Prostitution, or as some modern progressives prefer to call it, “sex work, has often been called the world’s oldest profession. Almost every culture in world history has had people of both sexes who rent their bodies out for money. Except in Nevada, where prostitution is legal albeit highly regulated, prostitution has been illegal in the United States. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, a candidate for president of the United States, would like to change that state of affairs.
David Weigel of the Washington Post tweeted that Warren is open to decriminalizing sex work, as she refers to it. Her full statement runs as follows:
“I’m open to decriminalization. Sex workers, like all workers, deserve autonomy, but they are particularly vulnerable to physical and financial abuse and hardship. We need to make sure we don’t undermine legal protections for the most vulnerable, including millions of individuals who are victims of human trafficking each year.”
The idea of decriminalizing prostitution is actually shared by a number of Democratic presidential candidates. The Washington Examiner reports that Sen. Cory Booker, N.J., Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii, Sen. Kamala Harris, Calif., and Rep. Seth Moulton, Mass. would also like to see the world’s oldest profession made legal. Less than 24 hours after Warren made her announcement, Bernie Sanders also suggested that he was open to decriminalization.
For Sanders to be in favor of decriminalizing prostitution is a little bizarre. Most people who favor legal sex work are libertarians since the change appeals to both their support of individual freedom and capitalism. Bernie Sanders is a socialist and no fan of liberty. Perhaps he is thinking that prostitutes would work for the government, as part of the Medicare for All scheme.
Warren’s voting record does not suggest someone who is open to having working girls (and presumably boys) ply their trade without being pestered by law enforcement. According to the Washington Examiner, “In the past, Warren had voted to ban websites used by prostitutes to screen clients. She also supported legislation that would push banks to close the accounts of suspected human traffickers, though critics said it would close the accounts of suspected prostitutes as well.”
The proposal to remove criminal penalties for prostitution is likely to be contentious. Those who are against having sex work legal contend that it will subject more women to abuse and exploitation. Decriminalization would increase sex trafficking along with all of the attended social evils. It would also, in the view of opponents, encourage the breakup of marriages as people will have less dangerous access to professionals for their sexual gratification.
Proponents maintain that decriminalization would have the opposite effect. The government would be able to regulate sex work, setting health standards, and preventing abuse and exploitation by pimps. As a bonus, the government can slap a tax on sex work.
Proponents also point out that there has not been a surge of sex trafficking and other related social ills in Nevada or in countries that allow legal prostitution, such as Holland. They also suggest that law enforcement efforts to suppress sex work has been largely ineffective.
Of course, Warren, Sanders and the rest have not revealed what they mean by “decriminalization.” How would prostitution be regulated? Would it be confined to certain areas? What procedures would sex workers have to go through to become legal? Would they have to register and undergo periodic health exams? Presumably, underage prostitution would still be prohibited as would forced sex trafficking.
Of course, how Trump may react to the proposal is open to question. On the one hand, he has a base of religious conservative voters who would be horrified at the idea of decriminalizing prostitution. The president has also made much of the human trafficking, especially of children, that is going on across the southern border.
On the other hand, the Stormy Daniels affair suggests that Trump has not been above consorting with professional girls in the past. He has denied the affair, but the denial is widely disbelieved.
In any case, Warren and the other Democrats, with the conspicuous exception of Joe Biden, have come out, to one degree or another, to decriminalizing prostitution. Whether the idea becomes a major issue is difficult to predict.