The debate over legalized prostitution

By Paul Louis Metzger

Multnomah University Professor
New Wine Skins Ministry

I oppose legalizing prostitution. While I appreciate the concern of those who believe that legalizing prostitution will bring about more favorable conditions for prostitutes, I am not convinced. In fact, I believe the opposite is the case most if not all the time (See the Prostitution Research & Education website for detailed information regarding prostitution, including resources on the effects of legalized prostitution).

It is argued that legalizing prostitution will make it possible for prostitutes to come away with more income and some benefits. Even if that is so in some or many cases, what are the costs to their persons physically, emotionally, and relationally? “There is no way to make prostitution ‘a little bit better’ any more than it is possible to make domestic violence ‘a little bit better.’ Prostitution is a profoundly harmful institution. Who does it harm the most? The woman who is prostituting is hurt the worst. She is hurt psychologically as well as physically…” (See Myths and Facts about Nevada Legal Prostitution; see also Melissa Farley, “‘Bad for the Body, Bad for the Heart’: Prostitution Harms Women even if Legalized or Decriminalized,” Violence Against Women, 10 {2004}: 1087-1125.)

Prostitution is never really equitable. In the previous paragraph it was stated that the woman who prostitutes herself is “hurt the worst,” not the john or others. Moreover, the woman in question more likely than not comes from a background of limited means and options. Those who would most likely engage in prostitution are the poor and those in other vulnerable situations, such as those from abusive homes. Often, those who sell themselves do so because they believe they have no other options available to them. I have heard it said that women choose to be prostitutes in the way that people choose to jump off the roofs of burning buildings—they feel there is no other alternative to survive.

The inequity does not stop there. I contend that the vulnerable will be even more victimized if and where prostitution is made legal. If legalized, prostitutes will be held accountable as being all the more responsible for what they have done (while the pimps and johns will often be left off the hook). Some will argue (wrongly) that “It was their free choice to sell themselves, so they shouldn’t complain if life as a legal prostitute is not so rewarding; not everyone is a winner in the free market.” One problem with this form of reasoning is that it fails to account for the point made earlier: those who enter prostitution to escape poverty are never really free. Wealth creates freedom in a free market system. Poverty takes freedom away, leading many poor people to sell themselves on the market. Even if by chance the poor can rise out of poverty through prostitution, that does not mean they have become truly free. As was stated above, the psychological and physical losses are severe; other forms of bondage follow.

Additionally, legalizing prostitution will not reduce illegal prostitution: “Regardless of its legal status, prostitution is extremely harmful to those in it…Wherever legal prostitution exists, nearby illegal prostitution increases” (See Myths and Facts about Nevada Legal Prostitution; the bold print was present in the original source of the quotation). Legalizing prostitution will not do away with the black market. The demand will increasingly outweigh the supply for bodies of various ages. Beyond basic supply and demand dynamics, one must account for sexual addictions spurred on by illicit sexual activity, pornography, and the like. The more the use and stimulation, the more the demand. The demand for more will increase, and for less money.

Closer to home for all of us, we must ask about who benefits if prostitution is legalized. The state? What does that make the state, if it benefits from prostitution? A pimp? What does the legalization of prostitution make a state or a nation’s citizens? The same—pimps? A state or nation’s citizenry is somehow responsible for the laws of the land since ours is a government of the people. There are some things money should not buy. The government of the people (not a government of commodities) should help to limit the reach of the market into the realm of purchasing people’s bodies, not extend it. Please extend the reach of your hand and voice and call for bringing an end to prostitution while providing far more options for people in vulnerable situations to make living wages by livable occupations.

I am excited that The Justice Conference Portland will be hosted by New Wine @ Multnomah U. This event is a great opportunity to engage justice themes such as those I’ve raised here. I hope you’ll join us on February 21+22 for The Justice Conference Portland.

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