The Argument for Decriminalizing Prostitution

An image from our "Faces of Prostitution" slideshow.
An image from our "Faces of Prostitution" slideshow. File photo
For evidence that the 2017 Libertarian Party of Colorado State Convention, which takes place this weekend in Westminster (details below), is very different from the annual gatherings sponsored by Democrats and Republicans, look no further than the prominent speaking role reserved for Sarah "Daggers" Stewart, a prominent advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution.

A Libertarian activist based in Louisiana, Stewart believes laws that are designed to help prostitutes, including those who may have been forced into the activity against their will, actually cause more harm than good.

"I think focusing on the decriminalization of sex work is going to ultimately help save a lot of lives," she says. "I wouldn't do this if I didn't think it was true, and I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen the data to back it up."

A former member of the military, Stewart traces the roots of her interest in this subject to a brief time she spent working in law enforcement. After being placed on a Drug Enforcement Administration task force, she recalls, "I got to see inside the drug war, and I saw many places where I felt like it was failing across the country. But there was also a grant that included prostitution in it, which I thought was kind of strange. And as I started reading and doing research, I saw this correlation where they were trying to use these laws to save women, just like the D.A.R.E. program that Nancy Reagan pushed was trying to save the children."

The more she learned about prostitution laws, Stewart maintains, the more she came to the conclusion that they were wrongheaded. By her estimate, taxpayers spend more than $200 million annually on such policies even though "it seems from the data I've seen that what they're doing is creating trafficking more than preventing it."

click to enlarge THINKSTOCK FILE PHOTO
Thinkstock file photo
In her view, "if we could decriminalize sex work or decriminalize prostitution specifically, prostitutes would be able to be protected. They would have jobs they could do and go on to other jobs without that label, that stigma, that's there now. And they could get help if they needed it — if they were being harassed or abused or forced to do things they didn't want to do. Those who weren't there by choice could get out, and they'd be recognized easier, as well. The person who's going to be the first person to see if a sex worker is being victimized is typically a prostitute, and decriminalization will make it easier for them to get help for the person being victimized."

This outlook fits snugly within the tenets of the Libertarian Party, which puts a premium on personal liberty. "We believe it's the individual's right to make choices in life," Stewart points out. "It doesn't necessarily mean we approve or disapprove of their choices; it's their personal responsibility. And we also believe in self-ownership, which says individuals own their bodies and other groups and the government can't violate that. Individuals have the freedom and responsibility to decide what to consume and what risk they assume with their own health and safety."

Critics of decriminalizing prostitution "don't believe anyone is doing it by choice," Stewart goes on, "and I know that to be false. I know many amazing people who are in the sex-work industry, and they actually love their jobs. They think their job is the best for them. They do it, they enjoy it, they make amazing relationships with their clients, and they wouldn't want to do anything else. In this day and age, the majority of sex workers promote themselves through the Internet. They're escorts, they're safe, they check for STDs regularly, they choose their own time and hours they want to work, and they live very comfortably."

Nonetheless, she says, "these women are continuously being arrested — and it's usually women, even though there are men in the community doing it. I think these women would be safer, and those being victimized would be safer, if prostitution was decriminalized. And we would also save taxpayers a lot of money."

This year's Libertarian Party of Colorado State Convention runs from March 24-26 at the Westin Hotel in Westminster, 10600 Westminster Boulevard; Stewart's talk, titled "When Helping Is Hurting: Prostitution," gets under way at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 25. Look below to see the complete convention program and click for more information.

2017 Libertarian Party of Colorado State Convention Program

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts