Is Legalizing Prostitution the Best Way to Tackle Sex Trafficking? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Another reader addresses the question:

I’ve always had really mixed feelings on this subject. I think bringing it out of the shadows would end certain types of exploitation, and it is absolutely clear that there is no prohibition that will end the practice of prostitution.

My concern is this: Will legalization make more desperate, poor women turn to prostitution because we offer them no other alternative? Are we turning poor women’s bodies into commodities to be legitimately bought and sold, and further dehumanizing them? It doesn’t feel like empowerment so much as another form of coercion and exploitation to me.

Years back I worked in criminal defense law and represented “gentlemen’s clubs” and the dancers who worked in them.

I defended them when they got busted for lap dancing (the state had a “no touch” law). I got to know a lot of the dancers. Some made good money, and came out of it pretty close to unscathed. They were the exception. Most used drinking and drugs to numb the feelings that came from being subjected to that environment day after day, and blew the money they made leaving them little when the dance career ended at a relatively young age. Some eventually turned to prostitution.

There is an emotional as well as a physical price for a human being’s body being used as a commodity to be bought and sold. My concern is that legitimizing it might make it more common because being poor is becoming more common in this society. If we had a more robust social safety net, I’d be less concerned.

It just seems to me that when someone is poor, your body and the ability to control it is kind of the last thing you’ve got. When I was poor, I wouldn’t even allow the men I dated to “help” me. Having to give that up control of my body in exchange for money would have been traumatic and dehumanizing as hell for me.

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