Should it be illegal to exchange money for sex? No, and here are 4 reasons why.

Why again is this illegal?

Last month, Amnesty International issued a resolution calling for the decriminalization of sex work.

In many parts of the world — including the vast majority of the U.S. — certain forms of sex work are criminalized. Amnesty joins a long list of human rights organizations in calling for the decriminalization of consensual sex work worldwide, including the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, Human Rights Watch, and the Open Society Foundations.


This is big news for sex workers and their clientele, but why should those of us who are neither sex workers nor clients support them in pushing governments to decriminalize? Here are four reasons to join the fight.

1. Decriminalization can improve policing and boost trust in law enforcement.

For some time, police in a number of cities have been known to confiscate condoms as evidence in prostitution cases. There are any number of reasons someone might carry condoms (say, for instance, they plan to have sex?), not all of which are to engage in sex work.

All images via iStock.

In 2013, a black transgender woman named Monica Jones was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona.

She was charged with what a local statute calls "manifesting prostitution," but others came up with what some might argue is a more accurate name: walking while trans.

In Phoenix, a local ordinance gives police the authority to arrest a person for stopping to talk to someone on the street or sidewalk, for asking someone if they are a police officer, or for accepting a ride from someone an officer believes to be a stranger.

A study of a similar ordinance in Brooklyn found that 94% of those arrested for "loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution" were black. In 2011 alone, around 57,000 people were arrested on these types of charges — which, again, aren't for engaging in a form of sex work but for simply fitting a profile of what a sex worker looks like in the mind of the arresting officer.

So long as sex workers — as well as those who fit the profile of sex workers — feel like their existence is in itself a crime, they're less likely to trust law enforcement. Decriminalizing sex work provides a pathway to better policing for us all.

2. It will improve public health and reduce the spread of HIV.

One of the most common arguments people make in trying to justify keeping sex work criminalized is an old talking point that decriminalization of sex work would lead to an increase in HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and infections. In reality, the opposite is true.

In a study published last year by The Lancet, researchers estimate that decriminalization of sex work worldwide would result in a 33% to 46% decrease in new HIV infections.

How? Well, as addressed earlier, so long as police officers use condoms as evidence in cases against sex workers, workers will be less likely to carry prophylactics, leading to an increase in the number of unprotected or under-protected acts. Couple that with an understandable fear of getting tested for STIs, and the spread of these diseases will continue both inside and out of the sex worker community.

3. It can help improve working conditions.

People in favor of keeping sex work criminalized frequently bring up points about the poor working conditions, danger, and harassment workers face. Their solution boils down to this: If sex work wasn't a viable option, the women involved would be saved ... but then what?

Are working conditions that much better in other service industry jobs? Not really. Take, for example, the life of a waitress.

Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released a study that showed 37% of all sexual harassment claims came from the restaurant industry (despite the fact that just 7% of women work in it). That's both disproportionately high and takes the honor of being the worst of any sector of the workforce.

If poor working conditions are enough to criminalize a profession, then the service industry as a whole would be long gone.

Decriminalization has the added benefit of deterring violence against women. For example, in New Zealand, decriminalization has improved workers' ability to screen clients, access security services, and (going back to the first point) reach out to police if they become victims of violence.

4. It means freedom of choice.

If two consenting adults want to exchange money for sexual services, then who are any of us to stop them? Prostitution is a crime based almost entirely on one's own moral hangups.

Policing personal morality is in poor taste. Why should it be any of our business what consenting adults choose to do? It's not as though they're harming others. In this case, the argument against sex work is similar to the argument against same-sex marriage: if you're not involved, it doesn't affect you, so why is it your business?

You don't think sex work is morally permissible? Then don't be a sex worker. You don't think it's morally acceptable to pay for sex? Then don't visit a sex worker. You can make these decisions on your own without the threat of jail time.

For more great reasons to get involved with the fight for decriminalization, check out this guide from the Open Society Foundations.

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Open Society Foundations

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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