Prostitution is one of th oldest trades known to man and even at the present time, while it is illegal in most areas of the United States, it is still employing many women and is solicited by even more men. Prostitution should be decriminalized because we are paying too high a financial and social cost for the ineffective enforcement of laws against it. The money and the law enforcement personnel freed by legalizing prostitution could be better spent if used to protect citizens against violent crimes. Prostitution has not always been a crime and there are still a few communities in the West, particularly in Nevada, where houses of prostitution operate as legal businesses.
First, let me give you a brief history lesson on prostitution. “Before the 17th century, fornication may not have been socially accepted, but neither English nor American common law recognized it as a crime. After the Civil War, a series of laws were proposed to segregate and license prostitutes to operate in “red light” districts, and in 1910, the Mann act, a federal statute prohibiting the transportation of females across a state border for the purpose of prostitution, debauchery, or any immoral purpose was passed. By 1917, the organized and highly profitable prostitution of New Orleans and other cities was doomed by federal edict, and in 1925, every state had enacted an anti-prostitution law. Still, the effectiveness and the social and economic cost of making prostitution a crime has been continually questioned” (J. Pearl, 256).
There are generally two types of prostitutes, those who either employ themselves or have a pimp, and then there are escorts. Escorts are supposed to be just that, an escort. According to Kentucky law, an escort is defined as “Any person who is held out to the public to be available for hire for monetary consideration in the form of a fee, commission, tip or salary, to consort with, or who accompanies, another or others to or about social affairs, entertainments or places of amusement, or within any private quarters, or who pose for the purpose of being observed or viewed by any person” (J. Sharkey). However, most escorts are prostitutes that are hiding behind and being protected by the facade of a legal business. If, and usually when an escort does engage in any sexual activity, her services have then become criminal and she is prostituting herself. But, other more violent crimes are being committed daily. The perpetrators of these crimes often get away with it because our police forces are spread too thinly, even without adding prostitution arrests into the equation.
“In 1985, residents and visitors of Dallas, Texas reported over 15,000 violent crimes, only 2,665 of which resulted in arrest. That same year, Dallas police officers arrested 7,280 prostitutes, which cost local taxpayers over ten million dollars. More importantly, it cost the community over 300 hours daily, of police man-hours (J. Pearl, 258).
For an officer to make an arrest of a prostitute, he must do five things. First, the officer must be solicited by , and make an arrest of a suspected prostitute or “john”, then he would have to transport the arrest to the police station. Once the arrest has been detained, they must be booked, this would include fingerprinting and the identification process. The next thing the officer does is write and file his report, the fifth and final step of a prostitution arrest is to testify in court. The officer interviewed says that testifying is by far the most time-consuming aspect of the entire process (Mora, interview).
Beyond the obvious costs associated with police earnings are less apparent ancillary expenses. These are the props and things used to make an arrest. Most officers change their physical appearances frequently and lease a new car every three months, these expenses, of course, are paid by our tax dollars.
There are two more aspects of financial cost involved with prostitution arrests. The judicial expenses and correction costs. “The costs of prosecuting persons arrested as suspected a prostitute reflect the fact that most cases involve more than one court appearance. The prosecution of an average prostitution case usually requires nearly four hours of a court’s full attention over a period of weeks or months (J. Pearl). When a person is convicted of prostitution, she may be sentenced to jail time. “In California, convicted prostitutes are estimated to account for at least 30 percent of the population in most women’s correctional facilities, the annual cost of incarcerating only four convicted prostitutes in Boston was almost fifty thousand dollars” (J. Pearl, 262). Correctional costs impose a substantial burden on the public.
Since it takes an average of 22 hours to complete the process of arresting a prostitute, you can imagine the amount of time that is being wasted on it. The time used enforcing present prostitution laws could be better used on finding and prosecuting the perpetrators of violent crimes. “Well over two million violent crimes were reported in 1985 to police departments. Eighty three percent, or 1.9 million, of these reported offenses failed to result in arrest. For each of these non-arrest cases, police in the same cities last year spent nearly one hour enforcing prostitution laws’ (J. Pearl). There is no assurance that while arresting prostitution offenders, that police officers will also be patrolling for other crimes being committed in the same area. All factors considered, prostitution laws clearly represent lost opportunities for the protection of society against other crimes.
Charles Winick says that “It would be extremely foolhardy to base public policy on the temporary or neurotic needs of a very small element of the population, there has never been any society where regulated prostitution has worked” (pg. 267). He also believes that prostitution is unfair to the prostitute, and that prostitution paves the way for other crimes in a community that allows it. I am not denying these facts, however, Winick does not provide any refutation to my arguments invoving the costs of prostitution law enforcement. Maybe because there are very few arguments against my views.
Many Americans may never wish to condone prostitution, but the time has come to ask whether or not we can afford to keep it illegal. In the face of rising complaints of violent crime in virtually all major cities, the hundreds of highly skilled vice officer man-hours devoted weekly to prostitution costs. It is clear that many of the costs incurred in the enforcement of prostitution laws are inescapable, but most unfortunately, police on prostitution duty are seldom available to deter more assaultive crimes.
Mora, James. Personal Interview. 28 Apr. 1999
Pearl, Julie. “The Highest Paying Customers: America’s Cities Against the Costs of Prostitution Control.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Human Sexuality. ED. Robert T Francoeur. Guilford [C.T]: Dushkin Publishing Group, INC., 1989.
Sharkey, Joe. “Come Listen to a Story ‘Bout a Town Against Hookers.” New York Times. 19 Apr. 1998: P. 7, Sec. 4.
Winick, Charles. “Debate on the Legalization of Prostitution.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Human Sexuality: Ed. Robert T. Francoeur. Guilford [C.T.]: Dushkin Publishing Group, INC., 1989.