April 22, 2012

"Can legalized prostitution ever be safe and free of exploitation?"

"Or should laws against prostitution remain?" — a forum at the NYT with 8 contributors.

I was interested in "Nevada’s Legal Brothels Are Coercive, Too," which got some real pushback in the comments, including this from Madame Suzette:
It"s obvious that whomever wrote this article has never been to the BunnyRanch and does not have the proper knowledge to even comment on this subject.
I have been the general manager at the BunnyRanch going on 20 years, and whatever this article says it is just the total opposite. These lades are business women who do not have pimps.... Our housing facility are better than most of their own homes. They do not have to do anything they do not wish to do and can leave at any time. In fact we have limos that will drive them in style to their spa appts, errands and shopping. I have never witnessed any violence of any sort at the BunnyRanch ever. The most I have ever seen was perhaps a disagreement between two girls having the same type shoe. I personally would like to invite any one to come out to the Bunnyranch and see for themselves or at least watch an episode or two of the Cathouse.

All ladies before hiring are gone thru an extensive back ground check before they are issued a sheriffs card from the county.
And here's Antoine:
In a sink-or-swim Darwinian society such as we have, what form of work is not to some degree coercive? The need to pay for food, shelter, taxes and everything else all adds up to a form of coercion. The working conditions in brothels described above resemble conditions in other avenues of employment, including factories. It's difficult to make a living, and it's often an unpleasant experience. Everyone should have a choice as to how they want to do it-- even if that choice includes prostitution.

50 comments:

Sue D'Nhym said...

"In a sink-or-swim Darwinian society such as we have, what form of work is not to some degree coercive?"

Oh dear.

It is not our society that is Darwinian. It is life.

Pogo said...

It can be done completely free from coercion, but still be wrong, and therefore better to be illegal.

Comparing sexual acts to factory work is quite right, which should be horrifying because it commodifies and therefore dehumanizes.

Once we are dehumanized, anything is possible, as history has demonstrated over and over again.

But I guess it's a lesson we must relearn every so often.

Pastafarian said...

This should pit libertarian conservatives against traditional conservatives.

From an individualist point of view, I see the libertarians' point. But I think that societies do have the right to determine what sort of society they have. If a majority of people get together and say "We don't want our society's daughters to give BJs to random men for money", I don't have a problem with this limit on free commerce.

And women who want to give BJs for money, and men who want to pay them, are free to go to some degenerate hellhole like Amsterdam, if they prefer to live in such a place.

We put limits on commerce all the time. I can't sell children's lollipops flavored with cyanide, despite its tantalizing almond flavor; nor should I be able to. "Ah, but those lolies would do real harm", the argument will go; from someone who's never met a woman who spent a lifetime degrading herself.

roesch/voltaire said...

Why in one hotel room where a prostitute and customer engage in sex for money the activity is illegal, while in the next room where porn actors engage in the same kind of activity for money that is filmed it is legal is beyond me and just another example of how crazy our culture is.

SGT Ted said...

Yes but if she gived BJs after dinner and drinks its completely A-OK according to the law.

If we're not going to enforce adultery, I think we should not prosecute prostitutes or their customers.

I think Nevada's model is the appropriate compromise.

Calypso Facto said...

Like RV, I wonder why legality hinges on the presence of a camera. Are there any other such acts?

Peter said...

There's not one chance in a million that I'd ever go to the Bunny Ranch, because it's a sure guarantee that none of the girls would meet my specifications.

And you all know what that is.

edutcher said...

This was all the rage back in the 70s. Prostitution was a "victimless crime" and it was decriminalized in some big cities.

And then it became obvious to everybody, including the Lefty rocket scientists, that, hey, it really wasn't.

And, of course, Madame Suzette is going to say what she says. That's how she makes her living.

David said...

There are so many battlefields in the war on women.

Bender said...

it commodifies and therefore dehumanizes

It treats the person as chattel, whether enslaved or not.

Women are not chattel, and such objectification of the human person is mala in se.

It is inherently exploitive of the customer as well, inasmuch as he objectifies himself and dehumanizing sexuality by reducing it to a commodity.

Nevertheless, I'm sure that there will be some who insist that since sex is now the number one, highest and most fundamental right, that payment for such sex services ought to be mandated to be covered under employee healthcare plans.

raf said...

Could prostitution be made mandatory? It is commerce, presumably with some kind of interstate impact.

Paddy O said...

There were plantations where slaves were really cared for, where those who worked in the house really had great clothes, food, and much better amenities than what they would have otherwise had. That didn't make a very good argument for slavery either.

When we use the example of the elite in a dehumanizing field, those at the top, whose capability affords them the most privileges we lose sight of the 99% who don't gain those privileges, who suffer abuse. We excuse the abuse by pointing to how the elites live.

That there are exceptions to the degradation isn't surprising. That's just not a convincing way of arguing against the inherent degradation, in which we reduce humans to objects. Of course, there will always be ways we do this to each other, but we shouldn't necessarily make it easier and shouldn't make it even legal in cases where the degradation can be, and globally is, the most severe.

A guy wanting to get some shouldn't be the basis of our moral decision making about human identity.

David said...

sink-or-swim Darwinian society such as we have

If you want the state to be your mommy and your daddy so you can spend your life being 12, I get it. I don't like it, but I get it.

But to mistake what we've got now for nature red in tooth and claw is just delusional.

John said...

Where are the feminists on this one? "Our bodies our choice"?

Or is it "your bodies our choice" when the woman decides to choose something the feminists don't like?

A woman has an absolute right to an abortion (unless they want to abort a baby because it is a girl or gay). A woman has an absolute right to have sex anytime anywhere under any conditions (unless they want to have sex off camera in exchange for money)

And so on.

I am a pretty hard core liberal (A/K/A libertarian) I absolutely believe that women and men have equal rights to exchange sex for money. I do not think it is a good idea but it is their body and their right.

As for pimps: If prostitution is legal, whores will still need pimps but they will be called agents or managers and will work under a contract. Much like Jeff Green is Larry David's pimp. Err.. I mean manager.

There will still be some problems but most of the coercive nature will go away.

Also, if legal, the whores will be working in houses, as in Nevada rather than on the street. Much better for them, much better for society.

John Henry

John Lynch said...

The way to change the power dynamic is to make prostitution legal but make solicitation a crime. That's the difference between prostitution in Sweden and Germany.

John said...

Paddy O,

Slavery? really?

Slavery is non-choice. One is held in slavery by force.

Prostitution, at the Bunny ranch at least, is a choice.

Do you deny women the right to make these (admittedly bad) choices?

Will you also deny gay men the right to anal sex? Probably even worse for the individual than being a hooker at the Bunny ranch.

Where do you stop?

Where the HELL do you and anyone else get off trying to tell me what I can do with my body?

It is not about whether the choice is good or bad. It is that the choice is mine and mine alone to make. (Consenting adult and all that, of course)

John Henry

Ann Althouse said...

"Why in one hotel room where a prostitute and customer engage in sex for money the activity is illegal, while in the next room where porn actors engage in the same kind of activity for money that is filmed it is legal is beyond me and just another example of how crazy our culture is."

Both actors get paid. One participant is not getting sex in exchange for money offered by the other. They are doing a performance for the camera. It's the transaction that matters, and those who worry about the oppression and exploitation of women (and girls) are concerned precisely about the imbalance of power that has one person giving up her body and the other parting with money. But many economic transactions are like that, as Antoine says in the original post. It might be that in the porn movie both actors are selling the only thing they have and both are in need of money. The question is why is it different when one party to the sex act is so happy about it that he'll pay for it and the other is so unhappy that she needs to be paid? It's part of a cluster of preferences we have about the mutuality of sex. The 2 sex partners are supposed to be in the same mental place with respect to what they are doing.

John said...

Good point Ann about both getting paid. There are some exceptions, though.

Some men volunteer to be in porn.

One example is the woman who tried to earn a record for most consecutive sex acts in a day. I think she was going for 500.

She got paid, though not by the men having sex with her. They paid nothing to anyone, they were pure volunteers.

On HBO's Real Sex they once had a guy who filmed and sold, apparently fairly successfully, videos of himself having sex with porn actresses.

I guess you could say he got paid via DVD sales. Not sure if that is the same justification you had in mind.

BTW: What does the feminist in you say about letting women be whores if they wish? Would you use law to prevent them exercising their bodily choices?

John Henry

John said...

Oops. I meant to say that the men in the record attempt got paid nothing.

John Henry

Peter said...

One example is the woman who tried to earn a record for most consecutive sex acts in a day. I think she was going for 500.

For the last couple hundred guys it must have felt like throwing a hot dog into a mayonnaise-filled Mammoth Cave.

William said...

What if women choose a life of prosttution as a way of expressing their sexuality? There a sort of Shades of Grey undercurrent in a pimp/ho relationship. Perhaps the sordid and exploitative nature of prostitution is what attracts some masochistic women to it....I'm not saying this is in any way OK, but as perversions go, it's less extreme than transgender activities and surgical procedures. Why are we supposed to sympathize with some perversions and disapprove of others?

Scott M said...

This particular statement smacks of "the lady doth protest too much";

The most I have ever seen was perhaps a disagreement between two girls having the same type shoe.

Chip S. said...

So commenter "Antoine" parrots the latest Dem talking point and blames prostitution on our "Darwinian society".

Thank goodness prostitution is unnecessary in un paraĆ­so comunista.

n.n said...

The rejection of prostitution is not principally about coercion or involuntary participation. It is about preserving the dignity of human beings and not attributing a natural and potentially productive behavior to the economic domain.

Revenant said...

It is a little sad how many people who normally complain about "the nanny state" are keen to prevent "exploitation" in this case.

Bender said...

Could prostitution be made mandatory?

I read a story some while back about a woman in Germany who was denied unemployment benefits for turning down an available job -- the job was being a prostitute.

Bender said...

By the way, the number one concern of the Obama Administration when it comes to human trafficking (the sex industry, voluntary and involuntary), is that they be provided contraceptives and access to abortion, and if those groups who are working to help the victims of human sex trafficking, such as the Catholic Church, refuse to make contraceptives and abortions the priority, then the Administration will cut their funding and participation in federal government assistance programs.

Saint Croix said...

The problem with prostitution is infanticide. Sex makes babies, all the time. When you don't have love in your heart, the baby's fucked.

There are other spiritual and moral arguments, but for me the religious attempt to restrain sex to loving relationships circles around to pregnancy and birth.

It's a very big part of human sexuality, a part we repress and deny and seek to control.

Chip Ahoy said...

One participant is not getting sex in exchange for money offered by the other. They are doing a performance for the camera.

For a producer who paid two people to sex it up in front of him, would be the relevant transaction.

Revenant said...

For a producer who paid two people to sex it up in front of him, would be the relevant transaction.

Eh. We don't call soldiers hit men and we don't prosecute boxing promoters for hiring men to commit felony assault.

Motives matter.

Saint Croix said...

Why in one hotel room where a prostitute and customer engage in sex for money the activity is illegal, while in the next room where porn actors engage in the same kind of activity for money that is filmed it is legal is beyond me and just another example of how crazy our culture is.

Both examples are prostitution and both could be prosecuted as prostitution. California has decided not to prosecute the porn industry, but they could.

Like RV, I wonder why legality hinges on the presence of a camera.

The camera means you are making a movie, which implicates free speech.

Under free speech, we have to distinguish between speech and acts. You have a free speech right to make a movie. But you can still be charged with any illegal acts you commit in the making of that movie.

For instance, if you make a snuff film, you can be charged with murder. The camera does not legalize the crime.

If you film Kennedy being assassinated, that is protected. It's free speech.

If Oswald paid you to film the assassination, the film is still protected as free speech. But you can be charged with the underlying crime, as you are a co-conspirator.

Also, you have property rights in any speech you create. And the Supreme Court has created an utterly arbitrary "obscenity" doctrine (and they know it when they see it) which just complicates our laws even further.

The Supreme Court used to have to watch pornography, which is kind of hilarious.

Anyway, in a porn film you have two prostitutes (the actors). Having two prostitutes does not legalize prostitution. That would be silly.

Alan said...

It treats the person as chattel, whether enslaved or not.

I have a different metaphor, not only for prostitution but for the tart-ification of women in general: the film Toy Story. Note the prime directive of a toy: no interaction with the kid. A toy's role is to submit wholly to the imagination of the child. A relationship ruins that role.

One of the necessary passages to adulthood for guys is overcoming the adolescent temptation to regard the opposite sex as toys. Many guys fail in varying degrees, because they lacked the necessary guidance and/or the popular culture often reinforces juvenile sexual attitudes.

Long time ago I blogged these musings on how the Left and "radical Islam" demean women:

What catches my eye is how different - and how similar - are the perceptions of female beauty within these two camps. One places sexual beauty on so high a pedestal that non-sexual beauty receives far less notice and appreciation as sexual beauty. The other perceives all or most aspects of female beauty to be erotic in nature, thus calling for a legalistic code of modesty that conceals even that which does not necessarily incite prurient interest.

So at one extreme women have to be super-sexy to be noticed, and at the other women have to be unnoticed to avoid the appearance of unseemliness. In either world, "mere" cuteness just doesn't pay.

Robin said...

Amsterdam has learned that the answer is "no", prostitution can never be without exploitation. They've found that even in their supposedly exploitation free prostitution scheme that eastern european women are brought into brothels against their will.

Revenant said...

But you can be charged with the underlying crime, as you are a co-conspirator.

So if, for example, the SEALS who killed Osama bin Laden were to be arrested (say, on the orders of a left-wing prosecutor from San Francisco) and prosecuted as murderers-for-hire, you would be okay with that?

After all, it is undeniable that they kill people for money. That makes them hit men, doesn't it?

Revenant said...

Robin,

If you condemn every area of human activity wherein *some* participants are criminals who victimize others that pretty much rules out everything -- finance, agriculture, manufacturing, science, religion, etc.

Banning an activity because some participants are victims simply ensures that all participants will be victims -- if not of criminals, then of the government.

Col Mustard said...

Hmmm... if I'm a young woman and I want to 'hook up' with guys when I'm in the mood, that's my business.

But, if I choose to 'hook up' with a guy who offers to pay for the pleasure of my company, that'sthe government's business?

Saint Croix said...

So if, for example, the SEALS who killed Osama bin Laden were to be arrested (say, on the orders of a left-wing prosecutor from San Francisco) and prosecuted as murderers-for-hire, you would be okay with that?

No, that would be silly. A state court has no jurisdiction over a Navy Seal, in a foreign land, shooting a terrorist.

Saint Croix said...

The California courts were faced with a case where a porn company was charged with prostitution. The court held that since we have a free speech right to look at porn, the people making porn have a free speech right to pay people for sex.

The Court also held that it wasn't prostitution, since the guy paying for it was not sexually gratified.

The first argument is really bad, in my opinion. We have a free speech right to watch the Zapruder film. We don't have a free speech right to shoot the President. It's a very basic speech-conduct distinction.

John Landis was charged with involuntary manslaughter for killing 3 people during the shooting of The Twilight Zone.

It's simply ridiculous to say free speech protects you from any underlying crime you commit in the making of a movie (or a book, or a newspaper, or whatever).

If I burn down the White House, that might be "symbolic speech," but it's also arson.

As to whether paying actors to have sex is prostitution, it's up to the California courts to determine California law. If they say paying actors to have sex isn't prostitution, then you're immune.

If I was a pimp in California, I would add a camera. You would create an additional revenue stream, and at the same time avoid any criminal prosecution.

I think the porn industry is pretty much stuck in California. A prosecutor in Arizona has already announced that if the porn industry tries to move to Arizona, they will be charged with prostitution. I think he's got a pretty strong argument.

Saint Croix said...

The porn industry is talking about moving to Phoenix because of the new condom rule in California.

No word from the California courts on how this affects the free speech clause.

Oh no, my art!

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that it was a limo from the Bunny Ranch that I followed onto US 395 south from the Reno Airport. It was a towncar with the rear end covered with that sort of advertising material that you can see through from the inside that is becoming so popular on buses these days. Some lovely ladies were shown having a good time. That sort of thing.

What was weird living in Northern Nevada was the realization that you would drive right by these dens of inequity, and not know it. Drove by the Bunny Ranch several times before I realized where it was located - mostly around there, as close as they can get to the county line, since prostitution is actually illegal in Washoe (Reno), Carson City, Douglas, and Clark (Las Vegas) counties (maybe some more too). These are the counties next to California with any population whatsoever.

In any case, the women apparently fly or drive in for work, work for a couple of days maybe, then go enjoy their money. They seem to like the work, and earn a lot of money a lot more quickly, than most of them would otherwise do.

To be totally, heretical, I think that it is the women who are exploiting the men, esp. in these Nevada brothels, and not the other way around. And, my understanding is that that is how they look at it too.

Bruce Hayden said...

There is something very basically human about males trading wealth to women for sex. I am not talking really about the "oldest profession" here, but rather, much of the traditional relationship between the two sexes.

Think about it from a more biological point of view - there are plenty of species where the male has to earn the right to beget children on the female. Where they build nests for them, bring them food, etc.

So, when you start dating, the guy takes the girl out a bunch of time sometimes before he finally gets access to her sexually. Theoretically, this is formalized at some point, where the guy supports the woman, she allows him sexual access to her, she bears his children, and he supports both the female and her offspring. If sanctioned, it is called "marriage". Then, when she gets tired of this guy, she divorces him, but with a lower value as a marriage partner now (having shown herself not to be the loyal type), her value on the market is lower, and finds herself sometimes sleeping with guys on the third date, or even first date, etc. He wines and dines her, then gets his reward. And, maybe at some point, her sexual value drops to the point where he doesn't even have to wine and dine her first.

I used to think that this whole thing was ridiculous, and looked for a woman who agreed with me. And, found some along the way. But, the reality is that human females are wired to respond to males offering them pretty (and/or nice) things. That is because the males are showing how well they can support her. And, historically, the females who responded to this sort of bribes tended to pick the males who would support them and their children better, resulting in more grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. living long enough to breed themselves, and were thus more successful genetically.

So, is it any surprise that prostitution is the oldest profession? At some level, males are wired to be willing to trade money for sex, and women to trade sex for money. And, the beauty of the female is one of the criteria determining how much the males are willing to pay to mate with her (because beauty historically translated into genetic and health superiority, and thus increased the chances of successfully having a lot of grandchildren, etc. have children of their own, and thence were more valuable to the males).

Bruce Hayden said...

I have long wondered why male animals during breeding season expended so many of their resources in competing with other males for breeding opportunities, that they often did not make it through the winter. In a lot of species, the females, despite carrying future young, survive winter better than the depleted males do. (I am mostly thinking herbivores such as deer, elk, etc. here).

So, my thoughts on the optimum reproductive strategy would be to not compete, or even really pretend to compete, until old enough and big enough to succeed fairly often. And, meantime, they would have a much better chance at surviving winters.

And, it turns out that a number of human males actually follow this strategy. Think of those doctors and lawyers who spent their week nights, and even some weekend nights, studying. And, that got them into graduate schools, and into (sometimes) lucrative, high status, careers. Then, when they get settled into their high paid careers, many of them can have sexual access to as many females as they desire. And, the females often line up for their chance at snagging these guys. These were the dorkiest guys in high school, sometimes not much better in college, but by 30 or so, doing far better in this area than the guys in high school who had all the girls, but little future - sometimes because they were spending their time on girls instead of studying. It is just one aspect of delayed gratification.

How does this tie into prostitution? Not that well, but my mind, at this time of night (or now morning) went in that direction when thinking about the evolutionary aspects of paying for sex, and the females happily accepting pay for granting males sexual access.

Bruce Hayden said...

Final comment, at least for awhile.

We, as a species, have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years of evolution behind this paradigm of males essentially paying females for sexual access and the females happily accepting the pay in return. But, things are changing. Women no longer really need men to support them and their children. They are now getting more college degrees than men are, and when that doesn't suffice, they have managed to get society to pick up the slack. Which means that they can have their kids, and not worry about this traditional trade of wealth for sex.

But, I am not sure if it is working out all that well for the men or the women. Without the need to purchase sexual access to females, and support the resulting children, many males seem to be dropping out. Why work hard for wealth, when it doesn't matter as much anymore? And, the females often seem just as discomforted by this new reality. They are wired to prefer superior males, but find that they are superior to more males than females, at least in terms of the traditional metric - earning potential. And, so, I think, find themselves more than ever before trading sex for companionship, without acquiring any of the wealth that made it rewarding both emotionally and financially in the past. The more this continues, I think, the more we seem to be seeing a race to the bottom, on the part of women, for access to males, which is just the opposite of what we, as a species, are wired for.

Joe said...

"Can legalized prostitution ever be safe and free of exploitation?"

One sentence sums up the the justification of nannies of all stripes, left or right, religious or non-religious. By setting an impossible absolute, you can justify any degree of regulation.

"Can receiving a wage ever be safe and free of exploitation?"

Of course not, so we must set up a myriad of laws To Protect The Worker.

Don't get me wrong. Quite often there is exploitation and lack of safety, which a little regulation fixes, but politicians can't stop and neither can people with a cause. (Ironically, if the problem is fixed, the various organizations meant to help rarely disband, but instead turn into a self-righteous monster that sees no end to what it can force other people to do--see MADD.)

Beldar said...

@ John Henry: You don't need to look to Larry David's set-up to make your point about pimps under other names. Whence comes Madame Suzette's salary as "general manager at the BunnyRanch going on 20 years"?

Bryan C said...

We can only can find true freedom in the security that comes from knowing that the State will never allow us to stumble into self-exploitation.

Bryan C said...

"The rejection of prostitution is not principally about coercion or involuntary participation. It is about preserving the dignity of human beings and not attributing a natural and potentially productive behavior to the economic domain."

With respect, all "natural and potentially productive behavior" is already part of the economic domain. You're trying to remove it from that domain and keep it out, and the only way to do that is by coercion.

Is some coercion justified in this particular case? It might be. Make your case. But don't paper over the core of your argument with empty phrases like "preserving dignity".

Revenant said...

No, that would be silly. A state court has no jurisdiction over a Navy Seal, in a foreign land, shooting a terrorist.

That's a nice attempt at dodging the question, but you are incorrect.

If the planning of the murder took place in an American state (which it did), it would indeed fall under the jurisdiction of that state.

But thanks for conceding that you think SEALS are, in fact, criminals -- simply ones unreachable by American jurisdiction.

Mattsky said...

Prostitution was legal in Rhode Island between 1980 and 2009. But street solicitation, running a brothel, and pimping were illegal.

Consenting adults doing something that hurt nobody else for 29 years and nobody can show that the state was worse off for it.

Methadras said...

Nope. It has been around since the dawn of man (more or less in some form or another) and it still abounds, but the one thing that never goes away is the motivation for doing it, money. That is the great exploiter, whether you legalize it or not. The economies of scale are just a little different.