Sex trade is a flourishing industry that continues to thrive despite the current economic recession. As of 2006, the State Department believes as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year. Most women are trafficked into the United States from developing countries and end up in prostitution traps because of abysmal poverty, poor law enforcement, lack of education and few alternative opportunities.
In order to prevent the mistreatment of prostitutes and taxing the profits generated by this lucrative industry, policymakers have considered legalizing sex trade. They argue that if sex trade is legalized, then prostitutes would not be persuaded into one-sided contracts and would be provided full disclosure of their job description before they decide to work for a certain agent. In case the contract is not upheld, the prostitute can challenge the agent into court. Prostitutes can formally unionize if they are legal, and this way they can exert more pressure on the agent to uphold the contract.
By legalizing prostitution it can be monitored and controlled. Prostitutes can come under the protection of law if their physical or emotional rights are abused. Clients would be careful about their treatment of the prostitutes. The number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases could be greatly reduced if the government provided incentive for protected sex and medical aid can be made available to prostitutes.
Additionally, by legalizing prostitution, illegal immigration can be curtailed. Sex tourism could also decline since the services of a wide range of prostitutes would be available in the United States and the guilt factor would be low.
Revenue generation is by far the greatest motivator for legalizing sex trade. The government can make use of the high profitability of sex trade to generate large sums of revenue by taxing this industry. The profits of sex trade can also be expected to grow since prostitutes would have access to a wider range of clients and maximize their earnings.
Therefore, proponents of legalizing sex trade argue that it can lead to higher gross domestic product as the market expands, that tax revenue would increase, and that the rights of prostitutes would be protected.
On the other hand, the disadvantages of legalizing sex trade are many. Legalizing sex trade would have huge ethical, religious and moral repercussions. Once prostitution is legalized businesses would try to achieve greater economies of scale: One can imagine finding prostitutes in Walmart.
Regardless of one’s religious standing, putting a price tag on a human body can lead to human indignation. It can also have profound effects on minors who would grow up in a culture where prostitutes wander the streets and offer their services shamelessly. Such children may lose respect for women and perhaps become more likely to engage in services of a prostitute. If the government tries to put in place censorship for minors, it can be costly and difficult to impose.
At the same time, the guilt factor may grow because currently the clients can remain nameless, but as prostitution is legalized and clients file taxes, their indulgence with prostitutes could become common knowledge.
For those who believe that prostitution can lead to higher unionization and therefore better protection of prostitutes’ rights, the opposite has been observed. For example, legalizing prostitution in Germany was supposed to enable women to get health insurance and retirement benefits and enable them to join unions, but few women have signed up for benefits or for unions. The reason is that many women see prostitution as a temporary job to escape their poverty.
While the government may be able to increase revenue by tapping into the profits of sex trade, tax evasion and illegal immigration is still expected to dominate, because the agent has little incentive to file for taxes. In some countries, where compliance on taxes by agents has been minimal, the government has tried to tax prostitutes directly. Since the agents also charge the prostitutes a fee for facilitating the sex trade, the government can be perceived as an “alternative agent” if it taxes the prostitutes.
It is apparent that both sides of the argument over legalizing sex trade hold legitimacy. Whether or not the United States is ready to embrace prostitution as a socially acceptable profession is debatable. However, it is certain that it will not be a popular political choice anytime soon.