among scholars, social activists, and policymakers. Each group has compelling arguments.
A. Outright Criminalization
Outright criminalization is often the policy position of those who view prostitution from the social and moral deviance perspective. By adopting a strict policy against prostitution, the government is sending a strong deterrent message to would-be prostitutes, organizers of prostitution, and their customers. This policy position holds that by keeping the streets clear of open solicitations of prostitution and other forms of street social deviance like drug peddling and panhandling, other forms of criminality can be eradicated as well.
Proponents of outright criminalization argue that decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution will encourage it. This will simply promote idleness, promiscuity, and risk of infections of sexually transmitted diseases. They also echo the arguments (of those within the prostitution-asviolence camp) that there is a fine line between forced and voluntary prostitution and that those who orchestrate involuntary prostitution (pimps and businesses) hide under the cloak of voluntary prostitution. Thus, this position calls for harsh penalties for prostitutes, clients, and third parties.
B. Outright Legalization and Decriminalization
Outright decriminalization and legalization is the policy position of those who view prostitution as a legitimate form of work and believe that sex between consenting adults is perfectly acceptable. This policy position argues that treating prostitutes as criminals is a failed and hypocritical social policy. It assumes that, instead of solving the problems associated with prostitution, criminalization has simply corrupted the political and police systems. Proponents note that even the most repressive governments could not eradicate prostitution. This policy position also holds that criminalization simply stigmatizes sex work, thus creating tremendous physical, medical, and health risks for its workers. As such, it is simply pragmatic to openly recognize the existence of prostitution.
Proponent’s is of decriminalization and legalization dichotomize between voluntary and involuntary prostitution and concede that their position does not apply to child prostitutes and victims of human sex trafficking. They generally concur that those facilitating involuntary prostitution must be punished (Bullough et al., 1987). However, they argue that, recognizing that some individuals pursue sex work out of their own free will, the best way to deal with them is through regulation (Goodall, 1995). By placing sex workers in safe environments like inspected brothels, by keeping track of the registered workers, and by mandating regular physical checkups for HIV and other STDs, sex workers and their clients in particular, as well as society in general, will be protected. As mentioned in the Effects of Prostitution section, one of the benefits of a regulated sex industry is the stimulation of the economy. Eleven counties in Nevada, and some cities in Europe, for example, have economies benefitting from regulated sex work.
C. A Combination Approach
A combination of punishment and decriminalization, depenalization, is advocated by those who view prostitution as a form of violence and a human rights violation. This policy position assumes that all kinds of prostitutes, whether voluntary or forced, adult or child, are victims and are in need of help. Thus, they advocate for depenalization of the victims of prostitution (the prostitutes themselves) (Farley et al., 1998; Farley & Kelly, 2000; Robinson, 2006). They also advocate for the provision of psychological, emotional, and financial support to the survivors of prostitution.
However, this policy position takes a very strong stance against customers and facilitators of the prostitution industry. They are against any effort to legalize the so-called voluntary prostitution, as this will only normalize the sex trade. They argue that clients sustain the markets of the sex industry and that police efforts should be centered around them and not the victims. These policy arguments are often presented to international regulatory bodies, as they see the mechanics of prostitution to be cutting across national borders. They press for strong penalties from countries that supply clients and advocate for assistance from countries where prostituted women and children are coming from. They also argue strongly that child prostitution should be considered an economic crime so that children used for sex work can be protected by the international treaties agreed to by different countries.