Kenneth Cauthen Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.

If Ann Landers is for legalizing prostitution, then how far out can the notion be? (1) In 1949, the United Nations adopted a resolution in favor of the decriminalization of prostitution, which has been ratified by fifty countries but not by the United States. Eleanor Roosevelt was among those who approved. Compared to the United States, European countries are generally more permissive, exhibiting a wide variety of practices including licensing individuals and brothels. Several counties in Nevada have legal prostitution with licensing, required medical exams, and careful supervision. In 1973 the National Organization for Women passed a resolution supporting the decriminalization of prostitution. The issue has divided feminists. (2) Anti-prostitution feminists like Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, and Melissa Farley see it as a vicious form of male domination and oppression. Sex-radical feminists like Susie Bright and Pat Califia, along with Prostitutes\'s Rights Organizations, consider prostitutes to be liberated women boldly taking charge of their own lives. (3) Many feminists take more nuanced and complex positions that fit into neither extreme. (4) People have strong feelings about this issue. It is also a problem that has no satisfactory solution. Commercial sex can be a sordid enterprise hard to defend. Yet it has always been with us and will always be as long as clients, usually men, can find providers, usually women, willing to offer their services for money. The very notion offends many people - and for good reason. Separating sexual activity from personal relationships of caring and responsibility is an enterprise hazardous to moral health. Yet as bad as legalizing sex for hire would be, the result overall is not likely to be a worse situation than we have now. The same arguments for and against legalization keep coming up all the time and can be easily stated. It is a matter of how we evaluate them in the light of our total orientation to morality, legality, and the weight to be given to individual freedom in relation to the responsibility of the state to promote a decent society. Finally, it hangs on which option on hard-headed pragmatic grounds we think would be relatively better, or at least the lesser of evils.Prostitution is practiced in a wide variety of settings, ranging from cheap, squalid street deals consummated in alleys, cars, and run-down hotels to expensive call girls procured for wealthy clients in fancy suites in the high-rent district. Other encounters take place in brothels, saunas, and massage parlors. The suppliers may be depressed, diseased, abused, desperate, drug-using teenagers thrown out of their homes by disgusted parents or happy, beautiful, prosperous, healthy, glamorous hookers who gladly chose their profession. Everything else between can also be found. The National Task Force on Prostitution suggests that over one million people in the US have worked as prostitutes in the United States, or about 1% of American women. According to the Kinsey report on sexual behavior, 69% of males admit to buying sex at least one time in their lives.Average prostitution arrests include 70% females, 20% percent male prostitutes, and 10% customers. Although a minority of prostitutes are women of color, a disproportionate number of prostitutes arrested and sentenced to jail are. 85-90% of those arrested work on the street, although street work accounts for approximately 20% of prostitutes. Percentages of male and female prostitutes varies from city to city. Estimates in some larger cities suggest 20-30% of prostitutes are male. Incidence of substance use and addiction varies widely, amounting to about 50% among street prostitutes, but is rare among women who work off the street.Violence is one of the major problems for women and prostitutes. Reports differ with one claiming that 60% of the abuse against street prostitutes is perpetrated by clients, 20% by police, and 20% occurs in domestic relationships. Between 35 and 85% of prostitutes are survivors of incest or early sexual abuse. (Figures vary widely for different populations.) A study of 130 street workers (primarily homeless) who engaged in prostitution or survival sex found that 80% had been physically assaulted. Although violence and the threat of violence is a serious problem, some populations of prostitutes show no higher incidence of violence and abuse than women in general. (5) A strong relationship exists between the