Saturday, August 29, 2009

Anti-Sex School for Johns?

In a novel approach to punishing men who attempt to hire prostitutes, Nashville and other cities are sending first-time offenders to a one-day class where they learn from former prostitutes, health experts, psychologists and law enforcement officers about "the risks of hiring a prostitute."

This is a waste of time.

Prostitution is "the oldest profession" for a reason: sex is a biological imperative. A day of anti-sex school will have no effect on the demand for prostitution.

The better approach is to legalize.

Under legalization, the vast majority of men would patronize legal establishments. This would also allow quality control, since competition would encourage prostitution services to certify their employees as free from STDs and above the age of consent. Legalization would help the women who serve as prostitutes by reducing the violence they suffer from johns and pimps. In particular, legalization would mainly eliminate forced prostitution.

The claim that prostitution encourages sexual assault does not pass the sniff test. Many countries, plus Nevada and Rhode Island, allow legal prostitution to varying degrees, but no evidence suggests they have a higher incidence of violence toward women.

47 comments:

Gordon Hutton said...

Let me begin by agreeing with you completely. Legalization of a transaction between consenting adults to engage in consensual sex (of whatever kind, but I'm sure that will appear as another post and entry in your future book) will almost certainly result in the benefits you describe. (And not all prostitutes are female. And think of the impact on unemployment rates and the sprouting of small businesses around the country!)

My problem with the post, is the purely rational basis of the argument. This works well among libertarians (and some progressives) who will readily agree with you. But how can you turn this into a compelling moral argument?

The efforts of Magdalene House in Nashville, suppliers of the former prostitutes who host the "Johns class," are laudable. Thanks to criminalization, these women are mostly victims of low self-esteem, abuse of one sort or another, and abusers of drugs and alcohol. Giving them a way out of this sort of life makes sense to me.

Unfortunately, this is the way most people view prostitution. There is nothing "professional" about it. The Thistle Farms website--the non-profit that runs Magdalene House--uses language like, "We stand in solidarity with women who are recovering from sexual abuse, violence, and life on the streets, and who have paid dearly for a culture that buys and sells women like commodities." Emphasis is mine.

How do we effectively state arguments that overcome such emotions and beliefs? How do we overcome the moral basis for anti-prostitution stances? I believe that the rational arguments are the foundation, but unless we can be compelling beyond this, we're just preaching to the converted.

I'm not looking to change the views of the extreme right, but rather to win sympathetic support from the middle that likely doesn't think too much about such issues. And, when they do give it a passing thought, they access the databases of their brains and retrieve the "prostitution bad" records passively written there throughout their lives via religion, news, and entertainment.

Dr. Miron, I'm just another lost libertarian looking for guidance and looking forward to your book.

Mike Huben said...

The low quality of Miron's arguments are a source of continued amazement to me. Let's see how many stupidities we can pick out of a mere two sentences.

"Prostitution is "the oldest profession" for a reason: sex is a biological imperative. A day of anti-sex school will have no effect on the demand for prostitution."

First is the idea that he would argue based on a goofy folk expression. "The oldest profession" is merely a euphemism that is supposed to be witty, but shows instead the same old-fashioned disdain for women. There is no actual evidence of how old prostitution is. But there is plenty of evidence for the real "oldest profession" for women: child rearing. And the evolutionary evidence shows that child rearing predates viviparous mammals.

I agree that sex is a biological imperative, but so are eating and defection. Biological imperatives are NOT necessarily reasons for particular professions, and Miron is being glib and stupid presenting this. If he was an ancient Greek warrior, he might argue that catamites were due to biological imperatives (and by biological imperatives he must mean alleviating male sexual urges and not reproduction, since nobody expects modern prostitutes to bear them children.) There are many outlets for these biological imperatives other than prostitution or sex with male minors.

Third, "anti-sex school" is not the same as "the risks of hiring a prostitute." It's likely that alternatives such as how to find girlfriends without having to hire them might be discussed. As this is an experimental program, it deserves to be evaluated on empirical grounds, not dismissed with apriori ideological sniggering.

"A day of anti-sex school will have no effect": just how does Miron know this? Did it not work when he was attending? :-) There are plenty of programs which do have substantial effects on recidivism. Miron is just making shit up here: the article itself claims a 30% reduction in recidivism for 10 years.

So let's see: that's four problems with two sentences. The quality of the rest isn't any better.

Mike Huben said...

Miron uses the term "legalization" vaguely. There's the libertarian sense of unregulated legalization, and then there's the real world sense of highly regulated legalization that he mentions as examples. Regulation and libertarianism clash rather strongly: it would be nice if Miron came out and said that it SHOULD be legal to hire whores irrespective of whether they had pimps, syphilis, AIDS or were only 13 years old. And where ever you wanted: you should be able to fuck exposed in any public place. Etc. That's real liberty according to libertarians: what place has government or anybody else telling you not to do that, they say.

"[...] competition would encourage prostitution services to certify their employees as free from STDs and above the age of consent."
The expensive ones for the gentry, perhaps. The competitive race to the bottom price would also provide a large supply of uncertified prostitutes. Libertarians don't really believe in an age of consent either. What place does government have telling you you are too young to have sex, they say.

Legalization of either sort doesn't solve a number of important externalities. For example, the article mentions that roughly half the johns are married, which means they are violating their contract with infidelity (most likely: few people have open marriages.) Legalization would exacerbate that problem. Libertarians are supposed to think voluntary contracts are important, aren't they? And while male libertarians may not be impressed by expressions such as "a culture that buys and sells women like commodities", be assured that's one of the reasons why liberals have an even sex ratio and libertarians are heavily skewed towards males.

With libertarian-style unregulated prostitution, we would expect a significant increase in prostitution and thus a significant increase in sexually transmitted disease, assuming transmission rates stayed the same. But that's not a good assumption, as anyone with knowledge of epidemiology could tell you: the rate of transmission would go way up as the number of people with large numbers of sexual partners increased.

I sure hope Miron's academic work is better than this.

Steve M. said...

Mike Huben,

You can relax your hard on. No one is listening.

Steve M. said...

While we're at it let's test the tenability of
the arguments of the esteemed Mike Huben. Allow
me to proceed without casting aspersions. Which is more than I can say for our friend Mike.

First, let me say that Miron's brevity leaves him upon to ridicule. He is presenting his argument in a few short paragraphs. Generalizations are bound to happen. Perhaps the class will have a SLIGHT effect on the demand for prostitution. But I believe it will be negligible.

The larger issue is, what is the best way to mitigate the harmful effects of prostitution?, i.e. STDs, expolitation, etc... It seems that your solution is based on the idea that prohibition will actually reduce this behavior significantly. This view doesn't seem to hold water.


Your attack on Miron's "oldest profession" claim is thin and pointless. I suspect that the use of this "goofy folk expression" was nothing more than rhetorical flare. And your invocation of "vivaporous mammals"leaves me scratching my head.

"It's likely that alternatives such as how to find girlfriends without
having to hire them might be discussed"

Are you kidding me? Is your view of human nature, as Thomas Sowell would say, really this "unrestrained"? You castigate the core ideas of libertariansim as naive and unfounded, and you think that government education is going to reduce prostitution to a signifcant degree by stressing such an elementary point!

"Third, "anti-sex school" is
not the same as "the risks of hiring a prostitute."

Abt Associates, the conductors of the study, stress that this was the only area in which the program performed well.

"In its pre- and post-class survey, Abt Associates found that the program performed well in informing johns about the CONSEQUENCES of participating in prostitution. However, this improved understanding was not accompanied by a significant shift in the self-reported likelihood of changing BEHAVIOR"

"The expensive ones for the gentry, perhaps.
The competitive race to the bottom price would also provide a large supply of uncertified
prostitutes."

Ah, yes. Imagine that. A large supply of "uncertified prostitutes". Perhaps we should make such a practice illegal.

What Mike is arguing is that his policy of significantly reducing the amount of prostitution is preferable to Miron's policy of reducing its pernicious effects. Well, yeah.

Of course this assumes that we actually know how to do it.

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