News & Politics

Should Prostitution Be Legalized?

The pros and cons of decriminalization and legalization.
After last week's post about proposed legislation in San Francisco that would decriminalize prostitution and our poll that indicated that 73% of you not only supported decriminalization but legalization as well, we decided to take a more in-depth look at both. After the jump, we break down the differences and the pros and cons of both. There may be a soap box moment from yours truly as well.

Decriminalization does not legalize sex-for-hire work, but it does instruct local police departments to treat these cases as a low priority, similar to the way in which marijuana laws are enforced in the State of California. Essentially, law enforcement looks the other way, allowing prostitutes to have the peace of mind to report crimes against them, or other crimes they've witnessed, without fear of arrest. In some decriminalization proposals, the money spent on enforcing prostitution laws is redirected to social service organizations.

  • Proponents of decriminalization say doing so gives sex workers rights they wouldn't have otherwise (rights that are impossible to have when your workplace is "illegal") and offers prostitutes regular STD tests and pelvic exams, without fear of being turned in. When Berkeley, California, considered decriminalization a few years ago, Carol Leigh, a spokesperson for COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), a San Francisco-based sex workers rights organization, said, "Generally, there is a distrust of the police among prostitutes. If you are raped, you don't go to the police." The theory is that decriminalization would make sex work safer -- for sex workers.
  • Opponents of decriminalization say that it would increase crime and attract sex workers and johns from other areas where sex work is criminalized. As a result, law enforcement in these areas would be under an even greater burden. Additionally, opponents say decriminalization might as well be legalization, since the laws are not actually actively enforced.