Sunday, January 25, 2009

Legalized Prostitution In Nevada

The US is in the middle of a deep recession, if not depression.  It has cut a wide swathe and even the government is struggling to raise funds.  When the state contemplates issuing issuing I.O.U.’s, it is an indication of exactly how desperate the times are. 

State Sen. Bob Coffin, who chairs the Senate Taxation Committee, believes it is time to legalize prostitution.   "It's almost de facto legal. It's running unregulated," he said. As an aside he offers that it would make it safer for sex trade workers.  It is not at all accidental that the sudden push for legalization is coming from the tax office in a time of economic difficulties.  The concern is not based in what is best for women; it is based in how to best navigate this economic crises.

If legalization is approached from the angle of taxation the real danger that sex trade workers face on a daily basis will not be addressed.  A W2 does not equal safety, it equals a new form of exploitation.  The state should not be turning a profit from prostitution.

"I think it's an appalling way for a state to make money," said Melissa Farley, executive director of the nonprofit Prostitution Research and Education group in San Francisco. "Once there's an awareness of what prostitution does to women, it makes no sense to allow it, to tax it, to decriminalize it or mainstream it."

Though experts said legalizing prostitution in Nevada's urban centers was unlikely, rural brothels have asked at least twice to pay state taxes. Some owners believe prostitution is less likely to be outlawed if it contributes to state coffers.

"What are we going to say? That we don't want your tax dollars?" asked David Damore, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. "How do you look a gift horse in the mouth when we're hurting so badly?"

Coffin's initiative comes as Nevada's economy is foundering. Compared with the same month in 2007, November gaming revenue was down almost 15% statewide. Taxable sales in October were down 6.2%.

In lieu of raising taxes, Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons has proposed, among other things, slashing funding for higher education and cutting the pay of teachers and state workers. Democrats, who control the Legislature, have roundly drubbed those ideas.

In that context, Coffin said, it would be irresponsible not to look at Nevada's sex industry as a possible revenue source.

"When you're talking about cutting funding for the mentally ill and increasing class sizes for little kids . . . and someone tells me they don't want to tax prostitution, I'm going to call them a hypocrite to their face," Coffin said.

While in some instances prostitution is a choice, one should not ignore the fact that for some women, it is the occupation of last resort.  The state cannot accurately separate those that are making the active decision to participate, from those that have been forced into to it to feed a drug habit, or out of destitution.  We have already seen a link to poverty and the sale of eggs and surrogate services; therefore it is a fair assumption that many women who are turning to prostitution today, may be doing so out of a need to maintain a subsistence level. 

His argument further ignores the transwomen that have been forced into prostitution, from an inability to find and maintain a job in their fields.  They exist with no legal protections in terms of employment.  At each turn they are stigmatized and assaulted by society and for the government to profit from their failure to protect them is atrocious.

Across the globe there are many women working as prostitutes because that is the only way that they are able to feed their children.   To further exploit these women by taxing their earnings serves as validation of the slut shaming, and violence that they deal with on a daily basis.  I further resent the idea that this should be compared to other forms of social inequality. Injustice is injustice no matter whom it is happening to.  While Coffin may be worried about educating these children, their mothers are worried about feeding them, clothing them. and keeping a roof over their heads. 

I whole heartedly support the legalization and or decriminalization of prostitution.  This is not a job that should lead to a criminal charge or jail. It would also allow women to charge those who either violate them sexually or abuse them physically. If  the government really cared about the safety of these women they would be working on programs to help those that want to quit, and create a safer working environment for those that choose to continue.  Instead their only concern is to figure out how much money can be made off of the backs of these women.

How much more can women carry? Our work already supports the informal economy.  It is done without pay and is not factored into the GDP, or GNP.  Women earn less than men and are less likely to advance in their chosen fields.  Even though we comprise over 50%  of the population, patriarchy has ensured that we reside quite firmly in the pink ghetto. 

If this step is going to be taken to legalize prostitution, it should be done from an impetus to improve life, not to prey upon the already vulnerable.  The government is supposed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority and in this case it is clear that it is the minority once again that is meant to pay for the luxuries for the elite. 

Note that there is no consideration of raising the taxes of the elite.  OOOHH no the rich white men that run this country can certainly not be made to live on less, even though their profits are based upon exploiting their workers.   The solution is always to find a way to make the poorest amongst us to pay, to maintain the divide between rich and poor. If they truly cared about the disenfranchised they would be working to mitigate their unearned privileges rather than expecting vulnerable women to help them maintain their lifestyles.

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