The free thinking argument, that blows away the notion of illegal prostitution, is that of pornography. Pornography, or porn, is nothing more than prostitution that has been state-sanctioned, taxed, filmed, and distributed. However, because it is taxed — politicians have generally left it alone — until recently.
This month, four Republican congressmen sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr, demanding the Department of Justice use obscenity laws to to "declare the prosecution of obscene pornography a criminal justice priority," and "bring prosecutions against the major producers and distributors of such material." The representatives are calling for this under the guise of reducing child porn — which is already illegal and prosecuted — but they are using this fear to go after regular, legal porn as well.
Child pornography is a horrifying problem worldwide. Not a day goes by that we don't hear of multiple arrests of individuals consuming and producing it. Many times, those who are caught with it are in positions of authority like police officers, state senators, judges, and other officials. Sadly, many of the government-affiliated consumers of child porn barely receive so much as a slap on the wrist when they are caught with it, which is a huge problem. Regular, legal, consensual porn, on the other hand, is not a problem, yet these federal employees want to go after it.
The letter — signed by Jim Banks of Indiana, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, and Brian Babin of Texas — and provided to the National Review, reminds the DOJ of Donald Trump's campaign promise to enforce obscenity laws against the porn industry.
“The Internet and other evolving technologies are fueling the explosion of obscene pornography by making it more accessible and visceral,” the representatives write. “This explosion in pornography coincides with an increase in violence towards women and an increase in the volume of human trafficking as well as child pornography.”
In the letter, the legislators claim that online porn has coincided with a rise in violence against women, teens who watch porn are more likely to engage in risky behavior, porn is uniquely addictive, and that it increases human trafficking.
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While these claims may seem like reason for concern, they are either misleading, or entirely false. The last several decades have seen a decrease in violent crimes against women and studies show that porn is actually decreasing rape. Also, as Reason points out, the proliferation of online porn and minors' easy access to it has coincided with a significant drops in just about every negative outcome connected to young people and sex.
What's more, there is no evidence that porn is uniquely addictive, meaning that those addicted to porn appear to suffer from the same psychological propensity toward addiction that leads to other compulsive behaviors.
The final claim of porn leading to human trafficking is outright offensive. The overwhelming evidence shows that prohibition of the sex trade is what leads to violence and human trafficking. Just like the war on drugs creates crime by pushing the unending demand for illicit substances into the black market, the war on the sex trade creates crime in the same manner.
Because the demand for sex is pushed into dark alleys and late night street corners, a woman working in the sex trade becomes far more vulnerable than if they were legally allowed to operate out of brick and mortar setups. This danger of working on the street drives the need for protection from pimps who are often more abusive than any customer would be. If a ban on prostitution has created such a mess, imagine the horrifying implications of a ban on porn. Demand for it would not go away. Instead, organized crime would take it over and the standard legal protections against violence and exploitation would go out the window.
As Elizabeth Brown points out, "the internet has fueled a resurgence in a once-dormant porn panic. But the internet hasn't just enabled more porn access; it has allowed a much more diverse porn landscape, one that features more diverse body types and sexualities and where independent adult entertainers and content creators have more control over their income, image, and work conditions than ever before. There's still much room for improvement, but declaring a new war on obscenity would only set that work back."