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The Rights of Sex Workers: Where is the Movement to Legalize Prostitution

It seems as though, in these times, almost any once-taboo cause or idea is now heavily discussed or even championed by at least a few within our political system. Marijuana legalization, LGBT rights, and numerous other topics would have been considered unimaginable as mainstream points of discussion in any prior era of American politics. However, the issue of legalizing and regulating the sex trade remains conspicuously off limits for our legislators.

Allowing responsibly-operated brothels is, after all, a tested idea. Not only has it been legalized in New Zealand, Germany, and Eastern Australia, but it’s also allowed and strictly regulated in parts of Nevada. This is a policy that has been arguably successful in parts of an American state, as well as countries around the world, yet it’s never even brought up by our representatives.

This could be explained by our sex-negative society. We live in a nation where a Surgeon General was forced to resign for insisting the naturalness of masturbation as recently as the early ‘90s. Of course the idea of legal prostitution, no matter how well-regulated or plainly constitutional, would be considered wicked and sinful in this sort of climate.

It would be ridiculously controversial for a politician to publicly advocate for this notion.

There are rational concerns regarding this idea, and I for one would like to hear them. It could be pointed out that even if this policy would help to protect currently-vulnerable sex workers from abuse and disease, it may still be challenging to protect sex workers from unfair wages. Because the subject has been so plainly stigmatized, no voices are heard.

So has anyone actually tried to speak out for this cause in a major way? Well the most notable and most active organizations I could find are the Sex Workers and Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational, and Research Projector (ESPLERP), and the Erotic Service Providers Union, both of which were founded by California sex worker Maxine Doogan. The former was created after a failed 2008 attempt to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco.

ESPLERP raised $30,000 from a GoFundMe campaign in 2014 to file a legal challenge against California’s anti-prostitution law, but when they tried to raise funds to support their court case the following year, they were banned from GoFundMe entirely.

It seems like most people are just cutting themselves off from any explanation or evidence supporting legalization. According to a YouGov poll from 2012, the most popular reason given for being against the legalization of prostitution was, simply, that it is “morally wrong”. Ah yes, another case of broad, arbitrary “morality” being used as an excuse to deny men and women their freedoms, with a total and utter lack of facts.

So it looks like there is no popular nationwide movement to stop the ongoing abuse of sex workers by unlicensed, unregulated pimps, and ensure their protection and wellbeing in the United States of America. There are no congressional representatives out there fighting for sex workers’ human rights either. I am certain that our popular zeitgeist will remain consistently void of this pressing and necessary conversation until influential figures are willing to transcend societal repression and express cogent thoughts and ideas in regard to prostitution policy.

Ezra Kronfeld is an independent writer and journalist.

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