Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Prostitution: The Ultimate Victimless Crime

Following the news that Eliot Spitzer allegedly hired the services of a prostitute, I found these comments from a 2007 Reason Magazine article by Cathy Young to be very interesting. From "Prostitutes and Politics: Why Is It Still Illegal to Pay for Sex?"

Prostitution is currently legal in virtually all developed nations, though often surrounded by restrictions and regulations. It is illegal everywhere in the United States except Nevada and, by a legal quirk, in Rhode Island if all transactions are conducted in a private residence.

Yet prostitution is perhaps the ultimate victimless crime: a consensual transaction in which both parties are supposedly committing a crime, and the person most likely to be charged—the one selling sex—is also the one most likely to be viewed as the victim. (A bizarre inversion of this situation occurs in Sweden, where, as a result of feminist pressure to treat prostitutes as victims, it is now a crime to pay for sex but not to offer it for sale.) It is sometimes claimed that the true victims of prostitution are the johns' wives. But surely women whose husbands are involved in noncommercial—and sometimes quite expensive—extramarital affairs are no less victimized.

It's the criminalization of prostitution that does take actual victims. As with other victimless crimes, the criminalization of prostitution creates a vast breeding ground for corruption, hypocrisy, and morally dubious law enforcement tactics.


At 3/11/2008 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Prostitution is currently legal in virtually all developed nations..."

...as is socialized medicine but does that make them right and us wrong?

At 3/11/2008 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As with other victimless crimes, the criminalization of prostitution creates a vast breeding ground for corruption, hypocrisy, and morally dubious law enforcement tactics."

Imagine the howling masses of attorneys, police, prison guards and their suppliers if prostitution and illicit drugs were made legal!

I say make prostitution and all drugs legal.

At 3/11/2008 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon. 9:04 - stick to the subject

Prof. Perry,
In the case of consensual sex between 2 adults whether or not money is involved, I agree with your argument that this is a victimless crime. One must also consider the element of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS as well as the issue of child prostitution.

Countries with legal regulation of prostitution offer improved occupational health standards and control over the age of sex trade workers supporting the theory that regulation is preferable to illegality. The demand for child prostitution, however, remains and tends to move to jurisdictions that are unregulated such as Malaysia. How does one address this problem as a child cannot be considered as freely consensual in such a transaction?

The price is also an interesting element of this story. One wonders what type of services could possibly be worth $4300.00 or whether the income is reported given its illegal origin. Taxation becomes a further argument in favour of regulation.

At 3/11/2008 10:25 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

New rule for comments:

In most cases, "off topic" comments will be removed.

Thanks for your understanding.

At 3/11/2008 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 10:09 makes some good points...and asks how to address the problem of child prostitution in jurisdictions that are unregulated such as Malaysia.

Part of the answer is for the home country of the pedophile to enact laws that make it illegal for its citizens to engage in sex acts with children regardless of where the sex act takes place.

Some countries like Canada already have laws like this and most importantly have prosecuted and convicted offenders in highly publicized trials.

From Canada's Foreign Affairs and International Trade site Child Sex Tourism: It's a Crime

At 3/11/2008 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Prof. Perry,

The rule change is much appreciated.

Anon. 10:27,

Thanks for your posting. This type of public policy would appear to address a difficult social issue although enforcement presents challenges both logical and diplomatic.

Joint investigations between Canadian and foreign investigators would seem to be necessary to ensure the high standards of policing & evidence as well as legal due process are consistent with standards of Canadian justice.

In North America, we are most fortunate to enjoy a very high standard of policing and rule of law. The same cannot be said of many countries around the world.

At 3/11/2008 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mean "logistical" rather than "logical"

At 3/11/2008 2:56 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"Yet prostitution is perhaps the ultimate victimless crime"...

Yeah! Right!

Didn't Mrs. Spitzer look victimless standing there next to that dork she married?

How about the three daughters in school? Are they among the, "victimless" too?

Hey Professor Mark, if your daughter (say for sake of argument you have one) was one of the working gals at the Emperor's Club, you or the wife wouldn't feel the least bit victimized, right?

Who would be the victim if the spouse contracted an STD while using the services of the Emperor's Club employee?

At 3/11/2008 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

juandos said...

Didn't Mrs. Spitzer look victimless standing there next to that dork she married?

That is an issue between Mr. Spitzer and his wife not a crime. We do not know the dynamics of the relationship that Mr. and Mrs. Spitzer either enjoy or endure.

juandos you simply do not know and can not tell anyone what is or was going on in the Spitzer household.

For all we know the Spitzers attend swingers clubs and swap partners in addition to using prostitutes. We just don't know.

How about the three daughters in school? Are they among the, "victimless" too?

Once again an issue between Mr.Spitzer and his family. They are as much victims as children of any other dysfunctional parents.

Who would be the victim if the spouse contracted an STD while using the services of the Emperor's Club employee?

juandos, now you are mixing arguments. Is it the act of using a prostitute or the act of getting an STD that creates the victim in your mind?

What if Mrs. Spitzer gave her blessing to Mr. Spitzer to go out and use prostitutes? What if Mrs. Spitzer has refused to have sex with Mr. Spitzer for the last 10 years? What if Mrs. Spitzer had an affair herself and this is his way of getting back at her?

At 3/11/2008 3:39 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...


My wife looked like that when I pulled up unannounced on "our" new Harley a few years ago. That was between me and her; just like the Governor and his wife.

Once you get past the morality of it (whatever that is and who gets to decide?), isn't paying for sex from a willing partner just a business transaction? If so, should government be legislating morality? If a talented baseball player can get paid millions of dollars for hitting a baseball, why shouldn’t a talented prostitute get paid well for, ahem, whatever?

Sex is already paid for in a lot of ways already. I’ve even heard of isolated instances where men expected to have sex after taking women to dinner. We better call the morality police and put a stop to that, too.

At 3/11/2008 5:47 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Nice how you people just totally tried to white-wash that whole, 'victimless' thingie right out of the way...

Where did I mention in my comment the word, "CRIME"?

Do you people need recurrent training in reading the English language?

Then there is this bit of hilarity by yet another anon: "Is it the act of using a prostitute or the act of getting an STD that creates the victim in your mind?"...

Then you go on and dream up all sorts of bizzare rationales to prop up your ridiculous point...

How about you tell me? If your spouse (for sake of argument lets just say you are married) brings home a nice hot dose of STDs for you, is that a crime?

What if there's no cure for it?

Feeling like a victim yet? Do YOU feel like a crime has been perpetrated on YOU?

How about those marriage vows? You kept them but the spouse didn't, feeling victimized yet?

BTW ever heard of the Mann act?

Its still on the books and if memory serves didn't the dork use that a time or two when he was making a name for himself as a prosecutor?

Now walt g you are surely a disappointment here...

As you noted, "the Governor" is well the head of New York state, right?

The idea of the head of state being blackmailed never occured to you?!?!

The Oldest Profession Is Hardly Without Victims

To believe prostitution has no victims, one must ignore these statistics published in Farley's Fact Sheet:

78 percent of 55 women who sought help from the Council for Prostitution Alternatives in 1991 reported being raped an average of 16 times a year by pimps, and were raped 33 times a year by johns.

62 percent reported having been raped in prostitution.

73 percent reported having experienced physical assault in prostitution.

72 percent were currently or formerly homeless.

92 percent stated that they wanted to escape prostitution immediately.

83 percent of prostitutes are victims of assault with a weapon.

75 percent of women in escort prostitution had attempted suicide.

67 percent meet diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

At 3/11/2008 6:20 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...


More wife abuse is caused by husbands than pimps just from the cases that are reported. Should we outlaw marriage, too?

How do you define prostitution? Sex for money? A lot of that happens on dates.

There are plenty of laws on the books that outlaw conduct without legislating morality. Let’s see, there’s rape, assault and battery, false imprisonment, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon. You’ve mentioned many of these. They are all legitimate laws.

I’m not saying that prostitution is OK. I am saying that what goes on between two responsible adults is their own business, and should not be a crime in and of itself. Let’s leave morality judgments where they belong: between spouses and their church. And, I agree, there are victims in a lot of disfunctional relationships. I hate to be cold here, but that's their problem.

Last time I checked, blackmail was illegal. Blaming the victim (yes, the Governor, as bad as it sounds) is like saying you are at fault if your car gets stolen and you left the keys in it. Although I'm pretty sure it wasn't the key the Governor had in it.

At 3/11/2008 6:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand that the Governor may have to resign in order to avoid being charged and that the original IRS investigation arose due to transfers of large sums of money which suggested that Governor Spitzer was being bribed. Bribes would imply deposits rather than withdrawals from Mr. Spitzer's account.

Perhaps, it would be better to wait until we get all of the facts on this element of the post and concentrate on the issue of prostitution.


With regard to the statistics cited, do these reflect illegal prostitution or all forms of prostitution (legal & illegal). What was the sample size and how many countries were involved in compiling these stats? Does legalization improve conditions for women or are improvements only marginal?

Thanks for your help in understanding this subject better. Like Walt g, I have concerns when public policy overlaps the area of morality.

Would appreciate any statistics you have regarding legalized prostitution.

At 3/11/2008 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"55 women who sought help from the Council for Prostitution Alternatives in 1991"

Those contacting a support group are generally those who are in most need of help suggesting that this small sampling may not be entirely representative.

Violent crime and domestic abuse have declined over the last 10 years although such trends may or may not be reflected in crimes against sex workers. Is anyone aware of a larger, more current study?

At 3/11/2008 9:07 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"More wife abuse is caused by husbands than pimps just from the cases that are reported. Should we outlaw marriage, too?"...

You got something credible to back that up walt g?

"There are plenty of laws on the books that outlaw conduct without legislating morality"...

Ahhh, the Clinton rationale now applies to the Spitzer...

Funny thing about oaths walt g, they're like vows, promises made in public...

Personally I take them seriously but in a world (your world?) were Defining Deviancy Down is striving to be the norm having values is just a bit out of touch, eh?

"With regard to the statistics cited, do these reflect illegal prostitution or all forms of prostitution (legal & illegal)."

Ahem, that's the reason for the link...

At 3/11/2008 10:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



Melissa Farley's work is not without controversy. Her methodology and use of data from street prostitutes to represent all forms of prostitution has been widely criticized. The above article includes a link to Dr. Weitzer review (see quote below).

The data that you cited in from 1991 and is from only 55 prostitutes of thousands in the U.S. The link supplied gives an article but not the original data which is why I asked for this information in the first place.

Unless one evaluates the selection criteria and methodology, one cannot properly assess the results for objectivity.

As a woman, I appreciate your support for women who are in very difficult circumstances. Street prostitution is a very dangerous occupation, a reality which I do not wish to minimize.

The story concerning Elliot Spitzer involved a very different type of prostituion, a high class prostitution ring. It is highly unlikely that Elliot Spitzer or any of the other customers of this business would rape, or assault the women providing these services.

To quote Ronald Weitzer
"In no area of social sciences has ideology contaminated knowledge more pervasively than in writings on the sex industry. Too often in this area, the canons of scientific inquiry are suspended and research deliberately skewed to serve a particular political agenda. Much of this work has been done by writers who regard the sex industry as despicable and who are active in campaigns to abolish it."

Farley appears to be a radical feminist activist. I have seldom found objectivity in such a vessel.

At 3/12/2008 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

juandos stop crying like a little liberal baby.

You said...

"Where did I mention in my comment the word, "CRIME"?"

In YOUR post prior to that you quoted...

"Yet prostitution is perhaps the ultimate victimless crime"...

Then wrote...

Yeah! Right!

juandos you have been caught. Now swallow your medicine and for goodness sake take the tin foil off your head and get out of your bomb shelter for a while all that isolation is taking a toll on you.

At 3/12/2008 2:06 PM, Anonymous Matt said...

Everyone here is missing the point. As usual, Billy Beck and Richard Nikoley reduce this to its essentials.

At 3/12/2008 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


There were 2 aspects of this post: Elliot Spitzer and the social issue of prostitution. The post specifically set aside the more inflammatory question of Mr. Spitzer's culpability and examine the question of prostitution.

The first depends upon one's opinion of Mr. Spitzer's methods and the justness of his past crusades as well as what facts are currently available. Since the issue of bribery was raised, it is doubtful that we have all of the facts. As the facts emerge, it is difficult to have much sympathy with Mr. Spitzer.

The second looks beyond the vagaries of one politico to a larger social problem that affects many men, women and children in the U.S. and abroad. In particular, one cannot ignore the desparate plight of those ensnared in human trafficking.

With all due respect, the issue of prostitution would seem to have more consequence that the career of one rather slimy governor/former attorney general. While the links have reduced the essentials of this news story, Prof. Perry was using the story to discuss a broader more global question.

Like any important issue such as the question of legalizing drugs, the topic illicits strong opinions. Through expanding upon this dialogue, we can hopefully gain greater insight into a complex problem and separate the issues from the emotions that they provoke.

What we do know is that the club patronized by Mr. Spitzer represents a very different milieu than street prostitution or human trafficking in developing nations.

As econ students, we also know that people respond to incentives. If one imagines that the lady in question receives $2,000 for an hour's work x 5 times per week, her annual salary could easily be in the order of $500,000.

It is also clear that customer demands will be supplied by the market, whether by legal or illegal means. What one wonders is whether legalization would benefit those who are engaged in sex work. The point is not to make it easier for johns but safer for prostitutes. What is interesting is that even Melissa Farley found that many prostitutes interviewed favored legalization.

At 3/17/2008 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our culture operates from a ancient moral paradigm that subjugates humanity to some perceived "God" entity so that "we" are not we; we are slaves to a master who makes decisions about our behavior. Sex holds a symbolic place in this construct. In ancient times there was a reason for this as the family unit was a good way to organize a society and religion was used to control behaviors that might threaten "the family."

In our modern world these vestigial, "nitwitic" ideas define the prostitution issue as well as others. Our "monkey" brains are programmed to respond to hunger, fear and the tactile sensation of friction to our genitals in a variety of ways, so that... yup, we get together and have more monkeys!

Science and reason now give us choices about how we live that we enjoy in all sorts of ways. Must we continue to live as the ancients? God is a nice concept for lots of people - it no longer belongs in the law. We're not slaves, just complex monkeys!


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