Eliot Spitzer’s downfall spotlights a recurring question of crime policy: whether prostitution, the simple agreement to exchange compensation for sex, is a victimless crime that does not merit prosecution. In two columns this week, Nicholas Kristof assures us that Spitzer’s date, Kristen, is “dangerously unrepresentative” of American prostitutes. Surely at $1,000 per hour, Kristen is in the elite company of high end sex providers, but she is not alone in that league, as an article in today’s local section of Kristof’s newspaper demonstrates. Perhaps it would be dangerous to think of Kristen as “representing” any other prostitute, but it equally dangerous to logic to dismiss Kristen and other sex workers who freely choose their work, simply because they belie the belief that an act of prostitution always has a victim.
A provider quoted in the Times article provides a counterpoint to Kristof’s concern about viewing prostitution as a victimless crime:
Ms. Anderson complained that news coverage of the Spitzer scandal had made prostitutes seem like damaged, depraved rag dolls. “Sex workers are people like you and me,” she said. “I’m against trafficking, but in all the years I’ve worked in the business, I’ve never met a woman who was coerced.”
Kristof’s focus on the trading of women as sexual servants highlights a crime that clearly victimizes women. So does his discussion of pimps who abuse women. Kidnapping, physical coercion and abuse are never acceptable, and society has a genuine interest in protecting potential victims from those crimes. That does not mean society should pretend that an uncoerced sex act between two consenting adults, if criminalized simply because something of tangible value is exchanged for the sex, is anything other than a victimless crime. [more...]
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