With the new semester, we’re back! We’ll have weekly op eds and discussion recaps. Stay tuned!
By Mady Duarte
This week we discussed the topic of prostitution, specifically whether legalization would be safer for sex workers and more beneficial to society. To guide the discussion, we read a series of opinion editorials published in the New York Times expressing a range of views on the subject.
To begin, one of our members asked for a show of hands to see where most people’s opinions fell on the subject. Almost everyone present raised their hand in favor of legalization, although when a third option was presented to the effect of ‘I think legalization is a complex action that doesn’t fall neatly into an unequivocal yes or no,’ every member cast their vote again. This is a safe response to an extent, but it doesn’t really tell us where to go. For many people interested in social justice, the knee-jerk response to prostitution is legalization– no one should be legislating a woman’s bodily autonomy! However, it is undeniable that there are issues needing addressed in tandem that do not have clear solutions.
One of our members seemed especially concerned with regulation. How would the government keep tabs on all sex workers and their STI status? Would they also be responsible for keeping record of clients’ STI status? The government already has access to medical health records so it doesn’t seem insurmountable to extend the record keeping to this industry. Additionally, it could create the potential for a safe ‘pos’ community where both parties already have the same STI and fully consent knowing their partner’s status. A database would ensure testing stayed up-to-date and would help create a standard of STI testing.
In an ideal world, legalization holistically supports the autonomy of women, but in reality many people who go into sex work did not exactly make a fully autonomous decision to do so. It is often very difficult to differentiate those who entered sex work of their own volition from those who were trafficked. Part of the article expressed concerns that legalization would open avenues that would make sex trafficking easier to hide or disguise. Additionally, people question whether the decision to enter sex work can be considered fully autonomous if it is financially driven in the extreme– in essence, forced by circumstance. However, at root, this is an issue with capitalism, not specifically exchanging sex for money, though the same argument is not applied as vehemently to any other job. It is common to be forced to make career decisions based on money. This doesn’t definitively mean sex work is singularly manipulative, rather, it is singularly stigmatized.
Some question if legalizing sex work would do any good without changing the stigma, but perhaps legalization would have to come first as a step towards confronting the stigma. People would no longer be able to fall back on the circular argument that sex work is morally wrong because it is illegal, and prostitutes could not be met with law-sanctioned police brutality as the current standard allows. Many would still morally object, but we would reduce the amount of harm that can come to prostitutes by creating a space for them to turn to police in cases of abuse or whatever else the police are supposed to be able to help any person with.
It is also worth noting that while the discussion and this recap continually reference women’s autonomy and make use of female pronouns, we recognize the presence of other genders in sex work and do not mean to limit the scope to only one gender.
Here is the link to the article, let us know what you think!