Decriminalization and 20th Century Prostitution

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Prostitution is by definition the exchange of sex for money. It is illegal in the United States (except for some parts of Nevada), but legal in a lot of other countries in the world. Although it is illegal, it still has a large impact in our economy in the US. “Every year billions of dollars are spent on the sexual favors of prostitutes, whose profit amounts to at least 10 times the annual budget of the U.S. Department of Justice.” (Thio, 215) It is very hard to get a exact number of prostitutes and Johns in the United States because of gross underreporting. They really can only get their numbers from arrests and voluntary information, and who is going to admit that they have to pay for sex? The statistics though are that the numbers of prostitutes range from 84,000 to 336,000. (Potterat et al., 1990)

There are four different types of prostitutes; streetwalkers, child and adolescent prostitutes, call girls, and house prostitutes. When thinking of a prostitute probably the first type that comes to mind is a street prostitute. This person works on the streets trying to sell herself. The street prostitute and the adolescent prostitutes are the ones that most commonly engage in the most dangerous behavior, including frequent drug use, contracting STD’s, and also engaging in other illegal behaviors. The streetwalker is also the one to most likely to get caught and jailed for their activity. House prostitutes and call girls are the more “safe” form. Especially if working legally, their work is more regulated.

For this paper I want to first outline the history of prostitution. I want to also look at the different reasons that prostitution is illegal in the United States and seen as a deviant act and look in the “John” perspective and why that is not seen in society as much as deviance. Lastly, I want to also look in the arguments for legalizing prostitution; including the pros and cons. Prostitution is known today as “the world’s oldest professions”. That is because for years prostitution has been a part of our culture. The history of prostitution can be traced all the back to the 18th century BC in the society of Mesopotamia. It was even put into the Code of Hammurabi’s. It has withstood Greek and Roman cultures, and throughout the middle ages to today. It has only been since about 1915 that prostitution has been made illegal in the United States. It is interesting to look back over time and see the different cultures and how they perceived prostitution. In our text it says that “in ancient civilizations, prostitution was not condemned as evil. It was even considered sacred by some religious sects, so that only priestesses had the privilege to practice it.” (Thio, 2010) Even up until the 20th century prostitution was legal in the United States, most openly in the Wild West. “Prostitutes were as much a part of the new frontier as miners, cowboys, town preachers, and small merchants.” (Thio, 2010) When learning that prostitution has existed in the world since BC, I wonder to myself why it only has become illegal in the 20th century in the United States. Prostitution is known as a victimless crime. This means that there is really no true victim in the crime. So if prostitution is a victimless crime, why is it illegal? If you took a poll of people opinions whether prostitution should be illegal, overwhelmingly most people will tell you yes. I believe that it is because most people find it morally wrong to sell sex or sell your body, or at least they want to come across as thinking it. Various organizations in the United States took a moral stand against prostitution during the time it was made illegal during the first half of the 20th century. Looking back at the time period historically also you can see that it was also during this time that drugs were made illegal as well as the temporary band of alcohol. Today the same arguments still stand for why it should still be illegal. The most important reason I...
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