It’s ok if you don’t agree with me, but…

I think prostitution should be legalized.

I know. It’s not a popular view among Christians, and I promise it’s not an opinion I whip out for fun in social gatherings. But somebody challenged me on this once a couple of years ago and the more I think about it, the more I tend to agree. Not because I think prostitution is a fabulous and moral career move, but because to me the greater good is to protect the safety of all people… even people whose choices I don’t agree with.

Most prostitutes don’t report violence because they could be jailed for their own criminal activities. So essentially the whole population is vulnerable, and everybody knows it, and nobody cares.

Ok, and there’s also the fact that 90% of the arrests made for prostitution are the workers, while only 10% are the clients. So we criminalize the workers and not the people who employ them? That sounds… fair.

That’s basically my reasoning.

Anyway, the only reason I mention it is because I got involved in a discussion today with a woman who thinks it’s important that prostitution remains illegal so that prostitutes will have to sit and “think about” how awful they are every time they’re arrested.

Seriously.

When I disagreed, she asked me—wait for it—IF I HAD EVER “SOLD MY BODY FOR SEX.” Because, clearly, the only interests worth protecting are your own.

And I’m only telling you this now because she was clearly upset and I didn’t want to be a total jerk, but you have to know it took every ounce of self-control not to smile and say all chipper:

Well, how do you think I got pregnant?!

Just for the fun of seeing her response.

But I didn’t. I said I was sorry it was so upsetting to her, and that I took issue with her statement because I find it similarly upsetting how little people seem to care about the safety of other women. And then we stopped talking about it.

So to recap: no brownie points for me today, but I’m pretty sure the total suppression of snark isn’t good for a person’s health either, so I guess it was a win some/lose some sort of day.

SIGH.

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12 thoughts on “It’s ok if you don’t agree with me, but…

  1. I’ve considered that too. But I think it’s dangerous to legalize it because then it becomes a possible career option. Say someone is receiving unemployment benefits and has to prove they’re looking for work (yeah, I used the singular gender neutral they). I would imagine that prostitutes will always be in demand (it’s not the oldest profession for nothing), so would this person need to pursue it in order to keep receiving benefits? Or could people be dumped from the program because they can jobs as a prostitutes?

    • See, and there’s a differing point of view I can respect. That’s a good point, and clearly there would be issues like that with legalizing prostitution. But as I understand prostitution there are basically two models: either you’re employed by someone (“escort” service, etc) or you’re self-employed. For self-employed prostitutes, clearly there would need to be some special stipulations for unemployment benefits, but I’m not sure I’d let the whole debate hinge on that, you know?

      I keep coming back to the central issue of safety and the unfair way prostitution tends to get prosecuted under the current system. (For me the moral issue is pretty much analogous to whether or not we should prosecute extra-marital affairs. I think those are wrong too, but there’s no way I think it would be helpful to get the police involved.)

  2. I agree 100% that there needs to be recourse for abused prostitutes to receive help, and while I can see how legalizing prostitution would provide that, it also provides an opportunity for more people to be victimized and abused. There are people who would be prostitutes if it were legal who are not while it’s illegal. Legality aside, it’s still exploitative even if entered into willingly.

    I also agree with the spirit of your comparison to extra-marital affairs, but the courts do prosecute extra-marital affairs in divorce and custody proceedings, although you’re right they don’t generally result in jail time. I do feel that if I hold certain beliefs about sexuality, my responsibility is to embody them, not to insist that the law enforce them.

  3. How about this: I would be all for keeping prostitution illegal if we significantly cracked down on violence toward sex workers and did more to criminalize and prosecute the clients. If we’re not going to take either of those issues seriously, though, I kind of think legalization might be better.

    The more I think about this issue, the more it reminds me of my annoyance with immigration laws. We criminalize illegal immigrants but do nothing about the corporations who hire them? Lots of businesses hire them on purpose because they’re easier to exploit. I’m no expert, and we might be better off with certain laws about prostitution or immigration… but if we’re going to have those laws then I expect all parties to be held to them equally.

    • I am on board with that. I think the problem that you’ve identified in both of those issues is that people who abuse prostitutes and exploit immigrants generally have the power and money to affect change at the policy level, while their victims do not.

  4. I don’t think anything that is clearly defined as immoral and wrong in the Scripture should be legal, be it murder, rape, prostitution, homosexuality, fraud, kidnapping, lying, stealing, etc. To legalize something is to say that as a society we approve of it. We approve of immigration. We approve of certain types of drugs in certain medical situations. We approve of allowing alcohol intake (as a nation…you know I don’t personally drink). So, we make laws to control the abuse of those things which we believe are not sin in and of themselves, or things that we believe are good but could be bad if mishandled. We prosecute drunk drivers. We prosecute illegal immigrants. Do you think there is ever a situation in which it would be a positive thing in our society to legalize murder? Lying? Stealing? If not, is prostitution any different?

  5. This is REALLY thought provoking. I actually read it the day it was published, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. At first, I only read your first sentence. (I was looking for a picture of Carl to show our friend, Josh, who thought he met you guys at a Halloween party–turns out he really did.) And right away I was sympathetic. Being from Oregon, I’ve seen the violence that comes from making a different form of vice illegal, in this case marijuana. In Oregon, there are acres and acres of unpatrolled government land. Marijuana growers get in there and start growing in secret. Backpackers who stumble onto marijuana fields are shot on sight. People are actually afraid to enjoy state wilderness areas. Part of me (a very big part) would like to see marijuana legalized to stop this violence. And I can immediately see how legalizing prostitution could have a similar effect of fighting violence because when something people really want (like sex or drugs) is illegal, then you attract extremely unethical people into a whole underground culture surrounding it. And I can see your point about women’s fear of reporting violence against them because they don’t want to go to jail. And my blood boils over statistics of who actually get prosecuted over prostitution (kind of reminds me of when the pharisees caught that women “in the very act” of adultery, but somehow the man got away…).

    The thing that I worry about is that when something is legalized, it is also legitimized. This is what happened with abortion. Women were dying in extremely unsafe back alley abortions, so we made abortion legal in hopes that we could make it more safe. But in the process, we made it “OK.” Now the numbers of abortions have skyrocketed beyond anybody’s wildest imaginings, and, ironically, women are still being hurt. Maybe fewer are dying (although, that’s open to debate), but scores more are being injured in appallingly understaffed, illequiped, and even plain filthy abortion clinics. And literally thousands of women who don’t want abortions are being coerced into getting them. “Honey, you can’t have a baby right now. You’re crazy. Get an abortion.” I’m very concerned that something similar would happen if prostitution were legalized. Conditions wouldn’t really improve all that much (just think of how many women are lied to, enslaved, and trafficked into places where prostitution is legal), and lots of women who otherwise would never even consider it will be coerced into it. A disproportionate number of the extremely poor in our country are women, especially single mothers. What mother wouldn’t lie down and die for her child? I would. How many of those struggling women would face societal pressure to become prostitutes to provide for their children? That is pressure no one should ever have to face, ever.

    • Interesting thoughts, Andrea.

      Instinctively, I would have to say abortion is in a different category for me because there’s the question of another life at stake (depending on when you believe life begins, of course). Same with murder, stealing, and some of the other issues Mom raised above. Beyond the question of morality, those are issues that affect other people. On the other hand, lying, pride, hatred, greed, and (my personal favorite) sloth are all considered moral failings in the Bible, but most of them aren’t illegal in this country… Does that mean our country legitimizes them? Does that mean our children will grow up confused about what’s right or wrong?

      That’s my hesitation in a nutshell.

      Strip clubs and porn are totally legal, but that doesn’t mean I consider them viable career options for me or great recreational activity for Carl. We sort through dozens of “legal but not ok” options every day of our lives—so if legalizing prostitution would lead to less violence (and that’s an unprovable IF at this point, which is why you won’t see me picketing Washington any time soon), then I’m not sure why I should have a different standard for prostitution than I do for, say, the sins of selfishness or drunkenness.

  6. Can’t resist another comment here. We have never legalized or legitimized selfishness, drunkenness, lying, sloth, pride, hatred, or greed in our country.

    • Genuinely confused by this. It’s illegal to drink and drive, but it’s perfectly legal to get drunk. There are no laws against selfishness per se, only when selfishness encroaches against the legal rights of others. Lying is only illegal under certain circumstances (when under oath, on official records and documents, etc).

      As far as “legitimizing” something goes, that’s going to be really subjective and cultural. I’m not sure it’s correct to say that just because something is protected by law we must assume that our government thinks something is “legitimate.” If it’s legal to get wasted every weekend, does that mean the government wants us all to get wasted every weekend? One doubts.

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