Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Malum prohibitum: Why is the basic transactional part of prostitution illegal, anyway? - UPDATED

It's pretty much par for the course nowadays that more than a few authority figures love the outside-the-mainstream kinky stuff. I have about as much sympathy for Eliot Spitzer as I did for Larry Craig (i.e. none). Still, there is a looming and largely unasked question here: Why is the act of two consenting adults, in private, agreeing to exchange money for sex a crime? Above all, why is it a federal crime in this case? Glenn Greenwald explores this question in some depth, as does Digby. I also recommend Digby's post for its historical review of the Mann Act, the archaic 1910 federal law invoked to federally prosecute prostitution-related offenses.

In all seriousness, while I think Eliot Spitzer deserves to be hoisted upon his own petard (I never get tired of that phrase), doesn't the federal government have better things to do? Isn't there a war still going on or something?

Some discussion of the question (thanks to a quick and highly unscientific Google search) can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here. A common thread among arguments for keeping prostitution illegal involves legalization's supposed windfall for pimps and its further demeaning effect on women, not to mention an increase in human trafficking. I don't want to pick on this site too much, because I know they do a lot of good work, but their "10 Reasons for Not Legalizing Prostitution" do not hold much water. A more in-depth look at this page may come in a future post. There is absolutely no denying that human trafficking and the continued subjugation of women is a problem all over the world. These are terrible problems that deserve smart, effective soultions. Wiretapping a guy who spends $1K-5K per hour for the services of an "escort" is not one of those solutions. Going after the traffickers, educating the women most likely to be victimized by said traffickers, and working to alleviate the conditions that might cause women to fall prey to a trafficker are more likely to help. But they won't make for prurient headlines.

In a final note for the moment, I present further evidence regarding the death of irony (or at least one of its more pathetic gasps): Newsweek has commentary on the whole sordid affair from Heidi Fleiss.

UPDATE (3/13/08): Ditto everything Glenn Greenwald says here. Viva sarcasm!

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