Here’s a collection of comments in reaction to Nick’s post about prostitution that caught my attention.

I do believe prostitution is “market-driven” so it should best be approached as the Swedes are doing, by criminalizing the solicitation rather than the service provider. But I also want to add this with regard to Spitzer: Approximately half the adults of the world are women and we do not necessarily look on this activity as a bit of harmless fun. If you think it is harmless, look at Spitzers’ wife’s face.
— Posted by Trilby

I find your comment hypocritical that prostitution “…is very different from having an affair (which I don’t think newspapers should worry about, unless there’s some impact on official duties).”
Gee, and this from the star OpEd writer of the newspaper that ran a front page, above-the-fold story about John McCain and his unsubstantiated and factually incorrect relationship with a female lobbyist. Hmmmm…… seems to me you, and your employer, ought to scrutinize Democrats with as much vitriolic zeal as you do Republicans.
All in the name of “equal time”, I say.
C’mon Kristof. Own up to your and your employer’s double standard.
— Posted by Mikaela

Seems like we have a couple of issues:
1) The colossal egotism and hypocrisy of politicians who persecute others for the same sins they themselves are committing. They never seem to think they’ll get caught, and I suppose most of them don’t. Look at miscegenationist Strom Thurmond.
2) An affair between consenting adults is legal. Prostitution is not (aside from whether one thinks the law should be changed). Pres. Clinton had an affair, however tawdry. Gov. Spitzer committed a crime.
As a woman, I find the market for prostitution difficult to comprehend. Why does a man have to pay for sex, unless he is so repulsive that no woman would touch him otherwise? Pathetic.
— Posted by Martha Shelley

If an act is criminal because tangentially associated with other criminal acts, how many more “crimes” can we manufacture? So crack usage can justifiably be punished more severely than coke usage if it is more closely associated with theft and violence, even though theft and violence aren’t proved?
Whatever happens in Sweden should remain in Sweden.
— Posted by James Brotherton

My instinct is to say, legalize prostitution. If boxing–where the goal is to beat the heck out of someone while getting beaten in return–is legal, why not sex for money?
But, then again, I think there probably aren’t that many “arms length transactions” in this sphere. From investigations I’ve read on the topic, many of the sex workers in Nevada are coerced into working by boyfriends and the like.
— Posted by Scott

Some men really don’t get it. We’re having a hard enough time raising our daughters to have self esteem and to think of themselves as more than just bodies. By legalizing prostitution, another barrier to the commodification of persons falls away. It’s bad enough that stripping is the best way a young woman can make a decent amount of cash. Grow up, men. You’re not the ones being used like a commodity, an object. Go read a book and educate yourselves. And stop gorging at the trough of free-market baloney: it’s fermenting your souls.
— Posted by Angela

“Should prostitution indeed be illegal? Is it worse to be caught paying for sex than simply having an affair?”
This is a convoluted and messy question, especially because I’m biased by the assumption that having an affair is “simple” in comparison to buying the services of a prostitute. Whether or not prostitution becomes legal, what’s the difference? People have sex with other people who are not their spouse, and in the majority of cases it’s men cheating on their wives. Does it really matter how he’s doing it, who he’s doing it with, or whether it was legal, even if he’s a public figure? In a divorce, “simply having an affair” can be the determining factor in a serious and very legal dispute between him and his wife. In a sense, they’re both illegal and in my opinion, both reprehensible.
— Posted by Alexandra Snow

Thanks so much for bringing up the ‘Sweden solution’. The Spitzer debacle has exposed the ‘elephant’ in the U.S.: that one of the reasons that ‘johns’ aren’t being prosecuted in the U.S. is that the men in power are doing the same thing!
The sex slave trade in the U.S. is massive – there is more demand here than any other country. There are laws in every state against paying women for sex, but most of the time the men aren’t prosecuted. A case in point- 2 summers ago in a suburb of Baltimore, a ‘tanning salon’ bust netted enslaved Korean women, who were part of a trafficking ring up and down the East Coast. The ringleaders were arrested, and they got the ‘little black book’ with ‘customer’ contact info, but did nothing with it. These men were not just ‘johns’, they were rapists.
Any effort at stopping this sex slave trade has to start with the problem of demand, which is going completely unaddressed in the U.S. Now we can see clearly why.
This seems to be an opportune moment for our nation to address why our predominantly male lawmakers are not looking at both sides of the prostitution/ sex slave issue.
— Posted by Lucy Strausbaugh

I find it appalling to hear Mr. Kristof use the phrase “simply having an affair.” I don’t dispute the coercion and ‘various other illegal behavior’, and the world he has revealed in his reporting, especially from Cambodia, is truly sickening. But I think having an affair is far more damaging than engaging a prostitute — at least to the couple whose member is having the affair — unless the affair is as strings-free as an hour with a prostitute (in which case we call it ‘casual sex’, not an ‘affair’). An affair is usually romantic, meaning that the people in it are emotionally involved, and that is a direct threat to a marriage. You can ‘have sex’ with any number of people, but you can’t give your heart to more than one.
— Posted by Tim Kirk

The hypocrisy is not just that repeatedly shown by Eliot Spitzer, but that of all Americans. Prostitution, between consenting adults, should be legalized and covered by OSHA and other safety laws. The same for consensual adult drug use. We have a cultural obsession with acting one way and expecting everyone else to act differently. We are homo sapiens, not some form of supernatural being ruled by an obsessive and prudish god, with “normal” needs and desires and government should not impose some people’s moral beliefs on all. This is the same as a state sanctioning of one religion and abhorrent to the founding fathers. We should respect all people’s rights to be treated as they so desire to be treated, not as we desire them to be.
A preliminary study of low level prostitution in Chicago by Steven D. Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh found that street walkers earned about $20,000 per year, more than they could in “legal” jobs, and gave 3% of their sexual acts to police officers as forced bribes.
How is prostitution any different when it entails sexual activity than when a woman is forced, by economic and other constraints, to work in dangerous, health endangering, and low paying jobs? In a free market, with government protection of workers’ health and safety, the marketplace would demonstrate a slightly higher pay for sexual work and women should have that option available. It is discriminatory to deny them all options. The women who provided services for Spitzer and other high payers have that option available and are almost never prosecuted unless someone has a political agenda and they get caught up in it.
Get real Americans. Celebrate life.
— Posted by Jim Swanson

Why not legitimize the exchange of sex for money? Sex has always been an exchange.
Men who is are good lovers will never have to pay for sex because they fully satisfy womanly needs and desires. The sexual exchange is always mutually satisfying. The problem with most males is they don’t want to develop into men and lovers – or put in the effort it takes to stay men and lovers as they age – and, as a result, they’re stuck with making an offer in exchange for sex because their sexual exchanges are rarely satisfying.
Prostitution is the exchange for sex for money. If society legitimizes it, it can expand the taxable income base, which would pay for creating outreach programs, which could:
– encourage safe sex, which would result in reducing the risk of customers becoming infected with STDs and then going home and infecting their wives and children
– eliminate pimping, which would free up much-needed police officers as well as the courts for other pressing duties and matters
– reduce the risk of violence, which when it happens often goes unpunished
One final thought: if a man can hire a pro to help improve his golf why not let him hire a pro to help improve his sex?
— Posted by Carmen

Regarding Sweden, sex workers who work in that country have commented at international conferences that after they started arresting the johns, violence against the sex workers increased.
Most people who do sex work (which includes men as well as women) make a conscious decision to do that work. When it is performed by poor people who have migrated from poor countries to rich ones, for the most part they have made a conscious judgment that it is worth taking the risk of winding up with bad management because the financial rewards are so great. In many poor countries, the monthly checks these migrant sex workers send home keep their families housed and clothed. In some countries, they represent a significant part of the economy.
It is true that changing the laws in the Netherlands hasn’t stopped migrant sex work, but then anyone who thought that was going to be a major impact was pretty stupid. One of the reasons illegal prostitution still exists in the countries that have reformed the laws (i.e., the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand) is that the government failed to provide possibilities for immigrants to obtain work permits, so they can’t get jobs in the regulated brothels.
Changing the working conditions in prostitution is not easy. It requires a rationalization of the work, the development of appropriate occupational safety and health regulations, the granting of work permits to immigrants, and the support of projects run by sex workers to help those who want to change their occupation to do so.
Governor Spitzer’s problem was that he acted one way in his own life and in public supported the continuing hypocrisy represented by the laws against prostitution. Perhaps if he had worked with the sex workers’ rights movement in this country to make the changes sex workers want, he would not be in this predicament today.
As for Nicholas Kristof, you have no right to tell women what they should do with their bodies. Instead of following the hysteria of the so-called feminists who have blown up the “female slavery” panic as their foremothers did during the first part of the 20th Century, when the Mann Act was originally passed (with no reduction in prostitution), you should also work with sex workers to make the kinds of changes that are necessary to make prostitution a safe occupation.
— Posted by Priscilla Alexander

* By Naka Nathaniel (NYT,march12, 2008)