By Amy Y.
An incident involving 11 Secret Service agents on a
security detail in Cartagena, Colombia earlier this month has drawn
worldwide attention for accusations of misconduct involving
prostitutes. The incident allegedly occurred when the agents brought
prostitutes to a hotel while on a security detail in advance of
President Obama’s trip for the Summit of the Americas. Prostitution
is legal in Colombia; however, the actions of the agents are not
acceptable by Secret Service standards and are a breach of the
agency’s conduct code. So although no criminal violations are alleged
in this case, the attention drawn to the Secret Service scandal has
sparked increased debate over the issue of legalizing prostitution.
Those in favor of legalizing prostitution believe it
would reduce crime, improve health through required STD and HIV/AIDS
testing, increase tax revenue, and get prostitutes off the streets.
Proponents of legalization contend that prostitution is a victimless
crime. Opponents believe that legalizing prostitution would lead to
increases in human trafficking, sexually transmitted diseases, and
violent crime. They contend that prostitution is commercially
exploitative and promotes the repression of women by men.
One approach that seems to satisfy many of the
concerns of people both for and against legalizing prostitution is
known as the “Swedish Model.” First introduced in Sweden in 1999,
this model criminalizes the buying of sex and decriminalizes the
selling of sex. In addition to the two-pronged legal strategy,
Sweden’s prostitution legislation also provides for social service
funds aimed at helping any prostitute who wants to leave the industry,
and additional funds to educate the public.
The Swedish Model addresses many of the safety
concerns that support legalization. With no fear of prosecution,
prostitutes are more likely to go to the police and seek out help or
medical attention. Some argue, however, that targeting the demand of
the sex industry only drives the sex trade further underground because
banning prostitution clearly does not prevent people from seeking it.
The Swedish Model also does not address the argument that prostitution
is a victimless crime and that people are free to make their own
While it is true that many people enter the sex
industry by choice, women are often drawn into the world of
prostitution by poverty, desperation, or drugs. Many systemic, global
factors make women so vulnerable – poverty, gender inequality, racism,
child sexual abuse, lack of educational and employment opportunities
for women. Addressing, searching out, and punishing the means and
factors of coercion into the sex industry should be the primary focus
of the prostitution debate. There are certainly distinctions to be
made regarding the circumstances of those entering the sex industry.
If every person were in fact in the sex industry by choice, the
question of legalization would be much easier to answer.