A recent prostitution sting in Caldwell has raised questions about the current U.S. law enforcement treatment of prostitution—mainly questioning the treatment of these women as criminals, instead of as victims.
Two weeks ago, six women were arrested in a local hotel for advertising sexual services on the escort section of backpage.com. Many don’t realize prostitution is much more complex than simply carting the prostitute off to jail.
The truth is, not every prostitution situation is consensual.
Human sex trafficking and forced prostitution are quite rampant. Backpage.com is “the premier Web site for human trafficking in the United States,” The New York Times reports. Currently, Idaho only has laws protecting forced prostitutes under 18 years old.
This raises a question: Is it worthwhile to arrest victims of forced prostitution, thus further traumatizing and victimizing them? Additionally, should we prosecute those who choose to become prostitutes as harshly as we prosecute clients?
“I do not think (prostitutes and clients) should be prosecuted equally,” said Madison Hanson, freshman English major. “Even though there are many sex workers who feel forced to do it because they don’t think they have any other options, there are so many who are forced by other people to do it.”
Prosecuting only purchasers of sex would still achieve the same result of reducing prostitution while simultaneously protecting potential victims of forced prostitution. Basic rules of economics apply: where there is less demand, there is less supply. This approach has already been tried and found to be successful.
“Sweden has drastically reduced human trafficking and prostitution by imposing a ban on the purchase of sexual services, the first of its kind worldwide,” according to humantrafficking.org.
According to a report from the Swedish Institute, demand for commercial sex has decreased in Sweden. Forced prostitution is also on the decline change.org reports—an improvement that was supported by the public. According to change.org, more than 70 percent of Swedes support the legislation.
With Sweden achieving impressive results, the U.S. would do well to consider emulating them.
It seems unlikely American law enforcement would want to further traumatize victims of coerced prostitution by dragging them off to jail and slapping them with misdemeanors—especially if prostitution could be policed just as effectively by only prosecuting the customers.
“If we’re trying to reduce instances of coerced prostitution, than I don’t know why we would punish people who are forced into that situation,” said James Gravatt, a sophomore
Following Swedish law enforcement is the logical thing to do. If it’s possible to tweak the law and maintain efficiency while protecting potential victims of forced prostitution, America should do it.