Prostitution is often referred to as “oldest profession.” Critics of this expression redescribe it as “the oldest oppression.” Debates about how best to understand and regulate prostitution are bound up with difficult moral, legal, and political questions. Indeed, it can be approached from numerous angles–is buying and selling sex fundamentally wrong? How can it possibly be regulated? How can sex workers be protected, if they are allowed to work at all? In this concise, for-and-against volume, ethicists Lori Watson and Jessica Flanigan engage with each other on the nature and consequences of sex work, revealing new and profound ways in which to understand it.
The volume opens with a joint introduction, before Lori Watson first argues for a sex equality approach to prostitution in which buyers are criminalized and sellers are decriminalized, also known as the Nordic model. Watson defends the Nordic Model on the grounds that prostitution is an exploitative and unequal practice that only entrenches existing patterns of gendered injustice. Full decriminalization of prostitution only stymies existing occupational health and safety standards and securing worker autonomy and equality. Further, to Watson, drawing a distinction between sex trafficking and prostitution is irrelevant for public policy; what underpins them is demand, which fuels the inequalities of both. That is what needs to be addressed.
In a rebuttal, Jessica Flanigan contends that sex work should be fully decriminalized because restrictions on the sale and purchase of sex violate the rights of sex workers and their clients. She argues that decriminalization is preferable to policies that could expose sex workers and their clients to criminal penalties, and leave them at the mercy of public officials.
Putting these two views on sex work into conversation with one another, and opening up space for readers to weigh both approaches, the book provides a thorough, accessible exploration of the issues surrounding sex work, written with both sympathy and philosophical rigor.