Should Prostitution be Legal?

Many research findings surrounding prostitution do not contain empirical data as to how it is degrading to society or how it is improving society; mainly, the research articles speak about the history of prostitution, and the social disapproval that most of society has towards this section of the sex industry. Specifically two research articles that I found that analyze the underground commercial sex economy wanted to provide an understanding of the structure and size of it in major cities  Much of the findings in this essay will feature articles that speak about how prostitution may/may not be beneficial to American society, and some are reflections by former sex workers who are on both sides of the debate.

Against prostitution 

Historical Significance of the Profession 

Since the beginning of World War II in the United States, a large section of the American population viewed prostitution (amongst young females) as a source of many things, chief among them venereal disease and corruption to young men and the family unit. (Esseltyn 124). Often associated with gambling, drugs, selling alcohol and illegal dance halls, prostitution was seen as an evil to be ridden of and many legislators, public officials and vast numbers of ordinary people created crusades in order to ban and prevent further trafficking of women, red light districts and brothels (124). Since the perception of sex workers in prostitution changes a great deal across time, one cannot rely on statistical evidence as easily in terms of relying on the trends and volume. For example in post colonial New England, sex outside of marriage was so rampant and commonplace that prostitutes (especially female) were considered to be excessive and nonessential (125). During the nineteenth century was when this all changed. As cities began to expand and become more industrialized, prostitution was regarded as more positive, as it became associated with the pioneer business woman (125). This time was really prominent for the moving frontier, the vice crusade and the prohibition movement. Galveston, Chicago and New Orleans were known for their variety of prostitutes. However by the end of World War II their popularity had greatly diminished and police raids became all but unknown for the next twenty years. In 1960 there were 18,995 arrests related to prostitution and by 1965 that number had increased by 30% to more than 26,000 prostitution related arrests. The number of women in college are prostitutes is not grand, but it is not an uncommon occurrence. Furthermore, the rate of venereal diseases per capita in countries where prostitution is legal is significantly higher than those of other countries where it is not legal (126).

Psychological Findings 

According to clinicians, there are many psychological reasons why women become prostitutes: (1) she failed to charm her father so she has impulses that lead her towards self-debasement or self-destruction (2) she’s getting revenge on a father who failed to love her (3) mother hatred (4) homosexuality (5) sadomasochistic tendencies from parental neglect and indifference (6) delayed reaction of adult to childhood traumas imposed upon by parents (Downey 26).

In addition to this, a study conducted by Mimi H. Silbert discovered that adult prostitutes usually experience childhood abuse, approximately 2/3 of those sampled reported that they were sexually exploited by a father figure and that it resulted in significant emotional and physical impacts (Silbert 1). This report confirms that prostitution is an antecedent o sexual abuse, and according to 70% of those surveyed that occurrence affected their decision to become a prostitute. By legalizing prostitution, we would not be allowing the women to process their pain in a productive way, we would not be granting the women the space to attain optimal psychological health.

Socioeconomical Reasoning 

Another source has assessed other reasons why women and pimps enter the sex trade. One of the most popular reasons for entering prostitution among women according to Dank, Kotonias, Khan and Downey has to do with providing for her children or supporting her family, peer encouragement, childhood trauma and social acceptance. As a matter of fact, according to this source, many women in a Miami brothel for instance, were coerced into the trade and smuggled across the Mexican border from many countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras. They work at the brothel to pay off their smuggling debt and most of the women and children pay it off but continue to work at the brothels due to a lack of lucrative opportunities. Pimps enter the business in order to secure lucrative opportunities that they otherwise would not have access to (23).

Relationship between Pimp and Employees 

A negative association with being a prostitute is the one that she would have with her boss, or pimp. The pimp utilizes various forms of extortion and intimidation in order to manage and recruit women to work for him. Examples include faking romantic interest in the female, encouraging women to have sex for money and to not just “give it away for free”,  promising financial security and emphasizing the fact that they both need each other (Downey 2).

Connection to the drug trade 

According to UCSE, 5/8 cities that they researched the underground commercial sex network had pimps (25%) who were previously drug dealers.

Reasons to Decriminalize Prostitution 

The exact reason why someone would want to keep prostitution illegal is the same reason why another person would say to decriminalize it: there are a great deal of injustices that occur within the sex industry, and many of them cannot be reported because much of the crime is being done by those in authority (Young 1). Randall Tobias is a prime example. He stepped down as chief of foreign aid programs in the Bush Administration for “personal reasons”, following the fact that he just had slept with two escorts and prior to that had shown public support for abstinence based AIDS prevention programs. Tobias insisted that he had not had sex with either woman, but no one believed him and the Bush administration was taken less seriously than ever before. Pamela Martin, owner of the DC escort business where Tobias found his escorts, released his name to news organizations in order to help pay for legal defense team for her company (Young 1).

According to Prostitutes and Politics: Why is it still Illegal to Pay for Sex by Cathy Young, the difference between prostitution being victimless crime and an actual crime is that the woman will have a choice as to whether she wants to sell sex, but the person asking or willing to pay cannot coerce her in any way. From a feminist point of view, this makes perfect since; both the consumer and the server ought to have an equal amount of control in the situation. In Sweden, the crime lies with the person who wants to buy sex and not with the person who wants to sell sex, because that person has the choice to consent or not (Young 1).

The only two places in which prostitution is legal in the United States is Nevada and Rhode Island, if the place of transaction in Rhode Island is private and not public.

A visible threat to prostitution would typically be the spreading of HIV/AIDS amongst the population. However in Australia, prostitution has been taken off of the list of threats to the population in terms of being a large distributor of HIV/AIDS on the HIV/AIDS surveillance list, because the number of female prostitutes in that country with HIV/AIDS is very low (Young 1).

Some would also argue that dating and prostitution are very similar. The only difference is that the aim of dating is ultimately to secure a family or a spouse, and the end goal of prostitution is purely financial. Brandy Britton’s case perfectly exemplifies this. She chose to be an erotic masseuse and charge clients up to $2,500 for her services per day. She was also a “girlfriend experience” escort, in which people pay for an experience, or for temporary companionship. She was arrested on prostitution charges in 1999 and a week before her trial she killed herself. Much like the connection between erotica and pornography, dating is a socially acceptable form of prostitution. If her sexually discrete encounters with men were paid for through various gifts or dinners, would she have been arrested?

Others see it in a similar light. Although there are no concrete numbers that tell us how many women and men are in prostitution in the United States, there are sources that say that the contact (initiated by men) to female prostitutes is less frequent (Esselstyn 1).According to “A Theory of Prostitution” by Lena Edlund and and Evelyn Korn, many research studies are the reason why people see prostitution as a bad thing; many of those studies interview prostitutes who are in trouble and contribute to this image of a lesser woman. The two propose that prostitution is mainly a womens’ field, and that because they do not get married, they will have to be well compensated in order to “forgo the option of marriage” (Edlund 181). In the article the two discuss the correlation between prostitution and poverty, as well as mens’ sex ratios, implications for marriage patterns, and how prostitution could decrease with male income if women were drawn from the same pool of people (Edlund 185).

However, a great deal of prostitutes are actually making huge sums of money and that is why most of them enter the sex trade anyways, according to John Paulos who wrote “Who’s Counting: Sexconomics”. He agrees with the notion of legalizing prostitution, and reasons that since women do it just for money, that we ought to contribute to their being autonomous and exercising economic free will, rather than denouncing their decision with notions of moralistic ideals. Jessi Winchester, a former prostitute (legal one) and political candidate wrote about the guise of people who claim to have “family values”. She says that many people will say that prostitution combats the family unit, but she would argue that men do not want to marry ex prostitutes, so women must be financially independent to support their families (children) and thus spend more time with her kids than working moms (Winchester, 12). And also she encouraged the U.S. to look to Europe as an example and not place legal brothels next to homes, churches or schools (13).In “Vice Versa”, an article written by Fiona Godlee, editor of British Medical Journal, she explains how the UK has been bad with regulating smoking in public places and prostitution. Godlee specifies that prostitution is not inherently abusive, and that regulating the act would make for a better society for those who are working, encouraging the prostitutes to get better healthcare, while also taking on other problems such as child sex trafficking and slavery (Boynton and Godlee).


I believe that if it is under a legal domain, then prostitution is okay to do. I am aware that people who are against prostitution would argue that the more legalized prositution is the more demand there will be for it, and I disagree with this notion. Anne Bissell is a former prostitute and founder of Sex Industry Survivors Anonymous and asserts that the legalization would only bring about more trafficking (WOTL). Legalization could bring about a great social change in the United States; in terms of sexual harassment awareness, as well as consent. There does not have to be more organized and legal rapes happening against children and women if we have greater awareness and a less dismissive attitude towards prostitution. The bible demonizes prostitutes in proverbs 5:3-5, “For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, And her mouth is smoother than oil; But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, Her steps lay hold of hell” (Nelson). The fact that the bible mentions prostitution throughout its chapters signifies that this has been a common way for women to make money for a long time. One hundred years ago in the United States, many people had the same mentality of prostitution as that of the bible, because many people thought that prostitutes only brought people down and destroyed the family unit. I also believe that legalizing prostitution will cause people to see it as more of a business, and there would have to be more rules and regulations that govern that particular workplace. I think imposing a more rigid structure would help protect the women involved, who are usually the victims, and the consumer as well. If the structure helped educate the employees and consumers about how to respect boundaries, (2) defines acceptable and unacceptable behavior (3) respects the autonomy of each party involved, then that would make for an effective and efficient model for sex workers to follow.

I believe in the free will of each gender in any form, sexual or economic. Both are necessary constructs of society, without either we would not be alive or be able to do anything. They have always been around and will never leave us; however I do not agree with the exploitation of vulnerable individuals (Godlee). And, I disagree with the corrupt business practices of pimps. The exploitation involved, and the feigning interests as well as theother ways they manage or recruit women to pimp are not only destructive to the womens’ emotional, mental and physical health but also a way to strip the woman of her individual free will. Mimi H. Silbert’s article about child abuse is valid, however I do not agree with the keeping prostitution illegal because the problem will not stop. Unfortunately, people will always face some sort of trauma as a child and that is oftentimes difficult to manage or prevent, however a woman can still decide whether or not she wants to be a prostitute. The cycle will not end. The right thing to do involves educating people on the risks and providing more opportunities for them to succeed outside of prostitution, if they think that is their only option. Otherwise, making prostitution more safe and imposing more rules and regulations will force people to see it as a workplace, rather than just a way to make money while exploiting others who are psychologically impaired or vulnerable.

I agree with Paulos because I agree with women having their own sexual and financial free Young also incorporates good points in her article about why prostitution isn’t legal yet; politicians can be hypocritical, so thinly veiled girlfriend experience or companionship ads are just gateways to unregulated and unsafe work environments for anyone in the sex industry. I also agree with Boynton and Gadlee because I believe that people are able to do what they have to in order to raise a child, and that people should have access to health care, especially in a risky profession such as prostitution. I also agree with Winchester, because she speaks about prostitution as if it is not a threat to the family unit–it is not. It’s about the choice of the individual, the morality of the single person and what they decide to do. The mother is an individual, and many people will not marry her because of her chosen profession, so she ought to make the right amount of money to spend more time with her children. For women who need or want to be independent and raising a family, this shouldn’t be such a morally denounced or politically denounced issue, it should not be an issue that politicians use morality as a defense; it should be an issue discussed with everyone in an honest way and for what it is: a way to gain enough income to support a family.

The studies conducted by Downey and Khan which asserted that women enter the sex trade with having issues attached to their childhood and parent would be a good reason to keep prostitution illegal in 48/50 states of the United States; however, sex trafficking will not stop, especially if it has been referenced in the bible times, and it is also known as “the world’s oldest profession”. The best way to manage the problem is to try and live with it the best way we can, through imposing a structure that protects the workers.  According to Downey, a great deal of trauma precedes prostitution and affects a woman’s decision to enter the sex trade. There needs to be a greater dialogue in order to fix these problems, and there also should be therapy and a space for women to work out their issues because a lot of the time, women do not realize when they are being manipulated or coerced due to traumatic childhoods or not knowing the difference between negative and positive attention. There ought to be a greater source of education that prioritizes teaching young girls and men about how to spot a predator, and greater consequences for people who try to coerce anyone into sex trafficking or any sector of modern day slavery. If we gave people the freedom to choose what they want to do and impose the right structure to do so that benefits the individual and the economy, then we would live in a less dangerous and a more egalitarian society.



Beast, T. D. (2009, January 6). 20 Forgotten Bush Scandals. Retrieved April 28, 2015, from

Bissell, A. (Producer). (2004, September 23). Sex Industry Comes to Toledo [Television broadcast]. In Weather Toledo Ohio Live. Toledo, Ohio: Toledo News Now.

Dank, M., Khan, B., Downey, P. M., Kotanias, C., Mayer, D., Owens, C., . . . Yu, L. (2014, March 12). Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy In Eight Major US Cities (Rep.). Retrieved April 19, 2015, from The Urban Institute website:

Edlund, L., & Korn, E. (2002). A Theory of Prostitution. Journal of Political Economy, 110(1), 181-214. doi:10.1086/324390

Esselstyn, T. (1968). Prostitution in the United States. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 376(1), 123-135. doi:10.1177/000271626837600112

Boynton, L. Godlee, F. (2006). Vice versa. Bmj, 332(7535), 0-f. doi:10.1136/bmj.332.7535.0-f

Paulos, J. (2006, May 7). Who’s Counting: Sexonomics — Prostitutes’ Incomes A Look at the Economics Behind the World’s Oldest Profession. Retrieved April 28, 2015, from

Proverbs. (2007). In NKJV study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Silbert, M. H., & Pines, A. M. (1981). Sexual child abuse as an antecedent to prostitution. Child Abuse & Neglect, 5(4), 407-411. doi:10.1016/0145-2134(81)90050-8

Winchester, J., & Startin, W. L. (2001). From bordello to ballot box: A first-hand account of legal prostitution and political corruption: An autobiography. Philadelphia: BainBridgeBooks.


One thought on “Should Prostitution be Legal?

  1. Two research articles included for Side A 4/5 pts
    Make sure you are using empirical sources only

    Two research articles included for Side B 4/5 pts

    Summary of Side A and Side B 20/20 pts

    Who you agree with and why? 13/15 pts
    (Include strengths and weaknesses)
    Specific strengths and weaknesses of research

    APA Formatting/ Grammar/ Length 5/5 pts

    Total 46/50 total

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