Why prostitution should be legal
April 23rd, 2012
02:07 PM ET

Why prostitution should be legal

Editor’s Note: Ronald Weitzer is a professor of sociology at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and an expert on the sex industry.  He is the author of Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business and editor of Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry.

By Ronald Weitzer – Special to CNN

Prostitution is in the news because it is legal in Colombia, where U.S. Secret Service and military personnel have been implicated in a sex-for-pay scandal. And just a few weeks ago, a Canadian court threw out two of Canada’s three prostitution laws – laws that criminalize brothel owners and individuals who “live off the avails” of someone else’s prostitution (see my earlier piece in GPS on this ruling). The court ruled these laws unconstitutional, thus raising the possibility that Canada might legalize prostitution in the future.

What many people do not know is that prostitution is legal in many nations. According to ProCon.org’s review of laws in 100 countries, 61% have legalized at least some kind of prostitution. Since 1971, it has been legal in rural counties in Nevada, where about 300 women work in brothels regulated by local ordinances.

My new book, Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business, examines several societies where prostitution has been decriminalized and is now subject to regulation. The notion of “legal prostitution” is by no means monolithic, however. It varies considerably from place to place.

First, nations differ in the kinds of prostitution that they permit. Some allow brothels only, others restrict it to escort services, while others allow only independent operators (i.e., those who self-employed and have no connections to a third-party manager or business establishment). A few, such as New Zealand, permit all types of consensual, adult prostitution, but most places continue to criminalize street prostitution because it is considered more risky and more of a public nuisance than indoor prostitution.

At least some types of individuals remain illegal, however, in places where the trade has been decriminalized. I know of no place that allows minors to work legally, and some societies prohibit migrants or persons infected with HIV from working legally.

Similarly outlawed virtually everywhere are situations where individuals are coerced or deceived into selling sex, exploited and abused by pimps or traffickers, and where they lack the right to refuse certain customers or to perform certain sex acts. In each of these cases, the key principle of consent would be lacking, and governments that allow prostitution typically put a premium on it being consensual and confined to adults.

Second, nations differ in the kinds of regulations imposed on legal actors. Some restrict it to designated parts of the city, while others allow it to be more dispersed. Some mandate regular health examinations to check for STDs. Some require condom use, while others simply encourage it. Some require sex workers to be registered with the authorities, though is widely opposed by the workers, who fear that this information may become publicly available. Most require business owners (of brothels, escort agencies, saunas) to be licensed, and the authorities conduct periodic site visits to ensure that the regulations are being complied with. Where such licensing exists, officials often screen applicants to make sure that they have no criminal record or connections to organized crime.

What kinds of regulations are most sensible? Which ones are most likely to gain public support, to reduce harms, and to preserve public order? There is much room for debate here, and each nation that has legalized prostitution has had to grapple with these difficult questions.

In my book, I advocate about 30 “best practices” that I think should be taken into account by any nation considering legalizing prostitution. The first step, I write, is that “consensual adult prostitution be officially recognized as work and that participants be accorded the rights and protections available to those involved in other occupations.”

The book also evaluates existing legal systems. While no system is problem-free, I find that several have registered a good measure of success. New Zealand scores well, as does Queensland, Australia, where a government assessment concluded: “There is no doubt that licensed brothels provide the safest working environment for sex workers in Queensland.” The legal brothels “provide a sustainable model for a healthy, crime-free, and safe legal licensed brothel industry” and are a “state of the art model for the sex industry in Australia.” While positive outcomes are by no means automatic or guaranteed, I find that legal, well-regulated prostitution can be superior to blanket criminalization.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Ronald Weitzer.

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Topics: Law • Sex

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soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. 100% ETHIO STRONGER!

    Canada is the worst place to live, work and educate in the World. It is a Jewish controlled place, where Christian-Ethiopians, secretly keep murdered by Jewish Tugs and their followers. My people suffered a lot in Canada than any other places in the World.

    Mr.Zack, please, don't be misguided by Jewish people.
    Those...who complained about Nazzis are more Nazzis now, the AshkeNAZZIS.

    April 23, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply
    • dongszkie

      sounds high-sounding exaggeration!!! then why is it that christians suffers more in muslim coun tries than in the state of israel??? if canada is the worst place to live,work & educate then why is it that so many people from my country are currently working there w/o such complaints,w/ thousands more waiting in line to emigrate???..instead of going to iran,iraq & other muslim countries. am wondering if canadians are such a dumb people allowing the jews to control them. well, a thug is a thug no matter his/her ethnicity, not because of being a jew.

      April 24, 2012 at 9:01 am | Reply
    • belky

      Stupid is as stupid does, idiot!

      April 25, 2012 at 6:33 am | Reply
    • RickT

      As a Canadian, I have to say, this is a strange post. First of all the Canadian government is not controlled by Jews/Israel. Second, I have never heard of Ethiopian Canadians getting murdered in some kind of racist conspiracy. In fact, the first Ethiopian Orthodox Catherdral is being built in Toronto and is opening in July. Ethiopians have started coming here since the 1980s, and none that I have grown up with or met have said anything negative about Canada.

      April 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Reply
    • NY Jew

      Hey Ethio let's meet so that I can biologically show you the error of your ways. For FREE I will re-arrange your genitalia, so that you will be abkle to really do it too yourself.

      April 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
    • Kiki

      Troll or actually crazy?

      April 25, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Reply
    • Joe Six Pack

      Put down the pipe

      April 25, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
    • Bob Lewis

      What exactly is a "Jewish Tug?" Is that a guy who whacks off to "Yentl?"

      April 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Reply
      • Mark Ryan

        First good laugh of the day.
        I can picture it... Well not It. I can picture an old Yentl movie ad.
        Thanks Bob.

        April 28, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Andrew

      Why is there no flag option on cnn?

      April 27, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Reply
    • eldono

      So, who are you? What is your background? What is your evidence? What you say has no meaning unless it is backed up.

      April 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
    • mason

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      April 28, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Reply
    • Thomas

      Wow really. Don't worry u probaly won't fit in a muslim country either. People like are always negative and close minded.

      January 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Reply
      • Thomas

        lol the person needs to go to a mental health ficility as hell which they probaly don't have in the middle east.

        January 4, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  2. ItShouldBeLegal

    Because you can't stop it. Just like drugs.

    April 24, 2012 at 9:20 am | Reply
  3. Unknown

    “One thing i don't understand is s3x is legal and selling things is legal but selling s3x is illegal.” -George Carlin

    April 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  4. ✠ RZ ✠

    Exploiting the human will to survive is technically wrong. But it's perfectly legal and we do it all the time. Exploiting the human libido is also technically wrong. But it's also perfectly legal and we do that all the time too.        
    The libido exists solely for the purpose of ensuring the propagation of species. But what humans have done with it just beats all ( no pun intended). Humans, society and law have to strike a balance that works as best as possible to prevent people from being hurt, and not from preventing them to provide an acceptable service in order to make a living.

    April 24, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  5. Tom

    How in the world does a so called free society legislate what adults can and cannot do with their own bodies?

    April 25, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
    • mmmiller85

      Because it has a detrimental effect on the young, the impressionable and the innocent.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Reply
      • Sylar75

        So are bars and alcohol but they are still legal. Our country is bass akwards.

        April 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  6. coolbreeze

    Who clicked on this page because of the girl in the picture?

    April 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Reply
    • shady1

      You got me LOL!

      April 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Reply
    • jbkorn02

      yes i originally clicked on the link because of girl in pic to answer earlier posters question

      April 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Reply
    • PJ

      Okay! Okay! You got me! Now don't rub it in.

      April 25, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • ✠ RZ ✠

      I would assume the Ethernopen who made the first comment too. He's painting an ugly picture so he can have the Canuck ho with the nice a$$ all to himself.

      April 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Reply
    • This Guy

      This Guy

      April 28, 2012 at 12:40 am | Reply
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    April 25, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  8. twotwotango

    Wow she's got a perfect figure. Damn shame women wh*ring themselves to old men for money and power instead of giving themselves to regular guys their own age who have regular jobs. Damn shame.

    April 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
    • PJ

      Get a job!

      April 25, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
      • PJ

        I meant get a better job!

        April 25, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
      • OLDEST PROFESION

        Yes a Blow-job

        April 29, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  9. Joe Six Pack

    I"m moving to Canada

    April 25, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  10. jbkorn02

    It will happen either way everywhere in the world lega or not. Some people I think do it for just the thrill of it being illegal. If someone wants to use they're own body to make money and they are able to by providing a service why should it be against the law if it hurts absolutly nobody else?

    April 25, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  11. Ken Margo

    You want to make it legal in the U.S? Just stop convicting people. The prosecutor will not waste money on trials for convictions he cannot get. Period.

    April 25, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  12. mmi16

    Get it on!

    April 26, 2012 at 12:41 am | Reply
  13. realy

    It should be legalize, screw what the bible says. If a woman gives it away, it's OK ... but if the man pays her it's a crime? That is stupid and archaic. Stupid as anti-sodomy laws.

    April 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
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    April 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  15. Queen of Light

    I personally think it is wrong and leads to other issues; disease, adultery, not to mention the girls I saw who were coerced and trafficked into it. I'm in favor of Moulin Rouge or an escort you hang with and dance, hug, and kiss but no to the happy ending. If they have to rely on for money, that is a sorry state of affairs and the government has failed in everyway. The phone stuff is ok.

    Interesting noone really commented on the topic and truthfully most advocates for it are men. To H :)

    April 26, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Reply
  16. Bob Lewis

    We already have Congress

    April 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  17. ronnie simmons

    my classmate's step-sister brought in $16106 the prior week. she is making cash on the laptop and got a $371000 condo. All she did was get blessed and put to use the tips explained on this link NUTTYRICHdotcom

    April 28, 2012 at 3:49 am | Reply
  18. gstlab3

    THE BEST REASONS I CAN THINK OF WHY IT SHOULD BE LEGAL IS IT IS A LOT F'n" CHEAPER THAN A DIVORCE!!!!!!

    PLUS YOU GET TO SEND THEM HOME WHEN YOUR FUN TIME IS OVER AND YOU NEVER HAVE TO LISTEN TO THEM!!!

    PLUS TWO MORE THINGS.,

    THERE'S NO CHANCE YOU'LL GET BORED OR GET A PHONE CALL OR E-MAIL SAYING "WE GOTTA TALK"

    April 28, 2012 at 9:18 am | Reply
  19. Silly

    All crimes of vice should be DECRIMINALIZED. Saying that they should be legalized almost implies that they are inherently illegal.

    April 28, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
  20. Max Brooks

    Of course it should be legalized, just like drugs.

    If you don't legalize it and push it to the black market, its just going to lead to violence and death. If you quit trying to sweep it under the rug and treat it like a legitimate business, the violence disappears.

    April 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  21. Thomas

    First of all religon and state is suppose to seperate. Religion should never come into goverment. We don't have to regulate peoples morility second of all. Ron Paul is complety right.

    January 4, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Reply
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    poop! i like to poop!!!!! YESSSSSS!!!!!! So much POOOP

    November 12, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  25. rebecca

    Remick is a cool cat..... NOT

    November 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  26. rebecca

    Lexi is a FAAAG

    November 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Reply

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