Timberlake: Prostitution and the right to offend

ISU professor Michael Spurlock was arrested and charged in a prostitution sting by Ankeny Police on Wednesday, Nov. 6.

Courtesy of Iowa State University

ISU professor Michael Spurlock was arrested and charged in a prostitution sting by Ankeny Police on Wednesday, Nov. 6.

Ian Timberlake

“Without the freedom to offend, [freedom of expression] ceases to exist,” said author Sir Salman Rushdie, who at one point had a bounty of more than $3 million on his head by a major Iranian religious group for speaking ill toward certain verses of the Quran. To know the escalated scale of the tension, realize that the United Kingdom broke all diplomatic ties with Iran over the incident.

The “freedom to offend” is paramount in understanding what it means to live in a free society. Essentially, this phrase implies that nothing can be illegal on the basis that it hurts someone’s feelings or doesn’t align with their own beliefs. As I’ve quoted before, “offense can never be given, only taken.”

If you have heard about the ISU professor, Michael Spurlock, who was arrested on Nov. 6 for his involvement in a prostitution ring in Ankeny, Iowa, you may have been disgusted and offended. I was disgusted, but I was not offended. Prostitution is a victimless crime, provided it involves two consenting adults.

Given that Spurlock was a teacher, there are serious moral infringements on any sort of relationship with a student — though, this was not the case as far as we know, and if we did know, it still shouldn’t be illegal and should only permanently bar him from teaching again.

Prostitution is a crime that you — speaking to “you” as society — take offense. You don’t like it for reasons that include any of the following: personal religious beliefs, objectification of humans, or occasionally for the spread of diseases.

There is always a risk of transmitting a sexual infection no matter whom you engaged with, and there is obviously a greater risk of infection when you’re engaging with people you don’t know or you have had multiple partners — but that’s still simply a responsibility of the consenting adults. It should be illegal for a person to knowingly have a sexually transmitted disease and engage in sex without notifying the other adult by the fact that they haven’t yet consented to the possibility of contracting that STD.

A person’s personal religious beliefs have zero bearing on actual U.S. law. Even if your god makes sex sacred, and in too many cases, sin, your religion has no impact on its legality.

Prostitution involves the consensual objectification of a human body — using someone you’re not bound to for the purpose of sexual pleasure does not remotely make it grounds for state or national legal control.

The act of exchanging money for the same intent does not change this. You must remember the monetary value placed on consensual sex is not placing a value on the human, it’s the prostitute placing a value on her time and your pleasure. It’s literally business; the fact that people miss this perplexes me.

A sound person is someone who can agree that people have a right to do things that are against his own personal beliefs, provided they don’t infringe upon the rights of another person. You don’t have the right to not be offended, as Sir Rushdie lucidly revealed above. I may be against the use of recreational drugs or the legality of wearing a seatbelt, but still believe all others have the right to partake or not partake.

Spurlock’s actions may be disturbing, especially considering professorship is considered a dignifying position and those that involve themselves in prostitution are usually viewed as undignified people. However, society’s disgust doesn’t mean we have the right to control. Nobody had their freedoms taken away because of him and therefore no law should exist to condemn him.

I won’t even delve deep into the benefits of legalization either, because they are much the same arguments as for marijuana legalization — a legalization movement that’s burning across the nation. Taxation will bring more money to the state, similar to how Colorado expects to put marijuana tax dollars towards education.

Legalization of prostitution also means protection can be monitored — there would be zero difference between prostitution monitoring and that of porn stars who have to get tested every two to four weeks; it’s a very clean industry.

Spurlock may have lost his dignity and his reputation, but he should not be imprisoned in a society with an ideal structure of morals and freedoms.