[Viewpoint] A futile ban on selling sex

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[Viewpoint] A futile ban on selling sex

Five years have passed since authorities enforced a stringent law forbidding prostitution. But the result is not so satisfactory. One working girl on the street snorted, “The only difference then and now is where we receive clients.” It’s no surprise, since no society in history has successfully ended what’s considered the world’s oldest profession.

The industry remains as brisk as ever but those at the coalface suffer the most. Some sex workers have staged sit-ins and rallies while one radical took her own life to protest the new law. But their efforts were ridiculed and ignored. No one seems to really care.

Outlawing prostitution is philosophically flawed.

In a free society, there should be no grounds to criminalize an individual act that poses no danger to another individual. A sexual act by consent, whether paid for or not, causes no harm to others, and might even give pleasure to at least one participant.

Legal prostitution might even help reduce sex crimes. Outright prohibition does not solve the problem; it makes it worse. The profession exists to help whet and satiate sexual appetite, a means to help feed one of the most basic human instincts. A desire when oppressed and forcibly crushed can explode into eroding negative forces.

The legal means to quench sexual desire is through matrimony. Marriage is a wonderful convention, but does not necessarily gratify sexual desires. Libido failed to evolve along with the civilization of marriage. Libidinal desires appeared 2 billion years ago, whereas marriage is a relatively new social practice.

Not everyone can enjoy the benefits and comforts of marriage. Marriage usually takes place when one is in one’s late 20s, which means one must seek other means to soothe one’s sexual appetite during the sexual peak period, before one finds a legal partner. Society gives them one choice: continence. The young are forced to repress their passions.

Prostitution in many ways can fill the void before marriage.

If the service is banned, it won’t disappear nor decrease. It will go underground.

Societies that have tried to get rid of prostitution made the mistake of closing down service districts and shelters or toughening punishments without doing enough to improve the economic situation of those women who feel compelled to enter into this line of work. The skin-deep crackdown only fans sex crimes, the spread of sexually transmitted disease and criminal activities like trafficking. When outlawed, prostitutes are forced to work in an even worse environment with no legal protection.

Policies toward prostitution are moving toward regulation rather than prohibition in other cities around the world. The rationale is, if the sex trade cannot be stopped, it should be regulated within legal boundaries to minimize ill effects. Our society seems to be going in the opposite direction.

What society should do is to recognize the industry as a free trade while preventing solicitation and forced prostitution. When the trade becomes a legitimate business, illegal and underground activities should disappear.

In Hungary, prostitution became a tolerated business upon the recommendation of the police. The idea is plausible, coming from law enforcement officers who are familiar with the reality of sex work.

Past efforts to end the trade have often backfired. In 1954, the Argentine government allowed brothels to reopen despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church after realizing its prohibition of brothels in 1937 only sent the trade outdoors and underground, increasing crime, venereal disease and the number of sex offenders.

Prostitute-turned-politician Marthe Richard actively campaigned for and introduced a law to shut down brothels across France. But when she grew older, she admitted her decision was wrong, calling instead for new regulations to reinforce medical inspection and protection for the service workers.

The campaign to help sex workers can gain force when it comes from women activists who are generally opposed to prostitution.

Lawmakers or the police keep silent on the issue fearing a backlash from women’s organizations. Women are best qualified to claim and work for better rights for underprivileged women.


*The writer is a novelist.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Bok Koh-ill

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