Should Prostitution be Legalized?

I don’t know if you guys are nerds about public policy like I am but recently, Amnesty International, a world renowned NGO, dropped a bombshell by releasing a statement saying that they’re advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution. Obviously, this announcement wasn’t met with people holding hands and singing Kumbaya. The firestorm from the debates…


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I don’t know if you guys are nerds about public policy like I am but recently, Amnesty International, a world renowned NGO, dropped a bombshell by releasing a statement saying that they’re advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution. Obviously, this announcement wasn’t met with people holding hands and singing Kumbaya. The firestorm from the debates still rages on.

Firstly, Amnesty isn’t alone in this. There are people who work in other advocacy organizations and who do public health and economic research who agree with this (like this guy). And there are plenty of people and organizations who oppose this idea, saying that it’s the worst possible decision ever for a whole host of reasons (like this lady).

Aside: The fact I picked a man and a woman to represent the pro- and anti- decriminalization camps is entirely coincidental. There are men and women on all sides of this issue.

If you wanna see the long and short of both arguments, well……. it’s complicated. So, I’m gonna go grab a drink and let the immensely wonderful Laci Green explain it to y’all.

*sips the last bit of an ice cold fanta* That was refreshing.

This is a complicated issue that is bound to elicit visceral reactions from everyone. However, it’s important to note that that prostitution (at least in the Western World) wasn’t always illegal. Some of the oldest evidence for brothels as we think of them today i.e. places where people exchange money for sexual services existed as far back as 5th century BCE*. Many places in Europe and America had legal brothels that were actually quite famous and world renowned until just after World War 2. A lot of the backlash against brothels and therefore against legalized prostitution presumably came out of the backlash that followed anti-fascist and anti-Nazi movements in Europe after the war’s end. For more on the history of brothels, you should watch this really awesome video from Lisette Padilla The Seeker Network.

If I’m being honest, I think I have a very tentative lean towards decriminalization (which is what Amnesty is calling for), but I don’t know that I can support legalization just yet. My position on this comes mainly from the public health and economic factors that affect the trade. To be clear, the distinction is that decriminalization means that you won’t go to jail or be fined for doing something. Legalization means that the government has sanctioned and regulated the industry and therefore has the right to tax you on the revenues that you may or may not incur from participation in the activities related to the industry. Often, but not always, decriminalization is a step towards legalization. That’s part of why a lot of people feel so strongly about this issue – because it might lead to legalization.

In the modern world, a lot of these activities take place online. Many of them take place in the deep recesses of the internet like the deep web and the silk road, where you can order almost anything. To be clear, there are many consensual and also non-consensual activities that take place in those areas of the web. In any case, since the activities in those parts of the internet are really hard to track, it means that laws in some of the Scandinavian countries which criminalize the purchase of sex but not the sale of sex might not be as effective as everyone thinks.

Inasmuch as the internet has been a tool to aid in the oppression of people (mostly women) in the sex trade, it might also be the thing that makes it safer for those that choose to do it willingly. With relatively low overhead, the internet could make it easier for workers to set up shop via a website, engage and disengage in contracts, process financial transactions via mobile banking and point of sale systems like Paypal and Square and leaves a trail that isn’t too hard to track in case there ever needs to be a reason for legal and/or financial recourse. Assuming that sex work was decriminalized, it means that tools like those available on the internet could make it easier for sex workers to join forces to create an agency or function independently. Essentially, sex workers would be able to be their own pimps and brothels, which would make a lot of the historically oppressive elements of the trade obsolete.

This issue is far from settled. Unlike many of the other controversial positions I have supported in the past, I won’t even pretend that my mind’s made up on this issue. The New Zealand example that Laci points to her video is one of the few examples out there where it seems to have worked out. The only thing that we can all agree on is that universally, criminalization of prostitution hasn’t worked out as well as anyone had hoped. Perhaps, it’s time to rethink the methods and practices of criminalization, or just decriminalize the practice.

Question time: Should prostitution be decriminalized? Legalized? Both? This issue is a very complicated some-somes, so people, please be respectful of each others opinions.


*BCE = Before the Common Era. BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) have fallen out of favor with historians, because most of the world for most of history wasn’t Christian and couldn’t have been. However, since most historical and predicted events around the world are commonly dated by the Gregorian Calendar, that dating system has been dubbed the Common Era.

Image via Tribune Herald


  1. Nosa
    Well, this is a tough one.

    I don’t want it to be decriminalized because it takes away the danger-rush one gets from it.
    But i accept that it needs to be regulated, and rebranded, much like the cocaine business.

    And it’s not only the ones in brothels and on roadsides who partake in it.

    Wikipedia defines Prostitution as; the business or practice of engaging in sexual relations in exchange for payment or some other benefit.

    Decriminalize with basic regulation mechanisms in place? YES!!!!!! Legalize? NOT YET THOUGH.

    Let us see how decriminalization goes first.

    1. Chinweike
      Danger rush? I think we have a patron here people!

      PS; you’re probably kidding but I think not wanting it to be decriminalized because of some danger rush is a bit facetious. Lot’s of people lose their lives and come into all sorts of harm over its legal status, seems like a pretty steep price to pay for some danger rush. Then again, you’re probably kidding and I’m over reacting.

      Also, no, I don’t personally know any sex workers.

      1. Nosa
        Patron is a strong word. It’z not like i have a membership card, pr a t-shirt.

        And yea, i’m just kidding about not wanting decriminalization. I’m fully in support of safe se. (Whatever that means)

  2. Pingback: Should Prostitution be Legalized? | Newsroom Demo

  3. Chinweike
    First off, great article. Now my opinion is this, I don’t think decriminalization should even be an issue, what two consenting adults decide to do in private quarters should not be a crime! This cannot be overstated. The issue here should be the legality, which personally I think it should be legalized, that’s the only sensible way it can be regulated. We are often keen to forget that these sex workers are actually human beings with lives outside their trade, they’re really not that different from us except what they do for a living. So they need protection and whatnot. What astonishes me is how people are quick to condemn the supply and not the demand, they would be out of business if there wasn’t any demand for their services. I think it’s all part of denial which we humans are very good at, we like pretense, we don’t like to acknowledge these things, you rarely see a person admit to being a patron of sex workers, yet on a daily basis they get patronized. Hell, you even see some of the most loyal customers dishing out the most criticisms, it’s all sanctimony and hypocrisy. Sometimes it seems these conversations are just that; conversations, but I beg to differ, I think it’s important to start conversations like this and get the idea in people’s heads, maybe one person gets to change their mind, that for me is worth it, Rome wasn’t built in a day after all.
    1. Tola Post author
      You’re right that the supply has been criminalized more heavily than the demand. However, There are situations like in some of the Scandinavian countries, where the opposite is true. In such places, street level prostitution has declined dramatically, but that doesn’t mean the industry as a whole has gone away. More than likely, it went online.

      This is definitely a complicated topic. I greatly appreciate your insights.

      Earlier comment might have come out as angry, i had not read the post yet, i was reacting to the title of the post because we have touched on it before.
      1. Tola Post author
        S has covered the topic of prostitution as a matter of personal opinion. I’m trying to examine the topic as a matter of potential public policy. In regards to everything that I have mentioned, what do you think on the subject?
  4. Waledelaw
    The position of the law in Nigeria, as it stands.

    We have brothels and the Police do not go to raid! if it were illegal, that would be free food for the hungry lot of them. In countries where it is illegal, the workers hang around corners, pick their customers and head to a motel. Our situation is still accommodating and the clamor for legalization is not needed.

    I rest my case.

    1. Tola Post author
      In countries where we have better statistics, we know for certain that sex workers face higher rates of violence and murder than the general population with or without legal protection. Some of those perpetrators are law enforcement, legislative, and judicial officials who abuse their power. The workers cannot seek legal recourse against them because they are effectively blocked out of the legal system. In a country like Nigeria, with weak, unenforced laws, poor quality law enforcement, and weak legal systems, it’s very likely that these kinds of things happen at significantly higher rates.

      For those reasons, I think the conversation is still worth having.

  5. Alain
    I think its an easy one, the fact that two people agree to have sex isn’t a crime if its done in a private environment where it wouldn’t affect other people. Prostitution is an act almost every girl has done. A lady claims to visit her bf and before going you are asking for t-fair… for crying out loud that’s payment for services rendered. it goes on and on
  6. Chinedov
    I don’t think prostitution needs decriminalization/legalization. What it needs is regulation.

    Netherlands (which apparently should take the title of ‘Land of the Free’ from the US) seem to be leading the way in both prostitution and marijuana legalizations.

    They’ve both experimented and seen things play out quite well before legalization. Today, they have to close their prisons as they’ve ran out of criminals.

    Let’s let the sleeping dogs lie in this case.

    Regulate it and charge them VAT if that’s what it entails.

    1. Tola Post author
      It’s hard to have government regulation of a practice that isn’t already legal or decriminalized, so those discussions are still needed.

      Actually, the Netherlands passed laws making it difficult for non-Citizens to buy weed a few years ago. But yes, you’re right on the whole, they seem to have better results than many other places with regards to types of laws.

  7. Terri
    I’m actually really appalled at the people who are essentially saying that women who have sex with their boyfriends or partners or whoever are practising prostitution. That’s just not it and I do not understand the reasoning behind that. Someone has to explain that to me.
    Secondly, I don’t know what the stats for prostitutes in Nigeria are, but I don’t think that they face any real danger, except maybe a certain stigma because of what they do, but they are in business here because people are still patronising them; anywhere I hear I clamour for criminalisation, I smell a double standard.
    Having said that, my personal opinion? None really. The upside of legalisation is probably more revenue for the government, eh?

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