A New Hampshire state representative proposed legislation this month to make consensual prostitution legal in the state.
While prostitution is currently legal in Nevada, it is only legal in brothels and is illegal in Carson City, the capital, and four out of 16 counties. Street prostitution is illegal. The proposed New Hampshire bill, on the other hand, legalizes consensual prostitution between consenting adults statewide and does not limit solicitation of sex to brothels.
The bill also states that it “makes any solicitation of sexual contact involving a person under 18 years of age or through the use of force or intimidation a felony.”
Rep. Elizabeth Edwards of Manchester said her bill was written in light of Amnesty International’s recent call to legalize prostitution globally and protect the human rights of sex workers. Amnesty International states that sex workers are “one of the most disadvantaged groups of people in the world, often forced to live outside the law and denied their most basic human rights.”
“Sex workers are not able to negotiate and organize for their rights, or for access to the justice system when their livelihood is a crime,” Edwards said to local news station NH1.
Students at John Brown University had varying opinions on legalizing sex work. Lindsay Dodson, senior marketing major, summarized the discussion by saying that right now, the situation with prostitution in the U.S. is unhealthy, and the question is whether legalizing sex work will make it better.
“I know there’s a lot of abuse that happens. Not only with pimps, but also with the clients,” Dodson said. “People get murdered that way.”
Dodson said she is for the legalization of prostitution and noted that prostitution is legal in Australia, Canada and much of Western Europe, where HIV rates are low.
Dodson said after researching the issue, her three main reasons for supporting the legalization of prostitution are that it is better for workers as it enables them to report abuse, it gives people autonomy over their bodies and allows police to focus their energies on sex trafficking.
Krista Gay is the founder of campus ministry Students Against Sex Slavery (SASS) and is a volunteer at the North West Arkansas Rape Crisis Center where she manages the crisis hotline and assists in forensic exams of people who have been raped. Gay said she believes the proposed bill is not good for human rights.
“This bill will only increase the demand, and thus the number of vulnerable individuals entering the sex trade by force, not by choice,” Gay said.
“Empowering women means giving them the right to choose who they have sex with, and when. Legalizing prostitution allows other individuals to manipulate this right,” Gay said.
“Pimps will flock to areas where they can fly under the radar. If prostitution is legal, no one will be looking for prostitutes and question them. Prostitutes lie and say they are doing it willingly because they do not want to be punished, nor do they want their family to be harmed. However, upon careful investigation, it is often discovered that these women really have no choice at all.”
In response to the argument that people should have autonomy over their bodies, Gay said, “I support an individual’s right to have sex with whomever they choose, as long as it is 100 percent consensual.”
“I have met dozens of prostitutes, and I have never met one that sold their body who enjoyed it, or were doing it because they wanted to. They were often being forced to do it by a boyfriend or a pimp,” Gay added, explaining that she has been on several anti-trafficking trips in the U.S., Philippines, and Niger.
Cooper Richardson, co-leader of SASS, echoed Gay’s sentiments.
“I do not support this bill,” Richardson said. “Having traveled abroad and seen many different ways people fight trafficking and prostitution, I think that we should be funding programs that support helping woman obtain dignified jobs, not legalizing demeaning ones.”