The recent scandal about Secret Service agents allegedly seeking out the services of prostitutes in Columbia has been a hot topic for news outlets and casual conversation alike. Scandal always grabs the attention of the American public, and a detail like sex only makes it more absorbing.
The most interesting conversations arising from this incident have been focused less on the Secret Service aspect, and more on the issue of prostitution itself.
Prostitution is against the law in almost every state, the notable exception being Nevada. Even in Nevada, prostitution is only allowed in counties with a population of less than 700,000.
What if prostitution were legalized?
Safety for sex workers would increase dramatically. The stereotypical image of a pimp beating one of his workers would become a relic of the past, replaced by a safer supervisory relationship. A sex worker who is physically assaulted by a client would not have to fear going to the police. A sex worker who is raped would have the same legal protection and recourse as a member of any other industry.
Health of the workers, and therefore clients, would greatly improve as well. States could set regulations, provide STD screenings, and ensure safer sex practices were enforced. Establishments could post health scores, similar to the sanitation scores posted at restaurants, allowing patrons to view scores online before determining which establishment to visit.
Opponents of legalization point to situations where women are kept as slaves or in sub-human living conditions. These tragic scenarios seem to be a product of an illegal sex trade. A woman selling her body to survive can not approach police to tell them about the brothel without fears of repercussions, including criminal charges against herself. Allowing her legal protections as an employee may help avoid these situations, or at least give her recourse.
Whether the issue of legalizing prostitution will be debated at a higher level than water cooler chatter remains to be seen. The issues, and the people involved, deserve for the conversation to be a serious one.