Saturday, April 14, 2012

Another Area for Legalization?

The news that a dozen United States Secret Service agents have been called home from Cartagena because at least one of them allegedly had 'contact' with a prostitute suggests another area for decriminalization.

The legal status of prostitution is a legitimate subject of debate. Legalization enables authorities to regulate and even tax prostitution, and makes sex workers feel more able to seek help from police if they're abused. But critics of legalization say that legal prostitution can serve as a cover for abuses and trafficking of girls and women, as happens in Spain, The New York Times reports. Holland, where prostitution is also legal, is also a major destination for human trafficking, according to this United Nations Report. Back when I was a journalist, I also heard horrific stories about impoverished girls being forced to become prostitutes in Ecuador, where adult prostitution is legal.

But there I also talked to adult women prostitutes who swore by their profession, with which they supported their families.

But prohibiting prostitution also turns a natural human activity and what's supposedly the world's oldest profession into a subject of scandal, giving it a far greater importance than it deserves.

Proof of that are the headlines in the Washington Post and New York Times about the U.S. Secret Service agents getting called home because at least one of them allegedly bought sexual services in Cartagena during the run-up to the Summit of the Americas, taking place this weekend. While prostitution is illegal in almost all of the United States, it is depenalized in 'tolerance zones' in Colombian cities, such as Bogotá's red light district.

Evidently, the Secret Service agents' tastes were not expensive. A Bogotá radio station sent a reporter to the supposed source of the alleged prostitutes, the 'Pleyclub' in an industrial neighborhood of Cartagena. The only sign on the entrance warned patrons to keep an eye on their belongings. The house next door offered rooms for 18,000 pesos a night - less than $10.000.

Nevertheless, the Americans apparently didn't pay for the services, causing the prostitutes to contact the police and put the affaire on the newspapers' front pages.

But the Washington Post, always keeping us abreast of Secret Service men's sexual misbehavior, reports a different story: that one of the agents took a woman to his room during a late night party at the agents' hotel. The woman turned out to be a prostitute, something which the agent may or may not have known, and she demanded payment. The agent refused, the Post reports, and the woman caused a disturbance and complained to the hotel staff, who called the U.S. Embassy.

Legalizing prostitution would have lots of impacts, positive and negative. But on the positive side would be that the naughty behavior of a few Secret Service agents wouldn't risk overshadowing the important issues being discussed at one of the Western Hemisphere's most important events.

Meanwhile, those agents may be regretting being cheapskates, which will likely cost them dearly.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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