Paper #1- Reasoning about Decriminalization or Legalization of Prostitution
Throughout history, there has been evidence for prostitution in about every culture. Whenever there was goods or services to be bartered someone bartered them for sex. One of the earliest known examples was in Mesopotamia. The inhabitants of Mesopotamia worshipped the goddess Ishtar. She was the goddess of love and war, and was born as a new maiden every morning and became a ‘whore’ in the evening. These religious practices gave birth to the prostitution trade. Women, in return of men offering money to Ishtar’s temples, would help the men, with the ‘sacred’ powers of their bodies. Women actually enjoyed this position, for they achieved a higher communication with the goddess. Thus, the Ishtar temples became places representing sexuality and birth. Everyone participated in these events, including the king hoping to bring grains and people into life. In the Mesopotamian society, prostitution existed without complaints or prohibition because these rituals were sacred. In another example, prostitutes weren’t just seen as a seller of sex but as a force of society. Prostitutes educated people in love and self-care (Fanni, 2014). Today though, prostitution is no longer seen as such, people are constantly wondering if prostitution is moral and ethical right, and if so should it be legal. From a John Stuart Mill standpoint prostitution is neither good nor bad. But the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution would be the most beneficial to the greatest number of people. Mill’s utilitarian idea is that the moral value of an action is based on the ability of it to lead to the greatest good for the greatest number of people (Schefczyk).
Since the nineteenth century, prostitution has always been a concern. As the Catholic Empire rose, all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage and not between male and females were seen as sinful. But prostitution was seen as a lesser evil that prevented more sinful sexual behaviors. Prostitution also became a regulated business in some areas. But as European colonization expanded, prostitution became a prosecutable offense. One reason for more regulation and police enforcement was due to Britain’s Contagious Diseases Act, which tried to stop the spread of venereal diseases. Even though sex trade was illegal and considered an immoral act in most cases, prostitution persisted. In The United States, it wasn’t until the 20th century when prostitution was outlawed in most of the states (Fanni, 2014). Today prostitution still exists and in some people believe that either prostitution should be decriminalized, some believe prostitution should be legalized and others believe prostitution should stay illegal. Decriminalization means the removal of all laws, penalties, and regulations. This means that prostitution is just like any other occupation. Legalization, on the other hand, is the direct regulation of prostitution by the government (Schwartzbach, 2017). Current sex workers want it to either be legal or decriminalized. They say that sex work not only empowers women but provides them with greater opportunities in financial advancement. The point out that prostitution is the economic gain in the sale of sex, which consists of a buyer and seller negotiating for the best deal. It may not be the ideal job but it does provide a way of life and prosperity. They believe the opposition to sex work does not liberate them but that it strips them over their voices and turns their bodies into objects (Volpe, 2013). Ex-prostitutes though see this practice as a form of violence against women. Most of these women choose this job because of their extreme poverty and lack of opportunity. They point out that women who have the lowest education and are in the lowest socioeconomic class are overrepresented in prostitution. They argue that prostitution leads to serious negative long-term effects like stress, depression, PTSD, anxiety, drug, and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, as well as self-harm and suicide. Ex-prostitutes believe prostitution reinforces the idea that women are sex objects that exist for men’s enjoyment, by being bought and used for their sexual gratification (Riley, 2018). These two sides may disagree, but John Stuart Mills philosophies have a great way of looking at what’s ethical right.
John Stuart Mill was a very influential English philosopher in the nineteenth century. His work explored the consequences of an in-depth empiricist outlook. Mills childhood was intensely focused on studying and education, but he quickly realized that his education did not prepare him for life. Mills’ character changed as he developed a strong emphasis on the importance of the culture of feelings and the need for social reform. As Mill grew older he became involved in unpopular but important movements at the time, like women’s suffrage. Mills entire philosophical outlook on life was formed by naturalism. His general picture was that human beings are fully apart of nature. He believed that all knowledge must be obtained by observation and experience (Macleod, 2016). Mill’s most famous philosophy is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism offers a principle of morality or a way of distinguishing right and wrong. This principle holds that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure” (Heydt). Mill is also best known for his harm principle; arguing that people should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t causing harm to others. In a free society, Mill believed that the government must represent the interests of its people. He believed that people can not be free if they are censored. This is why he didn’t like the idea of others telling people what they can and can’t believe. He wanted everyone to make decisions for themselves, which would end up benefiting society as a whole. One utilitarian view that Mill disagreed on was Bentham view that all forms of pleasure are the same. Mill explained that some pleasures are better than others like education and freedom. Those are higher virtues that ultimately give back to society. All in all, Mill strived to protect individual freedoms and the choices of people to make society a better place to live in (“John Stuart Mill”).
The issue regarding prostitution isn’t if it’s morally right, but if it’s ethical for prostitution to be decriminalized/ legalized. John Stuart Mill’s’ philosophy supports the need for decriminalization or legalization. Mills first general picture was all knowledge must be obtained by observation and experience. Sex workers are the only people that truly know what’s best for them. Someone can really only agree with what sex workers experience because they have never experienced or dealt with their struggles and sacrifices. Outsides can observe, but they can never experience what prostitutes go through. If an outsider were to comment on a prostitutes job or lifestyle, it truly does belittle them. Most sex workers believe that prostitution isn’t an ideal job, but it is a way of providing life and prosperity. Mill’s principle of Utilitarianism also supports the ethics of legal or decriminalized prostitution. Prostitutes are doing this job to promote their own happiness. This is a job that provides them with money to support themselves and their families, pay taxes and rent, or help them save up for the future. The most controversial view though is the harm principle. The harm principle can both relate and not relate to the issue. The harm principle is a principle arguing that people should be allowed to do whatever they want, as long as they aren’t causing harm to others. From one viewpoint, prostitutes aren’t harming anyone. They are doing a job people may or may not agree with, but it’s not causing any harm to anyone. But other viewpoints say that prostitution does cause harm to others. Some believe it can cause harm by sending the message to citizens that it’s okay for women to be used for male sexual consumption (Bindel, 2018). One of the best reason Mills philosophy relates to the decriminalization or legalization is that he believed that the government must represent the interest of its people. It would be in the best interest because over 100,000 children are forced into illegal prostitution each year. With the legalization of prostitution though, it’s proven that human trafficking would decrease. Sadly as of right now, sex-trafficking victims are treated like criminals under current laws, which is why legalizing would shed light on these victims. Legalization would also make sex workers safer because they would finally be able to report assaults to the police. Not only would they be protected from assault but also from sexually transmitted diseases. Men could be forced to wear condoms and to stop the spread of diseases sex workers could be regularly checked for diseases. One of the biggest benefits is the amount of tax revenue that could be generated. Nevada’s legal brothels make around $50 million a year. These brothels pay a significant amount of taxes to their counties. The state, on the other hand, is making no money causing Nevada’s economy to suffer. The government could make an enormous gain with the legalization of prostitution, benefiting the whole country (Haltiwanger, 2018).
By legalizing or decriminalizing prostitution, it provides the greatest number of good, for the greatest number of people. People who don’t agree with prostitution won’t be affected by the legalization or decriminalization because they don’t have to participate or contribute to sex work. Sex trafficking victims would benefit, prostitutes would benefit, and the government would benefit. From a John Stuart Mill utilitarian standpoint, prostitution is neither good nor bad. But the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution would be the most beneficial to the greatest number of people. The best possible solution is a mix between decriminalization and legalization, sex workers want to be respected and protected, but they also want prostitution to be just like the other occupation. John Stuart Mill never actually spoke about the issue of prostitution. So would he interpret his philosophies and theories supporting the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution today?
Bindel, Julie. “Prostitution Is Not a Job. The inside of a Woman’s Body Is Not a Workplace | Julie Bindel.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 Apr. 2018, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/30/new-zealand-sex-work-prostitution-migrants-julie-bindel.
Fanni, Zac. “A History Of Prostitution: How Old Is The Sex Trade?” Sabotage Times, 30 Jan. 2014, sabotagetimes.com/sex/a-history-of-prostitution-how-old-is-the-sex-trade.
Haltiwanger, John. “Why Legalizing Prostitution Would Make America Healthier, Wealthier And Safer.” Elite Daily, Elite Daily, 20 June 2018, www.elitedaily.com/news/politics/why-america-should-legalize-prostitution/853340.
Heydt, Colin. “John Stuart Mill (1806—1873).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/milljs/.
“John Stuart Mill.” Philosimply, www.philosimply.com/philosopher/mill-john-stuart.
Macleod, Christopher. “John Stuart Mill.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 25 Aug. 2016, plato.stanford.edu/entries/mill/.
Riley, Naomi Schaefer. “Making Prostitution Legal Doesn’t ‘Empower’ Women – It Turns Them into Commodities.” New York Post, New York Post, 3 Oct. 2018, nypost.com/2016/05/15/making-prostitution-legal-doesnt-empower-women-it-turns-them-into-commodities/.
Schwartzbach, Micah. “Decriminalizing Prostitution.” Www.criminaldefenselawyer.com, Nolo, 23 Mar. 2017, www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/decriminalizing-prostitution.htm.
Schefczyk, Michael. “John Stuart Mill: Ethics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/mill-eth/.
Volpe, Leanora. “You Can Be a Feminist and a Sex Worker.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 5 Aug. 2013, www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/you-can-be-a-feminist-and-a-sex-worker-8744176.html.