Is Prostitution the New Weed?

Texas considers measure to decriminalize repeat offenses for selling or buying sex.

street prostitutes Texas prostitution law reform

If a few Texas politicians have their way, the Lone Star State may one day quit locking up women on felony prostitution charges. (Photo: Reuters)

Joining the slowly building multitude of state and local governments reassessing nonviolent crimes and laws that put offenders in jail, Texas may drop its felony-class charge for repeat prostitution offenders, reports say.

The new policy would be similar to statutes enacted that decriminalize possession of quantities of marijuana for individual use.

As reported in the Austin-American Statesman, prostitutes and their customers can now both be charged with a fourth-class felony after three misdemeanor convictions for buying or selling sex. Of the 350 inmates in state jails on fourth-class felony buying or selling sex charges, all are women, despite the presumption that men would seem to engage in buying sex at least as often as women engage in selling it.

Is the proposed sentence reform for repeat prostitution offenders a bend toward lenience and prison reform for the often hard-line Lone Star State? Or is the consideration all about money? A little bit of both, it seems—the locked-up prostitutes cost the states millions to house every year, and reform proponents say that rehab and reform programs outside of penitentiaries work at a fraction of the cost of incarceration.

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Either way, a Democratic Senator from the state called attaching felony charges to prostitution outlandish, and the issue may now be taken up by state legislature in January, chron.com says.

Except in parts of Nevada, prostitution is generally outlawed in the U.S.—though in Rhode Island “indoor” prostitution was strangely and unwittingly legally allowed until 2009.

Also coming under scrutiny recently are online prostitution laws. Though traditional statutes cover the full range of street-level prostitution activity, laws meant to cover online sale of sex services are still pretty meager. Indeed, an academic study announced this week that almost 80 percent of the classified ads posted on the adult-services portion of the website Backpages are prostitution ads.

The Texas move raises larger questions: Should prostitution be decriminalized? Should money be the motivator for public policy? Where should the line be for who goes to jail, and for what?

And why is the arrest rate for the (female) prostitutes so much higher than that of their (male) customers?

Lastly, what role does the criminalization of prostitution, and the fact that most criminal penalties fall upon women, all play in America’s surprisingly high rate of human trafficking?

Is there a sexist basis for more women than men being jailed on prostitution charges? Leave thoughts in COMMENTS.

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