Prostitution is considered to be a victimless crime that does not harm people, but the legalization of prostitution can cause huge damage to society, its morality, culture, and protection of the individual. The issue of legalization of prostitution, soft drugs, and other similar crimes that are currently classified as victimless crimes is often raised in modern society.
Definition of the Term Victimless Crime
The term ‘victimless crime’ is used to denote acts prohibited by law, but not causing direct harm to the health and rights of others. Victimless crime is a crime, in which no side can be regarded as a victim. Such crimes in the West (primarily the United States) include speculation on the stock exchange, sale and use of illicit drugs, as well as illicit sexual relations between consenting adults (e.g. prostitution and homosexual relationship in some American states). Typically, a victim of the crime is easily identified. However, a crime without victims means declaring behavior as criminal because society and government structures define such behavior as immoral. In recent years, the world has begun to move for the decriminalization of many types of victimless crimes.
Prostitution, except in situations with causing actual violence, such as rape or sexual slavery, is considered a victimless crime. However, even in this way, sometimes the victim is considered to be a prostitute because the law considers it as an object of exploitation. The laws of Sweden, Norway, and Iceland persecute for the purchase of sexual services, but not for sale. An attitude towards prostitution in modern states is different. In some countries, the sale of sexual services is totally prohibited by law, in other prostitution itself is not prohibited, but there are restrictions on the associated action.
Legal Status of Prostitution in the USA
Prostitution is the exchange of sex for money. It is considered illegal in all U.S. states except Nevada. Until November 2009, prostitution was legally permitted in the state of Rhode Island. Nevada allows brothels legally, but only in some districts. In all rural districts of the state, prostitution is illegal. Currently, brothels are operating in eight districts of the state, although being permitted in more districts. There are three main laws on prostitution:
- prohibition to open brothels;
- to offer sexual services in public places;
- to live on the earnings of prostitution.
The Supreme Court of Canada declared all three existing in the country prostitution laws unconstitutional and ineffective, thus removing all restrictions on prostitution and brothels organization.
Most often, prostitution constitutes a sale of sexual services of a woman to a man. However, transactions between two men are also quite common. Much less often, a man sells his services to a woman. Nude dancers, those who are engaged in phone sex, and Internet porn videos are also a part of the sex industry.
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Prostitution Historical Background
Prostitution has existed throughout history and it is called the oldest profession. Nevertheless, its significance and meaning changed in different historical periods and in different societies. In ancient Greece, this practice was tolerated. In some periods of Greek history, prostitutes were valued for what they were not only good sex partners but also could support deep intellectual communication. In other ancient societies, prostitution was a part of religious rituals. Often, prostitutes and men had sexual relations in the temples and these sex acts were considered as sacred. In some cultures, a man in such acts was considered to be a representative of the deity.
In medieval Europe, prostitution was tolerated and public baths provided opportunities for contact between clients and prostitutes. In England, during the Victorian era, prostitution was considered a scandalous, but still a necessary component. It provided sexual and social freedom of men. For example, the connection of any middle-class man with a prostitute was considered far less vicious than his relationship with a wife or daughter of another member of the middle class.
The Internet has had a great influence on the oldest profession in the world. In particular, it concerns the market for prostitution. The websites offer a variety of escorts with a wide range of physical, mental, and sexual entertainment. It can be a game in slavery, sadomasochism, or enforcement of any fantasies. The prostitute and the client communicate by email, so it eliminates pimps and brothels.
Why It's Important to Maintain the Status of Prostitution as a Criminal Offense
Some time ago, the possibility of legalizing prostitution was discussed in the United States. However, a number of factors point to the need to maintain the status of prostitution as a criminal offense.
Advocates of the decriminalization of prostitution argue that the disclosure of such crimes requires a tremendous amount of time and money and inhibits the activity of law enforcement. Secondly, victimless crimes are often associated with corrupt police officers and other representatives of the criminal justice system receiving bribes from illegal suppliers and dealers. Third, victimless crimes include actions that are a personal matter of specific individuals and therefore should not concern the state or others.
Proponents of the abolition of persecution of victimless crimes believe in the right of each individual to political freedom. According to this principle, individuals have the right to participate in any activities which they want if these actions do not harm others, even in cases when an individual wants to harm himself/herself. In this case, the state has no right to dictate to people a certain behavior.
According to Fuchs (2013), “legally employed people in America get rights like a minimum wage, freedom from discrimination, and a safe work environment. Since prostitutes don't work legally, they don't get any of those rights”. These principles of libertarian philosophy are known as individual sovereignty and the principle of non-aggression. In general, social libertarianism argues that the laws prohibiting victimless crimes have no rational or moral reasoning. Therefore, they should be abolished. It is also argued that the activities aimed at eradicating such actions cause more damage than the crime. The cancellation of these prohibitions is motivated by the same principle of harm reduction, which was originally motivated by their establishment.
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The basic arguments against criminalizing prostitution and brothels are based on the fact that prostitution is difficult to pursue legally. Prostitution thrives despite the criminal sanctions against it. This has happened in the history of most societies, where it was banned. Efforts to eradicate prostitution always have been as expensive as ineffective. There are also other negative results of illegal prostitution. For example, the status of prostitution as a criminal offense encourages links with organized crime and difficult rehabilitation of prostitutes (prostitutes have difficulties with finding a job when their names appear in a criminal case). There are objections relating to discrimination in the application of penalties. Clients and prostitutes in most cases bear the same responsibility.
However, prostitutes are usually pursued, arrested, and put into jail. In this inequality, there are a few remarkable exceptions. In Washington, police officers arrested automobiles of clients of prostitutes. It helps to find and punish buyers on par with sellers. There are at least two alternatives to the criminal status of prostitution. One of them is the legalization, the other is the decriminalization. In such cases, it will be possible to register prostitutes and require them to comply with certain procedures. For example, to keep the license, they will have to undergo a compulsory medical examination, as it is done in Nevada.
According to Kuo (2002), “there are, in general, four reasons given for favoring legalized prostitution:
- To protect public sensibilities.
- To protect public health.
- To protect public safety
- To protect women (and men) in the business”.
However, even if prostitution were legalized or decriminalized, laws relating to sexual harassment and engaging in the business of juveniles would remain in force.
In addition, if prostitution became legal, its links to organized crime would be weakened. Prostitutes would be less subjected to harassment by pimps, clients, the legal system, and all who profit from prostitution. Weitzer (2012) argues that legalization and decriminalization are alternatives to the criminalization of prostitution.
History of Legalizing Prostitution
There is a long history of legalizing prostitution. The term prostitution first appeared in ancient Greece in the 6th century BC to refer to women whose sex services could be legally bought in brothels. Reforms of Athenian lawmaker Solon first legalized brothels. Women working in them were called “prostasai”, i.e. women for sale.
In Great Britain, the law in 1959 did not allow the public to engage in prostitution but allowed to provide sexual services at home for a fee, though it prohibited to live on income from the trade of body. In France, prostitution is permitted by law, but brothels are prohibited. In the Nordic countries, there is an emphasis on hygienic aspects – providing mandatory regular medical checkups and involuntary hospitalization of patients with sexually transmitted diseases. In Sweden, the purchase of sexual services is criminalized, but it is very difficult to prove this kind of violation.
There are other issues relating to the legalization of various parts of the sex industry. Pornography is another example of a victimless crime. Pornography often becomes the first user of all the latest technologies. Soon after the printing press, photography, movies, cable TV, video, and the Internet appeared, they have been used for the production of pornography. Erotic materials are characterized by a fact that there could cause a sense of mutual arrangement, respect, and enjoyment. In contrast to violent and degrading pornography, erotic materials do not have a serious negative impact on the viewer.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and press. However, these guarantees do not apply to all porno. Access to sexually explicit material on the Internet raises many issues relating to censorship and the protection of children. Beginning in the early twentieth century, a number of agreements on combating the spread of pornography were adopted at the international level, yet their demands are not met by many countries. Advocates of legalization of pornography argue that it could become the replacement of sexual crimes. A potential rapist would make all his desire in the video.
In Denmark, legalization and increased availability of pornography has not led to an increase in sexual offenses. In most Western countries, pornography is legal and easily allowed to view persons who are 16 years old. Among the countries where pornography is officially banned, there are almost all Muslim countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, as well as India, Kenya, Cuba, and China. Pornographic material is usually banned on national television. There are, nevertheless, pay-TV with content for adults. Some countries (Australia, the UK, the USA, and others) establish criminal responsibility not only for production and distribution but also for the storage of child pornography.
A sex shop is a part of the sex industry. It is a shop that sells various products relating to erotic or sexual entertainment (clothing, lingerie, vibrators, pornography, etc.). The first sex shop appeared in 1962 in Flensburg (Germany). Nowadays, sex shops are widespread in many countries. The Internet has given the field for the sex shop industry too. This industry is regulated by the law. Some countries prohibit sex shops and the products, which they sell. The United States legalized sex shops in the 1960s in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
However, the law allows local and state jurisdictions to limit their activities. Some advocates of prostitution legalizing find that the history of prostitution is very similar to the legalization of sex shops. When sex shops were legalized, Orthodox people were afraid that all the people would rush there. Nevertheless, these fears were not justified. The same situation was with the phone sex industry. Phone sex is a conversation on the phone when a one (or more) person describes the act of sex. Now, it is legal in the United States. Sex by phone is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, it should be remembered that the legalization of both sex industries deals only with adults.
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Sex Escort Services
One more example of the legalization of sex services is sex escort. This part of the sex industry is very similar to prostitution. However, it is legal in the United States. From a social point of view, there is no criminal aspect in providing services of sex escorts. A sex act takes place after social companionship. There are some obligations to this law. The escort cannot ask for extra money for sex. A social companionship cannot be missed because it would be more like prostitution. However, sex escort and prostitution differ a lot. The legalization of sex escort is justified by the fact that going on a date with the girl and having a sex act with her is legal in the country.
The Decriminalization of Prostitution
Opponents of the decriminalization of prostitution, in turn, argue that some acts are originally bad and the negative public reaction to them is justified in the same way as a reaction to rape, theft, murder, incest. From a pure democratic point of view of the government, the right of the majority is always more important than the right of the minority. Therefore, if an act is unacceptable in the opinion of the majority, representatives of the majority should have the right to prohibit and punish such actions. From this point of view, there are no inalienable rights of the individual; there is only the collective right of the absolute majority.
Another principle of denying the decriminalization of prostitution is the impossibility of consent. This position argues fundamental illegality and the inability to agree to specific actions. The law protects people from committing harmful acts because perpetrators do not know what they do. According to Crouse (2010), “Any discussion of prostitution must center on a basic fact: Control and exploitation of another person is slavery. Pimps control 80%-95% of all forms of prostitution”.
Many people do not understand that the decriminalization of prostitution causes the decriminalization of all participants of the sex industry. A man, who buys a woman for sex activities, would be considered as an ordinary consumer of sexual service. Raymond (2004) states that “prostituted women suffer the same kinds of violence and sexual exploitation as women who have been battered, raped, and sexually assaulted” (1174). However, this exploitation and violence are considered as usual sex and tolerated as a kind of job.
A set of laws has been drawn up not by the principle of protection of the individual, but on the principle of the protection of society as a whole. They postulate that the direct damage from certain types of activity is so great that people should be protected from committing these actions by the legislative ban, regardless of the wishes of people. Prostitution destroys society and its traditions. It is a serious social problem that should be addressed. The legislative bans often see their goal in preserving morality in the society or in preventing crime against God (means promiscuity or blasphemy in the church's understanding). Typically, these arguments sound in societies where religion is the basis of law, moral code, or social traditions. These arguments are often contested in non-theocratic societies.
The Fight against Prostitution
The principle of the benefit of an individual argues that society is entitled to prohibit an individual to take actions to harm himself/herself. People inflict such great harm on themselves by committing certain acts that it is simpler to prohibit such actions by the law.
The fight against prostitution as a social phenomenon should have two aspects:
- State struggles with illegal forms of prostitution (especially trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation) and monitors the conditions of legal prostitution.
- Public organizations are fighting for better working conditions in the sex industry, as well as for the rehabilitation of prostitutes.
Although prostitution is considered to be a victimless crime, it should not be free from governmental interference. The most important negative feature of prostitution is a sharp decline in public morality, spiritual degradation, which is extremely harmful for the education of children and youth. Prostitution undermines the foundations of social life, destroys the family and, ultimately, the man himself. It results in increasing the rate of female crime, death, incurable disease, suicide, and dying out of the gene pool of the nation. Measures aimed at preventing prostitution would be effective only if the problem of the family, woman, and child becomes a priority in the state and society. It is needed to improve programs of family assistance, motherhood, childhood, as well as the relevant legislative framework.
Prostitution Should Not Be Legal
Prevention of prostitution should be based on general social measures to improve the conditions of women and their families. It is necessary to strengthen the administrative and legal fight against prostitution. It is also necessary to improve the criminal law to combat sex-businesses that profit from the exploitation of prostitutes. It is difficult to overestimate the role that the media can play in preventing sexual exploitation. It is the media that can establish active propaganda activities to inform the public about all of the most painful problems. However, they should ensure effective control of the advertising activities to prohibit overt sexual advertising and other services.
Prostitution is a socially dangerous phenomenon that has social roots. The state has to fight with it immediately and actively. The government should provide more serious legal measures to combat prostitution than simple fines and penalties like small prison terms. An integrated and comprehensive approach to the prevention of prostitution can help to resolve the problem. Undoubtedly, its solution must involve psychologists, social workers and health professionals, educators, law enforcement officers, lawyers, and members of other professions. The main goal is to stop the spread of prostitution by common efforts of the state, society, and non-governmental organizations.
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