Prostitution is often stigmatized in society yet it is one of the world’s oldest professions. Prostitution entails the exchange of sexual services for consideration, usually in the form of payment. The practice is marked by its somewhat controversial nature, and it has been regulated, accepted, and banned sometimes over the course of history. As a means of better understanding the various implications of prostitution, this article will explore the history of the profession, current regulations and associated practices, as well as potential legal ramifications.
Historical Perspective of Prostitution
The act of prostitution has been around since antiquity. Ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome engaged in commercial sex transactions in some form or another. In Ancient Greece, hetairai were women who catered to men’s desires and could be found near religious and military sites during festivals. Unequivocally, the most famous account of the Old Testament includes a woman named Rahab who exchanged sexual favors for lodging in exchange for the safety of the Hebrew people trying to enter the city of Jericho.
During the Middle Ages, prostitution evolved and took on different meanings across Europe; it became linked to religion, the Church, and crime. In England, for example, prostitution was considered to be linked to ‘streetwalkers’, and it was actually considered to be worse than other forms of prostitution as it was a sign of poverty and neglect. In Venice, prostitution was so integral to the local system of economics, that the Doge had to periodically regulate and issue orders prohibiting the practice.
The year 1839 saw the implementation of the Contagious Diseases Act in the United Kingdom – A law that regulated and forced medical examinations on women who were suspected of practicing prostitution within “containment schools.” Despite public opposition, the law remained effective until 1967.
Regulation of Prostitution Today
In current times, prostitution is a highly regulated profession and is often classified according to different categories. Indoor prostitution (also known as private prostitution) involves the exchange of services in an environment such as a brothel or sauna. In this situation, the sex worker would pay a fee for a certain amount of time or services. Alternatively, street prostitution can involve the selling of services in public spaces such as streets and parks. This type of prostitution is typically associated with drug and alcohol abuse, and is seen as less desirable than indoor prostitution.
Jurisdictions across the globe have taken varying legal stances on prostitution. Generally, most countries have taken a conservative stance in regards to the profession, and it is either outlawed or heavily regulated. For example, in the United States most jurisdictions treat prostitution as a crime that is punishable by a fine or jail time, depending on the state. However, certain cities and states in the US have decriminalized prostitution. Portland, Oregon is one of the few cities in the United States to decriminalize sex work, which means that providing sex work is not a crime within the city while buying and pandering sex is. Additionally, both Germany and the Netherlands have legalized prostitution and operate regulated brothels.
Implications of Prostitution
Because prostitution is often associated with criminal activity, people who engage in the profession often face numerous legal and social repercussions. If convicted of prostitution, people can incur various penalties including fines and/or imprisonment. Additionally, prostitutes often face the risk of physical harm and/or abuse by clients. This risk is compounded by the fact that many prostitutes must hide their profession for fear of stigma and potential retribution from family, friends, and authorities.
In terms of current efforts to address the issue, many countries have taken an approach that focuses on the sex worker, as opposed to the criminalization of the client. For example, in Sweden, the Scandinavian country has decriminalized prostitution and instead focuses on criminalizing those who promote or exploit sex workers. Similarly in the United Kingdom, the “buying sex” offense has been introduced, which aims to reduce demand for prostitution services from potential clients.
Though features of prostitution vary across different parts of the world, the profession continues to be an ambiguous and often-debated topic. The consequences and potential legal implications of prostitution are often misunderstood which can lead to unfair discrimination and the further marginalization of those involved. This article has provided a brief overview of the historical and modern day perspectives of prostitution, as well as the legal and social implications of the profession.
Though the legal status of prostitution remains in flux, the profession remains an important part of economics and culture, and it is essential that it is treated with respect and fairness.