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Legalization of Prostitution in the United States Term Paper

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2020


Over the years, prostitution has been a major topic of discussion within legal circles in the United States of America. Although there are no existing federal laws that define the legality of the occupation, most state governments have laws that criminalize the activities of people who engage in sexual intercourse for money (Farley 12). According to reports by various economic firms, prostitution spreads widely across the country in a lucrative industry that operates with minimal regulations. It is important to note that the federal government is not enumerated to regulate prostitution by the constitution (Raphael 30). This mandate is relegated to the state governments under the tenth amendment.

Although there have been numerous campaigns geared towards the regulation of commercial sex, not all state governments have made the necessary efforts towards achieving the feat. Various arguments have been developed with regard to the advantages and disadvantages of legalizing prostitution in the United States (Kyle 42). One of the main factors behind this course has been numerous studies, which have established that commercial sex can be safe and profitable as long as the necessary regulatory measures are in place. These measures include regular testing of sex workers for sexually transmitted diseases and infections in order to keep their clients safe. Currently, the state of Nevada is the only one in the country where the occupation has been legalized up to the county levels (Farley 22). This gives a clear indication that the industry is highly unregulated, thus showing the huge gap that the relevant authorities have to fill.


Studies have established that prostitution is a highly lucrative occupation that attracts even the educated people who have limited opportunities for income generation. Over the years, many people have believed that this industry is only suited to people with little education and of low social class. Another interesting element about prostitution in the United States is the fact that it is based on family ties and close friendships (Morehouse 100). The huge client base for commercial sex workers is the white population, closely followed by Latinos and the African Americans.

The structure of the legal system in the country is one of the elements that have influenced the growth and expansion of the occupation over the years. According to the country’s laws, prostitution identifies as a public order crime because the authorities believe it highly contributes to disruption of community order (Kyle 52). The root cause of discrimination against prostitution in the country was the allegations of white slavery that started in 1908. At the time, the federal government carried out a survey among prostitutes in a bid to establish the way they got into the business. A number of the prostitutes claimed that they got into the commercial sex as victims of white slavery that entailed kidnappings (Morehouse 109). The findings of the report led to the creation of the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910 in a bid to end the transportation of females across states for commercial sex and other immoral purposes.

The Supreme Court is highly involved in the process of discriminating prostitution in the country. Its first major involvement was during the ruling on the Mann Act, where it expounded on the definition of immoral purposes involving women to include polygamy, adultery, and consensual debauchery (Kyle 66). Another major legal provision that sought to discriminate prostitution in the country is the Chamberlain-Khan Act of 1918. This legislation mandated the government to quarantine a woman with suspicions of having a sexually transmitted disease, where if a medical examination showed its presence them one would be charged on a count of engaging in prostitution (Raphael 67).

The act was mainly created to caution the soldiers fighting in World War I against venereal diseases. However, the fortunes of prostitutes have improved over time due to the nature of the country’s legal system, which allows everyone a chance to be heard. In Mortensen vs. United States, a lawsuit filed in 1944, the Supreme Court gave commercial sex workers the right to travel across states as long as their movements were not geared towards engaging in prostitution (Raymond 33). New York City probably made the biggest move geared towards legalizing prostitution, when they removed the need for massage parlors to have licenses. This easily turned most of the parlors into brothels. Many states followed this example and allowed for brothels as they sought to create more avenues for revenue generation (Carroll 206).

Reports indicate that the working conditions of sex workers and the involvement of courts are two major elements that have changed a lot over the years, especially after the turn of the century. The first element has been greatly influenced by technological advancements through increased use of cell phones and the internet. Unlike in the past where prostitutes were only accessible in brothels and along the streets, technology has created a new category of prostitutes called call girls (Morehouse 128). This means that all that a contemporary prostitute needs to have is a functioning cell phone and an active social media account to access as many clients as possible off the streets. With regard to the involvement of the courts, the decision by the Supreme Court to approve the use of contraceptive pills in 1960 made it better for prostitutes because they managed to prevent unwanted pregnancies (Raymond 41). Over the years, a number of prostitute rights groups have been formed with an aim to garner more respect for the occupation and fight against harsh punishments against prostitutes from the legal structure (Morehouse 133). Many prominent and powerful people have fallen from glory over the years for allegedly admitting or being caught soliciting for the services of sexual workers.

Over the years, there have been a number of arguments opposed to a proposal by various lobby groups to legalize prostitution. These arguments develop based on cultural believes and religion. One of the major cons of legalizing prostitution is the fact that it encourages immorality, thus discrediting the institution of marriage. Most cultures and religions believe that sex is a preserve for marriage, although the existence of commercial sex workers has continually created inconsistencies in its application (Carroll 221). People who are involved in prostitution, either as workers or as clients also tend to degrade themselves in terms of socialization and respect.

Another major challenge associated with the legalization of prostitution is the fact that it provides a true reflection of the few opportunities for income generation. Studies have established that most sex workers do not engage in the occupation out of will, but are rather forced by economic reasons. This also connects with human trafficking, which also identifies as a major challenge of legalizing prostitution (Raymond 49). Courts in the United States handle numerous cases of human trafficking, where innocent women are forced into prostitution under the pretense of getting better jobs. Cases of sex slavery are also a common element of prostitution that the country’s legal system has struggled to address over the years (Carroll 223).

Opponents of the proposal to legalize prostitution also identify violence as one of the main challenges faced by commercial sex workers. According to a report by the federal government, the rate of violence in the prostitution industry is very high compared to other occupations regardless of its legality (Weitzer 111). The current legal structure applied in the country applies to the disadvantage of commercial sex workers because they are not existing clauses that offer them protection or compensation in case they suffer different forms of abuse in the line of duty. Commercial sex rights activists argue that the American legal structure has neglected them and failed to legally recognize their industry, despite the fact that it’s a key pillar of the economy.

Another disadvantage of legalizing prostitution is the increased probability of spreading sexually transmitted diseases and infections (Weitzer 119). Reports indicate that a number of people that seek the services of prostitutes do not use protection, thus predisposing themselves to the danger of contracting various deadly diseases. The country’s legal structure has made numerous efforts to increase the awareness about the importance of practicing safe sex across all age groups. Another challenge associated with legalizing prostitution is the increased threat of social instability (Farley 109). This phenomenon is characterized by a high number of men without families. In addition, cases of infidelity also tend to increase because men have easier access to women for extramarital affairs.

The current legal system has been highly criticized for its failure to adequately, address the legality of the commercial sex industry. Although the occupation is regarded as highly immoral across various societies, a number of countries that have legalized it and reaped numerous benefits from doing so (Flowers 79). One of the main reasons behind the huge criticism towards the current system is its inability to protect women from the abuse and violence they suffer from engaging in commercial sex. In most cases, abused prostitutes tend to suffer in silence because they cannot report their violators. Such situations discourage women from seeking help because they fear being arrested and charged for engaging in illegal business. One of the best ways of mitigating this challenge is recognizing the legality of the commercial sex industry and allowing prostitutes to form organizations through which they can fight for their rights (Albert 9).

The current legal structure is very oppressive of sex workers, thus undermining their plights for better treatment. The biggest beneficiaries of the current legal system are the people who seek the services of prostitutes, as well as pimps. According to federal reports, pimps often procure customers for commercial sex workers and in the process make a lot of income that goes untaxed. The report also establishes the income projections that the federal government is losing from the commercial sex industry, simply because there are existing legal frameworks for regulating and monitoring its activities (Albert 11). The people who enjoy the services of prostitutes are also big beneficiaries of the current legal structure because they can easily get away with cases of abuse and violence towards women. In addition, they also have the benefit of negotiating for the price they pay to receive any service because there are no operational frameworks necessary in determining the prices (Weitzer 128).

Fixing the problem

One of the most important things to consider in any attempts to address the disadvantages associated with legalizing prostitution is the need to come up with the necessary legislation. This includes acts that will legalize the activities of commercial sex workers and tax their income. This will play a huge role in making the industry players feel more appreciated because their occupation has a direct impact on the growth of the economy (Flowers 86). The most effective legislation that I would write to address this challenge would integrate the importance of creating more avenues for income generation for the people with the need for relevant authorities to streamline the crucial sectors of the economy. It is important to ensure that the input of the legal team applies effectively, because all citizens ought to be treated equally regardless of their occupation, age, gender, race or religion (Albert 20). Another strategy that would effectively address this challenge is creating a government agency, whose mandate would be to streamline the industry by identifying the main avenues for revenue creation and regulating the category of people involved in the business. There ought to be an age limit for the people that can be allowed to visit brothels. However, the huge challenge would be limiting the activities of call girls who are easily accessible through websites and cell phones.

The government should reduce the requirements for registration of brothels as a way of encouraging commercial sex workers off the streets and being part of the legalized system (Flowers 100). It is also important to ensure that prostitutes are not allowed to operate in the streets. This will play a crucial role in making the industry gain some reputation and prevent exposing young people to the existence of the occupation. The federal government should also take more responsibility in regulating the industry by coming up with legislation that requires all state governments to register brothels within their jurisdiction (Barkan 161). Legalizing prostitution will also go a long way in reducing the disgrace associated with the occupation because commercial sex workers will have a legal identity.


Studies have established that prostitution is widely spread than many people or the authorities choose to believe. Over the years, the commercial sex industry has developed into a lucrative sector of the economy that supports millions of families across the world. Although the occupation has been marred with a lot of stigma and social disgrace, it is the high time for the relevant authorities recognize its existence and come up with effective legislation to regulate its activities. The benefits of legalizing prostitution outweigh its disadvantages. However, this does not mean that the cons should be ignored because they will definitely affect part of the population. The commercial sex industry is a sector that can easily affect the social order in any community if the right regulatory measures are not put in place. On the other hand, legalizing and regulating the industry in an effective manner would provide the government with more avenues for revenue creation and ensuring a healthier nation.

Works Cited

Albert, Alexa. Brothels of Nevada: Candid Views of America’s Legal Sex Industry. Princeton Architectural Press, 2003.

Barkan, Steven. Myths and Realities of Crime and Justice. Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2013.

Carroll, Janell. Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity. Cengage Learning, 2012.

Farley, Melissa. Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress. Psychology Press, 2003.

Flowers, Ronald. The Prostitution of Women and Girls. McFarland, 2010.

Kyle, David. Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives. JHU Press, 2013.

Morehouse, Christal. Combating Human Trafficking: Policy Gaps and Hidden Political Agendas in the USA and Germany. Springer Science & Business Media, 2009.

Raphael, Jody. Listening to Olivia: Violence, Poverty, and Prostitution. UPNE, 2004.

Raymond, Janice. Not a Choice, not a Job: Exposing the Myths about Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade. Potomac Books, 2013.

Weitzer, Ronald. Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business. NYU Press, 2012.

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