Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Should prostitution be decriminalized?

Prostitution isn't showing signs of discontinuing or even slowing down - especially when it comes to politicians. Maybe we need to rethink our laws?

Should prostitution be decriminalized?

Eliot Spitzer
Eliot Spitzer

"Why should something be illegal to sell that is perfectly legal to give away?"

- George Carlin (American stand-up comic, 1937-2008)

 

Prostitution isn’t showing signs of discontinuing or even slowing down – especially when it comes to politicians. Maybe we need to rethink our laws?

New Jersey Sen. Robert Mendendez is making headlines denying allegations he had sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. He’s certainly not the only recent politician to be linked to prostitution.

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Watch John Featherman and lawyer/columnist Christine Flowers debate the legalization of prostitution on Dom Giordano's cable show, "Dom Time," at 7 tonight on WMCN-44.

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Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer made a name for himself prosecuting prostitution rings as the state’s crusading Attorney General before being taken down as perhaps America’s most hypocritical politician/john. Louisiana’s Sen. David Vitter’s official government Webpage doesn’t include in his bio that the moralizing, family values, self-described “conservative reformeradmitted to having sex committing “a very serious sin in my past” with an escort operated by the so-called “D.C. Madam.”

Then you have a couple of notable doozies -- larger-than-life political figures that are almost caricatures of themselves because of their unbelievable acts with prostitutes.

Take Jerry Springer, who long before his tabloid talk show reign was an attorney serving as City Councilman in 1970s Cincinnati. Springer resigned in disgrace only three years into his term after he was fingered in a vice investigation in which he, yes, wrote a check to a hooker. To top it off, the check bounced. Didn’t matter. Only 3 years later, Springer became the 56th mayor of Cincinnati. If writing a check to a prostitute won’t bury you politically, I guess using campaign funds to pay your personal expenses won’t either. Maybe Springer should run for City Council in Philadelphia.

Then you have former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, who admitted to continually paying the same prostitute for sex over several years – using his personal funds – but was reprimanded by the House of Representatives for fixing 33 of the prostitute’s parking tickets. Maybe Frank should apply to be a Philadelphia traffic court judge.

Did I mention that not all the prostitutes were women? Did I mention the political parties of the offending politicians?

All irrelevant.

In South Philly, they say there’s no Democratic or Republican way to fix a pothole. Likewise, neither the Democratic nor the Republican parties have a lock on whose behavior is more disturbing. There’s unfortunately a tie.

Which all brings us to this: Perhaps it’s time to set aside the stigma of prostitution and just decriminalize it?

Decriminalization – as opposed to the free-for-all of legalization – is the process of taking something previously illegal and making it controlled, regulated and taxed. That’s what was done with alcohol after Prohibition, and which still exists to this day – done by the federal government as well as our local government. It’s what’s beginning to occur with marijuana, as well, with some even claiming it could help solve the fiscal cliff.

I could smoke some of that.

A recent United Nations report advocated moving in the direction of decriminalizing prostitution. The same report urged more euphemistic terms to be used for those involved in the business, such as “sex workers.” In a world in which the most populous country views prostitutes as more honest and decent than politicians, that seems to be a good idea.

I tell my thoughtful friends who oppose sex for pay that the world's oldest profession is not going away. Rather than creating financial incentives that encourage trafficking, slavery and coercion, we would be better off supporting decriminalization, which in turn can eliminate the criminal element and foster responsibility, empowerment and improved health and safety for the sex workers. Decriminalization would also make it more likely that the government would collect taxes from these workers.

That sounds like an effective government um …  err  … “stimulus” to me.

John Featherman
About this blog
John Featherman is a contributor at Philly.com and writes about politics and consumer-related issues. Reach John at john@featherman.com.

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