Selling Sex: Should It Be A Crime?


Who is the Real Victim? The Secret Service and Legalizing Prostitution

Recently a dozen Secret Service men of the U.S. military had their security clearances suspended after being caught with their pants down in a prostitution scandal while on duty in Colombia. This case also brings with it vast security implications considering they had the President’s travel agenda on a dresser while they were paying sex workers to come into their hotel rooms.

Apparently it was quite a party. At least twenty-one sex workers filled the Cartagena hotel rooms. And the Secret Service men nearly got away with it, that is until they tried to cheat one of the women out of her pay. Allegedly, she refused leave the party until she received her payment. The local police got involved and the party quickly ended.

Was this a sex scandal? It sounds more like a money scandal. An exchange of currency was involved, there was a disagreement about the exchange and the woman owed money stood up for herself. 

This woman had a right to get paid for what she provided. In Colombia, prostitution is legal.  So here is this Colombian prostitute, in a room full of American agents, trying to stand up for herself. Maybe she was afraid to leave without the money. Most likely she desperately needed it. Regardless, she earned every penny.

The whole situation may have been a misunderstanding, Maybe she was off when counting her money, perhaps something got lost in translation. Whatever happened that night, she had a right to get paid.

In the U.S., prostitution is illegal in all but one of fifty states. There is however still a market for sex workers and U.S. prostitution accounts for $14.6 billion according to Havocscope, an Online database of black market activities. Surveys show that at least fifteen percent of all men  in the U.S. have had at least one experience with a prostitute and those are just the men who will admit it.

For women who need to set their own wages and make their own hours, sex work could provide a better alternative than an under paid hard-labor job in this struggling financial market. Despite some misconceptions about sex workers in the U.S., most prostitution doesn’t occur in alleys or on the streets. In fact, less than one third of prostitutes work the streets these days. The majority of sex workers are reachable by phone, hand held device or personal websites. They work in massage parlors or brothels and sometimes work for, or own, their own escort businesses. (Weitzer, R. 2005. New directions in research on prostitution. Crime, Law and Social Change, 43, 211-235.)

Prostitution has been described as a victimless crime. This is true if a woman had made the decision to become a sex worker by her own will and not because she was forced into the business. If prostitution were to be legalized in the U.S., it could potentially help to prevent an underground criminalized sex slave culture where teenagers, children and disempowered women are exploited into prostitution against their will from developing. Legalizing prostitution in this country would empower women to take better care of themselves in unregulated situations where men would normally have the power to control and exploit. They would have full control over their own hours, their customer base and their money.

Giving women power over their choices and their bodies has always been a controversial topic in this male-dominated country. And yet allowing women control over their bodies could lead to a decrease in risk of disease to the population of men that use prostitutes, massage workers and strippers and also protects the partners they may go home to. In countries where prostitution is sanctioned, women are required to attend clinics to seek health care to prevent rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

Until prostitution can become fully regulated sex workers remain victims, trapped in a male dominated legal system that forces them to hide their profession, then punishes them for it, while at the same time seeking them out for personal gain. One has to wonder what gave that particular Colombian prostitute in that hotel room in Cartagena the courage to stand up for herself and demand her pay from a room full of Secret Service personnel. The story could have ended so differently. It usually does.

Dr Tammy Nelson is a world renowned expert in relationships, a psychotherapist in private practice, and a trainer and seminar leader worldwide. She is the author of several books and speaks internationally on sexuality and human relationships. She can be found at