Yes, we can! (or should, anyway)
I’ve barely cracked the new book SuperFreakonomics, and I’m already running to my computer to bitch. Not about the book; I was a big fan of the first Freakonomics book, and thus far have been enjoying the sequel. But right there in chapter one they bring up some research done by Sudhir Venkatesh on Chicago prostitutes, and it’s got my knickers in a twist. Hell, if I wore panties, they’d be in a bunch.
I make no secret of the fact that I think drugs and prostitution should be legalized. I firmly believe that we should all be allowed to make decisions about what we do with our own bodies and our own lives. But I rarely write about hookers and dope (which sounds like a movie I’d love to see), unless I find myself once again faced with data that support my position and remind me of how irritating it is when everyone else doesn’t see things my (which is to say the right) way. Or at the very least elect me king so that I can set this shit right.
The drug argument isn’t on my agenda today, but to answer your question: yes, I believe that all drugs should be legal, not just pot. I’d settle, though, for starting with legalizing pot, emptying the prisons of incarcerated non-violent drug felons, and ceasing the completely misnamed “war on drugs” immediately. We can argue about whether or not I should be allowed to buy hydrocodone over the counter another time.
Today, it’s all about hookers. So let me state my position clearly: it’s legal to fuck, it’s legal to sell things, so it should be legal to sell fuck. Case closed. Of course, saying this at a dinner party is guaranteed to cause pretty much every smug liberal and obnoxious conservative in the room to look as if you’re cute little Linda Blair in The Exorcist, peeing on the living room carpet like a spastic cat. If you’re into being on the receiving end of a hilarious blend of disgust and pity, I highly recommend mentioning something along those lines (you might want to tone the language down a bit; I don’t, but I’m rarely invited back, either).
I’d also recommend it if you enjoy at least one person from from each end of the political spectrum explaining to you, in tiny words so you can follow, why you just don’t understand the issue. “It’s much more complex,” they’ll say. “You don’t understand the realities.” Really? Here’s a rundown of the arguments I’ve heard:
Argument #1: The Drug Addict Argument. This one goes like this: most prostitutes are drug addicts, therefore prostitution is exploitative of their suffering, therefore it needs to be illegal. Sounds suitably caring, until you think about it for more than 1.7 seconds. Point number one: prostitution is already illegal, 83 percent of the prostitutes Venkatesh following were addicted to drugs, and they’re already working in the business. I don’t think it takes a brilliant economist to see that the illegality of the trade isn’t solving the problems of drug addiction and exploitation. And somehow I doubt that legalizing it will cause a generation of young women to say “oh thank goodness! At last I can become a drug addict and sell my body to support my habit.”
Point number two: it is exploitative, but in the same way that any work is exploitative of anyone that needs money. I understand that desperation can push people to do all manner of things they wouldn’t normally choose to do, but if it’s the addiction that’s driving the desperation, then it’s the addiction that’s the problem. Taking away the job doesn’t change that. And, as we’ve seen, making it illegal doesn’t take the job away anyway. At least if prostitution were legal, workers might have the same shot at an insurance-provided rehab as the bankers who visit them do.
Argument #2: The Religious Argument. Goes like this: god says it’s wrong. On most days, I’m an atheist, so this one carries no fucking weight with me at all. But, atheist or not, you’ve got to agree that having religion drive legislation is completely off the reservation, so it’s groundless anyway. Yes, I’m aware that religion often does drive legislation, but that pathetic fact makes me apoplectic, so I’m moving on here. I won’t, for example, point out the disgusting hypocrisy of the Catholic church voting “nay” on adults buying sex from other adults while voting “yea” on hiding and protecting men who sexually abuse children.
Argument #3: The Violence Argument. This argument claims that legalizing prostitution will invite more violence against women. It’s the most common one I hear, the one that pisses me off the most, and the one with its head the farthest up its own stinky ass. Because the violence committed against women in the prostitution industry exists primarily because it isn’t legal.
The average prostitute in Venkatesh’s study suffers a dozen acts of violence in a year. A dozen. And of the 160 women that Venkatesh followed, 3 died during the study. Almost a 2 percent mortality rate, and over 15 times the mortality rate of the most dangerous legal job in the United States (timber cutting, with a mortality rate of .12 percent). And those are the numbers that really piss me off. Those are the numbers that caused me to start this column.
By definition, the criminalization of prostitution makes prostitutes criminals. Which in turn makes them choice targets to be beaten, exploited, and generally treated like shit by anyone they come in contact with during their working day. In fact, by making these women criminals, I’d argue that you even encourage it a bit: “she’s just a whore, she’s beneath contempt, you want to slap her around, we don’t really care much.” I’m quite sure that a prostitute who complains to the police about being beaten up by an unhappy “business manager” or a trick that can’t get it up won’t get nearly the help that a woman who works at any other profession would get if she were to report the same behavior by a boss or client.
The idea that keeping prostitution illegal somehow protects women is not only absurd, it’s an insult. An insult perpetuated by, among others, misguided women’s rights advocates, conservative Christians and other religious demagogues, and politicians that think they know better than you how you ought to live your life. But the dirty, sad fact is that keeping prostitution illegal does only two things, both of them to, not for women: it hurts them, and it controls them. Which is par for the course: hurting and controlling women have been at the top of an awful lot of people’s agendas for an awfully long time.
I’ll say it here, now, plainly: anyone that claims to be trying to protect women by keeping prostitution illegal either has some other agenda, hasn’t thought it through, or is simply too arrogant and patronizing to see clearly. Because the best way to protect the health and safety of women who chose to use their bodies as they please is to get them off of Twelfth Avenue and into a nice, safe, legal brothel.
But we can’t give the bitches any more power now, can we?