I’d like to think my home state of Oregon is forward-thinking enough to consider finally decriminalizing prostitution between two consenting adults who conduct their business in private.
Sex Work is NOT Human Trafficking
Guided under the assumption that child prostitution is not a normal or healthy behavior, the law should assume that any underage individuals engaging in sex work are at worst, a potential victim of trafficking or at best, in need of resources not currently available to them.
In these cases, no crime shall be committed on the part of the minor in question. Instead of creating a criminal record that could potentially limit their future opportunities as an adult, I propose that we offer them assistance in the form of counseling, housing, education and a safe, healthy environment if necessary until they reach adulthood.
I firmly support the current prohibition on activities such as pimping, pandering and trafficking of humans. I do not propose any changes to existing laws regarding these exploitative behaviors and believe they should generally be punished harshly.
Just as laws exist to protect underage individuals from abuse, the model I propose would focus on helping minors engaged in sex work and providing alternatives rather than treating them as criminals.
Every effort should be placed upon determining whether or not they are being abused, exploited or trafficked. The best way to keep children safe from those who exploit them is to incarcerate them and place their victims in safe environments.
Working Together to Help Victims
Speaking personally as someone who has been active in the sex trade for nearly a decade, I can say with the utmost certainty that if I were to encounter a victim of human trafficking in any situation whatsoever, I would not hesitate to report this suspicion to law enforcement.
This is how most responsible adults react when they see a child in need who is being neglected or abused and while I face the very real risk of facing legal actions against myself because of my occupation, this does not personally outweigh the potential harm of remaining silent in such a situation.
However, I know that I don’t speak for all sex workers when I say that. In fact, I cannot rightly blame them for fearing legal trouble themselves. How we can justify this predicament, I really fail to understand.
The changes I envision would allow legitimate adult sex workers to be allies in the fight against illegal human trafficking and would allow for full cooperation in any investigations of those suspected to engage in it.
Removing Shame and Stigma for Victims
I argue that this would also benefit those young victims by gradually shifting public perception of sex work and attempting to eventually remove any shame or negative feelings about sex itself without in any way disrespecting the crime that has been committed against them.
I think this is an important psychological benefit for all victims of trafficking. We should emphasize that the crime is their freedom being taken from them and NOT the actual sex or other acts which take place as a result of that.
This allows them to heal more meaningfully once they are removed from their dangerous situation because they do not have to wrestle with feelings of wrongdoing and I believe it’s of the utmost importance to actively put emphasis on this so that society begins to rethink the shaming and negativity directed towards those in the sex industry, both underage and adult.
Promoting a Huge Shift in Public Perception
A convincing and strong example of such a shift is the public opinion of and attitude towards cigarette smoking which has taken place in my own lifetime.
In the 27 years I’ve spent on this planet, I have seen the state of Oregon transform from a place where you could be seated in a smoking section in a family restaurant to one that prohibits smoking outdoors at public transit stations and legally requires you are at least ten feet from a building when smoking tobacco.
The effect is more pronounced when you take into consideration just a decade or two prior to my own birth, my grandparents remember smoking on airplanes and even my parents remember when their High School had a smoking lounge for Seniors.
Once a completely commonplace habit that was regarded as socially acceptable, cigarette smokers are now almost stigmatized and shamed for their habit.
Speaking as someone who smokes, I cannot say that I believe stigmatizing a group of people for having a defect is something I encourage as a general principle.
However, the fact remains that the harmful effects of cigarette smoking are hard to deny and the decline in smoking rates over the past decade or so cannot be viewed as negative in any sense.
If this is possible to do, I believe that the same can be done to de-stigmatize sex work while establishing clear boundaries between what is legitimate and what is exploitative.
Backpage Is NOT to Blame
I also see this as being a valuable opportunity to fundamentally change the way that law enforcement can work in cooperation with controversial sites which allow the advertising of escort services, such as Backpage.com
Rather than putting legal pressure on such businesses to cease allowing such ads, we can instead relieve them of the constant need to worry about protecting themselves and enter into more of a partnership in which everyone can focus their energies on concern for the actual victims and suspected victims posting ads through their service.
Already, Backpage.com charges a fee for posting escorting ads and they require a credit or debit card that is issued to an actual person (in other words, prepaid gift cards are not accepted) which means that in the case of any suspected illegal activity, there is a name attached to the transaction taking place to advertise said activity.
Update: In July of 2015, major credit card companies including VISA and Mastercard began blocking payments for ads posted to Backpage.com as a result of increasing pressure from sheriff Tom Dart out of Chicago. He happens to be the same anti-sex trafficking “activist” whose campaigns were responsible for Craigslist.com removing their Erotic Services section as well.
If Backpage and similar sites followed in the footsteps of Craigslist and did away with their adult services section, this information would be harder to obtain by other means and would leave us further in the dark should there arise any suspicion of trafficking or other illegal and exploitative activity within the sex industry.
I’m Only Asking for One Change
The changes I propose would also be strictly limited to sex work taking place in privately owned residences and street walking would continue to be prohibited. I think we can all agree that this type of work, legal or otherwise, should be conducted in private among consenting adults. I believe these elements of the law are sound and should remain in place.
I don’t want much to change at the end of the day from the way things are now and I don’t want to change any existing laws about human trafficking, pimping, outdoor soliciting and I certainly do NOT want to legalize brothels like some counties in Nevada allow either.
All that I want is for adults who make informed decisions to engage in sex work as a means to support themselves (and many already do, myself included) to be treated with basic human respect and accepted as allies in the fight against trafficking and other serious issues that we could all stand to gain so much from.