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Prostitution law

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Subject: Prostitution, Sex and the law, Prostitution law, Sexual ethics, Anti-pedophile activism
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Prostitution law

  Prostitution legal and regulated
  Selling sexual services legal, but not regulated; brothels are illegal
  Prostitution illegal
  No data

Prostitution law varies widely from country to country, and between jurisdictions within a country. Prostitution or sex work is legal in some parts of the world and regarded as a profession, while in other parts it is a crime punishable by death.[1] In many jurisdictions prostitution is illegal. In other places prostitution itself (exchanging sex for money) is legal, but surrounding activities (such as soliciting in a public place, operating a brothel, and pimping) are illegal. In other jurisdictions prostitution is legal and regulated. In most jurisdictions which criminalize prostitution, the sex worker is the party subject to penalty, but in some jurisdictions it is the client who is subject to a penalty.

Prostitution has been condemned as a single form of [3]


In more countries, sex work is controversial. Members of certain religions oppose prostitution, viewing it as contrary or a threat to their moral codes, while other parties view prostitution as a "necessary evil". Sex worker activists and organizations believe the issue of sex worker human rights is of greatest importance, including those related to freedom of speech, travel, immigration, work, marriage, parenthood, insurance, health insurance, and housing.[4]

Some feminist organizations are opposed to prostitution, considering it a form of exploitation in which males dominate women, and as a practice that is the result of a patriarchal social order. For example, the European Union, has condemned prostitution as "an intolerable form of male violence".[5] However, working prostitutes are often largely absent from such discussions and cases of discrimination against prostitutes have been identified. For example, Turkey's 15,000 registered prostitutes work in 56 brothels but cannot marry and their children are barred from occupying high-ranking army positions (although, they can serve in other areas of government service).[6]

The Wolfenden Committee Report (1957), which informed the debate in the United Kingdom, states:

[the function of the criminal law is] to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is injurious or offensive and to provide safeguards against the exploitation and corruption of others, ...It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private lives of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular code of behaviour, further than is necessary to carry out the purposes of what we have outlined.

In December 2012, UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, released the "Prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for sex workers in low- and middle- income countries" document that contains the following "Good practice recommendations":

  • All countries should work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers.†
  • Governments should establish antidiscrimination and other rights-respecting laws to protect against discrimination and violence, and other violations of rights faced by sex workers in order to realize their human rights and reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection and the impact of AIDS. Antidiscrimination laws and regulations should guarantee sex workers’ right to social, health and financial services.
  • Health services should be made available, accessible and acceptable to sex workers based on the principles of avoidance of stigma, non-discrimination and the right to health.
  • Violence against sex workers is a risk factor for HIV and must be prevented and addressed in partnership with sex workers and sex worker led organizations.[7]

Legal themes

Legal themes tend to focus on four issues: victimization (including potential victimhood), ethics and morality, freedom of the individual, and general benefit or harm to society (including harm arising indirectly from matters connected to prostitution).

Victimhood issues


Many people who support legal prostitution argue that prostitution is a consensual sex act between adults and a victimless crime, thus the government should not prohibit this practice.

Many anti-prostitution advocates hold all prostitutes are themselves victims, arguing that prostitution is a practice which can lead to serious psychological and often physical long term effects for the prostitutes.[8][9][10] They may also argue that the act of prostitution is not by definition a fully consensual act, as they say that all prostitutes are "forced" to sell sex, either by somebody else or by the unfortunate circumstances of their lives (such as poverty, lack of opportunity, drug addiction, a history of childhood abuse or neglect, etc.).

In 1999, Sweden became the first country to make it illegal to pay for sex, but not to be a prostitute (the client commits a crime, but not the prostitute). A similar law was passed in Norway and in Iceland (in 2009). As of 2012, the Republic of Ireland is considering a similar model to that of the Nordic countries (Denmark excluded).[11]

Economic and health issues

It is argued that street prostitution is not victimless as it may damage the reputation and quality of life in the neighbourhood and diminish the value of property. Peter De Marneffe notes that many prostitutes have not finished school, affecting their ability to be able to have a career that they might have preferred. Therefore, prostitution also affects the application of their talent in other areas of the economy in which they can succeed. Maxwell (2000) and other researcher have found substantial evidence that there is strong co-occurrence between prostitution, drug use, drug selling, and involvement in non-drug crimes, particularly property crime. Because the activity is considered criminal in many jurisdictions, its substantial revenues are not contributing to the tax revenues of the state, and its workers are not routinely screened for sexually transmitted diseases which is dangerous in cultures favouring unprotected sex and leads to significant expenditure in the health services. According to the Estimates of the costs of crime in Australia,[12] there is an "estimated $96 million loss of taxation revenue from undeclared earnings of prostitution". On top of these physical issues, it is also argued that the there are psychological issues that prostitutes face from certain experiences and through the duration and/or repetition. Some go through experiences that may result "in lasting feelings of worthlessness, shame, and self‐hatred".[13] De Marneffe further argues that this may affect the prostitute's ability to perform sexual acts for the purpose of building a trusting intimate relationship, which may be important for their partner. Because of the lack of a healthy relationship, it can lead to higher divorce rates and it can influence unhealthy relationship to their children, influencing their future relationships. Although this is more difficult to control by law, it should be considered when creating policies in protecting prostitutes' psychological health.

Condom use is not always a part of sex work, and if sex work was legalized, this could change. By keeping prostitution illegal, there are no laws to govern how the work is performed. It is a well-known fact that condoms help reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. If prostitution was legalized, one of the laws could be the requirement of the use of condoms. It was reported in 2010 that out of eighty-six countries, only about twenty eight countries reported regular condom use in sex work ("Sex Workers"). If sex work was legalized, the amount of condom use would increase, leading to better protection for both the worker and the client.

Human trafficking

The United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others[14] favors criminalizing the activities of those seen as exploiting or coercing prostitutes (so-called "pimping" and "procuring" laws), while leaving sex workers free from regulation. The Convention states that "prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person".[15]

Sigma Huda, a UN special reporter on trafficking in persons said: "For the most part, prostitution as actually practiced in the world usually does satisfy the elements of trafficking. It is rare that one finds a case in which the path to prostitution and/or a person’s experience with prostitution does not involve, at the very least, an abuse of power and/or an abuse of vulnerability. Power and vulnerability in this context must be understood to include disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity and poverty. Put simply the road to prostitution and life within “the life” is rarely marked by empowerment or adequate options."[16][17]

However, sex worker activists and organizations distinguish between human trafficking and legitimate sex work, and assert the importance of recognizing that trafficking is not synonymous with sex work. The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland organization explains: "victims of human trafficking may be forced to work in industries such as agriculture, domestic service as well as the sex industry. It is critical to distinguish human trafficking, which is a violation of human rights, from voluntary migration." The Open Society Foundations organization states: "sex work is done by consenting adults, where the act of selling or buying sexual services is not a violation of human rights. In fact, sex workers are natural allies in the fight against trafficking. The UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work recognizes that sex worker organizations are best positioned to refer people who are victims of trafficking to appropriate services."[2][3]

According to a 2007 report by the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), the most common destinations for victims of human trafficking are Thailand, Japan, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and the US.[18] The major sources of trafficked persons include Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine.[18]

Researchers at Göteborg University released a report in 2010 that argued that prostitution laws affect trafficking flows.[19]

Demographic impact


Considerable diversity and stratification of experiences are available within prostitution: from straight and gay prostitutes on the street to elite escort services. For these purposes, sexual services may be offered by biological men and women, as well as transgender women and men and transvestites.

In Vienna, in April 2007, there were 1,352 female and 21 male prostitutes officially registered.[20] The number of prostitutes who are not registered (and therefore work illegally) is not known.

A recent study by TAMPEP, on the prostitute population from Germany, estimated that 93% of prostitutes were female, 3% transgender and 4% male.[21]

Arrest statistics show that in those states where buying and selling sex are equally illegal, the tendency is to arrest the service provider and not the customer, even though there are significantly more customers than sellers. Thus, it is a fact that more women than men are arrested, and the true extent of the crime is underreported. James (1982) reports that, in the United States, the arrest ratio of women to men was 3:2, but notes that many of the men arrested were the prostitutes rather than the clients.

Developed vs. developing countries

"By 1975, Thailand, with the help of World Bank economists, had instituted a National Plan of Tourist Development, which specifically underwrote the sex industry ... Without directly subsidising prostitution, the Act [the Entertainment Places Act] referred repeatedly to the personal services' sector. According to Thai feminist Sukyana Hantrakul, the law 'was enacted to pave the way for whorehouses to be legalised in the guise of massage parlours, bars, nightclubs, tea houses, etc." See Aarons Sach, "A prostitute at nine," The Times of India Sunday Review, 22 January 1995. With particular reference to children, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child creates specific obligations. Article 34 stipulates that:

State Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, State Parties shall, in particular, take all appropriate national, bilateral, and multilateral measures to prevent:
The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity.
The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices.
The exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.

As of 2000, twenty four countries had enacted legislation criminalising child sex tourism, e.g. in Australia, the Crimes (Child Sex Tourism) Amendment Act 1994 covers a wide range of sexual activities with children under the age of 16 committed overseas. Laws with extraterritorial application are intended to fill the gap when countries are unwilling or unable to take action against known offenders. The rationale is that child-sex offenders should not escape justice simply because they are in a position to return to their home country. There is little research into whether the child sex tourism legislation has any real deterrent effect on adults determined to have sex with children overseas. It may be that these people are simply more careful in their activities as a result of the laws. There are three obvious problems:

  • the low level of reporting of sexual offences by child victims or their parents;
  • the poverty which motivates the decision to survive economically through the provision of sexual services; and
  • the criminal justice systems which, in the Third World country may lack transparency, and in the First World country may involve hostile and intrusive cross-examination of child witnesses with no adult witnesses to corroborate their evidence.

Views on prohibition

In most countries where prostitution is illegal, the prohibition of the sex trade is subject to debate and controversy among some people and some organizations, with some voices saying that the fact that prostitution is illegal increases criminal activities and negatively affects the prostitutes.

Those who support prohibition or abolition of prostitution[22] argue that keeping prostitution illegal is the best way to prevent abusive and dangerous activities (child prostitution, human trafficking etc.). They argue that a system which allows legalized and regulated prostitution has very negative effects and does not improve the situation of the prostitutes; such legal systems only lead to crime and abuse: many women who work in licensed brothels are still controlled by outside pimps; many brothel owners are criminals themselves; the creation of a legal and regulated prostitution industry only leads to another parallel illegal industry, as many women do not want to register and work legally (since this would rob them of their anonymity) and other women can not be hired by legal brothels because of underlying problems (e.g., drug abuse); legalizing prostitution makes it more socially acceptable to buy sex, creating a huge demand for prostitutes (both by local men and by foreigners engaging in sex tourism) and, as a result, human trafficking and underage prostitution increase in order to satisfy this demand.[23][24][25][26][27]

A five-country survey of 175 men for the International Organisation for Migration found that 75% preferred female prostitutes aged 25 or under, and over 20% preferred those aged 18 or under, although "generally clients did not wish to buy sex from prostitutes they thought to be too young to consent to the sexual encounter."[28][29]

In [30] In Amsterdam, in the last few years, a significant number of brothels and prostitution "windows" have been closed because of suspected criminal activity, and in 2009 the Dutch justice ministry announced plans to close 320 prostitution "windows" from Amsterdam.[31]

Some have argued that an extremely high level of violence is inherent to prostitution; they claim that many prostitutes have been the subject of violence, rape and coercion before entering prostitution including as children,[32][33] and that many young women and girls enter prostitution directly from state care in at least England, Norway, Australia and Canada.[34]

Abolitionists believe tolerance of prostitution is tolerance of inegalitarian sexuality in which male sexual demands can override women's sexual autonomy and overall well-being.[35][36]

Regulated prostitution

In some countries, (or administrative subdivisions within a country), prostitution is legal and regulated. In these jurisdictions, there is a specific law, which explicitly allows the practice of prostitution if certain conditions are met (as opposed to places where prostitution is legal only because there is no law to prohibit it).

In countries where prostitution is regulated, the prostitutes may be registered, they may be hired by a brothel, they may organize trade unions, they may be covered by workers' protection laws, their proceeds may be taxable, they may be required to undergo regular health checks, etc. The degree of regulation, however, varies very much by jurisdiction.

Such approaches are taken with the stance that prostitution is impossible to eliminate, and thus these societies have chosen to regulate it in an attempt to reduce the more undesirable consequences. Goals of such regulations include controlling sexually transmitted disease, reducing sexual slavery, controlling where brothels may operate and dissociating prostitution from crime syndicates.

In countries where prostitution is legal and regulated, it is usual for the practice to be restricted to particular areas.

In countries where prostitution itself is legal, but associated activities are outlawed, prostitution is generally not regulated.

Mandatory health checks

Not all countries with regulated prostitution require mandatory health checks (because such checks are seen as too intrusive, a violation of human rights and a discriminatory policy, since the clients don't have to be subjected to them).

A few jurisdictions, however, require that prostitutes undergo regular health checks for sexually transmitted diseases.

In Nevada, state law requires that registered brothel prostitutes be checked weekly for several sexually transmitted diseases and monthly for HIV; furthermore, condoms are mandatory for all oral sex and sexual intercourse. Brothel owners may be held liable if customers become infected with HIV after a prostitute has tested positive for the virus.[37] Prostitution outside the licensed brothels is illegal throughout the state; all forms of prostitution are illegal in Las Vegas (and Clark County, which contains its metropolitan area), in Reno (and Washoe County), in Carson City, and in a few other parts of the state (currently 8 out of Nevada's 16 counties have active brothels, see Prostitution in Nevada).

Labour laws

The regulation of prostitution is problematic because standard labor regulations cannot be applied to prostitution. The typical relation between employer and employee where the employer is in a position of authority over the employee is, in the case of prostitution, viewed by many as contrary to the physical integrity of the prostitute. It is forbidden to order a person to have sex on a given moment at a given place. Many sex operators also do not want to pay social security contributions, which comes with paid labor. Therefore, many prostitutes, in countries where prostitution is regulated, are officially listed as independent contractors. Sex operators typically operate as facilitators only and do not interfere with the prostitutes.

Status of unregulated prostitution

The existence of regulated prostitution generally implies that prostitution is illegal outside of the regulated context. For example, Nevada has laws against engaging in prostitution outside of licensed brothels, encouraging others to become prostitutes, and living off the proceeds of a prostitute. The demand for legalising prostitution as a means to contain exploitation in the sex industry is now gaining support from many quarters including the United Nations, the Supreme Court of India etc.[38]

Worldwide laws

  Prostitution legal and regulated
  Prostitution (the exchange of sex for money) legal, but brothels are illegal; prostitution is not regulated
  Prostitution illegal
  No data
  Prostitution legal and regulated
  Prostitution (the exchange of sex for money) legal, but brothels are illegal; prostitution is not regulated
  Illegal to pay for sex. Client commits a crime. Prostitute commits no crime
  Prostitution illegal
  No data
  Prostitution legal and regulated
  Prostitution (the exchange of sex for money) legal, but brothels are illegal; prostitution is not regulated
  Prostitution illegal (except in some rural counties of the US state of Nevada)
  No data
  Prostitution legal and regulated
  Prostitution (the exchange of sex for money) legal, but brothels are illegal; prostitution is not regulated
  Prostitution illegal
  No data
  Prostitution legal and regulated
  Prostitution (the exchange of sex for money) legal, but brothels are illegal; prostitution is not regulated

Summary of legal status

Below there is a presentation of the legal status of prostitution around the world, as reported by the 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which was released in 2009.[39]

Prostitution illegal

In these countries prostitution itself (exchanging sex for money) is illegal. The punishment for prostitution varies considerably: in some countries, it can incur the death penalty,[1] in other jurisdictions, it is a crime punishable with a prison sentence, while in others it is a lesser administrative offense punishable only with a fine.

Prostitution legal, but procuring illegal

In these countries, there is no specific law prohibiting the exchange of sex for money, but in general most forms of procuring are illegal. These countries also generally have laws against soliciting in a public place (e.g., a street) or advertising prostitution, making it difficult to engage in prostitution without breaking any law.

Prostitution legal and regulated

In some countries, prostitution is legal and regulated; although, activities like pimping and street-walking are generally illegal. The degree of regulation varies by country; for example, not all countries require mandatory health checks because such checks are seen as intrusive, a violation of human rights and discriminatory.

In some of these places, the regulations are very tight—for example, Nevada—while other places, such as New Zealand, are very loosely regulated.

Country details


In Australia, prostitution laws vary from State to State (see Prostitution in Australia). Most have decriminalised prostitution in varying ways. Regulation (sometimes known as legalisation) permits prostitution in certain forms, usually through zoning (confinement to certain areas) or licensing (licensing a limited number of prostitutes to work in certain areas of a city). Regulation views prostitution as a necessary evil if not a social necessity. The aim is not eradication so much as control, the goal being to keep prostitution limited to areas of town where it will not offend the rest of the citizenry. But regulation does little to change the dynamics between prostitutes and the public in that it legitimises prostitution only to the point that it may be practised in certain circumstances, but does not accord prostitutes any practical rights beyond the right not to be criminally charged in certain circumstances. In this context, decriminalisation also means institutional controls over the lives of those who engage in this work rather than granting the women control over the work they choose. See Egger (1991) and Pinto et al. (2005). Australia is a destination country for women who are trafficked into prostitution (there is trafficking for other purposes in Australia, though no research has been conducted which focuses on other forms of exploitation). The Australian Government announced a $20 million counter-trafficking package in October 2003, which recognises women trafficked into prostitution as victims of a crime and offers support to help them recover. However, this does not mean that the Australian Government considers all women in prostitution to be victims of a crime, only that trafficking is a crime. Most women trafficked to Australia are from South East Asia and China with some from Eastern and Central Europe and Latin America.

Kathleen Maltzhan reported for The Brisbane Institute in 2004[67] that in Victoria, trafficked women have been located in a number of legal brothels which is an issue that prostitution regulatory regimes have yet to seriously address:

Legalisation legitimises prostitution. Despite the fact that most efforts to regulate prostitution come from a desire to limit the industry and protect women within it, the fact is that sex industry entrepreneurs always have more power than the women in it. They put huge resources into lobbying for recognition of the industry. Over time, what begins as a way to address sex industry criminality and violence becomes the means to portray prostitution as a legitimate industry which should not be criticised. Some elements in the sex industry will always ensure all men's demands are met. Trafficking is one way of doing this. We cannot return to the bad old days of criminalisation but we have to move beyond criminal control. An important principle in any discussion about prostitution is that the industry must be as safe and lucrative as possible for the women in it. If they want to leave they must have clear, accessible pathways out.


The Criminal Code prohibits all forms of public communication for the purpose of prostitution (s.213 [5]), and most forms of indoor prostitution as well: owning, running, transporting or occupying bawdy house (ss.210 [6] and 211 [7]), procuring or living on the avails of prostitution (s.212 [8]). However, the act of exchanging sex for money is legal.[68] Although Canada is a federation, the criminal law applies throughout the country, the laws are the same all over Canada. The government included prostitution in the mandate of the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youth (the Badgley Committee), and the Special Committee on Prostitution and Pornography (the Fraser Committee) which helped to promote a significant body of research which has confirmed that approximately 70% of adult males and females working the street began their involvement in prostitution prior to their eighteenth birthday. This finding has spawned a lengthy debate about the causes and consequences of youth involvement in prostitution. The debate about causes of female youth prostitution centres around the role of sexual abuse and other familial factors that may contribute to a girl running away from or being thrown out of the home.

While the trend in other western countries has been to move away from criminal sanctions for prostitution, Canada has done the reverse, legislating a tougher anti-communication law (s.213) in 1986. More recently, various government committees and task forces have called for even tougher laws as well as more vigorous enforcement of the current legislation. In 1990, the Standing Committee on Justice recommended yet more strengthening of the laws including fingerprinting and photographing prostitutes and the removal of drivers licenses for those charged with communication for the purpose of prostitution.

Constitutional challenges have been presented in relation to Canada's legislation, including one that has been partially upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal (2012);[69] however, the federal government announced that it would appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.[70] In a decision made on December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down all three prostitution laws as overbroad or grossly disproportionate to their intention. The court delayed the enforcement of its decision for one year to give the government a chance to write new laws.[71][72]


As of February 2014, sex work is an administrative offence in China, and both workers and clients can be sentenced to 15 days’ detention and be given a fine of up to 5,000 yuan (US$825). The government's official view is that prostitution is an "ugly social phenomenon" and it is therefore illegal to solicit, sell and purchase sex in China.[73][74]

On the weekend of February 8 and 9, 2014, a Chinese national television network worked in tandem with Chinese police to conduct raids in the prefecture-level city of Dongguan. A news broadcast by the China Central Television (CCTV) network on February 8 was followed by the mobilisation of more than 6,000 policemen who then raided around 2,000 entertainment venues. On February 10, a three-month operation to eradicate the sex industry in the province of Guangdong was announced, along with the closure of 12 entertainment venues and the commencement of an investigation of 67 people.[73][74]

Public commentary in the wake of the operation was divided, with celebrity writer and television personality Sima Nan stating that legalization of sex work in China would not prevent the abuse of sex workers: "Indian society has legalised prostitution, but its situation in terms of rape crimes is the world’s most severe.” Wu Jiaxiang was one of several prominent intellectuals expressing concerns over the police's actions and raised the issue of legalization: “I have long advocated the legalisation of the sex trade, now is the time." Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch who labelled the television coverage as "callous" stated: “It’s a much more wide-spaced debate about the sex trade than we have seen in the past. For the first time, there is a debate that includes the possibility of legalising sex work.”[73][74]

The general public's comments were also highlighted in the Chinese media and Wang Yongzhi, an IT worker from Beijing, commented: "There's no way to eradicate it. Legalization must take place under some narrowly-defined circumstances."[73][74] On social media, many viewers criticised the CCTV network, as they believed the broadcaster had exploited fellow ordinary Chinese citizens—a member of the Sina Weibo microblog platform wrote: “CCTV is heartless, but there’s love in this world."[75] The public response was explained by professor of sociology at Renmin University Zhou Xiaozheng in the following manner:

There are two sides of this anger: One is that, over the last 35 years of opening up, people have come to realize you sell your brains or you sell your body. Either way, it’s honest work. Like athletes, these women are selling their youth. … Attitudes on this issue are changing. Second, there’s a feeling that CCTV could pay attention to many other stories, like corrupt officials. ... Why is CCTV trying to take out vulnerable prostitutes who are just working?[75]


In India, prostitution (the exchange of sexual services for money) is legal,[76] but a number of related activities, including soliciting in a public place, keeping a brothel, pimping and pandering, are outlawed.[77]

Rajeshwari (1999) asserts that realistic accounts of prostitution in research contextualize it in the broad frame of the Indian socio-economic structure, adverting to the rural poverty and bonded labor, the gross exploitation of tribal, lower-caste and refugee women, urban red-light areas, disease, policy brutality and corruption, and the increasingly controversial issue of prostitutes' children. The country is a significant source, transit point, and destination for trafficked women.[78] According to UNICEF, India contained half of the one million children worldwide who enter the sex trade each year. Many indigenous tribal women were forced into sexual exploitation. In recent years, prostitutes began to demand legal rights, licenses, and reemployment training, especially in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Calcutta. In 2002, the Government signed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Prevention and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution. The country is a significant source, transit point, and destination for many thousands of trafficked women. There was a growing pattern of trafficking in child prostitutes from Nepal and from Bangladesh (6,000 to 10,000 annually from each). Girls as young as seven years of age were trafficked from economically depressed neighborhoods in Nepal, Bangladesh, and rural areas to the major prostitution centers of Mumbai, Calcutta, and New Delhi. NGOs estimate that there were approximately 100,000 to 200,000 women and girls working in brothels in Mumbai and 40,000 to 100,000 in Calcutta.[79]

The traditional argument supporting prostitution as a phenomenon invokes male sexual need as a "natural" phenomenon that requires fulfillment outside of monogamous marriage – and the prostitute as servicing this need. Its theoretical defense is given in what is termed the "contractarian" argument, according to which the need for sexual gratification is a need similar to the need for food and fresh air (and hence should be as readily available) and, further, that under conditions of "sound" prostitution, sexual services may be freely sold in the market place (Ericsson: 1980). Feminists reject the notion that the powerful male impulse must be satisfied immediately by a co-operative class of women, set aside for the purpose. This is seen as an adrocentric view of sexuality and as reinforcing the psychology of obtaining sexual satisfaction, by rape if necessary. In legal terms, the Indian Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956, criminalized the volitional act of "a female offering her body for promiscuous sexual intercourse for hire whether in money or in kind". But, under the revised 1986 Act, "prostitution" means " the sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purpose, and the expression 'prostitute' shall be constructed accordingly" – so there is not only no criminality if there is "offering by way of free contract", there is not even prostitution. More problematic is the status of the transgendered who eke out a living by begging, dancing or prostitution.Until 2014,Indian law recognized only two biological sexes. The PUCL (K) Report (2003), highlights, "The dominant discourse on human rights in India has yet to come to terms with the production/reproduction of absolute human right are less of transgender communities. At stake is the human right to be different, the right to recognition of different pathways of sexuality, a right to immunity from the oppressive and repressive labeling of despised sexuality. Such a human right does not exist in India."


Prostitution in the Philippines is illegal. It is a serious crime with penalties ranging up to life imprisonment for those involved in trafficking. It is covered by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.[80] Prostitution is sometimes illegally available through brothels (also known as casa), bars, karaoke bars (also known as KTVs), massage parlors, street walkers and escort services.


The issue of prostitution law re-emerged in early 2014 following the motion of the Edinburgh City Council to delicence the local government area's saunas and massage parlours. Previously, sex work premises have been granted Public Entertainment Licences and, until 2001, the Scottish capital city also recognised tolerance zones for street-based sex work. [81]

SCOT-PEP, a registered charity dedicated to the promotion of sex workers’ rights, in its official statement on the proposal from the Edinburgh City Council states:

Violence against sex workers increases when our workplaces are criminalised ... The further criminalisation of sex workers, those associated with sex workers, and our workplaces, has been shown again and again to endanger those working, whether they are there through choice, circumstance, or coercion. Sex workers need health services and a justice system that prioritises our safety - which has to include our safety if we continue working, as well as if we choose to 'exit'. The removal of the sauna licenses puts sex workers at risk.[82]


As of March 2014, the sex work industry is unregulated but not illegal; however, clients and sex workers—both street-based—have received fines in Barcelona, and the same is planned for the city of [83]

Sweden, Norway and Iceland

In Sweden, Norway and Iceland it is illegal to pay for sex but not to offer sexual services, i.e., it is the client who commits a crime, but not the prostitute. In 1999, Sweden became the first country in the world to adopt this approach. All other prostitution-related activities (such as brothel-keeping and living off the earnings of prostitution) continue to be banned. (see Prostitution in Sweden) The approach is referred to as the Swedish model, and is also sometimes referred as the Nordic model.[84] It is based on the premise that prostitution is a form of violence against women, and has three main components:[85]

  1. Though prostitution continues to be illegal, the buyer of sex is the offender and not the seller of sex (the prostitute, who is regarded as the victim). (Ekberg 2004:1191). Also, proponents of the law view trafficking of women and children for prostitution as being driven by the demand for prostitution domestically.[85] (Ekberg 2004:1200)
  2. It recognizes that women require another secure source of income in order to leave prostitution and that many women are forced by poverty to enter prostitution. It also recognizes that women require specialized exit services in order to build a life outside of prostitution. Therefore the Swedish state continues to offer strong welfare provisions in general and specialized services to women exiting prostitution in particular.[85] (Ekberg 2004:1192)
  3. It recognizes public education as key to changing male attitudes related to prostitution. While legal measures can provide a deterrent and an important statement of society's goals, society as a whole must refuse to tolerate the purchase of sex before social norms will fully change.[85] (Ekberg 2004:1202)

Norway[86] and Iceland[87] adopted the Swedish model in 2009. However, the effectiveness of the Swedish model in reducing prostitution has been questioned by many, including the Western Australian Attorney General.[88] In 2010 the Swedish government admitted in its Country Progress Report to the UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS that it could not estimate the number of people involved in prostitution since it is largely hidden, but that street prostitution was assumed to be only a fraction of total prostitution, most of which takes place indoors.[89]

A milder form of the policy is in effect in Finland, where buying of sexual services from prostitutes becomes illegal if it is linked to human trafficking, and is punishable by fines or up to 6 months jail.[90]

United States


As of February 2014, sex work is illegal in the state of California and in the city of San Francisco, a First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP)—also known as "john school"—has been established as a court diversion program for apprehended clients of the sex industry. The SAGE Project, one of the founders of the initiative, defines the FOPP as a "demand reduction strategy" and explains the program's philosophy in the following manner:

FOPP was founded on the theory that if male consumers had a better understanding of the risks and impact of their behavior when soliciting prostitution, they would cease to do so ... Understanding that everyone has different motivations, triggers and fears that inspire them to act, FOPP utilizes a variety of perspectives so that consumers are exposed to a range of experts who engage with the issue from different angles. This approach, the founders believed, would deliver a holistic understanding of the commercial sex industry that would empower sustained behavior change for a diverse set of individuals ... The FOPP model educates consumers on the harmful effects their actions have on themselves, those engaged in the sex industry, and their community.[91]

A chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP)—a national advocacy group and decriminalization effort founded by and for sex workers in 2003—exists in the Bay Area of San Francisco and its members meet on a monthly basis. The chapter represents the sex-positive and activist ethos that underpins the local sex-workers' movement that also includes the East Bay's Lusty Lady cooperative that, globally, remains the only business of its kind to be fully unionized and worker-owned. San Francisco is where the American sex-workers' rights movement was founded and decriminalization measures in Berkeley and San Francisco were garnering support as early as 2004.[92]

In November 2012, the Californian government passed Proposition 35 through ballot initiative, meaning that anyone who is a registered sex offender—including sex workers and those whose actions were not Internet-based—to turn over a list of all their Internet identifiers and service providers to law enforcement. The law expands the definition of trafficking to anyone who benefits financially from prostitution, regardless of intent, and sex workers have not only opposed the further criminalization of their work, but also the portrayal of all sex workers as victims that the law perpetuates.[92] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a federal class-action lawsuit to block implementation of unconstitutional provisions of Proposition 35 in mid-2013 and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard oral arguments on September 10, 2013.[93][94] As of February 12, 2014, further information on the outcome of this lawsuit are yet to be published.

A media article published on February 8, 2014, provided details of a police sting operation in the Sonoma County area of California and the police officers involved experienced difficulties with the very high number of respondents to the false advertisement that they published on the Internet. After several hours, 10 men were arrested, followed by the arrest of former prosecutor and judicial candidate John LemMon—the authorities involved stated that the market is overwhelming. At the same time, the county District Attorney's Office is establishing a version of the FOPP for Sonoma County and the program will be active in mid-2014.[95]

On February 11, 2014, sex worker activists protested a San Francisco anti-trafficking panel discussion held by the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking, as they believe that it is will further criminalize adults in the sex industry. Maxine Doogan, an organizer with the Erotic Service Providers Union, stated: "Their goal is to disappear the whole sex industry by criminalizing the people that participate in it. Targeting our customers is a flawed approach." Doogan also included in a press release announcing the protest that the term "john" as a descriptor for sex work clients is demeaning and dehumanizes customers.[96]


The enforcement of the anti-prostitution laws varies from country to country or from region to region. In many places, there can be a discrepancy between the laws which exist on the books and what occurs in practice. For example, in Thailand, prostitution is illegal, but in practice, it is tolerated and regulated. Such situations are common in many Asian countries.

In areas where prostitution or the associated activities are illegal, prostitutes are commonly charged with crimes ranging from minor infractions such as loitering to more serious crimes like tax evasion. Their clients can also be charged with solicitation of prostitution.

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Further reading

  • Carrabine, Eamonn; Iganski, Paul; Lee, Maggy; Plummer, Ken & South, Nigel. (2004). Criminology – A Sociological Introduction. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-28167-9
  • Egger, Sandra & Harcourt, Christine. (1991). "Prostitution in NSW: The Impact of Deregulation". in Women and the Law: Proceedings of a Conference held 24–26 September 1991. Patricia Weiser Easteal & Sandra McKillop (eds.) ISBN 0-642-18639-1
  • Ericsson, Lars. (1980). "Charges Against Prostitution : An Attempt at a Philosophical Assessment". Ethics. 335.
  • Erickson P.G.; Butters J.; McGillicuddy P. & Hallgren A. (2000). "Crack and Prostitution: Gender, Myths, and Experiences". Journal of Drug Issues 30(4): 767–788.
  • James, Jennifer. (1982). "The Prostitute as Victim" inThe Criminal Justice System and Women: Women Offenders, Victims, Workers. Barbara Raffel Price & Natalie J Sokoloff (eds.). New York: Clark Boardman. pp291–315.
  • Lombroso, Cesare & Ferrero, Guglielmo. (2004). Criminal Woman, the Prostitute, and the Normal Woman. Translated by Nicole Hahn Rafter and Mary Gibson. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3246-9
  • Lowman, John. (2002). Identifying Research Gaps in the Prostitution Literature. [9]
  • Maltzhan, Kathleen. (2004). Combating trafficking in women: where to now? [10]
  • Maxwell, S R. & Maxwell C. D. (2000). "Examining the "criminal careers" of prostitutes within the nexus of drug use, drug selling, and other illicit activities". Criminology 38(3): 787–809.
  • Outshoorn, Joyce (ed.). (2004). The Politics of Prostitution: Women's Movements, Democratic States and the Globalisation of Sex Commerce. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-54069-0
  • Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka (PUCL-K). (2003). Human Rights Violations against the Transgender Community: A Study of Kothi and Hijra Sex Workers in Bangalore, India. [11]
  • Pinto, Susan; Scandia, Anita & Wilson, Paul. (2005). Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No. 22: Prostitution laws in Australia. ISBN 0-642-15382-5 [12]
  • Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan (1999). "4 The Prostitution Question(s): Female Agency, Sexuality and Work". The scandal of the state: women, law, and citizenship in postcolonial India. Duke University Press. p. 117. 
  • Schur, Edwin M. (1965) Crimes Without Victims: Deviant Behavior and Public Policy: Abortion, Homosexuality, Drug Addiction. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-192930-5
  • Sanchez, Lisa. (1999). "Sex, Law and the Paradox of Agency and Resistance in the Everyday Practices of Women in the "Evergreen" Sex Trade", in Constitutive Criminology at Work. Stuart Henry and Dragon Milovanovic (eds.). New York: State University of New York. ISBN 0-7914-4194-6
  • Sullivan, Barbara. (1995) "Rethinking Prostitution" in Transitions: New Australian Feminisms Caine, Barbara. & Pringle, Rosemary (eds.). Sydney: Allen & Unwin. pp. 184–197. ISBN 0-312-12548-8 [13]
  • Sullivan, Barbara. (2000). Rethinking Prostitution and 'Consent' [14]
  • Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. (1957). Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
  • Jakobsson, Niklas and Andreas Kotsadam. "The Law and Economics of International Sex Slavery: Prostitution Laws and Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation," Working Papers in Economics 458, Göteborg University, Department of Economics., 2010, 29 pages.
  • Weitzer, Ronald (23 April 2012). "Why Prostitution Should Be Legal". CNN. Retrieved November 11, 2012. 

"Sex Workers and HIV/AIDs." 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. <>

External links

  • Donna M. Hughes, Legalizing Prostitution Will Not Stop the Harm
  • Paul Armentano, The Case for Legalized Prostitution
  • Prostitution Law Reform: Defining Terms
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