Should Prostitution Be Legal?

Arguing for the legalization of prostitution would not seem to be a viable platform for a politician, and it’s hard to imagine such a thing happening within our lifetimes. However, more and more, it appears to be becoming a question of serious public and social debate.

Most recently, Amnesty International caught a lot of attention in late July when the human rights group released a draft proposal calling for the decriminalization of all “aspects of consensual sex work.” The Internet News community exploded with opinions, with journalists, bloggers, and commenters quickly choosing sides on the matter.

Those who opposed the proposal argued that decriminalizing sex work would lead to increased exploitation of women. Supporters argued, however, that treating prostitution as a crime discourages sex workers from reporting sexual assault and other violent crimes to the police, for fear of being arrested themselves.

Before Amnesty took an official position on the matter, some women’s advocacy groups and several celebrities—including Lena Dunham, Anne Hathaway, and Meryl Streep—signed off on a letter opposing the draft proposal. The letter claims decriminalization will lead to “catastrophic effects” and “will in effect support a system of gender apartheid.” The celebrities called for decriminalization to be limited to sex workers themselves, excluding pimps, johns, and brothel owners.

Amnesty International met in Dublin on August 11, and voted in favor of the proposal.

The Argument for Decriminalization

Decriminalizing sex work is certainly a complex issue, but Amnesty International and their supporters decided to stand by the proposal for a number of reasons. One of the major arguments is that treating sex work as a criminal act drives all of the trade underground. This discourages those involved in the trade from reporting severe human rights violations, such as sexual assault, violence, and child trafficking.

Some advocates point to New Zealand’s 2003 decision to decriminalize prostitution.  A recent government-commissioned study revealed the effects of decriminalization have been generally positive, absent of the “catastrophic effects” mentioned by the opposition.

For example, following the 2003 ruling, New Zealand’s sex workers showed a greater likelihood of reporting violence to the police. There was also widespread use of a government guide on health and safety practices. There was even a reported drop in the number of sex workers in the country following decriminalization.

There’s no question the punishments surrounding prostitution are harsh in the United States and throughout most of the developed world.  Furthermore, these punishments come with effects that last long after the punishments are over. There is a social stigma surrounding sex work that can brand those accused for life. It can be very difficult to explain a criminal record to an employer, but it will be even more difficult to explain a sex work-related misdemeanor or felony.

Prostitution Laws in Colorado

In Colorado, prostitution and related activities are a crime—often with severe and life altering consequences for the accused. The state defines prostitution as engaging in any sex act exchanged for money with an individual who is not your spouse. The state also bans “displaying,” which means saying or doing anything in public to promote a prostitute’s services.

Patronizing a prostitute, pimping, and running a brothel are also crimes with harsh penalties. Below are the individual crimes and their specific penalties.

Prostitution. A person can be charged with this if he or she performs, or offers or agrees to perform, a sexual act with another in exchange for some type of compensation. The compensation does not necessarily have to be monetary. Prostitution constitutes a class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $750 and jail time up to 6 months.

If you engage in prostitution fully aware that you are HIV positive, your charge is upgraded to a class 5 felony, which carries the punishment of 1-3 years in prison and a $1,000 to $100,000 fine.

Patronizing a Prostitute. Patronizing a prostitute means engaging in sex acts with a prostitute, or entering a place of prostitution with the intent to purchase the services of a prostitute. It is a class 1 petty offense, punishable by up to $500 in fines. Patronizing a prostitute while knowingly infected with HIV is a class 6 felony. Class 6 felonies can carry prison sentences ranging from one year to 18 months, and fines can be $1,000 to $100,000.

Pimping and Pandering. Pimping and Pandering are more serious prostitution-related crimes.  Pimping is defined as being supported by money earned by another through prostitution, and it is a class 3 felony—punishable by 4 to 12 years in prison, and $3,000 to $500,000 dollars in fines. Pandering has two different definitions; the first is arranging or offering to arrange a situation where a person may engage in prostitution. The second definition is threatening or intimidating someone else into prostitution.

The first type of pandering is a class 3 misdemeanor, and the second is a class 5 felony.

Whether legalizing prostitution would improve things or make them worse is an unanswered question, but it does seem like one that will continue to be asked more and more in the years to come.

About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.