Vice Squad
Saturday, November 01, 2003
Heidi Fleiss on Legalizing Prostitution

In the September/October Legal Affairs, former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss
has this short essay (as told to Nadya Labi) entitled "In Defense of Prostitution."
Ms. Fleiss takes a pretty extreme view of the tradeoffs involved in legalizing
prostitution -- she thinks that there are no tradeoffs: "There is no downside
to legalising prostitution." She notes that the current (general) US policy of
criminalization makes prostitutes vulnerable to contractual breaches and
violence, because criminalization often precludes taking such issues to the
authorities. Fleiss also invokes a futility-style argument: "You can't
stop sex. And sex for money will happen no matter what. Why make it a
criminal experience?" (Vice Squad is skeptical about futility-style arguments in
general: you might not be able to stop sex, but you can alter its frequency and
the nature of harm through criminalization. It might not be a good idea to use
the criminal law as the chief method of regulating prostitution -- indeed, I think
that criminalizing adult prostitution is a policy error -- but it is not a futile
endeavor. And if I were to be so rash as to speculate upon motives, I might
suggest that most folks who argue against a policy proposal on futility grounds
actually oppose the proposal precisely because they fear that it would not be

Ms. Fleiss paints a pretty rosy picture of legalized prostitution, especially that
which takes place at the Melbourne, Australia brothel with which she has an
affiliation. A former prostitute herself, however, she does not suggest that
ambitious young woman should flock to the trade: "I wouldn't recommend
prostitution as a career because it doesn't have great long-term prospects.
Still, a woman should have the right to do what she wants with her body."

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