Vice Squad
Friday, September 07, 2007

The (imminent?) release of a new book, Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada, by controversial anti-prostitution scholar Melissa Farley, has occasioned lots of high-profile commentary. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert seems to wholeheartedly endorse the Farley approach, seeing coercion throughout the sex industry. An intemperate but effective rejoinder is provided by Mark Kernes of Adult Video Farley, who supports the Swedish approach of making the purchase but not the sale of sex illegal, can be viewed talking about her new book in a video (available here) from a Las Vegas tv news program. The Guardian provides an article that is quite informative, focusing on Farley's characterization of the legal brothels in Nevada.

I support some forms of legal prostitution, and I do not endorse the Swedish model. I believe that it is important to separate coercive from non-coercive prostitution in terms of appropriate public policy (as well as separating adult from underage prostitution), while recognizing that coercion resides along a continuum. Nevertheless, some of the issues raised by Farley do not simply disappear through legalization -- they require active policy responses. First, I think that she is right in pointing out that legalization of some forms of prostitution in itself is not effective at undermining illegal or informal prostitution. (This is unlike the situation with alcohol, for instance, in the US, where the legal market, despite specific taxation, comes close to wiping out the illegal market.) Second, the conditions under which legal prostitution takes place, such as the sort of extra-legal constraints on the movement of prostitutes that are applied as informal conditions of licensing, need to be addressed. Third, drug, alcohol, and financial counseling, as well as ongoing efforts to ensure that coercion is not being applied, should be part of a robust regulatory regime. Fourth, protections for the privacy of licensed prostitutes are required, in part to ease exit from the sex industry, and in part to provide incentives for choosing the formal market over the much more dangerous informal alternative.

I hope to return to this topic soon -- a promise or a threat?

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