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Posted by on Sep 11, 2007 in At TMV | 13 comments

Should Prostitution be Legalized?

Bob Herbert writes for the New York Times:

I must have hit a nerve. While in Las Vegas last week, I interviewed the mayor, Oscar Goodman, who enthusiastically explained how legalizing prostitution and creating a series of “magnificent brothels” could be a boon to his city’s development.

Vegas is already a paradise for pimps, johns and perverts, and I accused the mayor in a column of setting the tone “for the systematic, institutionalized degradation” of women.

Mr. Goodman was not pleased. He snarled to the local press that he had no use for me, and added, “I’ll take a baseball bat and break his head if he ever comes here.”

The mayor, who made a name for himself as a defense lawyer for mobsters, loves to slip into a clownish, tough-guy persona. (He never lets anyone forget that he had a walk-on as himself in the movie “Casino.”) But behind his bluster is a serious issue that should be addressed.

A lot of people more thoughtful than Oscar Goodman believe that prostitution should be legalized as a way of protecting and empowering the women who go into the sex trade. I’ve lost patience with those arguments, however well meaning. Real-world prostitution, in whatever guise, bears no resemblance at all to the empowerment fantasies of prostitution proponents. I have never seen such vulnerable, powerless women as those in the sex trade, legal or illegal.

If you haven’t signed up for Times Select I suggest you do so now. I realize that many people refuse to pay for the columns, archives, and other features of Times Select (and frankly I think it was a mistake for the Times to ask people to pay for this), but it’s well worth it. If you don’t sign up for it you’ll miss out on some great columns, written by very smart and informed people.

Back to the subject at hand, prostitution. In this regard, I’m quite libertarian. It seems to me that the government has no business telling people that they can or can’t pay for sex. Sex is something extremely private, the government should stay out of it. That is, at least, my initial and automatic response. When I was reading the rest of Herbert’s column I understood his point of view better and realized that, once again, it might not be as simple as I’d like to think it is.
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