Letter to the editor: Legalizing prostitution would lead to regulation

Gabriel Stoffa

The real hurdle to legalized prostitution in the United States isn’t initially with the problem of people being forced into it against their will. The stigma attached to prostitution due to religious values, along with the possible backlash by those with such values toward people that have been shown to have hired a sex worker, is the elephant in the room.

If prostitution in the United States were legalized federally, there would almost certainly be a requirement for all sex workers to maintain regular health checks and proper tax documents, especially when a worker was part of a brothel or company or if there was a sex worker’s union. Along with that would come age verification for would-be customers to maintain the state-by-state laws of legal age of consent.

By having that age verification, and potentially for anyone choosing not to pay with cash, there comes to identification of the would-be customer. The sex worker could then use that information to pass onto news sources in a manner akin to blackmail. But a lot of that is also on the person themselves to make the choice to hire a sex worker.

Due to the possible stigma attached, some customers would seek out means of interaction where their identity could remain off the record — enter the illegal sex workers.

This perpetuates the illegal prostitution areas because some people feel ashamed to let others know they might pay for sex, or just the plain fact they have sex, and other people are more than willing to accommodate people’s want for anonymity or illegal things.

On the plus side, much of the streetwalker-style hanging out on corners prostitution would be nixed — unless a city allowed it — because to do so, the sex worker in question would have to have filed for a permit to offer goods from said area; it’s like how when kids set up lemonade stands they are usually doing so illegally.

But overall, with federally legalized prostitution, the forced prostitution would dwindle significantly in states that allowed for the legal variety so long as law enforcement maintained a strong verification process alongside regular checks into brothels and the like for noncompliance, and the tax work and other verification and health checks were kept from lagging; such as the likely identification card process to signify someone was a legal sex worker.

For prostitution to be federally legal in the United States, there would have to be reams of paperwork covering the sanitary conditions of locations, working conditions, health coverage with checkups, tax documents, license renewal, etc. And as such, if it first became legalized, the first few years would require a significantly increased police presence to perform check-ins to make sure no violations of standards for workers were occurring and that sex workers were registered; along with a ready-access complaint system for sex workers to report abuses.

With time, drugged-out sex workers would dwindle extremely because sex workers would unionize or at the least brothel companies would have strict rules for their employees to allow for the levels of anonymity that would be prized by many folks, and to ensure that they were not shut down for violations.

In the meantime — and to some extent forever due to the nonabsolute tendency for all attempts to get rid of something — the illegal prostitution world would continue, even likely increase for the first couple years, as the system worked out the initial kinks of compliance and enforcement.

Legalized prostitution is the logical route because it would make a significant dent in abuse of sex workers, but only if the U.S. government is willing to actually push the importance of compliance and enforcement.

So there comes the real hurdle: can the stigma people have against sex workers be overcome? If law enforcement or politicians or even just residents of a city think sex workers “deserve” to be treated as lesser, then their enforcement might go lax and abuse could creep back in or never begin to be dealt with properly in the first place.

But again, the only, and I stress “only,” rational move for the United States in order to reduce prostitution abuse is to federally legalize prostitution with the necessary set of standards so that states can opt in or out.