Do U.S. anti-prostitution laws encourage exploitation and
violence against women?
Author Alison Bass
Would it surprise you to know that laws criminalizing prostitution are not only largely ineffective in curbing the sex trade, but are creating an atmosphere that encourages the exploitation of sex workers and violence against all women?
In her new book (Oct. 2015),Getting Screwed, Sex Workers and the Law, Professor and Journalist Alison Bass provides a riveting assessment of how U.S. anti-prostitution laws harm the public health and safety of sex workers and other citizens—and affect larger societal attitudes toward women. The book weaves the true stories of sex workers from all walks of life together with extensive research to make a compelling argument for decriminalizing adult prostitution. Bass’ book will interest feminists, sociologists, lawyers, health-care professionals, and policy makers, as well as those with an interest in American history and our society’s evolving attitudes toward sexuality and marriage.
Alison Bass is an award-winning journalist and an Assistant Professor of Journalism at West Virginia University. She is also the author of Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and A Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial, the true story of two women who exposed the deception behind the making of a blockbuster drug. Bass was a long-time medical writer for The Boston Globe, and her articles and essays have also appeared in The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed,The Village Voice, Psychology Today and other newspapers and magazines around the country. Learn more about…
This week, federal and state law enforcement officials shut down the well-known website, Rentboy.com, which provided a venue for thousands of gay escorts to post ads and screen potential clients. In a raid on the site’s headquarters in New York City, the officers arrested seven of the site’s employees, including its CEO, and charged them with selling sex and laundering money. The Rentboy raid is just the latest salvo in what civil rights attorneys and sex worker rights advocates say is an “ongoing war against sex” by the government. Earlier this year, the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, pressured Mastercard and Visa into refusing to process transactions for Backpage, an online website that posts ads for sex workers. And last year, federal authorities shut down myredbook.com, an online site that allowed sex workers in California and other states to post ads and share tips about doing sex work safely. The operator of myredbook recently plead guilty to facilitating interstate prostitution and was sentenced to 19 months in prison. Civil rights attorneys say this is all part of a broader effort by state and federal government to crack down on companies that provide financial and advertising services for sex workers and others in the adult industry. At a time when much of the developed world has decriminalized sex work – with Amnesty International recently calling for decriminalization as the answer to much of the violence and abuse that surrounds commercial sex – the United States appears to be lurching in the opposite direction toward harsher criminal and civil penalties for sex workers and those who make their lives easier. The... read more
Now that Amnesty International seems to be getting behind the movement to decriminalize sex work, the issue is finally getting some attention in the mainstream press. But as usual the media, or at least this article in the New York Times, has got some of its facts wrong. First of all, laws that criminalize buyers, such as the much-vaunted “Nordic model” first adopted in Sweden and now enacted in Canada and northern Ireland, are not “sheltering” sex workers. As I’ve blogged about before, research shows that such laws actually make life more dangerous for sex workers in those countries because it makes it harder for them to negotiate safe sex (i.e. sex with condoms). The Times article trumpets the fact that street prostitution has declined as a result of the Swedish law, but the truth is that overall, sex work has not declined appreciably in Sweden or other Scandinavian countries since the law passed in 2000. Nor has trafficking, according to the Swedish government’s own reports. As I discovered in writing Getting Screwed, Sex Workers and the Law (Oct. 2015), all the law has done is made sex work more hazardous for the women and men who sell sex and made sex workers more likely to be discriminated against in court and child custody battles. This is precisely why Amnesty International is considering a petition that calls for decriminalizing sex work. Unlike many in the mainstream media, they have done their homework and discovered that in countries that have decriminalized prostitution and regulate it to some degree, sex workers not only have much safer working conditions but are much... read more