The prostitution and sex work industry is a highly abusive, dangerous, and complicated industry that exploits all types of people and is highly lucrative for the black market. But the dangers associated with this industry are perpetrated by, and are a result of, its illegal nature. For the basic human dignity of sex workers and to enable them to benefit from a plethora of legal, medical, and personal resources, the United States should legalize prostitution.
The decision for women to enter the prostitution industry is not one that is made lightly, as many factors such as poverty, homelessness, and forced entry are all significant reasons. Because prostitution is illegal, workers are dissuaded from seeking legal or medical help for fear of being turned into law enforcement. Pimps and men who participate in purchasing sexual acts feel free to abuse, manipulate, and degrade sex workers without the fear of legal action taken against them. Due to the fact that sex workers have no legal recourse to fight against this behavior, this only perpetuates the oppressive system that exists within the industry. In addition to this, the leaders of the industry are free to hoard profits and continually overwork women. This contributes to high suicide rates, rampant drug abuse, and unnecessary deaths due to lack of basic protection and healthcare. Another feature of the oppressive system is the power dynamics between the workers and the pimps. The relationship between the two is centered on fear and control, as pimps seek to use these tools to make women feel like they can’t escape and are forever beholden to the oppressors.
The legalization of the sex work industry also allows for comprehensive regulations to be implemented that protect the rights of workers. Strong labor unions and worker empowerment, which are paramount rights the left fights for, gives the workers the opportunities to establish adequate and necessary rules to protect themselves and penalize those that seek to take advantage of the workers. Legalizing prostitution can also have benefits that extend beyond just the sex workers. The tax revenue that could be generated from these institutions can significantly help governments and also allow them to enforce strict labor laws to protect workers.
The fight against legalization is the same reason that abortion rights are fought against in the U.S.: people want to have control over what women do with their bodies. People see prostitution as immoral because women are selling their bodies for financial gain. Is this not the same as pornography? Exotic dancing? Moreover, the culture of sugar-dating maintains this idea of partaking in a sexual relationship for the main purpose of financial stability or profit. Some may see these acts as different than the prostitution industry because the direct selling of a women’s body in relation to the compensation in those circumstances is more removed than prostitution. The reasons for entering into these situations usually stem from the same catalysts. However, the type of situation or industry they enter depends solely on the woman’s freedom to choose.
Some may also argue that the legalization of prostitution will not completely eradicate human trafficking and physical and sexual abuse. This is true, as is the case with the illegal drug and arms markets that still exist despite the legalization of some or all of the industry. However, this argument disregards the reality that, due to the illegal nature of the industry, the sex workers do not have any recourse to seek adequate and necessary care due to the fear of being turned in to law enforcement or denied care altogether. While trafficking and abuse will still be present in the industry even if it is legalized, it will offer millions of sex workers the ability to seek the remedies to protect and treat themselves, inalienable rights they are entitled to.
We, as a society that is supposed to affirm the dignity and basic human rights of all members of the labor force, need to acknowledge that sex work is work and must be regarded as such. The only proper step to achieve this is the legalization and regulation of the sex industry, keeping in mind that doing so will not completely eradicate all the dangers and problems associated with the industry. However, if we are fighting between a world where sex workers have no recourse for their protection or dignity and are seen as less than, compared to that of a world where they can obtain adequate and comprehensive legal, medical, and personal assistance and protection, I think I know which world I will choose to fight for.