How the Legalization of Prostitution Will Help Women

One problem in criminal justice today is prostitution, a crime that is only illegal because of the Victorian aged puritanical values of the nation. Since people are free to do whatever they wish with their bodies as long as it doesn’t involve money for sexual activities, it makes for prostitution to be illegal. A primary goal of laws against prostitution is to deter women from becoming prostitutes but though the criminalization of the act is an attempt to punish prostitutes, it overlooks the reasons why some women go into such a dangerous type of work or lifestyle.If prostitution was legalized, it could be regulated, which would help the women immensely. The women who work the streets usually do it out of desperation, and the least that the government can do is to help them stay safe. Since prostitutes are socially and legally required to hide their activities, determining the number of American women who engage in prostitution is not easy.

Most calculations range between 230,000 and 350,000, but numbers as high as 1,300,000 have been estimated.Either way, a significant number of women currently engage in various forms of prostitution. There are different levels of prostitution, from higher class call girls to streetwalkers. Call girls tend to have higher levels of education, more control over their lives and usually come from privileged backgrounds. They also make substantially more money than streetwalkers. Streetwalkers are the lowest form of prostitution and the women are likely to becontrolled by pimps as well as be subjected to violence more so than other classes of prostitutes.

Though streetwalkers are the most visible and familiar type of prostitution they only make up about ten to twenty percent of all prostitutes (the rest of the women work in brothels, massage shops and the like). However, streetwalkers are responsible for eighty-five to ninety percent of all prostitution arrests, and seventy percent of women who are incarcerated are in jail for prostitution. Also, women of color make up fifty-five percent of all women arrested for prostitution, and eighty-five percent of those sentenced to jail. It is evident that streetwalkers, especially the minority ones, contribute to a lot of the female crime rate. Streetwalkers are usually poor women and more likely to be of a minority than any other type of prostitution. Though streetwalkers make up a small percentage of prostitutes, they are the group that this paper will be focused most on. The women who work the streets tend to be economically and socially disadvantaged and have many needs, especially health and violence related ones, which need to be addressed (Clements, 1996).

The women who work the streets usually do it out of a desperate last resort. In response to the open-ended question, “What do you fear most?” 81.9% of the all women participants answered that they most feared being raped, physically assaulted, and or murdered (RAINN, 2005). Women tend to be quite protective of their bodies and do not usually let strangers come into close contact with them unless they were coerced into it somehow. Prostitutes deal with being physically assaulted on a regular basis, as well as rape and the fear of being murdered. A study found that seventy percent of all street prostitutes had been raped on the job at an average of eight to ten times per year. In fact, most sex crimes are committed against the streetwalker prostitutes.

Health risks and STIs

Prostitutes face severely inadequate health care are many work related health risks. They face severe emotional stress, as well as exposure to the elements, sleep deprivation, and exposure to many viruses, bacteria or STIs. Prostitutes have anxieties that stem from innumerable sources. They are never certain whether they will be able to generate enough money to live off of, as well as a constant fear of arrest, abuse, and rape. They also tend to be very depressed and have extremely low self-worth. Many streetwalkers become ill from exposure to the elements and long hours of the night without sleep. A doctor who researched diseases among prostitutes remarked: “Working outside day and night leads to health disturbances. Prostitutes often have chronic bronchitis and kidney inflammations. And, more problems arise with increasing years [of participating in prostitution].” They are also exposed to many viruses, bacteria, and STIs from intimate encounters with their customers, which also leads to various forms of illness (Clements, 1996).

Contrary to popular belief, prostitution is not a major cause of the spread of sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV, and various studies have consistently shown that fewer than five percent of sexually transmitted disease cases may be attributed to prostitution. Prostitutes are actually much more likely than sexually active non prostitute women to use condoms, but their constant and frequent intimate encounters make STIs a severe personal health hazard much more so than a public health hazard. Even if a woman was infected with a veneral disease or HIV, the risk of transmission, especially with the use of a condom, in a single episode is very low (Snell, 1994). Also, research has indicated that the rate of female-to-male transmission of STIs is substantially lower than male-to-female transmission. Despite the increased frequency of sexual contacts, prostitution does not appear to be a major factor in the spread of STIs, especially HIV. The Centers for Disease Control report that only five percent of all men recently diagnosed with AIDS acquired HIV through heterosexual contact, and assuming that most heterosexual contact does not involve prostitution, the percentage of men infected through contact with female prostitutes is even lower. STIs hurt the prostitute’s own health much more than being a hazard for their clients (Thompson, 2000).

Current health care and legal services available for prostitutes

Current health care for prostitutes is depressingly lacking. Systemic inequities clearly exist in the health care system, and certain demographic groups do not receive adequate, or even the bare minimum care that is necessary. A woman who is wealthy, white, and lives in suburban will receive much better health care than a woman who is poor, non-white and lives in the inner city. Low income persons receive inferior medical, prenatal, and contraceptive care, have less access to physicians and other medical professionals, are denied treatment due to lack of insurance, and have higher overall mortality rates (Clements, 1996).

A patient’s racial or ethnic background may determine not only the ability to pay for medical services, but the level of health care overall. Even among insured patients, those who are African-American or are from the poorest urban neighborhoods receive poorer medical care than do others in similar hospitals. They also are more likely to be discharged in an unstable condition. This is really sad because these are people who need help more than other social or economic classes, and cannot get it whether they are insured or not.

Prostitutes are usually from poor urban areas, and many are women of color. In addition to the differential treatment based on race, class, and geography, many prostitutes are denied or receive inferior health care because of their status as prostitutes. They usually do not get any medical attention and their only access to health care is through STI clinics, county hospitals, and places like Planned Parenthood. Those places are usually free or have a minimal charge, but by their nature usually only help people after there is a problem. They do not have many preventative measures of extended health care programs. Though they try their best to provide as much care as they can, it is nearly not enough. County hospitals are likely to close, especially in poorer areas, blocking off those who need help even more (Clements, 1996).

Like healthcare, prostitutes have no or very little access to legal help. Both because they are poor and that they must hide their status as prostitutes, it is impossible for them to file claims against people for acts of violence and abuse. Prostitutes are highly susceptible to violence and rape, and it is severely wrong that when the majority of sex crimes are committed against prostitutes and seventy percent of all street prostitutes had been raped on the job eight to ten times per year that they cannot obtain legal services and press charges against their attackers.

Controlled prostitution in Nevada

Nevada is the only state in which there is some level of controlled prostitution. They use a regulatory approach to prostitution rather than a decriminalization; Prostitution remains criminalized in Nevada, but local small communities may permit a highly controlled and limited type of prostitution to exist. Their system is an attempt to control an illegal activity that will not be eradicated despite their efforts. Under Nevada’s regulatory system, the only kind of prostitute who is legal and protected is the licensed brothel prostitute. Also, individual pimps controlling a number of prostitutes are replaced by a small number of legal brothel owners who are closely monitored by the government. The only legal pimps then become part of the limited amount of owners who have direct links with the local government. Though street prostitutes in the large cities are still more numerous than the legal prostitutes in brothels, indicating that their regulatory approach has neither reduced prostitution nor brought it under state control, their system is a start for regulation prostitution. Their regulations, though, if spread through the entire state and not just small towns, may wholly regulate prostitution and bring it under the state’s control (Bingham, M.,1998).

The need for regulation of prostitution

It is painstakingly clear that there is a need for regulation of prostitution. Most people see decriminalization, rather than legalization, is for the most part the correct approach. Legalization usually means some form of state-regulated prostitution, while decriminalization means the removal of laws prohibiting prostitution. Some opponents of prostitution advocate decriminalization for prostitutes, but continued laws against for pimps and johns (Lucas, 1995). Arresting prostitutes is definitely an ineffective way to halt prostitution. It also victimizes women. Since most streetwalkers do it out of desperation, putting them behind bars doesn’t provide them with the help they need at all.State and local governments have spent thousands of tax-payer dollars in law enforcement efforts to eradicate it with little success. If prostitution is decriminalized, those tax dollars could be put towards something better for the community, or to help prostitutes and other people in need. Also, it would curb the harassment, stigmatization, and violence against prostitutes.Decriminalization of prostitution and the regulation of pimping and pandering offers a chance for the women to gain some control over their work. It would make it easier to prosecute those who abuse them, and with the stigma against prostitution lifted, they may have an easier time getting health care and bargain for the rights that they deserve. Decriminalization allows for the possibility to reduce the level of danger that is prominent in the lives of prostitutes (Meyer, 1993).

Legalization of prostitution would take the above further a step. Not only would innocent women who desperately need help stay out of jails, the government may help them out greatly with regulation requirements. They can help the women stay safe, and rates of violence and sex crimes against prostitutes can decrease dramatically. Many things can be implemented to help these women, such as licensing for both the women and the pimps, mandatory STI checks for both prostitutes and their customers, health care services or insurance, and brothels. The licensing should be fairly strict and have many regulations of things such as pay, screenings of customers and the prostitutes, as well as hygiene and other mandatory business guidelines. Also the brothels would have to register every prostitute who was working there, and be susceptible to random check ups by the government or local officials. In essence, it should be run just like any other business.

They should also provide benefits such as health care and insurance, which streetwalkers currently desperately need. Mandatory STI tests should be made for the prostitutes as well as the customers, in order to keep both parties as safe as possible (Snell, 1994). The women should also be given a choice of contraceptive on top of only condoms, to further keep themselves safe from unwanted pregnancies. Also, it should be mandatory for all acts of prostitution to be performed within the walls of the brothel, where the prostitutes will be much more safer than on the streets or in secluded or private areas. Since most sex crimes are executed upon prostitutes, removing the women from shady secluded areas to ones where they will be in somewhat close proximity with other people will greatly decrease the numbers of acts of violence. People will be strongly discouraged to brutally hurt or kill a prostitute when close to others, and she will also be able to scream for help and have a much higher chance of being heard and helped (Balos and Fellows, 1999).

Various viewpoints and opposition to the legalization of prostitution

There are very many different viewpoints of prostitution. The most common belief is that it is immoral and a social evil and disregards the beliefs and reasons of those who participate in it. This belief has its background in traditional Christian ideals regarding marriage, family, sex, and these puritanical values underlie the present legal attitudes toward prostitution. The people with this view tend to have an extremely strong opposition to prostitution. Though most people are not as extreme in this view, these foundational Christian values underlie most people’s perception of prostitution.

Other viewpoints in this area include different feminist beliefs – There is quite a split within different feminist groups. While some radical feminists believe that prostitution is nothing more than the subordination of women, liberal feminists insist that women should be allowed to use their bodies for any purpose they consider appropriate. They believe that empowers rather than degrades women, and that women may freely choose this line of work.

According to this view, prostitution is a legitimate, respectable occupation and can be a means of empowerment that allows women a way to exercise personal power, economic freedom, and sexual autonomy. Radical feminism argues that prostitution is not a choice, but women only “choose” to after they are coerced into it by economic factors. Both types of feminists, however, push for its decriminalization (Sullivan, Sauer, & Kantola, 2004).

Those who strongly oppose the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution tend to believe that it will lead to it being more common or widespread. That makes no sense because streetwalkers “choose” prostitution out of desperation and economic necessity, usually after other approaches fail. It is not a glamorous lifestyle and legalizing it will not make it more appealing. It is usually a last resort and legalizing it will protect the women who already work the streets, not encourage other women to resort to it. They also believe that legalizing prostitution will lead to increased demand for prostitution as well as increased levels of illegal or street prostitution as opposed to legal prostitution (Raymond, 2003). This argument also carries no weight because right now all prostitution is illegal (save for certain areas of Nevada), and if legalized, at least some women would get licenses. Even if only half the women get a license or whatever the legal requirement would be, that’s 50% less illegal prostitution than before. Also, just because prostitution is legal does not mean that more men would resort to it. The majority of men do not currently hire prostitutes, and just because it is legal does not mean that it will lead to an increased demand.

They also argue that legalizing it will not protect the women in prostitution but may even lead to increased violence towards them by their pimps or customers (Raymond, 2003). Though legalizing it will undoubtedly lead it to many problems if there were no regulations or restrictions, with proper regulations and restrictions there should be no problem. Depending on what the regulations would be, women would actually be protected much more than they are currently. As previously discussed, many things such as licensing, mandatory STI checks for both prostitutes and their customers, implemented health care services or insurance, and brothels would all help protect the women.

For example, if all acts of prostitution must be acted within the walls of the brothel, there will be a high decrease in violence as customers will be much less likely to brutally hurt or kill a prostitute when there are other people within a close proximity. Those who extremely oppose of the legalizing of prostitution tend to be somewhat radical conservatives who are also likely to believe that legalizing gay marriages will lead to more people being gay, or that making condoms available will promote kids to have sex. Though the legalization of prostitution has many potential problems and will not be perfect when it is first implemented, it will absolutely help the women streetwalkers much more than they are currently.


Though there are many reasons to legalize prostitution, it is illegal because of the conservative puritanical values of the nation. Though laws against prostitution are aimed to deter women from becoming prostitutes, its criminalization punishes prostitutes and it overlooks the reasons why women resort to such a dangerous lifestyle. Since most streetwalkers do it out of desperation, putting them behind bars doesn’t provide them with the help they need at all. If prostitution was legalized, it could be regulated and the women would be able to get the much needed help. The women who work the streets usually do it out of desperation, and the least that the government can do is to help them stay safe. Prostitutes deal with being physically assaulted on a regular basis, as well as rape and the fear of being murdered, and many of their assaulters go unpunished as health and legal services for prostitutes are seriously lacking.

It is severely wrong that when the majority of sex crimes are committed against prostitutes and seventy percent of all street prostitutes had been raped on the job eight to ten times per year that they cannot obtain legal services. They also suffer many health risks from long nights outside and without sleep, as well as various bacteria and viral infections from their frequent intimate exposures even though prostitutes are much more likely to use condoms than non-prostitute women who are sexually active. It is unquestionably clear that there is a need for regulation of prostitution. With regulations, these women would be safer and possibly have health care benefits and insurance. Though if prostitution was legalized and poorly regulated it would lead to an absolute catastrophe, but if it was regulated properly it could definitely help many women. There is no reason to not legalize and regulate prostitution on top of the taboo around the subject.

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