When 17 attorneys general from across the U.S. wrote an open letter accusing the online classifieds website craigslist.com of advertising for prostitution and child trafficking last month, it brought the issue to the forefront for media outlets.
Investigative reports by CNN, testimonies and reviews from craiglists.com users and past news reports, such as one from KPTM Fox 42 in Omaha, provide journalistic credibility to claims that some Craigslist users traffic in illegal sexual activity. Other online escort sites, such as theeroticreview.com have not been censured by public indignation.
This controversy highlights a sensitive issue in western society: prostitution – a service that should be legalized but heavily regulated.
Most would agree that it is deplorable that women and children are brought into the sex trade against their will. However, the number of Americans that support consensual sexual services and prostitution is less clear. In Clark County, Nev. – home to Las Vegas – a poll conducted in August by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research showed that 64 percent of the 405 polled residents did not support legal brothels as a method of stimulating tourism.
The government can treat prostitution like alcohol, requiring a license to sell sex services and allowing the government to regulate the sex industry. Identifying who is exploited becomes easier when all sex industry workers are required to have multiple forms of identification.
To reduce exploitation, laws should require two or more forms of identification for registry and should be coupled with legal residency and/or citizenship requirements to isolate businesses trafficking foreigners. Finally, the recent expansion of health care makes it easier for sex workers to get health insurance, which would assist in the legalization of the practice and prevention of spreading diseases.
I suggest only a partial legalization of existing sex practices. The future of exploited women depends on the prices of sex on the open market after regulation, which would erect barriers to entering the field. If the costs of regulation and health care increase, then the cheaper but sketchier alternative of black market sex will persist as a more economical alternative. Otherwise, illegal prostitution will be reduced significantly.
I am confident, however, that legitimate sex enterprises and independent sex workers would not sit idly by and allow illegal competitors to steal profits and thereby self-regulate their market.
With the legalization of prostitution, we could have a Dutch-style regulated industry. While there may be some moral oppostion Two things are for sure: the sex industry isn’t going away and neither is craigslist.com.
Niko Milstrey is a graduate student studying economics.