The Government: Prostitution and the Law
Prostitution is illegal in every state in the United States, except for certain counties in Nevada. However, even though it is illegal, it still exists in almost every large U. S. city. In general, the government could address the issue of prostitution in two ways. Prostitution could remain a criminal offense, or it could be legalized and regulated. If prostitution were legalized, it would be subject to government regulation over such things as licensing, location, health standards, and advertising.
The biggest roadblock to legalized prostitution in the United States is that prostitution is viewed as an immoral behavior by the majority of people (Rio, 1991). Laws that favor legal prostitution would, in effect, be condoning this immoral behavior. Overall, however, the strongest objections to legalized prostitution are reactions to streetwalking. Today, the majority of Americans believe that the potential benefits of legalized prostitution should be evaluated.
Those who feel that prostitution should be legalized believe that this would result in lower levels of sexually transmitted infections (because prostitutes could be routinely
checked for STIs) and less disorderly conduct. Another argument in favor of legalization is that if prostitution were legal, the government would be able to collect taxes on the money earned by both prostitutes and their pimps. Assuming a 25% tax rate, this gross income would produce $20 billion each year in previously uncollected taxes.
When college students were asked how they felt about the legalization of prostitution, those who scored high on scales of feminist orientation were more likely to view prostitution as an exploitation and subordination of women; they were also less likely to believe that women engage in prostitution for economic needs; and they believed that prostitution should not be legalized (Basow & Campanile, 1990). Overall, women are more likely than men to believe that prostitution should not be legalized and to see prostitution as exploitation and subordination of women (see the accompanying Personal Voices, “Prostitution,” for some college students’ views).
In Nevada, where prostitution is legal (only in registered brothels, however, not as streetwalking), the overwhelming majority of people report that they favor legalized prostitution. Ordinances for prostitution in Nevada vary by county, with each county responsible for deciding whether prostitution is legal throughout the county, only in certain districts, or not at all.
For instance, there are no legal brothels in Reno or Las Vegas, perhaps because these cities enjoy large conventions and because many men attend these conventions without their wives. City officials felt that if a convention was held in a town with legalized prostitution, many wives might not want their husbands to attend; thus, there would be a decrease in the number of convention participants. Even so, there are several brothels near Reno and Las Vegas and also several that are close to state borders. Usually, these