Why Governments Always Exaggerate the Prostitution Threat

The sex trafficking paranoia is the new War on Drugs.

Although prostitution has been taboo for centuries, the current sex trafficking paranoia complicates the situation—both authorities and the public believe sex trafficking is far more common than it is. 

The sex trafficking paranoia is like the new War on Drugs.

To inflate the numbers, the American government includes people that know the sex workers personally, or who are just buyers as “pimps,” in the list. That being said, sex trafficking and human trafficking exists, but decriminalization—that is, to stop regulating sex work among willing adults—is the only tool to fight back.

Prohibition Doesn't Work

Prohibition in one form or another has been used for a long time without good results. Even Amnesty International now concedes that by decriminalizing sex work, resources can be devoted to preventing and resolving actual cases of trafficking, not paranoia supported by people with a narrow political agenda.

The only people who have always stood for sex worker rights are libertarians.

The sex trafficking paranoia is like the new War on Drugs and there is even a bipartisan consensus in opposing sex work. Conservatives usually oppose legalized sex work on religious, moral, or societal grounds. Even liberals often oppose it by saying that sex work oppresses women, or assume that all prostitutes are really victims of sex trafficking—or worse, are somehow culpable criminals.

Thanks to this paranoia, a teenage sex worker who was the victim of trafficking herself was recently accused of human trafficking for getting in contact with another teenage girl while she was under influence of a violent pimp. This is a perfect example of victimizing the victims—exactly the opposite of what proponents of prohibition said would happen if their favored laws are enacted.

The only people who have always stood for sex worker rights are libertarians. This shouldn’t be a surprise. In other issues surrounding sexuality, for example, gay rights, they had an ally in progressives, at least in recent years. But on sex worker rights, the reality is very different.

Prominent figures in the Democratic Party like Senator Kamala Harris (CA.) want to ban sex work, making it difficult to see a clear path of common ground between liberals and libertarians on this issue.

While Trump is not a social conservative, he seems unlikely to pick a fight with the religious right over this. But since most libertarian-leaning politicians have a conservative base, they are having problems going forward to push public support.

In 2012, Senator Rand Paul questioned CBS News after they said that he and his father supported legalizing prostitution. However, then-Congressman Ron Paul claimed that while he is personally opposed to prostitution, he didn’t think it was the government’s role to forbid this practice.

The Nordic Model penalizes buyers of sex, but not the sex workers themselves.

Current Representatives such as like Justin Amash and Thomas Massie have also avoided the topic. But while libertarian politicians have been silent, many libertarians are making some noise.

Among the most prominent, one could mention Reason journalist Elizabeth Nolan Brown, and Libertarian Party activists like Norma Jean Almodovar and Starchild. Minarchist sex worker and sex worker rights activist Maggie McNeill and renegade historian Thaddeus Russell have also written about the topic.

Prostitution under the Nordic Model

While religious conservatives have always been opposed to prostitution, the left used to be more open to the idea. Notable radical leftist activist Angela Davis was staunchly in favor of an alliance between the feminist movement and the sex worker rights movement. Sadly, many liberal feminists today provide the intellectual backbone for continued prohibition instead.

The Nordic Model has been criticized because it infringes on the rights of sex workers.

Even liberal feminists who support the Nordic Model—that is, criminalizing buyers of sex, but not the sex workers themselves—are missing the full picture.

The Nordic Model implemented in some countries like Norway has been criticized by organizations including Amnesty International because it infringes on the rights of sex workers, especially immigrants, who are often deported if they are discovered working as a prostitute.

Worse still, the criminalization of buying sex has further marginalized sex workers. Proponents of the Nordic Model say that prostitution is always a violent and coercive experience. While this is true in cases where a person is forced to do sex work, that is not the case in the majority of instances where someone voluntarily chooses this occupation. Plus, pushing sex work onto the fringes of society only endangers individuals, and makes them unable to get help from authorities if it is needed.

Forbidding sex work is impossible and attempts to regulate it have largely proved unsuccessful.

Frankly, forbidding sex work is impossible and attempts to prohibit this occupation have largely proved unsuccessful. What has been successful is decriminalization, as evidenced by the New Zealand Model in which sex workers are recognized as part of the community. As a result, they can call the police when needed and publish ads without fear of arrest. Even the World Health Organization has praised decriminalization because the countries where it had been implemented have seen decreased HIV and other STI transmission rates among sex workers and their clients.

Liberal feminist activists often attack libertarian feminists who support the rights of women to choose what do with their bodies. For that matter, sex worker rights are not just about women’s rights–– there are also gay males and transgender individuals who are sex workers. It is time to declare that sex worker rights are human rights. If libertarians stand for freedom, then they should continue to be the biggest allies of sex workers in fighting against the intrusion of the state in the most private aspect of an individual—the control of their own sexuality.

Further Reading

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