History records prostitution as one of the world’s oldest profession. However this profession is considered a crime in many countries today. The number of countries legalizing prostitution is growing. No wonder with upcoming new life style issues like homosexuality and gay marriages, the global liberal view is indeed spreading fast and quick. Among the countries of today which have legalized prostitution in some form or other include Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, Canada and most of Europe. Some of these countries may have restrictions and even criminalization of certain aspects of prostitution like pimps, health testing, brothel restrictions, soliciting methods, advertising etc.. However, one of the most notable countries which haven’t legalized prostitution is US. Today in most states of the US, prostitution is still illegal.
The UN General Assembly had on December 18, 1979 adopted CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women), which the then US President Jimmy Carter signed in 1970. The CEDAW is an international statute intended to better the rights of women worldwide, and establishes a framework for the nations to work, for ending discrimination against women (HRW, 2007).
Although the US claims to be a front-runner in providing women’s rights, it failed to ratify the CEDAW. The Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate had passed the CEDAW on September 29, 1994, but it has still not been ratified by the full Senate. The provisions of the CEDAW allows voluntary prostitution as a profession of choice, like any other profession; and access to healthcare including family planning, which includes abortion (Dave, 2005).
Before deciding on legalization, it is important to know the prevailing facts on prostitution, in the US. The National Task Force on Prostitution estimates that about one million people to have worked as prostitutes in the US, which is about 1% of American women. About 70% of women prostitutes and 20% of male prostitutes are arrested. An interesting fact behind the arrests is that about 85 – 90% of the arrested are street prostitutes, although street prostitutes account for only 20% of prostitutes in US. The ratio of street prostitutes is varied based on the local laws, and policies followed in corresponding cities. Smaller cities having limited indoor venues may have street prostitution even up to 50%.
The ratio of male and female prostitutes vary from city to city, like in San Francisco, where male prostitutes are about 20 – 30%, and 25% of the female prostitutes being transgender. Another social issue related to prostitution is drug abuse, with rate of abuse ranging from 0 – 84%, depending on the population studied (PENet, 2008). However, drug addiction is relatively rare among women prostitutes who work off the streets. Disease is another problem associated with prostitution. The US Department of Health estimates prostitution related sexually transmitted diseases to be about 3 – 5%, although it is 30 – 35% due to teenagers.
The advocates of anti-prostitution law point out that legalizing prostitution would only help the pimps and subject prostitutes to more harm, apart from increasing violence. The stand of the federal government was made known in 2004, when it said, “The United States government takes a firm stance against proposals to legalize prostitution because prostitution directly contributes to the modern-day slave trade and is inherently demeaning.” Although prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada, the government claims that legalizing prostitution would create an increased demand for human trafficking victims.
According to a recent study by Steven Levitt and Sudhir Venkatesh, based on data from the Chicago Police Department, prostitutes get arrested only about once in every 450 sessions (Bazelon, 2008). They also discovered that there was a high demand of prostitutes for sex, from police officers themselves. The American social view of prostitution, as being immoral has been in place since the 19th century. The United States Victorian era (1840-1900) saw a transition of social view from sympathy and support at the start of the century, to rejection at the end (Hickenbottom, 2002). Although the debate on legalizing prostitution, continues in the US, there are many Americans who still consider prostitutes as ‘whores’ and see them as trash.
HRW (2007) CEDAW: The women’s rights treaty [Electronic Version] Retrieved on March 22, 2008 from http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/cedaw/
Dave, (2005) What countries have legal prostitution? [Electronic Version] Retrieved on March 22, 2008 from http://www.sexwork.com/coalition/whatcountrieslegal.html
Bazelon. E (2008) Why is prostitution illegal?. [Electronic Version] Retrieved on March 22, 2008 from http://www.slate.com/id/2186243/
PENet (2008) Prostitution in the United States – The statistics [Electronic Version] Retrieved on March 22, 2008 from http://www.bayswan.org/stats.html
Hickenbottom. I.L (2002) Prostitution: Then and now [Electronic Version] Retrieved on March 22, 2008 from