The documentary “Buying Sex” provided a detailed, in-depth, and compelling look into the Canadian legal systems attempts to make the legal system safer. It was quickly made apparent that not all parties agreed on the best way to make safety a reality, with advocates in favor of legalization (at least for bawdy-houses) heavily clashing with advocates in favor of criminalizing the purchasers of sexual services. While both sides desire the same end result, both vehemently believe that their opponent’s methods will cause more harm to the sex workers. Each method has precedent, with legalization having been successfully implemented in the Netherlands, New Zealand, and even 11 counties in Nevada and criminalization of those who purchase sexual services having been successfully implemented in Sweden. Canada’s desire to make sex work safer for the women, and men though they are fewer in number, involved was driven by the findings on the farm of Robert Pickton, where body parts and DNA of 33 different women (many were identified as prostitutes at the time of their disappearance) were found. When looking at the different sides of the debate, it was extremely interesting to see what the women who worked in the sex industry called themselves. Valerie Scott, who was in favor of legalizing prostitution, called herself a sex worker whereas Trisha Baptie, who was in favor of making the act of purchasing sex illegal, referred to herself as having been a hooker.
The documentary tied in directly with the transcript of the interview with Wendy Chapkis entitled Sex Workers. Just like in the documentary, during the course of her work Chapkis found that there were many different views on prostitution amongst those advocating for women. Chapkis discussed a political alliance she created in California between sex workers and feminist activists, stating ” Regardless of our views on prostitution (and they were very mixed within the alliance), we all agreed that closing women’s places of employment did nothing to empower them and, in fact, meant that many of them had to resort to working in more isolated and dangerous settings” showing the same issues faced in Canada are faced here in the United States (Chapkis 329). Activists have the same goal, safety for women, but there are always greatly varying view points on the best way to achieve that goal. The question that comes to mind is how do we achieve greater safety for sex workers? Do we follow the Swedish model or the the Netherlands model? Should this be an issue for the states or an issue for the federal government?
If we look at the United States there is precedent set in Nevada that states will determine their own laws on prostitution where, as the map above shows, there are 11 counties in which sex work is legalized. In Nevada, legal brothels can only exist in counties with 400,000 or less people, prostitutes must be 21 (except in two counties where they must be 18), sex work can only be done in a brothel, earnings are split evenly between the sex workers and the brothel owners, and mandatory health checks for STIs are required weekly. This is one procedure that has been put into place to legalize sex work in the United States and some of the regulations it involves, but it certainly isn’t the only option. Each state has very different issues to address in relation to sex work, and therefore must determine the best way to make sex work legal based off of the issues the state faces. I firmly believe that the first step towards making sex work a safe job is to legalize prostitution. It is only through legalization that proper regulation and safety standards. Indeed, as stated by Carol Leigh of the Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network, “If prostitution were not an underground activity it would allow us to much more effectively address the serious problem of forced prostitution and juvenile prostitution and the other abuses which are part of an industry that operates completely in the shadows”. It is through legalization that regulation can be made possible, that women and men won’t be forced into the sex trade and that health care and methods of prevention against STIs can be consistently administered.
Prostitution goes on in the United States, according to information from procon.org 20% of men have admitted to paying for sex at least once. This is a huge amount of men, and indeed generates a huge amount of profit for an industry that can’t be taxed. For purely economic reasons, the United States would be better off if prostitution was legal and therefore taxable like any other service and industry. Sexual health for sex workers and clients of sex workers would be improved if the industry was legalized and put under health code laws and protections to prevent the spread of STIs, with studies around the world showing that legal sex workers have better sexual health than their illegal counterparts. Finally, sex work should be legal simply so that women have the right to use their bodies as they see fit and make money in the most profitable ways they can find. It seems illogical that an athlete can sell their body to the dangers and pains of athletics, with injuries such as concussions being revealed as more damaging the more information the scientific community uncovers, but people can’t sell their body to a partner for safe, consensual sex.
There is no clear answer regarding how to make sex work safely legal nationally, but it is clear that prostitution must be legalized for safety to be an option and women to be allowed full control over their bodies. Why wouldn’t we legalize an industry if the rate of STIs would be lowered? Why wouldn’t we legalize an industry the could be taxed and regulated? Why is it that women can choose to get paid to have sex in a film the world can see, but cannot make the choice to get paid for sex behind closed doors in a private transaction?