Emily Bazelon examines the question in an in-depth New York Times report incorporating many interviews with prostitutes – they call themselves “sex workers” – and former prostitutes who advocate legalization. The article also interviews opponents of legalization, many of them also former prostitutes, who are fighting to stamp out the practice around the world:
“Like many feminists, I’m conflicted about sex work,” says Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, which took a stand in favor of decriminalization four years ago. “You’re often talking about women who have extremely limited choices. Would I like to live in a world where no one has to do sex work? Absolutely. But that’s not the case. So I want to live in a world where women do it largely voluntarily, in a way that is safe. If they’re raped by a police officer or a client, they can lay a charge and know it will be investigated. Their kid won’t be expelled from school, and their landlord won’t kick them out.”
Prostitution’s opponents point to the bad effects: Violence, drug addiction, disease, psychological harm. Advocates of legalization say those ill effects could be mitigated or eliminated when sex workers have access to legal protections. Prostitution’s opponents say the practice inherently contributes to objectifying women.