The recent bust of a Minot spa which was also offering sexual services has prompted a Minot Daily News article about sex workers who operate under the guise of lawful business.
“Prostitution arrest highlights licensing need in massage therapy,” reads the headline, but that’s a mistaken premise. Massage therapists are already required to be licensed under state law. Prostitution is already illegal under state law.
The problem – to the extent it is a problem – is that some North Dakotans are willing to pay for sex and others are willing to accept payment for it. As long as that’s true, we’re going to have prostitution and it’s not really going to matter what the laws are.
They call it the “world’s oldest profession” for a reason. It’s not going away. No society in the history of humanity has been able to eradicate the practice.
Maybe we should stop trying?
The Minot Daily article talks about the need for more licensing requirements for massage therapists.
What we really need is a licensing process for sex workers.
If it’s going to happen anyway, why not drag sex commerce from out of the shadows and into the sunlight? Let entrepreneurs open brothels. Require them obtain licenses for which they must submit to inspections aimed at ensuring health and safety. If willing-seller, willing-buyer transactions for sex work are legal perhaps we can put a big dent in demand for sexual services provided by men and women who are being exploited in one way or another.
Again, sex work is going to happen, but maybe we could reduce the amount of harm it does by letting it happen out in the open.
This is usually the point at which proponents of the status quo argue that we make illegal all sorts of things – from rape and murder to theft and assault – which happen routinely anyway. But sex work isn’t the same as murdering someone. It’s a transaction which, when consensual, is mutually beneficial.
It’s not like stealing a car; it’s more like selling one.
What I’m proposing is not a panacea for the abuses we see in sex work. Access to legal prostitution isn’t likely to satisfy the Jeffrey Epsteins of the world who seek underage prey. Sadly, trafficking and exploitation would still be with us.
But maybe we could take a bite out of the profits which flow to organized criminals, and reduce the amount of suffering surrounding sex work, by creating a legal market for it.
It’s not something North Dakota, or even most states in America, are ready for. Most people want sex work to be illegal because they, at least publicly, disapprove of it. It’s taboo. It’s not an easy thing to talk about.
We should talk about it, though. Because more laws and regulations on top of existing prohibitions for sex work are likely to achieve very little.