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The Contender
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Prostitution should be decriminalized in the United States

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/19/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,025 times Debate No: 49499
Debate Rounds (4)
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I will be arguing Pro for Prostitution (not child or coerced prostitution) to be decriminalized in the US. Con will argue against it, for either legalization or criminalization.

Criminalization means it is illegal in all circumstances, legalization means it is illegal in a highly regulated state and deviations from such are illegal, and decriminalization means it is unregulated and the act of prostitution itself is not grounds for legal action of any sort (though accompanying activity can be, such as assault, rape, child prostitution, trafficking, and any kind of violence or exploitation).

4 rounds
72 hours
8,000 characters

Looking forward to a great debate!


I am glad to be debating again after such a long time, and hope this will be an enjoyable debate. I was unable to contact the instigator, but I will assume as Pro, she should make the first argument. I look forward to an engaging debate.

Debate Round No. 1


I apologize for not getting back to you in a timely manner, I’m new to this website and assumed I would get an email update about messages in the same way I do for debate updates. I’ll have to remember to check back in more frequently! Anyhow, on with the debate!

I’m organizing this argument in terms of the people who are working as prostitutes and the impact that different forms of legislation have on them, partly because when considering this topic, people have different go-to images of who a prostitute is and why they are doing what they do, and I think this has an enormous impact on how they look at legislation and which consequences they are thinking about while doing so. As there is not enough room, this round I will post arguments for prostitution in general from the perspective of consenting adults who wish to work as prostitutes, and next round I will address those who are harmed by the industry. Final round I will post arguments in terms of benefis for the general public (a third party) and philosophical considerations. Con may choose to use a similar organization or not, whatever seems appropriate. From this point on I refer to them as sex workers, because it’s my opinion that the term prostitute carries more emotional baggage, stereotypes and associated ideas that are not helpful in a debate. I will also generally refer to them as women, as the majority of sex workers are women and the issues that accompany the work impact them more greatly than their male counterparts.

v Impact on those who choose to be sex workers

  • Why people choose to be sex workers

People choose to be sex workers for a variety of reasons. These include personal choice and interest in the profession, as well as financial pressures that make people turn to prostitution when they normally would have not. While there are absolutely those who enter the trade by choice, and they deserve the right to do their work, there are a sizeable amount (maybe a majority) who turn to it due to financial pressures, and it is those people we should be most concerned about and consider most how legislation impacts them.

  • Health and Wellness
    • Ø Safety

Because they cannot go to police to report rape, abuse (by a pimp for example), or assault, sex workers are put in an inherently vulnerable position. This creates a situation where clients, pimps, and other parties can feel free to abuse them with no fear of punishment or legal action. One survey found that only approximately 34% of sex workers that had been assaulted by clients reported it to the police. As expected by this dynamic, available evidence suggests decriminalization results in a decrease in violence surrounding involved parties (Cunningham).

  • Ø Emotional health

Many groups propagate an “oppression model” of prostitution, emphasizing oppression, abuse, drug addiction, emotional harm, and negative things that are associated with street workers. Indoor sex work, including brothels, call girls, escorts, and others, generally does not have these issues. I don’t intend to be lazy, but I don’t think it’s possible for me to put it more clearly or concisely than this:

“A study … found no differences between [indoor sex working- and non-sex-working women] in physical health, self-esteem, mental health, or the quality of their social networks. Some prostitutes feel validated and empowered by their work. In some studies, a large percentage of indoor workers report and increase in self-esteem after they began working in prostitution, state that they are very satisfied with their work, or feel that their lives improved after entering prostitution. Escorts … took pride in their work and viewed themselves as morally superior to others: “They consider women who are not ‘in the life’ to be throwing away women’s major source of power and control, while they as prostitutes are using it to their own advantage as well as for the benefit of society.” … Anne Lucas’s interviews with escorts and call girls revealed that these women had the “financial, social, and emotional wherewithal to structure their work largely in ways that suited them and provided … the ability to maintain healthy sel-images.” Other studies indicate that such control over working conditions greatly enhances overall job satisfaction among these workers. [The paper contrasts the mechanical and emotionless sex of street work with the emotion-work and ‘girlfriend experience’ of indoor prostitution]. … In sum, prostitution takes diverse forms and exists under varying conditions, a complexity that contradicts popular myths and generalizations. Plenty of evidence contradicts the notion that prostitutes, across the board, are coerced into the sex trade, lead lives of misery, experience high levels of victimization, and want to be rescued. These patterns characterize one segment of the trade, but they are not the defining features of prostitution.” Summary: While outdoor sex work tend to be harmful and unpleasant, indoor sex work is the polar opposite, and it appears that sex work in and of itself does not, despite popular misconception, cause any harm. (Weitzer)

Stigma, however, can cause harm. The stigma surrounding sex workers that is supported or exacerbated by its criminalization has the potential to negatively affect the emotional health of workers.

  • Ø Sexual health and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

In contrast to areas where the sex trade is criminalized, where it is decriminalized there are social and health services available to offer sex workers. In a comparison of cities in Australia, where decriminalized, more workers reported making use of a health center for safer-sex training and information and more had access to free condoms than the city where it was criminalized (Harcourt). In California and New York, carrying a condom on your person can be used as evidence in a court of law that you had an intent to commit prostitution. In other states, sex workers report not carrying condoms for fear of police harassment (Wurth). As you might expect, this discourages sex workers from using contraception. With the pressures to avoid carrying condoms combined with the increased availability of them, and of safer-sex education, issues of STIs in the sex industry should decrease exponentially.


Cunningham, Scott and Shaw, Manisha. Decriminalizing Prostitution: Surprising Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health. August, 2013.

Weitzer, Ronals. Prostitution: Facts and Fictions. Weitzer is a sociologist at George Washington University who specializes in criminology, police-minority relations, and the sex trade.

Wurth, Margaret, H., et al. Condoms as evidence of prostitution in the United States and the criminalization of sex work. J Int AIDS Soc. 2013; 16(1): 10.7448/IAS.16.1.18626. Published online May 24, 2013. doi: 10.7448/IAS.16.1.18626.



When I first joined DDO, I had the same issue. The trick is to make sure you have the time before you consider accepting debates.

I don't have the same level of structure that you or other debaters might have, but I will be using three main points;

Firstly, it's fairly safe to say that women don't become prostitutes out of want for sex. It's usually one of two things; they need the money, or they're forced into it. The force comes from either a case of a boyfriend becoming a pimp or a kidnapping-trafficking ring. Right now, it's one of the most horrific work environments. I'll start with financial necessity. If a woman must become a prostitute out of need for money, surely, the focus should be on erasing the need for such a job, rather than making the job safer. I'm sure I don't need to diverge on a speech about the objectification or buying of women for you to know it's not a morally justifiable business. The second part, the trafficking, I will use Amsterdam as reference. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. There are regulations there for the prostitute, a district for their business, and it would seem the chief example for the Pro side. However, Amsterdam features a large amount of sex trafficking as well, which is in essence, slavery. Amsterdam has actually been limiting prostitution now, in 2008, they halved the size of the window brothel market. It's not a nice business. It's easy to make the "legalisation leads to regulation" case, but what if you used a similar issue, like drugs? Both are dangerous and damaging occurences, even in areas where they are illegal, with lobbyers pushing for legalisation. But you might as well say; well we can't stop drug takers, might as well make them a bit safer. You don't deal with the issue, you just tolerate it. Sex abuse cases will continue. We can both pull tales that suit our side; you can talk of it empowering some women, while I can point out the slaves held in the background. The trick here is balance, and even if the majority felt empowered, slavery isn't something that should be tolerated at all. Legalisation will only serve to aid the criminal organisations that are long established internationally. We should not be looking to compromise with slavers by looking for a bit of regulation. ,

Why is that? Because of what it says about our society. Even if it still occurs illegally, the law shows that in general, people don't approve of women being forced by either criminal or circumstantial forces into sex they do not want. If you lift that law, you send a message that at worst, you tolerate prostitution and all its consequences, at best, you welcome it. And where would it end? I mean in terms of what would follow. Legalisation could form a domino effect of other actions being decriminalised, mainly the other thing Amsterdam is well known for; Windmi- I mean, Weed. Marijuana. Drugs, Since the best known example of prostitution features weed being legal too, you can't say it's much of a stretch to say that this motion could have unforseen consequences.

On a side note, you mention that you'll use the term Sex Worker rather than prostitution. I assume it's because the term worker implies a union, rights and protection. You see, Germany tried something like that. It didn't work. Out of around 400,000 workers, only about 100 actually applied for the union, despite the healthcare, holidays, legal aid and 5 day week it offered. Why? Many saw prostitution as a temporary solution to their current problem. They didn't want to be officially recognised even as sex workers. Those who are trafficked stand little chance of applying while held, even if not directly held and just controlled by a pimp. Pimps can use a lot of nasty methods of control, starvation, drugs and sleep deprivation, even psychological techniques leading to hyperarousal. It's not pretty, and you'll have a hard time rooting out the abusers from the legal providers. Another place for prostitution is Germany, which is mentioned in an earlier source of mine ,the BBC one, as one of the top trafficking locations. Calling a gun a teddy bear won't make it softer. Calling them sex workers won't ease the troubles they face.

This has been rather unfocused, so I'll conclude for now; Prostitution is a harmful occurence in the world, the most common kind of slavery today. Places where it has been legalised experience the criminal side all the same, and it only serves to encourage the everyday person to visit these brothels by legalising them. It will lead to further decriminalisation and likely with the same total lack of control.

I'll see you next round. If you miss the deadline, post your argument in the comments, and I'll respond. Until then, I'll be waiting,

Debate Round No. 2


Canidae forfeited this round.


Canidae's busy schedule as well as the fact that every DDO user forgets their first few rounds has led to a missing round. This round will just be used to summarise my previous arguments to be reader friendly. My previous round has the sources.

1; Legalizing Prostitution has little to no effect on the rate of trafficking in its countries, in fact, it bolsters these rates.

2; The shameful stigma that comes with being a sex worker means that less than 1% of prostitutes apply for state benefits where it is legal. They prefer to see it as a short term solution, and do not want the state to recognize them as whores.

3; Legalisation will encourage people to avail of the service, aiding the traffickers as well as sending a global message that the US is comfortable with women being sex toys for a living.

4; It annoys me that when I type recognise, it marks it as incorrect and demands I use the American Z in place of an S.

There. Nice and simple. See you next round everyone.

Debate Round No. 3


Much apologies, I should have set it to five rounds just in case. In retrospect, I think I would have organized it differently in some other ways, too (including a 10,000 word limit! I’m learning the ropes!), as well as not started immediately before spring break, but it was still worthwhile in my opinion, and I hope from others’ perspectives as well.

v Specific impact on those who choose to be sex workers but want to stop

  • The cycle of punishment and payment

As mentioned before, a common reason of becoming a sex worker is needing money. They are often out on the streets because they cannot afford to stop, whether this is because they have children that need to eat, or some other reason. A typical result of criminalization is fining sex workers. For those that wish to leave the industry, this can become a hole that dig them deeper and deeper into the ground, as with not enough income, they are forced right back out onto the street in order to pay the fine. This practice is debilitating and contradictory to the purpose of the law, as it facilitates the need for these people to sell sex and acts as a barrier to them stopping.

  • Attempts to gain employment

Not surprisingly, those who want out of the sex industry attempt to find legal employment, as they may have been trying to do when they turned to prostitution in the first place, if they were unable to find one in time. Criminalization presents two major barriers to these women attaining the employment that would allow them to stop working as sex workers. First, as they have to keep their illegal activities a secret, they have what appear to be potentially large gaps of unemployment that there are essentially unable to account for. This can be a detriment to getting a job. Secondly, if they have ever been taking in and fined, it will show up on their criminal record during a background check, which, again, increases their odds of being rejected significantly. The result of criminalization is reducing the odds that women who want to leave the sex industry have the means to do so.

  • Seeking help

Like sex workers who wish to continue working in the sex industry, who cannot turn to the police when they have been raped or assaulted, those wishing to leave the industry likewise have nowhere to turn for help, as telling anyone about their situation could result in imprisonment. This may be extremely intimidating to those who have a family that depends on them, and it may keep them from even seeking help from friends or family.

v Impact on those forced to be sex workers

  • Resources put towards consenting adults VS victims

There are a finite amount of resources that can be put towards enforcing any kinds of legislation, and putting money, time, effort, and other resources (# of law enforcement officers) means it is being taken away from something else. Someone cannot simultaneously make one phone call and another at the same time; one cannot get question one individual and another at the same time. The billions of dollars and vast amount of time put towards policing the streets, questioning, taking in, and fining consenting adults is time and money that cannot be put towards finding and helping people who are actually being forced into sex work against their will. These could be children, people trafficked from other countries, people who have been kidnapped… whatever their status or situation, these people are the ones wishing someone would show up and free them from the victimization they are enduring, and these people deserve 100% of law enforcement resources and effort.

  • Human trafficking

This is probably the biggest and most difficult result of decriminalization to justify, as it does, in fact, increase the incidence of human trafficking. However, I will mention briefly a comparison here that I will elaborate on later. Simply because alcohol is toxic, and can lead to drunk driving, poor decisions, alcohol poisoning, spousal abuse, date rape, and a myriad of other things does not mean it should be criminalized. It will still happen, and billions of adults who do not use it as irresponsibly will be fined, punished, and thrown in jail. It is clear that the incidence of drunk driving and all these other things increases when alcohol is legalized, but at the same time, resources that had been wasted on responsible adults can then be focused on eliminating the truly harmful behaviors. Increases cannot be looked at outside of context, as it is very possible that the increase of police resources being poured into fighting trafficking would counterbalance or outweigh the increase. As far as I am aware, unfortunately, there are no good statistics on this at the moment, and solid conclusions can’t be drawn.

  • Risk of arrest

Victims may be reluctant to turn to police for help for fear of being arrested or fined themselves. It does happen (2).

v Other

  • Taxation

If decriminalized, taxing the industry would produce revenue to put towards publicly funded projects, or to generate even more resources that could be put towards helping people who are truly victims of child or sex trafficking, or towards helping those who are victims of other crimes, in the form of hiring more officers, funding technology (i.e. more accurate DNA testing or rape kits that are effective more than 72 hours after an assault).

  • The logic behind the law

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to punish someone for doing something that they can legally do for free.

  • Unconstitutional

The issues arise when children are involved, as they cannot give consent, when someone is being forced or coerced, because it is non-consensual, and when some other crime is going on, such as assault. These things, however, are not simply prostitution; they are things that happen in the context of prostitution, as they happen in the context of other situations. We cannot get rid of entire industries and human activities just because negative uses are associated with them. We cannot prohibit alcohol because sometimes it leads to beating your wife, date rape, alcohol poisoning, and drunk driving. What we can do, however, is focus our efforts NOT on outlawing the behavior in its entirety, but by stopping the mis-uses of it. Transactional sex between adults who are consenting is not what is wrong with these crimes, and not only is criminalizing it unconstitutional, it does not get rid of these problems.

  • Inherently immoral?

Often an argument about controversial human activities is the claim that they are “wrong,” simply by virtue of what they are and regardless of the circumstances. The claim that something is bad “just because it is” is a poor argument. Claiming that this is because “I just know it is” suggests decisions that were made based on an emotional impression embedded at some point in the life that was most likely not based on evidence or a deep understanding of the topic at hand. It is often assumed, then, that it is inherently and always harmful to the people involved. This is generally not the case, nor is it the case here.

  • Benefits for general public

Decriminalization, from evidence gathered in Rhode island when there was an unintentional loophole that decriminalized indoor prostitution, appears to reduce the incidence of rape, likely because sex is now more available, and to decrease the incidence of gonorrhea among the population, likely because of better health access (1).

v The problem with legalization

While in theory, legalization would be ideal, the problem is that because of the strict guidelines and requirements, people may not conform to them, and many or a majority may continue to work illegally. For all of those people, the issues with criminalization are still present. Legalizaton seems to be a great solutions for a few and a lack of improvement for many.





Duncan forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by Canidae 7 years ago
Reminder to Duncan to reply in round 4 if you intend to! (and assuming you get email updates)
Posted by Canidae 7 years ago
Crap, yes, apologies. I seem to be really terrible at getting back to these things, especially since at the moment I'm on a very short and much needed spring break. Ah, well, my loss. I guess we can just proceed as usual and I'll squeeze my arguments down and try to get both in the 4th round. In retrospect, I probably should have put 5. Sound doable?
Posted by Duncan 7 years ago
I will assume you've forgotten. It's understandable. I will wait two days and check the comments for your reply.
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