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Whether Prostitution Should Be Legalized in an Effort to Eradicate Illicit Sex Trafficking

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Prostitution is consuming millions of women and girls and reaping massive earnings for organized crime in numerous countries around the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of women from Eastern European countries are trafficked for prostitution into the sex industry hubs all over the globe. There is no variation between trafficking, which is recognized universally as a violation of human rights, and prostitution that is widely tolerated partially in Europe, and entirely legal in Holland. The practice is exceedingly oppressive and irreconcilable with the universal human rights standards. Sex trade has become a form of modern slavery; and from all indications, the industry is continuing to grow and expand rapidly. It is essential to point out that a majority of women involved in prostitution did not make a lucid choice to join prostitution. Such choices are referred to as survival strategies. According to The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, a majority of women they interviewed during their research said that the choice of getting into prostitution could only be argued in the context of deficiency of other options. A significant number of prostitutes cited prostitution as their last option of making ends meet. Similar opinion were held by 67% of law enforcement officials and 72% of social service providers interviewed by CATW, who believed that prostitutes do not join the sex industry voluntarily.

Thesis Statement

The issue of whether to legalize prostitution as a way of stamping out illicit sex trafficking has generated a heated debate among various groups of people, with some supporting the legalization of prostitution while others strongly opposing the idea. I am of the opinion that prostitution should not be legalized. Legalizing prostitution will not only amount to endorsing every aspect of the sex industry, such as the prostitutes, clients, and pimps, but also converting prostitution sites (sex clubs and brothels) to legitimate venues for allowing commercial sexual acts to flourish legally. Some people believe that legalizing prostitution would professionalize and dignify the women involved in the business. However, in my opinion, it only dignifies the sex industry and not the women. This paper presents my opinion with regard to whether prostitution should be legalized in order to solve the illicit sex trafficking problem.

A majority of arguments supporting legalization of prostitution are based on attempting to differentiate between forced and free prostitution and trafficking. Considering the extreme exploitation conditions within the sex industry, Hughes thinks that such distinctions are nothing more than abstractions for academic debates. Women under the control of traffickers and pimps certainly will not agree with such arguments. This is because there is no difference between “free” and “forced” in the sex industry, and research reveals that the men who purchase women and children for prostitution do not differentiate the two groups either.

When prostitution is legalized and regulated, it becomes a type of work, usually referred to as sex work. While the renaming of prostitution may clean up its image, it does not end the exploitation and violence within the sex industry. It merely permits criminals, as well as members of organized crime groups to be legitimate businessmen and work together with governments in marketing the bodies of women. In Netherlands, for instance, two-thirds of prostitutes are immigrants and about half of them are trafficked illegally; legalization has, in effect, increased trafficking and prostitution. Prostitution is an excessive form of gender violence and discrimination, and by legalizing prostitution, women’s citizenship rights and freedom will be restricted. According to Hughes, legalizing prostitution permits women to become legitimate commodities. Commoditization of women not only consigns them to become second-class citizens, but also normalizes the notion of a person being the property of somebody else. The emotions and bodies of women belong exclusively to them and, therefore, they should not be traded. Women under the age of 25 years are the main target of the sex industry. If prostitution is legalized, a certain group of young women in every generation will be lost to the vice.

The scale of sex trade all over the world is overwhelming, and the only way to eradicate the vice is to acknowledge the exploitation and violence for what it is and find appropriate solutions for the problem. While supporters of prostitution argue that legalizing prostitution will reduce the need for illicit sex trafficking, I strongly disagree with this argument. Legalizing prostitution, in fact, increases illegal sex trafficking and only benefits pimps and traffickers, who compromise women and their societal position in the long term. I do agree with one survivor of prostitution who said, “Legalization will not end abuse; it will only make the abuse legal”.

Arguments in opposition to the Legalization of Prostitution

While there have been numerous suggestions supporting legalizing prostitution as a means stopping unlawful sex trafficking, in my opinion, is not the best idea. In fact, it does the opposite; it encourages further illicit trafficking by making traded sex legal, more available and viewed less harshly. It is vital to mention that prostitution is just a small part of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking entails traffickers selling women, especially under-aged girls for sex, slavery, pornography, drug peddling, etc. Women who are trafficked to other countries become slaves of their owners, doing everything required of them and having no freedom of choice. The pimps benefit from selling them and their services. Women who engage in prostitution, on the other hand, have been compelled to do so due to their various circumstances, such as poverty. This implies that if they had a choice, they would not engage in such activities. Besides, such women only sell their sex services and not their whole being. This makes it impossible for legalized prostitution to provide a solution for illicit sex trafficking. This is because, prostitutes, especially those who are older than twenty five, would not be suitable candidates for sex trafficking not only because of their age but also because they would not be willing to be sold as slaves to others for financial gain.

According to Hughes, legalizing prostitution permits women to become legitimate commodities. Commoditization of women not only consigns them to become second-class citizens, but also normalizes the idea of a person being the property of somebody else. This not only tramples on the rights and freedoms of the women involved but also devalues them. Besides, it is the money involved in prostitution that drives women into the business, but in trafficking, it is the pimps who gain financially. As mentioned earlier, the illicit sex industry targets under-aged girls who are easy to manipulate; this makes most old prostitutes unqualified. This means that the pimps would still source for under-aged girls and sell them illegally; thus, the industry will still persist. The argument that legalizing prostitution promotes sex trafficking is backed by the research done by International Organization for Migration, which found that there was an increase in the number of victims being trafficked into the Netherlands following a lift in the ban of brothels in that country. Nearly 70% of trafficked women in the Netherlands come from Central and Eastern European countries. While the intention of legalizing prostitution was to end the exploitation of hopeless immigrant women who were trafficked for prostitution, the act instead, increased the trade.

On moral grounds, both prostitution and sex trafficking are vices that are ethically wrong and should not be encouraged in the society. Suppose prostitution was legalized, children, especially daughters will grow up thinking that prostitution is a career option that they can choose, just like banking, teaching, etc. Since it does not require any educational qualifications, it is certain that a majority of girls would opt to be prostitutes because of the quick cash involved in the industry. In short, there is a high likelihood that child prostitution will increase with legalization of prostitution. This is confirmed by Tiggeloven, who reported a dramatic increase in child prostitution in the Netherlands from 4,000 to 15,000 between 1996 and 2001, with an estimated 5,000 of the children coming from other nations, especially Nigeria. Similarly, a significant rise in child prostitution was realized in the state of Victoria that legalized prostitution in the 1980s compared to states in Australia, where prostitution is illegal. What an immoral generation we will have in the coming years if prostitution be legalized.

In addition, I oppose the legalization of prostitution because it does not promote the health of women. Legalized prostitution requires that the women involved go for health checks regularly; however, this does not include their male customers. It, therefore, makes no sense since their male clients who have STDs or HIV/AIDs will still be able to transmit the diseases to them. Supporters of legalized prostitution argue that the move will protect women from contracting sexually transmitted diseases via the enforceable condom policies. However, studies by CATW on prostitutes in the United States found out that this notion is not true. Forty seven percent of the prostitutes interviewed by CATW said that their clients wanted sex with no condom, while 73% of them said that men were willing to pay more money for sex devoid of condom use. In addition, 45% of the women reported having been abused physically for insisting that their clients wear condoms. In reality, most clients still attempt to have sex without using condoms despite the fact that certain establishments enforce condom wearing policies. This means that the execution of condom policy is left entirely to prostitutes. However, the desire for extra cash drives women into having unsafe sex at the expense of their health. This point is confirmed in the statement of one of the women interviewed, who said, “I'd be one of those liars if I said "Oh I always used a condom”. Since women in prostitution are searching for more money, they prefer risking their lives by engaging in unsafe sex to get the money. In my opinion, whether prostitution is legalized, or not, the desire for men to want sex without a condom will still continue, thus putting the health of prostitutes at risk. In addition, it will also not solve illicit sex trafficking, thereby worsening the problem. 

Conclusion

Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession and legally prohibiting the vice has failed to eradicate the business. Prostitution is consuming millions of women and girls and reaping enormous earnings for organized crime in numerous countries around the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of women from Eastern European countries are trafficked for prostitution into the sex industry hubs all over the globe. Whether to legalize prostitution as a way to solve the problem of illicit sex trafficking is an issue that has drawn an intense debate among various groups, with some supporting the idea, while others opposing it. I am strongly against the legalization of prostitution for whatever reason. It remains an immoral act that not only degrades women, but also commoditizes them, making them second-class citizens. While supporters of prostitution argue that legalizing prostitution solves the problem of illicit sex trafficking, the opposite is true. Legalizing prostitution, in fact, encourages illicit sex trafficking.

Sex trafficking and prostitution remain a thorny multilayered communal problem that will require several years of effort from all stakeholders to fight successfully. As efforts to eradicate these vices continue, the devastating health effects associate with purchased sex, such as HIV and AIDS, should not be forgotten. It is up to everyone to work together and shun steps in the wrong direction, like legalizing prostitution, and instead, invest assertively in approaches that will make a positive impact in the lives of prostitutes.

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