Amnesty International, the leading human rights group in the world, has recently announced that it supports the decriminalization of sex work. There is an important distinction to be made between making prostitution and related sex work legal and decriminalizing those activities. According to Donna M. Hughes, PhD, ‘[l]egalization would mean the regulation of prostitution with laws regarding where, when, and how prostitution could take place. Decriminalization eliminates all laws and prohibits the state and law-enforcement officials from intervening in any prostitution-related activities or transactions, unless other laws apply.’ Under decriminalization, individuals would be free to carry out prostitution related services, while under legalization, the government would intervene to direct how and under what conditions such services may be provided, as is the case in Australia.
The decriminalization of prostitution would be good for women, on a number of different fronts.
Decriminalizing prostitution would lead to a boon in entrepreneurialism for women, particularly young women, who could command higher prices in a demand sensitive market. Escorts between the ages of 26 and 30 earn an average wage of $280/hr, and if they follow Sheryl Sandberg’s exhortation to ‘lean in’, they can pull in an yearly income of $582,400, placing them in the top 20% of income earners in the US, roughly equivalent to households in which the head holds a Master’s degree. Over the four year period of prime earning, escorts stand to earn $2.4M at current market rates. Decriminalization will likely result in an excess of supply, but that if is met with increasing demand as clients begin to realize they face no legal repercussions for professional services rendered, it’s plausible the rates could go up, and not down.
High end prostitution has many related grooming and body maintenance costs, but is essentially skill-free. A pleasant escort who maintains conventional beauty standards is likely to realize her full income potential. Other industries as lucrative as prostitution generally require advanced educations often involving sophisticated quantitative skills, pursuits women have little interest in. The decriminalization of prostitution would permit women who lack higher mathematical abilities to match the earnings of men, who currently dominate in these fields.
Partnered women who find themselves with a declining interest in sex will be able to outsource that aspect of their relationship, just as cooking, cleaning, childcare and other tedious duties are outsourced, generally to other women. Unlike cooking, cleaning and childcare, however, prostitutes are well paid for their services, which will help to assuage the guilt many women feel at the the low wages paid to other women to care for domestic responsibilities. Decriminalization of prostitution will not only free women up from an essential domestic duty, but will permit them to do so in a morally acceptable way, by compensating sex workers fairly.
Decriminalization of prostitution has been shown to lead to lower rates of rape and sexual assault over all, as men eschew dangerous hookups with women they do not necessarily know well, and turn to professional service providers who offer contractual, clearly spelled out services for a specified amount of time and compensation. The legal provision of sex services creates an environment in which both men and women are safer, by removing all ‘blurred lines’.
Decriminalization of prostitution is the embodiment of the feminist mantra ‘her body, her choice’, and is long overdue in a society that recognizes women’s fundamental right to determine the course of her own life, free from prurient interests that seek to control her actions and choices. Amnesty International supports women’s rights to choose, leading to a safer, more productive, fair society for all.