Prostitution is illegal in most countries. It may be a simple misdemeanor (for example in most of the USA), or it may be a serious crime carrying the the dealth penalty (in some Muslim countries). However, no matter what their laws may say, all of these countries also have a flourishing “sex trade”.
In view of this fact, other countries have looked for different approaches. Since criminalizing prostitution does not eliminate it and may actually reinforce its most unattractive features, one hopes that some other method may prove more helpful. For example:
- Decriminalization, i.e. repealing the criminal laws against prostitution.
- Legalization, i.e. making it a legal activity subject to certain general rules.
- Regulation, i.e. controlling prostitution by regulating it in some official manner.
Actually, with regard to prostitution, there is no general agreement on the exact meaning of these terms. Indeed, sometimes they are used interchangeably (decriminalization is equated with legalization which, in turn, is often equated with regulation). This can make the discussion difficult. In the present course, we use the terms as defined above.
Decriminalization is the least ambiguous of the three approaches. It simply leaves the prostitutes to their own devices. However, it fails to deal with the issue of taxing their sometimes considerable income. In this sense, it is unjust and unfair to people in other lines of work who must pay their taxes.
Legalization may create a chance for taxation, but very often it does not go that far and amounts to little more than decriminalization. However, it can also blend into regulation when general rules become more specific.
Regulation by some government agency is bound to go into detail, sometimes into great detail. It may, for example, require brothels to be licenced and regularly inspected. It may also require prostitutes to have working permits, to register, to pay unemployment and health insurance, to undergo regular health checks, to use condoms etc.
In practice, each of the three approaches has its own advantages and drawbacks. None offers a perfect solution to the problems connected with prostitution. The fact that problems exist cannot be denied.