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Legalizing Prostitution

Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business

Ronald Weitzer
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Legalizing Prostitution
    Book Description:

    While sex work has long been controversial, it has become even more contested over the past decade as laws, policies, and enforcement practices have become more repressive in many nations, partly as a result of the ascendancy of interest groups committed to the total abolition of the sex industry. At the same time, however, several other nations have recently decriminalized prostitution.

    Legalizing Prostitutionmaps out the current terrain. Using America as a backdrop, Weitzer draws on extensive field research in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany to illustrate alternatives to American-style criminalization of sex workers. These cases are then used to develop a roster of "best practices" that can serve as a model for other nations considering legalization.Legalizing Prostitutionprovides a theoretically grounded comparative analysis of political dynamics, policy outcomes, and red-light landscapes in nations where prostitution has been legalized and regulated by the government, presenting a rich and novel portrait of the multifaceted world of legal sex for sale.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8463-1
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface (pp. ix-xii)
    • 1 Understanding Prostitution (pp. 3-21)

      It is taken for granted by most people that buying and selling sex is degrading, dishonorable, or despicable, and there is a deep-rooted belief that prostitution has always been and will forever remain taboo. Mention prostitution to someone and you will usually see them react with disgust, while any mention of legalizing prostitution is often met with laughter, incredulity, or shock. There is a widespread sense that prostitution simply cannot be taken seriously or ever achieve the status of other service occupations. Yet this folk wisdom is just that—a narrow, surface understanding that does not come close to recognizing...

    • 2 Indoor Prostitution: What Makes It Special? (pp. 22-44)

      Many writers who generalize about prostitution base their ideas on images of street prostitution, which accounts for most of what we “know” about this world. Yet there is another type—indoor prostitution—that deserves much more attention, for several reasons: (1) in many countries, paid sexual transactions are far more common indoors than on the streets. In Thailand, for example, almost all prostitutes work indoors, while in the United States and Britain about four-fifths do so;¹ (2) the street and indoor markets differ substantively, with indoor work presenting the clearest evidence challenging popular images of degradation and oppression; and (3)...

    • 3 American Policies and Trends (pp. 47-71)

      For as long as people have traded sex for money, there have been conflicts over such exchanges. The intensity of the conflict varies over time and place, but the sale of sex rarely goes uncontested by those who are fiercely opposed to it. Legalization of vice does not put an end to the matter, even when it can be shown that reform has certain benefits, as in the case of medical marijuana. Yet George Carlin’s question in the epigraph above remains apt. Few activities, apart from prostitution, are criminalized just because money is exchanged.

      Over the past generation, the United...

    • 4 Legal Prostitution: A New Frontier (pp. 72-102)

      The depiction of prostitution in the media and in government circles is almost always based on information from nations where it is illegal and subject to criminal penalties. This skews both popular perceptions and public policy. Most of the discourse regarding prostitution reflects its illegal status—with little or no consideration of alternative models. When legalization is debated in the United States, it is usually in the abstract, without reference to actually existing legal systems. Similarly, most academic studies have been conducted in nations where prostitution is criminalized, marginalized, and underground. This means that knowledge is heavily skewed by a...

    • 5 Antwerp and Frankfurt (pp. 105-145)

      The previous chapter outlined a number of challenges facing governments that legalize vice and particularly prostitution. This chapter and the next pursue this question in much more depth through an examination of three European cities—Antwerp, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam. To provide contextual background, I examine, first, the main features of the Belgian, German, and Dutch systems. We will see that national context is important but not determinative of local-level commercial sex policies and arrangements. I then examine, in detail, how legal prostitution manifests itself on the ground in each city, drawing on my ethnographic data and other sources.

      The material...

    • 6 Amsterdam (pp. 146-203)

      The Netherlands has long tolerated prostitution. As far back as 1413, a bylaw of the city of Amsterdam permitted brothels, with the following justification:

      Because whores are necessary in big cities and especially in cities of commerce such as ours—indeed it is far better to have these women than not to have them—and also because the holy church tolerates whores on good grounds, for these reasons the court and sheriff of Amsterdam shall not entirely forbid the keeping of brothels.²

      During the next 500 years, the tolerance policy was periodically suspended due to scandals, increases in crime, or...

  8. Conclusion (pp. 204-214)

    Myths often eclipse facts when it comes to popular images of prostitution and other kinds of sex work. These myths are promulgated in the media and by politicians and partisan interest groups. Some are rooted in centuries-old stereotypes, while others are of more recent origin, such as the conflation of prostitution with sex trafficking. The fictions are only reinforced by writers who define prostitution monolithically—reducing it to patriarchal exploitation and violence or, by contrast, highlighting empowerment and therapeutic recreation. This essentialist quest is misguided. To define prostitution in such reductionist ways is to reify constructs that are best treated...

  9. Notes (pp. 215-250)
  10. Bibliography (pp. 251-268)
  11. Index (pp. 269-283)
  12. About the Author (pp. 284-284)