Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eliot Spitzer and Prostitution

I must say that I am stunned and saddened. Eliot was a friend in law school (we served onthe law review together) and I have been a supporter of his various political campaigns.

I won't even begin to speculate about Governor Spitzer was thinking when he made such a profoundly stupid and tragic mistake. Instead, what I find most interesting about this entire episode is that many are asking the question: why is prostitution illegal in the first place? I think Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times offers the best answer and an innovative response to the problem:

The big news here in New York is Governor Spitzer being linked to a prostitution ring. That raised my eyebrows, because a few months ago the governor encouraged me to write about his anti-trafficking work in New York (which was indeed impressive). All this raises obvious questions: Should prostitution indeed be illegal? Is it worse to be caught paying for sex than simply having an affair?
My own sense is that prostitution is deeply enmeshed with coercion and various other illegal behavior, so it is very different from having an affair (which I don’t think newspapers should worry about, unless there’s some impact on official duties). I grant that there are some cases of financial transactions for sex that are indeed negotiated by fully consenting adults, and they don’t bother me. But I think that at a practical level those transactions are difficult to disentangle from those in which coercion and drug dependency do play roles.

The Netherlands legalized prostitution, and the results seemed unimpressive: no decline in trafficking and only marginal improvements in public health at best. Meanwhile, Sweden took a different approach, decriminalizing prostitution for the women but making it an offense to pay for sexual services. In short: Sweden arrests the customers and leaves the women alone.

At a purely practical level, this seems to have been quite effective in reducing trafficking and coerced prostitution in Sweden. Skeptics say it has just driven the prostitution underground, but Swedes themselves say in opinion polls that the experiment has succeeded. I suggest that American states should experiment with the Swedish model and see if it works better than the existing model in reducing the social problems and coercion that tend to coexist with prostitution in this country


Read it all here.

1 comment:

Left Out Arizona said...

I like to think I'm above schadenfreude, but I admit when this whole scandal came out, I experienced a bit of it. Spitzer has a wonderful record as a reformer and a crusader. But what bothered me was his gigantic ego, his miserable way of dealing with opponents, and the fact that while I liked his politics, as a person he was a jerk. Unlike CB, I don't know him personally, but everything I read about his personal style was negative. Thus, I wasn't surprised to hear of his supreme hypocracy and stupidity in getting caught with a prostitute. Karma and all that.