Sex on camera for cash is legal. Sex in private for cash is not

April, 2020

Part of me thinks I’m nuts to bring up anything to do with sex work in the middle of the #metoo movement. The stories of sexual harassment, almost all of them involving men molesting women, are disgusting. Trafficking, forcing women to service men, and pimping are also abhorrent. Women are rightly outraged.

But simple old-fashioned sale of sexual services is, in my opinion, different. Most of my liberal female friends would agree that women should have control of their own bodies. If they don’t want to spend nine months creating a baby, they shouldn’t be forced to do so. But when it comes to sexual services, most women I know have a different attitude. Women should not be allowed to sell any sexual services even if they want to.

Many of my women friends don’t think any woman, given reasonable alternative, would ever CHOOSE to take money for sex. Today’s ubiquitous porn industry shows how wrong my women friends are. Thousands of women audition for porn movies every month. No one is making them do it. No one thinks they are breaking the law. (One woman said that sex is the one thing you can sell to someone and still have it.)

The irony is that in the U. S. (and many other countries) if you sell sex to a multi-partner gang bang in a movie, you won’t get arrested, even though the evidence of your paid-for sex act will be caught on camera and made available to millions. But if you approach a single person on the street and offer them sex in private for cash, you could be arrested and jailed, even if you never deliver.

We tend to lump the willing sale of sex by a competent adult with crimes like rape, human trafficking and pimping out women addicted to drugs. Rape, trafficking and pimping are not sex crimes; they are violent crimes, and should be punished accordingly.

Many countries recognize the difference, allowing some forms of selling sex but prohibiting others. Here is a summary from Wikipedia:

Prohibitionism….This is the most common model (well over 100 jurisdictions) and includes the United States (except for parts of Nevada).
All aspects of prostitution are criminalized. Often the sex trade is seen as a violation of human dignity, moral or religious beliefs; e.g. Russia (also known as “criminalization”)

Abolitionism….In this model, prostitution itself is legal, but third-party involvement is generally prohibited. Solicitation is also often prohibited. While this model recognizes that a prostitute may choose to work in the trade, it declares that the trade is morally wrong. In this model, the law is designed to stop prostitution impacting on the public. (More than 100 countries use this model, including UK, parts of Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Spain.)

Neo-abolitionism….Neo-abolitionists believe there is no free choice for people entering prostitution, it violates their human rights and that prostitution is the sale and consumption of human bodies. Whilst prostitutes themselves commit no crime, clients and any third party involvement is criminalized; e.g. Sweden (also called the “Swedish model” or “Nordic model”). (Other countries using this model include France, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Norway.)

Legalization….While prostitution is not prohibited, there is legislation to control and regulate it. The extent and type of control varies from country to country and may be regulated by work permits, licensing or tolerance zones; as in The Netherlands (This is also called “regulationist”). (Other countries /jurisdictions doing this include parts of Australia, Austria, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, several counties in Nevada, USA, and a dozen more.)

Decriminalization….The decriminalization of sex work is the removal of criminal penalties for sex work. In most countries, sex work, the consensual provision of sexual services for money or goods, is criminalized. Removing criminal prosecution for sex workers creates a safer and healthier environment and allows them to live with less social exclusion and stigma. Includes New Zealand and parts of Australia.

Note that none of these models allow human trafficking, sex with minors, rape or coercion of any kind. Those are crimes in their own right.

Selling sex can improve crime rates depending on how it is done.

Thanks to a drafting error in the Rhode Island legislature and the actions of a Rhode Island District Court judge, prostitution practiced by women in their homes was, for a brief period of time starting in 2003, legal. (Outdoor sex acts, operating a brothel, or pimping were still illegal.)

In their newsletter, “Marginal Revolution,” two conservative economists from George Mason University reported on studies that showed the effects of increased prostitution on other sex crimes.

In Rhode Island: A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at the five years (2004 to 2009) following the decriminalization. It provided the first causal estimates of the impact of decriminalization on the composition of the sex market, rape offenses, and sexually transmitted infection outcomes.

Not surprisingly, they found that decriminalization increased the size of the indoor market. However, they also found that decriminalization caused both forcible rape offenses and gonorrhea incidence to decline for the overall population. Their synthetic control model found 824 fewer reported rape offenses (31 percent decrease) and 1,035 fewer cases of female gonorrhea (39 percent decrease) from before the law was changed.

The Netherlands: A new paper in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy by Bisschop, Kastoryano, and van der Klaauw looks at the opening and closing of prostitution zones (tippelzones) in 25 Dutch cities.

Our empirical results show that opening a tippelzone reduces sexual abuse and
rape. These results are mainly driven by a 30–40 percent reduction in the first two years after opening the tippelzone. For tippelzones with a licensing system, we additionally find long-term decreases in sexual assaults and a 25 percent decrease in drug-related crime, which persists in the medium to long run.

New York: A working paper by Riccardo Ciacci and María Micaela Sviatschi studies prostitution in New York and also finds that prostitution significantly reduces sex crimes such as rape:

“We use a unique data set to study the effect of indoor prostitution establishments on sex crimes. We built a daily panel from January 1, 2004 to June 30, 2012 with the exact location of police stops for sex crimes and the day of opening and location of indoor prostitution establishments. We find that indoor prostitution decreases sex crime with no effect on other types of crime.

“We argue that the reduction is mostly driven by potential sex offenders that become customers of indoor prostitution establishments. We also rule out other mechanisms such as an increase in the number of police officers and a reduction of potential victims in areas where these businesses opened. In addition, results are robust to different data sources and measures of sex crimes apart from police stops.”

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