Tag Archives: decriminalization

Feminism, Men’s Issues, And How Legalizing Prostitution Could Affect Both

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Politics, in general, are contentious enough. Gender politics, and the identity politics they invite, often escalate in ways that bring out the ugliest side in people. Every time I’ve talked about these sensitive issues, be they the sources of slut shaming or the implications of double standards, I’ve tried to be fair and understanding to all sides.

In addition, I’ve tried to focus on the bigger picture. That’s often necessary because debating gender politics can get frustratingly personal. I can make a perfectly reasonable argument on an issue like abortion, but that argument will get overshadowed by the fact that I’m a straight male. When it comes to something so divisive, the big picture is often the only one you can scrutinize.

I’m going to try talk about gender politics again and I’m going to get into a few specifics. I understand that’s risky. I also expect more than one person to disagree with my point, if not outright resent it. I’ll take that chance because I feel like this is a point worth making within the current political climate.

On top of gender politics, which covers a great many areas from media depictions to social issues, I’m going to explore it in the context of prostitution. It’s another issue I’ve scrutinized on both a legal and societal level. In this case, they’re intertwined in certain aspects that have major implications.

Even before gender politics entered its current state of contention, there was somewhat of a divide within feminism over prostitution and sex work. I’ve discussed it before, citing the different approaches of sex positive and sex negative ideologies. One sees it as inherently exploitative towards women. The other sees it as an exercise of agency and freedom.

For those concerned with men’s issues, the issue rarely comes up. When I’ve asked about it on places like Reddit, most adopt the libertarian stance. It shouldn’t be illegal and it’s not the business of the government to prosecute consensual sexual behavior. There are a few who oppose it for other reasons, but there isn’t the same divide as there is in other men’s issues.

That could change very soon and, unlike other recent controversies involving gender, it could have serious legal implications. That’s because for the first time in generations, the legality of prostitution is a serious issue during a major election cycle. More than four presidential candidates have gone on record as saying they favor decriminalization of sex work. For such a taboo issue, that’s pretty remarkable.

Some have likened it to the recent successes surrounding the decriminalization of marijuana. Others contend that recent crackdowns on sex workers have added greater urgency to confront this issue. Whatever the source, prostitution is finally becoming a relevant issue and gender politics is sure to be part of it. Unfortunately, that may not be a good thing.

To understand why, it’s necessary to understand what happens when lawyers and the law enter a debate. This isn’t like the anti-harassment movement that seeks to help victims of exploitation in the entertainment industry. This deals in real-world legal issues that have decades of complicated precedent. Changing the law is going to have impacts that go far beyond any trending hashtags.

Gender politics is sure to affect these issues. It already has, to some extent. In recent years, prostitution has become intertwined with transgender rights because it’s not uncommon for transgender women resort to sex work for survival. Keeping prostitution illegal puts an already-vulnerable population at even greater risk of exploitation.

It was also a certain subset of feminists, which includes the likes of Gloria Steinem, who favored the recent laws that cracked down against prostitution online. This is already an issue that strikes many chords within gender politics and it could certainly escalate as more legal challenges come to the forefront.

Just this past year, several states have proposed legislation that would decriminalize sex work. In addition, efforts to close the small number of legal brothels operating in Nevada failed in 2018. While there hasn’t been much tangible change in the courts yet, there is some momentum for this issue. It will only take one state to take the leap and, like marijuana before it, that could start a trend.

This is where the gender politics surrounding prostitution could either get slightly better or significantly worse. In a perfect exchange, the dynamics are simple. Two consenting adults agree on an exchange of money for sex. They carry out the act, exchange the money, and that’s the end of it. Both are satisfied, relatively speaking. There’s no further need for conflict.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Even in a world where prostitution laws are as equitable as possible, there are plenty of complications. Say, for instance, the two consenting adults agree to the exchange, but one fails or refuses to deliver on their part. Maybe a prostitute could suddenly change her mind about a client. Maybe a client feels the service did not warrant the payment.

How is this resolved?

What happens when someone tries to take a sex worker to court or vice versa?

How does the court or the police go about handling these issues in a way that protects the privacy and welfare of both parties? Is it even possible?

These are all relevant questions and gender politics can only complicate the answer. At the moment, most sex workers cannot go to the police or seek legal recourse when a client becomes abusive or uncooperative. If prostitution is decriminalized, then not only do they have recourse. They have leverage. To appreciate that leverage, consider the following scenario.

A married man with a steady job and several children is going through some serious issues with his wife. As a result, he seeks the intimate comfort with a female sex worker. They engage in multiple exchanges and, by the letter of the law, their actions are legal.

Then, one day, the sex worker incurs an unexpected debt she can’t pay. As a result, she finds out the married man is wealthy and asks for help. When he refuses, she threatens to go the police and claim that he was violent with her during one of their encounters. It’s not true, but filing a report will expose his activities to his family and likely ruin his life.

Very little in this scenario is outright illegal. The sex worker could get into a lot of trouble for filing a false report, but even if she cannot prove her case, the law allows her to pursue a recourse for a client who wrongs her and even if she doesn’t prevail, the client could still suffer incur significant damages.

It’s not just men who are vulnerable, either. Even if sex work is completely decriminalized and those who participate are safe from prosecution, it can still be used against them in entirely legal ways. To illustrate, consider this scenario.

A young woman gets accepted into a prestigious university, but is unable to pay all her expenses, despite having taken out multiple loans. She decides to get into sex work to make extra money, which helps her pay her way through college. She ultimately graduates with honors, gets a great job at a good company, and leaves sex work altogether.

Years later, someone she knew from college joins the company. They knew she did sex work on the side, but don’t bring it up. Then, they’re both up for a promotion and to get an edge, her associate reveals to the whole office that she did sex work. To prove it, this person provides an ad she used that they just happened to have saved.

The woman is humiliated and outraged. On top of that, she doesn’t get the promotion. She is so angry that she tries to sue the company and the person who revealed her past for damages. She also threatens to quit, but knowledge of her past is already public and even though her work was completely legal, it dissuades others from hiring her.

This issue isn’t entirely fictitious. In 2013, a California woman was fired from her teaching job after it was discovered that she’d worked in porn years ago. Even though what she did was perfectly legal, she lost her job and the appeal to get it back. With decriminalized sex work, this could become even more common.

In a world of decriminalized prostitution, those who seek the services of prostitutes are suddenly vulnerable in entirely new ways. A sex worker who need not fear arrest for their activities has a greater ability to expose their activities and use it against them. It doesn’t matter if it’s out of desperation or spite. The leverage is there.

The same applies to those who participate in sex work. Like it or not, there is still a heavy stigma for anyone who works in the sex industry. Even if prostitution is decriminalized, the stigma may still linger. If clients no longer fear arrest, then what’s to stop them from using that stigma against sex workers?

Whether you’re a man, woman, or transgender, these are major complications that have significant implications for everyone. They could ultimately widen the many divides within gender politics. Sex workers and clients alike could face significant, unwanted scrutiny that could trigger a whole host of new debates that nobody is ready for.

These issues aside, I’m still of the opinion that decriminalizing prostitution is preferable to prohibition. History shows time and again that prohibition does more harm than good. We cannot completely remove the harm, but at the very least, we can mitigate it.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, men's issues, prostitution, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

Legalizing Vs. Decriminalizing Prostitution: Knowing The Difference And Why It Matters

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Anyone who has dealt with lawyers for more than five minutes will likely tell you that the words you use in legal issues really matter. In fact, even punctuation matters. There has been more than one case in which the placement of a comma has made a difference measured in millions of dollars. When it comes to issues like prostitution, the stakes are even higher with respect to word choice.

For better or for worse, but mostly for worse, the debate surrounding prostitution has been derailed by poor word choice. That’s because when most people discuss prostitution these days, it gets caught up in rhetoric surrounding human trafficking, sexual slavery, and exploitation. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there’s no way to get around such ugly verbiage.

That’s a big problem too because, as I’ve noted before, sex work and human trafficking aren’t the same thing. That’s not just me saying that. This is what actual data says. According to research conducted by the International Labour Organization, only 22 percent of human trafficking victims are forced into sex work. The vast majority of victims end up in other forms of forced labor.

Despite this, it hasn’t stopped anti-prostitution advocates from citing human trafficking as a reason for keeping prostitution illegal. However, as a few notable cases have revealed, broad scale prohibition of prostitution doesn’t work. That’s why a number of western countries have attempted other legal models to deal with the issue, the most popular being the Nordic Model.

Under this model, sex work isn’t entirely legalized. It’s legal to sell sexual services, but it isn’t legal to buy it. It’s basically akin to legalizing hot dog stands, but not the consumption of hot dogs. It may sound absurd, but the intention is to attack the demand surrounding prostitution, punishing the people who patronize an exploitative industry.

While that sounds noble on paper, the results don’t line up with the goals. There’s no evidence that this model makes people less inclined to want sex from a prostitute. There’s also no evidence that it has improved the lives of sex workers. Even so, whenever prostitution comes up, any discussion of legalization is bound to draw ire from anyone who isn’t an ardent libertarian.

Liberals see prostitution as exploitation of women, minorities, and the poor.

Conservatives see prostitution as immoral, dirty, and sinful.

Feminists see prostitution as a product of oppressive, patriarchal traditions.

With such powerful opposition in mind, it might help to take a step back and understand the actual substance surrounding legal sex work. When most people think about legalized prostitution, they probably imagine scenes like the legal brothels that operate in Nevada or the Red Light Districts that operate in parts of Europe. However, that’s only a small part of a much larger story.

That’s because legalized prostitution is not the same as decriminalized prostitution. Make no mistake. The difference is subtle, but has huge implications and you don’t have to be a sex worker, a police officer, or a lawyer to appreciate them.

By and large, the presence of red light districts are a byproduct of legalization. That’s because under a legalization model, the government and local authorities regulate the practice. This is how it works in countries like Germany and the Netherlands. Like the Nordic Model, the intentions are good and it even sounds good on paper.

The government license sex workers, thus providing them with a legal paper-trail. They can also include things like mandatory health screenings, adherence to specific labor laws, and access to public services and benefits. Again, that sounds good and it has plenty of benefits, especially when compared to the inherent dangers of street prostitution.

The drawback is that government regulation of prostitution has the same issues associated with government regulation, in general. It effectively requires that the lives of sex workers be micromanaged to a degree that those who work in fast food or coal mines don’t experience. Those who don’t abide by those regulations are as worse off as they were under illegal prostitution.

In essence, legal prostitution improves things for sex workers who are able to comply with the various regulations. Given how many sex workers come from poor or marginalized backgrounds, this ensures that not everyone enjoys the benefits of legal protections. It essentially creates two tiers of prostitution in which one is still very vulnerable to exploitation and the government gets to decide who is in that tier.

Regardless of how much you trust the government to decide who in the sex trade to protect, the legal shortcomings are inherent. This is where decriminalized prostitution sets itself apart. In this model, the government doesn’t exactly legalize prostitution as much as it removes the criminal penalties associated with its activities.

It’s a small, but critical distinction in that the government and the authorities don’t play favorites with who they prosecute and who they ignore. They still have to enforce laws surrounding violence and coercion. That means human trafficking is still illegal. You can’t force someone to become a sex worker any more than you can force them to work in a copper mine. Essentially, it treats sex work as actual work.

While I’m sure that offends the sensibilities of many people on various parts of the political spectrum, it does frame sex work in an important context. In almost every form of labor, there’s room for exploitation. Workers can be underpaid and subject to deplorable conditions. Shady business practices can ensure that only a select few see the benefits. Decriminalization makes no special exceptions for sex work.

The same laws that attempt to combat those practices in other businesses are simply applied to sex work. Even in the United States, if prostitution were decriminalized tomorrow, human trafficking and forced labor would still be illegal. It would just be treated the same as those who employ trafficked labor to work in agriculture or factories.

To some extent, this makes sex work less taboo from a legal standpoint. When you make special classifications for specific behaviors, it sends the message that there’s something that sets it apart from other similar activities. In societies where sexual activity is subject to all sorts of taboos outside prostitution, it can effectively reinforce many of those taboos.

It’s for that reason, among many others, that more human rights organizations now favor decriminalizing prostitution over legalization or the Nordic Model. Among those organizations include the likes of Amnesty International, who issued their official position back in 2016 wherein they stated the following:

It recommends the decriminalization of consensual sex work, including those laws that prohibit associated activities – such as bans on buying, solicitation and general organization of sex work. This is based on evidence that these laws often make sex workers less safe and provide impunity for abusers with sex workers often too scared of being penalized to report crime to the police. Laws on sex work should focus on protecting people from exploitation and abuse, rather than trying to ban all sex work and penalize sex workers.

At the moment, the only country that has embraced decriminalization is New Zealand. While it’s not perfect, the research on the effectiveness of policies show promise. It’s also the policy that many sex workers themselves advocate.

It’s still not a perfect policy, but that makes it all the more important to understand the differences between what’s being done now and what could be done in the future. Prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession for a reason. Human beings are sexual creatures. They are wired to seek sex. There will always be those who seek it and those willing to provide it for a price.

Laws can change, but no amount of legal distinctions and enforcement are going to change human nature. The emergence of sex robots and sex doll brothels promise to further complicate the issue. There’s no one perfect way to handle an issue as sensitive as prostitution, but there are plenty of ways to make it worse.

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Filed under gender issues, political correctness, prostitution, sex in society, sexuality