A months-long investigation into prostitution and human trafficking at some Florida massage parlors got elevated to front-page status with the announcement that among the “johns” charged was Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots football team. While Kraft and the others deserve and will get their day in court, the allegations appear, at this stage, to be backed by some solid evidence. Some news organizations leveraged the visibility of this story to focus on and warn of the practice of “human trafficking,” i.e. the removal of young women from their home nations to foreign lands, where they are used as prostitutes and kept in slave-like conditions. And, indeed, upon current reports, there does seem to be a trafficking angle to this story.

But, at the risk of sounding cliche, prostitution is the world’s oldest profession for a reason. While many first-world and other nations permit sex work under varying levels of scrutiny and regulation, in America, with the noted exception of Nevada, it is illegal. It remains so, in part because our society still retains a tremendous amount of puritanism, from both sides of the political divide, and in part because many feel society should protect young women from the coercion and exploitation that’s traditionally associated with prostitution.

There doesn’t seem to be a tremendous amount of social outrage associated with prostitution nowadays. One demonstration of this is the re-branding and conflation of prostitution as sex trafficking, even though there’s a world of difference between imported Asian sex-slaves and some average citizen who freely engages in commerce. This is done to tug emotional heart strings and exaggerate the magnitude of trafficking, so that people who don’t care about consensual sex for money are prompted to outrage.

Yes, we should be outrage by coercion and slavery.

No, we don’t achieve anything by claiming that all prostitution is coercion and slavery. It is not.

And, we don’t make things better by continuing as we have, keeping sex work illegal and relying on law enforcement activities to combat the problems.

If prostitution were legal, sex workers would have the same protections, both governmental and market-force, that all other workers in the economy have. If prostitution were legal, workers who didn’t like their employers could change jobs. They could freelance, they could organize, they could launch their own businesses. There’d be no fear of prosecution and the forever-taint of a criminal record to destroy future economic prospects. There’d be safe, legitimate avenues for those seeking such services, meaning less likelihood of their frequenting slave-shops. And, with all the resources currently devoted to broader prostitution enforcement freed up, those slave-shops that still remained in operation in the face of normal market pressures could be more robustly and effectively targeted – AND – allow more focus on protecting minors from predation. And, just to ensure no one builds a straw man – there’s absolutely no call, either here or in the AI paper, for decriminalizing sex with a minor. In fact, minors are probably harmed a lot more by the current criminalization of sex work: law enforcement has finite resources spread over more targets.

Countless problems associated with prohibition would be addressed and remediated. This isn’t radical. Amnesty International has called for the decriminalization of prostitution, for all the reasons I listed and many more. The many facets of the issue: human rights, individual liberty, economic opportunity, discrimination, protection of the poor and marginalized, and protection of minors, all would benefit from legalization.

As for Robert Kraft, the idea that, as a USAToday editorial suggests “sex trafficking won’t stop until the costs are high enough to make rich, powerful men feel that buying Chinese girls from a local spa isn’t worth it,” is a bit of a laugher. There aren’t that many billionaires out there, certainly not enough to support a multi-storefront rub’n’tug chain in Florida. Kraft’s charging elevates visibility, but shaming or convicting him isn’t going to do squat to scare off the people who frequent these massage parlors.

Want to do something to help these poor, enslaved, trapped-in-a-foreign land women? Legalize sex work.

If you object because you worry about the exploitation of young women (and men, for that matter), they’ll be better protected by working in a legal profession.

If you object from moral concerns, prostitution has been around forever, and your moral concerns have done nothing to deter it.

If you object because it’s “icky” or otherwise unappealing… simple. Don’t use sex workers, and don’t hang around brothels. I find smoking “icky,” so I don’t smoke and I don’t hang around in cigar bars. If someone else wants to? Not my business.

It is when we differentiate slavery and child prostitution from adult consensual behavior that we will be better able to address the former, and will be better able to protect the exploited. It’s pretty obvious that what we’re doing now isn’t working.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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