In today's editorial in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof resurrected the debate on something he says is often "ignored' in our country: human trafficking.
Human trafficking tends to get ignored because it is an indelicate, sordid topic, with troubled victims who don’t make great poster children for family values. Indeed, many of the victims are rebellious teenage girls — often runaways — who have been in trouble with their parents and the law, and at times they think they love their pimps.
Because of this, the numbers of sexually exploited children seem to be growing. According to Kristof, reports and studies suggest that anywhere between 100,000 and 600,000 children are involved in prostitution in the U.S.
Portland itself is no stranger to prostitution. I'm not sure if Google is aware of where I'm googling from, but I got as far as typing "child pros-" in the search bar before "child prostitution Portland" came up as an option.
Whether you realize it or not, child prostitution has long been a part of Portland's underground culture, as well as its pop culture. Films like Gus van Sant's My Own Private Idaho featured underage boys who worked as prostitutes in the '90s. And the Decemberists' song "On the Bus Mall" is an ode to the ubiquitous street kids and prostitutes of Old Town today.
In May, writing for the Huffington Post, Dan Rather called the Portland area a "hub for the sexual exploitation of children." Currently Portland ranks second in the country for the number of rescued child prostitutes.
In order to cut down on the sexual exploitation of children, Kristof says we should adopt Sweden’s model of curbing prostitution. This starts with going after the pimps, rather than the girls who are the victims. This is a widely heralded solution to the problem, one that Portland itself tries to implement.
The model the Swedes use, which the country adopted in 1999, “is to prosecute the men who purchase sex, while treating the women who sell it as victims who merit social services,” says Kristof.
Prosecution of johns has reduced demand for prostitution in Sweden, which in turn reduces market prices. That reduces the incentives for trafficking into Sweden, and the number of prostitutes seems to have declined there.
This is all well and good, some commenters on the editorial have said, but why not just legalize prostitution in general? Borrow the formula Amsterdam uses and tax and regulate it in order to provide for the safety of sex workers. Then go after the pimps and johns who choose to operate outside the legal guidelines.
What do you think, Blogtownies? To legalize or to not legalize? Should we take a cue from the fair-haired Swedes or the sexually permissive Amsterdammers?