Should the US Legalize Prostitution?

By Edward Tan, JD on April 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With the recent Secret Service scandal still in its infancy, discussions about the place for legalized prostitution in the U.S. have resurfaced.

Among the debated topics, the question of whether the practice would be safer if it were legal remains dominant. Prostitution occurs in every part of the world. In Columbia, where the Secret Service scandal originated, prostitutes are allowed to operate legally in specified "tolerance zones."

But should America follow in a similar vein, and if they did, would it make the sex trade safer?

Among the states, only Nevada allows some form of legalized prostitution. Counties that have populations under 700,000 are allowed to operate licensed brothels. Currently, only eight Nevada counties have active brothels.

Nevada legislators and proponents for legalization generally cite that government regulation in the area is ultimately safer for sex workers.

The argument makes sense, in theory. Prostitutes operating outside of the law are often less willing to seek out police help. They may be physically and mentally victimized by their pimps and clients. Legalization could eliminate these risks.

However, opponents to legalized prostitution paint a different story. They cite Nevada as an example of why sex work should remain illegal.

They tell stories of brothel workers being held in prison-like conditions. Prostitutes in Nevada are on call 24 hours a day and must work in dark, cramped rooms, Stella Marr, founder of a prostitution survivor's network, said. They're also not allowed to venture outside the brothels without an escort.

But not all countries agree. A Canadian court of appeal recently ruled against laws criminalizing brothels. The justification was that without them, prostitutes wouldn't be afforded the same health and safety services as everyone else.

Prostitution's legal status in the rest of the world is just as divided. Many Asian, African, and European countries ban the practice. But some don't, famous examples include Germany and the Netherlands. Others, like Thailand, criminalize it but don't strongly enforce their laws.

Whether the U.S. should legalize prostitution is a question without a clear answer. But with this latest Secret Service scandal, it's sure to be a hotly debated topic.

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