I was reading an article about Mexican brothel laws. Mexican brothels apparently use the “legal, but heavily regulated, including medical testing of prostitutes” approach to prostitution I’ve heard Americans advocate (and which is the approach used by Nevada).
I’ve also heard Americans advocate for the New Zealand approach (legal, and basically no more regulated than any other business), and for the Swedish approach (prostitution is legal, but being a John is illegal).
But so far, I’ve never heard an American advocate for the US system. The US system doesn’t eliminate prostitution — according to Patty Kelly, the author of the article on Mexican brothels, 30 percent of single American men over 30 admit to having paid for sex,1 “and according to the National Task Force on Prostitution, 1 percent of women claim to have worked as erotic service providers at some point in their lives.” The system is brutal to sex workers, encourages corruption in cops, and wastes tax money on useless enforcement. No matter what you think the goal of prostitution policy ought to be, the US policy fails.
Yet it doesn’t seem seriously possible that US policy could change, either, except possibly in a couple of the more liberal or libertarian states. There’s no money behind changing the laws, and no political upside for congresspeople in advocating for change. (Plenty of downside, though — can you imagine the mailers? “Senator Smith wants to open a legal brothel in your neighborhood!” and so on.)
Kelly concludes her article:
Despite the Eliot Spitzers, the Heidi Fleisses, the Eddie Murphys, and, best of all, the pastor Ted Haggards, we deny, deny, deny that prostitution plays a role in our culture. Like Sonia lies to her family back in El Salvador about what she does for work, so too do we lie to ourselves as a culture, though on a far more massive scale. What I admire about Mexico is not the legalization of sex work in some states, but the widespread cultural honesty about the topic. What I admire even more is New Zealand’s effort to transform their own honest assessment of their situation into a public policy that benefits both sex workers and society. The final conclusion of the sex workers, the nun, the police officer, the criminologist, the public health specialists and others who formed the committee to evaluate New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act states that “traditions and attitudes [about prostitution] developed over many years and cannot be changed overnight.” This is true. But perhaps it is time we start trying.
- I originally wrote “30 percent of American men over 30 admit to having paid for sexual services,” and then updated it to more accurate wording. [↩]