S.E. Cupp: Why prostitution should be legal

SHARE S.E. Cupp: Why prostitution should be legal

On Tuesday, more than 250 new laws will take effect in Illinois, two of which will increase protections for victims of human trafficking. | AP Photo/John Locher

This past Saturday night, while most of us were still recovering from overdosing on turkey and family, a 38-year-old woman leaped to her death from the third floor of a Queens apartment building.

She had an audience, but it wasn’t family. She was a prostitute, working above a massage parlor when she agreed to perform a sex act for money with a man she thought was safe.

He was, in fact, an undercover police officer, and when his backup entered the apartment to arrest her, she fled out the window. Other police officers waiting outside the building watched as she fell onto the sidewalk below. She died at the hospital the next day, of severe head and body trauma.

Her life may have been a small and troubled one. But this was no way for it to end. And it makes me think that it’s time to legalize prostitution.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m a conservative Republican woman. I hate everything about prostitution: how it exploits women, how it cheapens sex, and how often it can lead to violence. And it’s for all those reasons that I think it should now be legal.

It doesn’t need to take the tragic and totally unnecessary death of a young woman to see why. Efforts to combat prostitution and make it “safer” have failed.

Prostitutes in the United States have a 45 percent to 75 percent chance of experiencing workplace violence. Numbers, of course, are unreliable. Most are too afraid to report attacks — or any other crimes they may have been victims of — for fear of being found out. For those who do, in most states, sex workers aren’t protected by rape shield laws, meaning their prostitution, current or past, can be used as character evidence against them. New York is one of the few that exempts prostitution.

The World Health Organization recommends that countries decriminalize sex work to mitigate the violence the workers are subjected to, as well as regulate things like condom use and regular STD testing the way the porn industry does.

Sex workers themselves have tried to make their industry safer, establishing websites to share safety tips and rate their clients. But because the sex trade is illegal, so are those sites; they are regularly raided and seized by the FBI.

In New York City, picking up prostitutes has become a big business for the NYPD. Over the past 10 years, police have made thousands of prostitution arrests — 1,700 in 2014 alone. Raids on hotels and massage parlors routinely round up hundreds of prostitutes, pimps and johns.

Despite creating Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, meant to soften the treatment of prostitutes in New York, prostitutes make easy arrests that pad police quotas, and courts get quick guilty pleas from sex workers who know they cannot fight the system.

One woman named “Love,” profiled in a Vice piece, was a former sex worker who was snatched off the street by cops who just assumed she was still a prostitute. She was arrested and charged with misdemeanor prostitution. At the time she was a surgical technician student.

She fought back, suing the city and winning a monetary settlement for false arrest. Her success is exceedingly rare.

In theory, prostitutes shouldn’t be arrested at all in New York City. Back in February, First Lady Chirlane McCray and Police Commissioner James O’Neill hosted a press conference to announce a new approach.

“Today we are saying loud and clear that in New York City we do not punish people who are being hurt. We do not call them criminals.” The city would from that day forward focus on arresting pimps, Johns and traffickers, and not prostitutes. If law enforcement says it’s not going to enforce existing laws, that should be our first indication that we might not need them.

But they enforced them anyway. Days later, the NYPD vice unit arrested six people on prostitution charges at the Queens Howard Johnson and seven more women at the Roosevelt Hotel.

None of this is to argue that we don’t have a prostitution problem. But keeping prostitution underground is putting too many people in unnecessary danger, locking them out of the legal system and forcing consenting adults and sex-trafficking victims alike to go to life-risking lengths to hide their behavior.

It’s been a watershed moment for women and victims of sexual harassment and assault. All of the women who have shared their stories have been brave.

But if we care about the way women are treated, we have to care about the ones who don’t have high-profile careers or social media platforms or expensive lawyers, too. Sex workers have no access to #MeToo. It’s time we brought them out of the shadows and into the light, where they get the chance to be heard as well.

Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.

This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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