Why Prostitution Is Illegal

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Mar 13, 2008 5:30 PM
Syndicated columnist Steve Chapman can't figure out why prostitution is illegal.  In general, I'm not a particular fan of Nick Kristof's, but the New York Times columnist is right on in addressing this issue, noting that:

[T]he evidence is overwhelming that, in the United States, prostitution is only very rarely just another career choice. Studies suggest that up to two-thirds of prostitutes have been sexually abused as girls, a majority have drug dependencies or mental illnesses, one-third have been threatened with death by pimps, and almost half have attempted suicide.

Melissa Farley, a psychologist who has written extensively about the subject, says that girls typically become prostitutes at age 13 or 14. She conducted a study finding that 89 percent of prostitutes urgently wanted to escape the work, and that two-thirds have post-traumatic stress disorder — not a problem for even the most frustrated burger-flipper. . . . 

We as a society forbid certain behavior by consenting adults because we deem it too dangerous or harmful. We do not permit indentured servitude or polygamy, or employment for less than the minimum wage. So why permit people to work in the unusually dangerous business of selling sex?

Kristof goes on to advocate the Swedish (of course!) approach of prosecuting those who patronize prostitutes, rather than the hookers themselves.  But it seems to me that if one wants to attack the problem from both the supply and demand side, there should be penalties for those on both sides of a sex-for-money transaction.  And I'm all for throwing the book at the "johns" --  it strikes me as a great idea to publicize the names of those who are willing to risk their reputations and perhaps their families for a little bought-and-paid-for sex.