The world’s oldest profession, prostitution: Is legalization the best option?

This summer, 175 men were arrested as part of a DC police prostitution sting. The police centered the operation in the downtown area of Northwest DC. The police focused on the customers of prostitution, colloquially referred to as “johns.” Most of the men were charged with solicitation of prostitution.

For this sting, the Washington Post reported that the police have been posing online as sex workers and arranging to meet men at hotel rooms in DC. When the men show up, the police arrest them.

The main problem with this operation is that it fails to combat the primary public concern about prostitution: sex workers are soliciting their customers and conducting their activities outside in public view. This sting fails to address this problem. The police are only targeting people who are online in the privacy of their own home and seeking services in a hotel room that is not in public view. None of these activities affect the public.

Rise in Violent Crime in DC

This prostitution sting came at the heels of Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier’s decision to dismantle all of the department’s vice units this past January. By May 2015, no vice units were left in DC. All of their investigations were turned over to a centralized narcotics unit, which overburdened their caseload.

Perhaps due to this change of structure, DC has seen an increase in murder and violent crimes this year. So far, 120 people have been murdered in DC in 2015. This means that 15 more people have been killed this year than were murdered in all of 2014 – and we still have over two months to go. With this huge problem on their plate, it seems ridiculous that the police are focusing on the non-violent, victimless crime of prostitution.

Therefore, the police are not only targeting the wrong perpetrators, but they are doing so when they should be concerning themselves with much more serious problems.

While we are discussing the matter, it really makes sense to stop prosecuting prostitution altogether.

Why We Should Stop Prosecuting Prostitution

Prostitution is a transaction between two adults. It involves the legal activity of consensual sex. The only difference between prostitution and legal sex is the exchange of money. Unlike a drug exchange, the actual product involved in the transaction is not illegal. Prostitution is actually similar to pornography, in which adults are also engaging in consensual sex for money. Oddly enough, pornography is legal.

There is no victim in prostitution. Prostitution does not harm either the customer seeking the services or the person who has chosen this occupation. However, under the law, both of the parties are criminals.

Those that argue that prostitution should be a crime say that it is an industry that subjects the sex workers to violence, disease, and inequality. However, this argument is actually perpetrated by criminalization. Because it is a criminal act, sex workers do not have access to labor representation or police protection. The majority of the problems arise because there is no regulation or legal protection for either the sex workers or the customers.

Maybe instead of stigmatizing the men and women who are involved in prostitution, we should acknowledge that prostitution is here to stay. Prosecution is often referred to as the “world’s oldest profession.” While this probably is not actually the case, prostitution has been recorded in every known civilization. Prostitution is present throughout the United States despite the fact that it is illegal almost everywhere. It’s time to stop fighting it.

We should really take a page out of Amsterdam’s playbook. In the Netherlands, prostitution has been legal since 1830 and regulated since 2000. The regulations require licenses, implement income taxes, and create strict health requirements for both the workers and the customers. Their government website acknowledges the Dutch view of prostitution: “…it is a profession as any other work. Prostitution is good as long as women (or men) who work as prostitutes do it from their own will, and are not exploited. The sex workers should be respected and their rights protected.”

We need to adopt the Dutch view of prostitution. No one benefits from punishing those involved or stigmatizing the profession. If we decriminalize prostitution, we can input regulations to protect all of the parties involved. We could extinguish the public’s concern of public view prostitution by allowing for business locations. Further, DC in particular could greatly benefit from the income taxes that would be raised from this legalization.

So DC, let’s not herald this ridiculous solicitation sting of which the police are so proud. Let’s focus on the problem behind the sting and what we can do to make it safer for those involved. If you or someone you know needs a solicitation defense lawyer, contact our offices immediately.