The rationale for making prostitution illegal while protecting the filming and selling of pornography as protected speech under the First Amendment eludes me. Morally I’m opposed to both, but criminalizing one and not the other hurts people more than it helps and lacks intellectual cohesion. But who cares what I think? The question is, what do the candidates think?

While Americans have been fixated on the surreal primary contests between Republican and Democratic gladiators, a huge international movement has been heating up that touches upon the lives of millions and millions of people and involves billions and billions of dollars. We’ve been scratching our heads over whether we should build a beautiful wall and whether Mexico should pay for it; meanwhile, around the globe there’s a new debate about an old business – one that tests assumptions about partisan politics and is therefore a healthy diversion.

So let’s talk about the decriminalization of prostitution, shall we? A little calisthenics for the mind after a mind-numbing political contest is good for us. Stretching stereotypes is always beneficial, and the world is not red or blue, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic, as much as cable television suggests otherwise.

Next month the board of Amnesty International is slated to approve its final policy in support of the full decriminalization of consensual sex work and full and equal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence for sex workers. And Amnesty is not alone; other groups, including the World Health Organization, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Foundation, are on board.

What say you, candidates? Isn’t it about time we started hearing where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton stand on issues? Of course, prostitution probably is not a kitchen table issue on the minds of every American family, but it is an issue that raises good questions that would test the candidates’ mettle and potentially challenge what we think are our own core beliefs.

Do you agree with the free-market libertarian types who think that the oldest profession in the world should be deregulated? If so, you are in company with ultra-liberal George Soros and the Global Commission on HIV. Do you think sex workers should be brought out of the shadows and allowed to collectively bargain for higher wages, safety and benefits? If so, you are at odds with ultra-liberals Gloria Steinem and Lena Dunham.


And forget about the “F” word. Feminists are all over the map on this issue. Some believe prostitution further oppresses women and increases inequality, while others strongly believe decriminalization would be liberating.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, and sex makes strange politics. Throw in a few colorful candidates and we just might have ourselves an interesting debate. Who will play the gender card, and what is it exactly? Which position is politically correct? Morally sound? Conservative or progressive?

Prostitution is a complicated subject that brews together in one pot issues of morality, criminal justice, oppression, inequality, safety and economics. Simplified and boiled down, the question is whether the decriminalization of prostitution would harm women and cause more inequality and oppression, or is it an obvious way to level the playing field, eliminate stigma and improve the quality of life for millions of people?

Other countries are trying different approaches, and it’s time America joined the conversation. Prostitution is legal in Germany, which is a growing sex tourism destination – an enterprise receiving mixed reviews. In Sweden, it’s a crime to buy sex but not to sell it.

By some estimates, prostitution is a $14 billion industry in the United States, and it affects millions of people. It’s an issue with moral implications and philosophical conundrums. It’s an issue that relates to immigration, health care and women’s rights.

Candidates running for president should be asked to take a position on issues, explain their decisions and demonstrate their ability to analyze complicated topics. Instead of throwing around the woman card, it’s time the candidates showed us their hand.

Cynthia Dill is a civil rights lawyer and former state senator. She can be contacted at:

Twitter: dillesquire

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.