When prostitution is illegal, we all get screwed


Looking over the recent Spitzer mess, it seems that there are two basic issues at hand. The first is the hypocrisy that Governor Spitzer displayed; just like everybody else, I agree that it was completely unforgivable and certainly warrants his humiliation and (hopefully) prosecution. Simply speaking, there is no way to justify the fact that he so flagrantly broke the same laws that he aggressively defended. At the end of the day, rectitude cuts both ways and if you want to be a self-righteous ass about defending the law, then you should be equally strict about upholding it.

The trouble is, though, that Spitzer's disaster points toward a bigger problem in American society. To put it bluntly, the United States' position toward prostitution is inefficient, expensive, and, frankly, misogynistic. In fact, while the Spitzer disaster has been unfolding, I've been struck by the sheer volume of prostitution stories that I've seen in the newspapers. Over the past couple of days, I've stumbled across articles about sex trafficking, pimping, sexual imprisonment, the arrest of prostitutes, and assorted other scandals. Rather than being an aberration, it seems that Eliot's embarrassment is just one example of an all too common blight on the American social landscape.

It doesn't have to be like this. When I was younger, I once wandered through the sex districts in Amsterdam and spoke with people in the city's Prostitution Information Center, I have seen how a city could, potentially, make prostitution safe, both for the customers and for the sex workers. I have a few problems with Amsterdam's sex industry, but I think that it is infinitely preferable to America's approach, largely because it enables the Dutch authorities to directly address many of the dangers of prostitution.