Like many of the other bloggers on this network, I think it’s high time that sex work be legalized for both principled and pragmatic reasons. The principle is obvious — it isn’t the government’s, any government’s, business what two consenting adults want to do with each other in private. Here’s part of the pragmatic case:
On Tuesday, scientists at the annual International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, recommended decriminalizing sex work across the globe — arguing that legalization is the most effective way to reduce global HIV infection rates. According to new research — a series of seven studies recently published in the Lancet medical journal — scientists estimate that HIV infection rates among sex workers could be reduced by between 33 and 46 percent if the activity were not illegal. “Governments and policymakers can no longer ignore the evidence,” asserted Kate Shannon, an associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and the lead author of the study.
The research, conducted in Kenya, India, and Canada, found that high rates of violence against sex workers, police harassment, and poor working conditions — all circumstances exacerbated by sex work’s illegal status — combined with lack of access to HIV prevention and care significantly increased the risk of infection among sex workers. According to recent data from the World Health Organization, female sex workers are 14 times as likely to have HIV as other women, yet fear of arrest and stigma often prevents them from seeking medical care. (A Kenyan woman quoted in the study added that when doctors at the health center she visited realized she was a sex worker, she was denied treatment.)
Additionally, many countries, including the U.S., use condoms — and the act of carrying multiple condoms — as evidence of prostitution. (Though a bill abolishing this distressing practice passed New York’s assembly last year, it seems the NYPD is still “reviewing” the legislation.) As a result, sex workers often stop carrying (and using) condoms out of fear of arrest.
The World Health Organization likewise has called for the decriminalization of sex work. But it won’t happen anytime soon and it’s almost entirely due to outdated religious beliefs.