Legalisation of Prostitution: Facts and Myths

One of the greatest myths perpetuated in the media is that prostitution is illegal. It is in fact, legal in various forms in various countries. However, the negative portrayal and inaccurate representation of sex work in the media has created the perception that prostitution is inherently immoral; the existence of which is a menace to civil society.

A deeply embedded myth such as this makes the case for the legalisation for prostitution that much harder to argue.

Why is sex so differently perceived than any other form of manual labour, that is bought and sold at a fixed rate? Conservatism, of the social, religious and patriarchal kind, is to blame. The vicious control of human sexuality through various institutions, has left sex workers at a disadvantage, as the people they must convince are indoctrinated and are unable to view sex as being devoid of moral scrutiny beyond the role of consent. There are several issues surrounding consensual prostitution as well. Several sex workers are trafficked and have a history of abuse and rape. Government intervention is imperative to ensure that the people who are willingly entering the industry, are doing so with knowledge and without being manipulated by trauma or exploitation. In the situation of prostitution, consent is more complex and cannot be defined solely by age.

World map showing the legal status of prostitution by country: GREEN = Prostitution legal and regulated. BLUE = Prostitution is legal but organised activities such as brothels are not. RED = Prostitution illegal

But how do we tackle the notion that legalising prostitution will encourage young people to enter this profession? We must reconcile with the fact that sex is not a vice. The true causes of issues such as teenage pregnancy, STIs, rape and paedophilia must be recognised, instead simply blaming the healthy expression of sexual desire.

Slogans such as ‘sex workers’ rights are human rights’, whilst enormously powerful, cannot tell the whole story. Prostitutes are often treated worse than prisoners. They may have no access to health care and contraception. They have no means of receiving judicial recourse should they be wronged. They also may have no social mobility or future prospects as other parts of society tend to deny and inhibit their existence. In a nutshell, they rarely receive many of the human rights they are entitled to. When the government tells the people that they want to ‘eradicate’ prostitution, what they really mean is that they want to push all the vulnerable people to the outskirts of human society so that their visibility is reduced. What they don’t mention is that the invisibility only empowers the human traffickers. As the life expectancy of sex workers is undermined, they are replaced very quickly, in an underground network that flourishes under the lack of regulation. Because the truth of the matter is that the policies that should supposedly harm the entire sex industry, only truly affect the sex workers. The human traffickers aren’t held accountable. The buyers who take advantage of the vulnerability of sex workers aren’t held accountable. The pimps who keep the profits aren’t held accountable. Despite countless government reports about the various statistics, we have yet to see concrete and daring policy change to empower sex workers.

Prostitution | Nils Hamerlinck

The decriminalisation/legalisation argument is perhaps semantical, but the idea is that legalisation means a far more active role taken on by the government, whilst decriminalisation is simply a vague acknowledgement of sex workers’ rights.

When Amnesty released a policy based on research into global prostitution, their ultimate solution was to decriminalise prostitution. The aim was to protect sex workers, and enable them leave the sex industry if they chose to. The protection will come in the form of reduced stigma thus greater access to healthcare, ability to unionise and form labour contracts.

However, an article by Darren Geist in the Rolling Stone neatly packages and presents some of the dangers and ways in which the decriminalisation of prostitution can backfire. However, by far, the most successful model for decriminalisation has been in place in New Zealand, where sex workers have the same rights and workplace protections as people in other professions. The Prostitution Reform Act is a comprehensive method that takes several issues surrounding prostitution such as consent, trafficking, future career prospects outside prostitution into consideration. Perhaps it’s the quality of effort towards the issues rather than the technical phrasing of it, that will truly make a positive difference to the lives of several young people.

Prostitution will always be present in societies. The demand and supply chain cannot be broken; however, we can ensure that the people whose lives are affected are not made more vulnerable by lack of government intervention and accountability. Whilst several people have reservations about viewing sex as a commodity, these reservations must be put aside because otherwise we end up commodifying the people who provide the service, stripping them of their rights as human beings.

To read more of Richa Kapoor’s blogs, go to:

Feature Image: Ira Gelb | Flickr

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.