When talking about commercial sex and the rights of sex workers, it’s important to distinguish between legalization and decriminalization. They are often confused, but they are not the same.
Legalization involves government trying to “manage” prostitution by allowing certain forms to operate under strict regulation. Unfortunately, it also means many sex workers remain criminalized; this is the situation in Nevada, where rural brothels are legal, yet eighty percent of prostitution occurs outside of that system.
Decriminalization means removing all aspects of commercial sex from criminal law, and allowing it to operate like any other profession. Sex workers would be able conduct business as they choose, whether as sole proprietors or employees of a brothel or agency, and claim the same legal rights and protections as everyone else. The Australian state of New South Wales (since 1995) and the nation of New Zealand (since 2003) have implemented decriminalization with great success, in the latter case because the government consulted with sex workers through the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective.
Decriminalization is good for sex work clients. It allows clients to communicate more clearly and honestly with their providers. It gives clients greater peace of mind about the working conditions of their providers. It allows clients to use the legal system without fear, such as to report suspicions of abuse or trafficking. And it helps to reduce stigma for clients and providers alike.
Want to learn more? Check our Resources pages for more information, especially this article about the success of decrim in New Zealand,and take a look at this video from South Africa’s Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce: