A reader writes:
I really hope you will air a dissenting view on rather than some inane moralizing or ideology. I don't often see this issue discussed in a way that reflects the reality I observed in a few locations in the EU. As someone who has worked as a volunteer with prostitutes in a loose medical capacity (alongside a wife working in a fully professional medical capacity), both in countries where it is legal, as well as in some with illegal brothels, I think that a rational appraisal of the evidence would make you rethink your unequivocal statement that you see "absolutely no reason it should not be legal."
First, let me say that I lean relatively libertarian regarding social issues, favor legalization of pot and other drugs on the less destructive end of the spectrum, and in pure theory can see the case for prostitution as a valid economic activity when good faith consent exists. However, reality does not bear out the claim that it has been made (or maybe even can be made) much less of a hellish situation for the women involved
In short: In countries with both legalized and illegal prostitution, even in Europe, most of the women/girls are trafficked to begin with. Period.
I don't care if you're in the Netherlands, Greece, or Germany – talk to a bunch of prostitutes, where they're comfortable being honest, and get ready to be depressed. The women in the legal brothels, even those currently there by choice, generally tell us that they were initially tricked or outright forced into the trade, and not uncommonly coerced into drug addiction (a method of control). Many in the legal system confess to us that they are there under threat of physical violence to themselves or to their families back in their home countries.
Your oldest profession point: yes – but it's like your description of the drug war in its messed-up state: a massive, unquenchable demand exists that will be met somehow (the money in prostitution is insane – far more profitable than most drugs). This demand though, is one that far outstrips any reasonable supply at the moment, even in "legalized" countries. How many women do you think, as a percentage of a society, are interested in prostitution as a career from the get go?
Conditions in legal brothels in Europe are not what one might imagine. In several locations I worked at, the legal working women averaged approximately 40 clients a weekend night, and 20+/weekday. It's unimaginable to me that this can even be physically bearable over time. Many exhibited physical destruction of their vaginal anatomy from overuse and rough treatment, especially after years of this. Our public health surveying and testing also indicated that STDs were crazy prevalent, despite relatively "strict" use of condoms. The women and their handlers all insisted they were fully compliant with state-mandated condom use.
I've met a number of women who would keep doing this job, saying they don't have skills for anything else that would pay decently, paired with abysmally low estimations of their own worth, and generally feeling lost in the foreign country they now reside in after having been trafficked. However, I'm not sure I know anyone personally that I can believe would take an employer up on an advertised position that accurately described the working conditions of most *legal* prostitutes. And I'm told things are even worse in parts of SE Asia by acquaintances that have performed similar work to ours there.
I have met in my work a few of the sort of prostitute we'd all like to imagine exists – women working for themselves and who discreetly meets clients for very high pay, who at least finds her work tolerable, and has some control over her schedule. Interestingly, most of those were here in the US. But those were a few among hundreds or even thousands that my wife or I have worked with. Most people whose image of prostitution is as rosy and optimistic as yours is are imagining something entirely fictional.
(Photo: A Ukrainian prostitute stands on the transit road Berlin-Warsaw on the Polish side of the German-Polish border in Slubice on January 27, 2001. Germany has become the first place in Europe for prostitutes from the eastern European countries. By Michael Kappeler /AFP/Getty Images)