So, this week my Sociology Professor asked us, “Should victimless crimes such as prostitution and recreational drug use be decriminalized?”
Well, what I really said was this….
When decriminalizing recreational drug use and prostitution would essentially save the United States large sums of tax revenue and resources, boost our economy, and provide for a safer worker/consumer environment for the millions that participate in these activities – a better question might be, “Why SHOULD we keep them criminalized?” These policies are not accomplishing the goals of making society safer or preventing involvement.
The United States is known for its strict drug policies, and its imposition of the harshest penalties for drugs sales and possession across the world (Szalavitz, 2009). Historically, prohibition has done little more than create dangerous and violent markets, without seeing a decrease in consumption (“Should we legalize,” 2012). America’s “War on Drugs” is failing, with a 2.5 trillion dollar price tag and little to show for it (“Should we legalize,” 2012).
As a case study, Portugal is a great example of how decriminalization of drug use can be beneficial to a society. In 2001, Portugal became the first European country to eliminate all criminal charges for personal possession of drugs, which was done with the goals of reducing deaths and infections by focusing on prevention and treatment instead of jailing (Vastag, 2009). Since their decriminalization, the number of street drug overdoses and new HIV cases among drug users has declined, with the number of people getting treatment for drug use rising, while the number of drug users is notably lower than those in the U.S. (Vastag, 2009).
Prostitution is one of the oldest jobs in the world, and instead of the profession declining, it is growing. Prostitution in the United States is estimated to bring in 14 billion dollars a year, with over 1 million people working as prostitutes (Gorbenko & Lakomy, 2011). Anti-prostitution laws do nothing to deter the frequency of prostitution, but do aid in pushing it underground, which makes it unsafe for all participants and for our society as a whole.
Most prostitutes are at the whim of those that pimp them out, and are regularly violated, abused and raped with no way for recourse of being helped for crimes committed against them. Some of this can be contributed to the non-reporting of crimes for fear of arrest for solicitation, but also for the abuse that prostitutes experience directly from law enforcement by way of assault and rape. Also, anti-prostitution laws and the enforcement of them are unequal in their attention and target prostitutes, not their clientele, which account for only 10% of all arrests (Gorbenko & Lakomy, 2011).
Laws against prostitution are unjustified and hypocritical. In no other way does government interfere in our sex lives and determine when, how or why we are allowed to have sex. Pornography is legal. Government isn’t out policing the number of men or women that marry (and have sex) with people of high financial backgrounds purely for financial gain. Or people that are promiscuous is their behaviors, having sex with relative strangers after being bought dinner or drinks on dates. If sex for money is what defines prostitution, should we be investigating all circumstances involved in citizen’s sexual activities to rule out the possibility of compensation in any form?
Prostitution and drug laws cost us money. A great deal of it. The U.S accounts for 25% of the world’s prisoners, but our high imprisonment rates have done little to cut down on the frequency of these “crimes.” (“Should we legalize,” 2012). Enforcement of these laws drains our police resources, clogs up our court system, and wastes our time, which could be better allotted to real crimes. Crimes that actually aren’t victimless, like those committed against people and property.
At the end of the day, the main motivators behind these laws are religious, rooted in societies definition of morality, and are used to unfairly target minorities and other social groups. None of which have any place in the making of government policy.
Gorbenko, M., & Lakomy, A. (2011, November 12). Prostitution: The ‘world’s oldest’ and most dangerous profession.
Should we legalize drugs? [Radio series episode]. (2012). In NPR.
Szalavitz, M. (2009, April 26). Drugs in Portugal: Did decriminalization work?. TIME Magazine,
Vastag, B. (2009, April 7). 5 years after: Portugal’s drug decriminalization policy shows positive results. Scientific American,
Funnily, this assignment was only supposed to be a discussion post for my class and not a full essay, but once I started writing about the topic, I realized I had a good deal I wanted to say, and I still only managed to cover a small portion of it. Maybe one day I’ll have the time and opportunity to do a much deeper study to build more thorough cases for both.
Also, I haven’t answered to whether or not I support legalization and regulation for both.
1 – becasue that wasn’t my assignment
2 – because I’m not entirely sure to what extent I feel it would be good to regulate either, if at all. I’ll have to think and research on it more.
Here are some resources worth checking out:
NPR Debate: Should We Legalize Drugs? – A panel of experts — including former Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson — tackled that question in the latest installment of Intelligence Squared U.S. They faced off two against two in an Oxford-style debate on the motion: “Legalize Drugs.”
Washington Post: Should the U.S. Legalize Hard Drugs? – Some really compelling points that I didn’t even touch on in my post.
Prostitution: The ‘World’s Oldest’ and Most Dangerous Profession – Filled with a great deal of stats on prostitution.
Prostitution Law Reform: Defining Terms – Understanding the difference between decriminalization and legalization.