Matt Steinglass contrasts drug decriminalization, which he says "has been a success everywhere it has been implemented," with the legalization of prostitution:
Up through the 1990s, there seemed to be a strong case that legalising brothels could destigmatise prostitution and allow sex workers to enjoy employment rights and establish normal relations with police and the justice system, drive down human trafficking, keep underage girls out of the business, and so forth. But the sense at this point, in countries like Spain, the Netherlands and Germany that have been trying this approach for over a decade, is that decriminalisation isn't delivering as promised. Opinions are divided, but there's evidence of an increase in the rackets of "loverboys" luring girls from poorer countries (Romania, Colombia) into forced sex work. Brothels that play by the rules must employ high-wage locals with work permits; they find it hard to compete with pimps bringing in low-wage illegal immigrants. Internet-based escort services are impossible to force into the legal framework. Because prostitution itself is not illegal, police and prosecutors have a harder time making cases against traffickers. It is, at least, a very mixed bag.
The prevailing concern with prostitution today is that it’s exploitative, and the main source of that concern is most people think of prostitution as a full-time career and defining life choice. Of course, that doesn’t have to be the case. Cultural and moral divides have traditionally led people to go all in on prostitution or all out. We’re now already pretty deep into a middle moral position, where informal or tacit exchanges of sex for money make it increasingly difficult to convincingly draw conceptual boundaries. ‘Amateur’ sex work and part-time entrepreneurial prostitution are growth industries. Yesterday’s gray area was defined by the people who put themselves through college by stripping. Today’s gray area — as developments in Africa seem to be illustrating — can help move the exchange of sex for money closer into the mainstream.
Lauren Davis runs down the implications of a paper suggesting that robot prostitution is coming to a future near you.
(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)