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Latest Prostitution Scandals Bring Up Age-Old Questions About Sex Work

The problems of some sex work continue to elude easy solutions.

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Magnanti looks on the sex industry with the warm eyes of an advocate. She seems fixated on the financial benefits of prostitution rather than the emotional cost, and believes that the right to sell your body should stand alongside other rights, even as she acknowledges that as a middle-class woman in a progressive democracy she could make this choice. But with The Sex Myth out, it seems we know less than we did before; studies from countries experimenting with decriminalisation again have conflicting conclusions.

So, what to do? The truth that prostitution may be the best economic choice for some women is repulsive, but it cannot be wished away. In this, Magnanti emerges as a realist, while her critics, well-meaning or not, condemn women to poverty or criminality. There is a case here for the policies that she finds so dull – an end to the pay gap, to gender segregation, to occupational segregation, all of which would make women richer, and more powerful and widen their choices beyond the greasy hell of PunterNet.

The miseries of street prostitutes are obviously a matter for social policy but, Magnanti insists, there will always be women who want to be prostitutes and men who want to use them. Do they deserve a rigorous criminal justice system devoted to their protection, or not? The answer, of course, is a bitter yes.

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