Emily Bazelon and Josh Levin take readers' questions about prostitution.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
March 13 2008 4:57 PM

Sex Sells

Emily Bazelon and Josh Levin take readers' questions about prostitution.

Read more of Slate's coverage of the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal.

(Continued from Page 5)

Washington: I hope this isn't a stupid question, but doesn't some sex actually have to take place for it to constitute prostitution? If the expert you quote is right that 40 percent of the men don't have sex, why couldn't someone in Spitzer's dilemma say "well I just wanted someone to talk to" (not to say that would fly with his wife, but it might work against criminal charges).

Emily Bazelon: Not a stupid question. The Mann Act, which is one of the options for prosecuting Spitzer (though usually it's only used for going after pimps) makes it a crime to induce someone to cross state lines for the purpose of prostitution. That seems like it would be pretty easy to prove in this case. Mostly, though, I don't think Spitzer wants this to go to court and turn on what he and Kristen/Ashley actually did.

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curiousgemini: Prostitution cannot be defended on moral grounds; neither can getting drunk every night, having sex with a new person every week, and other activities which are legal but might strike many people as immoral and reckless. Some people find guns immoral. Does that mean we should ban all guns? Do the members of PETA have the right to ban eating meat? Indeed, it's perfectly legal for a person to have unprotected sex with an unlimited number of people. Yet if so much as a cent exchanges hands, that person has committed a crime!

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Outlawing a vice is not the only way to discourage it—tobacco, for instance, is legal, but we tax and regulate the hell out of it. Legalize prostitution, but get rid of the pimps, ban street-walking, tax it a lot, and require prostitutes to get checked for sexual diseases every month and educate them in safer sex practices. At the same time, the government could encourage women (and men) to find another line of work.

Emily Bazelon: True. For me the interesting question is how we decide to structure our hierarchy of vices. Alcohol, legal. Marijana, not. Unlimited unprotected sex for free, legal. Buying sex once, not. At the same time, I'm not sure how much the comparisons matter, in the end, or whether legalizing prostitution would have the effects you lay out.

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Re: Geisha: Even in their heyday, they were still "working girls" who were valued for their beauty and put on pedestles, but still of the streets. Good upstanding people didn't talk to them in the streets and good families didn't let their girls do it; it was poor families who literally sold their girls to the houses. As much as a man claimed to love a geisha and support her financially, he'd never marry her. She's still, at the end of the day, a prostitute—there for fun, but not for marrying.

Josh Levin: That's right. Your point here reminds me of the section of the criminal complaint against the Emperors' Club wherein "Kristen" (Ashley Dupre) describes her interaction with "Client 9" (Spitzer): "I'm here for a purpose. I know what my purpose is. I am not a . . . moron, you know what I mean."

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On legalizing prostitution: Consider this: Is prostitution a profession to which you aspire to? Is it one that school counselors should explore as a career choice? Would you want it for your daughter? Just a moment ago someone called Josh a prostitute, and he immediately found it offensive. I'm just sayin'...

Emily Bazelon: Nope, I don't aspire to it, and I don't imagine a lot of people do. But to me the key question is what laws will create the best working conditions for prostitutes, not which laws will shame people.

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Emily Bazelon: Hey Everyone, thank you very much for writing in. Josh and I enjoyed your smart questions.

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