Outlawing this commerce serves mainly to make things worse, not better. It assures income to criminal organizations with long experience evading the law. It makes prostitutes vulnerable to abuse. It prevents measures to protect the health of providers and patrons.
It exempts an industry from the taxes and fees that legitimate businesses have to pay. It squanders police resources that could be used to fight real crime, while clogging jails and courts with offenders who will soon be back plying their trade.
Supporters of the status quo say the sex industry is filled with victims of human trafficking -- foreigners forced to work in servitude. Whether such modern-day slaves amount to more than a tiny fraction of hookers, however, has never been proved.
Similar claims have been made about migrant farm laborers and domestic workers -- which is not taken as grounds to ban fruit picking or home cleaning. Someone whose very job is illegal, in fact, is an ideal candidate for such exploitation, since she is unlikely to go to the cops.
But all this is secondary to the priority of human freedom. We no longer believe the government has a right to prevent homosexuals or heterosexuals from engaging in sexual practices. In 2003, the Supreme Court had the wisdom to strike down a Texas sodomy prosecution against two homosexuals caught in the act.
"The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives," asserted the court. "The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government."
Some brilliant lawyer ought to ask the courts why the state may ban one type of sex between consenting adults but not another. Maybe Eliot Spitzer would like to take it on.