Alan Chartock: Decriminalizing ‘sex work’More Info
Rep. Anthony Brindisi is a newly elected Democratic congressman from a very purple upstate congressional district. He recently fired an aide for patronizing a 17-year-old prostitute. Of course, the new nomenclature is “sex worker.” That change in wording is important since it implies that the concept of illegal prostitution is on its way out and the less judgmental “sex worker” has found favor at a time when marijuana and other drugs are also gaining social acceptance. Nevertheless, when you won your congressional office by the skin of your teeth and you are a proud Blue Dog Democrat, you really have no choice but to fire your assistant who would patronize—and this is the important word—an “underage” prostitute.
Of course, it is all total hypocrisy. As Bessie Smith once sang it so profoundly, “There are lots of ways to sell it, baby.” While the young woman’s age is troubling, I suspect that it won’t be that long before prostitution becomes legal. Like marijuana and X-rated movies, a once illegal activity can move to the other side of the border. Highly problematic and arbitrary behavior can be freed from the criminal justice system to a licensed and legal place in our society. Sex workers can be licensed and medically cleared so that disease is minimized and the business is taxed. Not only that, it is not out of the question that sex workers could unionize to better their lot.
I don’t really have to explain that some of the organized religions at the forefront of the fight against prostitution have their own problems. Indeed, some legislators are already demanding that religious workers mandatorily report knowledge of predatory behavior toward women, children or coworkers to the authorities. So, we can pretty much discount the religious argument.
Of course, when politicians consort with sex workers, it too often becomes fodder for law-and-order types who think that the world is going to hell. Predictably, they will vote for a Donald Trump who we now know makes payments to porn stars for keeping their mouths shut. But, as my late father used to say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” As in the case of marijuana or cocaine, which the rich use with impunity while the poor are arrested and end up in jail, prostitution is a no-no while we all know about “legal” prostitution. You do this for me, I’ll do this for you, right?
At a time when Democrats are likely to continue to control the U.S. House of Representatives and maintain control of the New York State Legislature, there is an opportunity to proceed with at least the decriminalization of sex work. One reason for doing so is that when a so-called John avails himself of the services of a sex worker, he leaves himself open to blackmail.
I would not pay for sex, but it has always occurred to me that anyone would be risking a great deal to do so. A year or two ago, I got to work at about 5 in the morning, pulled into our parking lot and, all of a sudden, the passenger door opened up and an attractive young woman hopped into the car. I immediately yelled, “Get out of here.” Out she went but when halfway out of the parking lot, she yelled an unprintable word at me. I think she may have been genuinely insulted. I, on the other hand, thought of all the consequences that could have arisen from that unplanned and unwanted solicitation and felt nothing but relief that she was gone.
It seems to me that, for all the reasons presented above, it is time to change our approach to sex work. Of course, nothing that I have written here should even remotely suggest that I favor the adoption of this way of life—I certainly don’t.