In Defense of Johns

by on August 7, 2014 at 2:58 am in Economics, Law, Medicine | Permalink

Jim Norton writing in Time:

…When I first began soliciting sex for money, it never occurred to me that some of them are possibly forced into prostitution or have abusive pimps. I must have known it deep down on an intellectual level, but hadn’t witnessed anything to confirm it.

Until I did.

The only experience I’ve had with an element of violence being present was driving on 48th Street in New York once and talking to a girl through my passenger window….As we were speaking, a van full of girls stopped and a guy who I assume was her pimp, bounced her across the hood of my car and threw her in the van.

This is why I’m a firm believer that prostitution should be legalized and pimps should be thrown down an elevator shaft.

Law enforcement stings designed to shame men who pay for sex are nothing more than the state blowing its own morality horn. Being a comedian who is single allows me a luxury most johns don’t have, which is the freedom to discuss the topic openly. And not from a ‘case study’ point of view, but from the honest point of view of someone who has spent the equivalent of a Harvard Law School education on purchasing sex.

By keeping prostitution illegal because we find it “morally objectionable,” we allow (or, more accurately, you allow) sex workers to constantly be put into dangerous situations. Studies have shown that rapes and STDs dropped drastically between 2003 and 2009 in Rhode Island after the state accidentally legalized it. The American Journal of Epidemiology showed that the homicide rate for prostitutes is 50 times higher than the next most dangerous job for a woman, working in a liquor store. You don’t need a Masters in sociology to understand it would be much safer for sex workers if they were permitted to work in places that provided adequate security. Legalizing prostitution would also alleviate the fear a sex worker may have about reporting the abusive behavior of a john out of fear of arrest.

…Give sex workers rights. Give johns a break.

1 dan1111 August 7, 2014 at 3:14 am

He has some nerve to blame the public and the reader for violence against women that illegal prostitution causes (“because we find it ‘morally objectionable,’ we allow (or, more accurately, you allow) sex workers to constantly be put into dangerous situations”), when he is doing more to support it than anybody.

Even if he is right that legal prostitution would be better, and even if he is right that there is nothing inherently objectionable about paying for sex, there is no reasonable defense of his actions given what he admits about the status quo.

He is basically saying “I am choosing to support a violent, abusive industry, and that is your fault.”

2 andrew' August 7, 2014 at 3:45 am

He is supporting legalization.

He is claiming the black market causes problems generally believed to be associated with black markets that would be reduced by elimination of the black market.

It is no more novel than marijuana legalization. What is novel is, as in the case of Kevin Smith for marijuana, to have someone discuss it openly.

3 chuck martel August 7, 2014 at 6:36 am

Isn’t the “black market” actually the “real market”?

4 dan1111 August 7, 2014 at 11:08 am

andrew’, I understand his argument; it is not this argument that is the problem. The problem is that the current reality is a highly exploitative black market (by his own admission) and he is choosing to support that.

Of course he is free to argue for legalized prostitution, but if he really cares about exploitation as he claims, he should stop supporting it.

5 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 1:12 pm

I am not sure he is supporting the part you think he is supporting.

6 It's legalish in Australia August 7, 2014 at 9:15 pm

And I am not sure it is his thinking part that is supporting it.

7 msgkings August 7, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Because of the internet there are a great many higher end prostitutes that don’t have pimps who work out of their homes or hotels. I doubt there’s nearly the risk for them. Of course, they cost significantly more than the rough trade you lean out of your car to hire.

This guy is just cheap.

8 rachael August 14, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Yeah, let’s just go ahead and put human beings on the same level as a plant. Because selling those two things is totally the same thing.

9 ShardPhoenix August 7, 2014 at 4:08 am

How does being a non-abusive, non-violent john support abuse or violence? If all the nice johns stayed away, would that actually help the majority of prostitutes?

10 Andrew M August 7, 2014 at 6:20 am

If nobody paid for sex, there would be no prostitutes.
If nobody bought marijuana, there would be no dealers.

Meanwhile, in the real world, quite a lot of people are willing to pay for these things, and quite a lot of people are willing to supply them.

11 Michael August 7, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Just because he’s outsourcing the violence, doesn’t mean he’s not complicit for funding it.

12 Pshrnk August 7, 2014 at 3:28 pm


13 Moreno Klaus August 7, 2014 at 6:23 am

His behaviour is morally reprehensible, but it is “your fault” as well. It is similar to the “war on drugs” stupidity. It is strange there are so many libertarians in this blog, but no one speaks up, when the state is actually intruding in people’s lives and enforcing some pseudo hypocritical morality (dont smoke dont do drugs, etc)…

14 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 8:26 am

What is hypocritical about opposing prostitution? This is not a wide spread activity by any means.

15 rvman August 7, 2014 at 9:29 am

It is a $15 Billion industry in the US. That is roughly the same revenue as architecture firms in the US. Worldwide about $186 Billion. The US has (roughly) 1 Million prostitutes – obviously many of those part-time, but still, “not wide spread” is a bit off.

16 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 10:43 am

So no actual proof about widespread use of prostitution. I’m not saying that a small number of sad men don’t spend a lot of money on hookers. Also a tiny number of highly successful men like Charlie sheen spend a lot of money on hookers. What you haven’t demonstrated is any evidence that prostitution is at all wide spread enough to render laws against prostitution hypocritical.

17 Dan Lavatan August 7, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Studies have shown about 20% of US men have used a prostitute at least once, including various National Institute of Justice reports. I don’t consider Mr. Sheen successful, although I agree he does spend a lot on women. What is hypocritical is if any of these people voted for a law or candidate who favored making or keeping prostitution illegal and we know from election/legislative data that is the case.

18 Das August 7, 2014 at 9:32 am

The hypocrisy lies in the fact that your society might just be the most sexualized society in human history yet you forbid the simple exchange of sex for money.

If you wanna forbid prostitution for ‘moral reasons’ without being hypocritical you can go on and forbid a hundred more things. I find watching just one afternoon of American television and listening to your music charts’ top ten (“bitc*es bitc*es, yo! suck my d*ck! yo yo riding my 15 sl*ts, yo yo bitc*es bitc*es” [fade in 15 basically naked 18 year olds]) morally more offensive than all the legal prostition on our side of the Atlantic.

19 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 10:37 am

Childish argument. Why can’t I smoke meth mom you already let me play video games and eat candy for breakfast. Why am I responsible for the sexualixed nature of American society?

20 dan1111 August 7, 2014 at 11:05 am

The problem here is that “society” is a collection of individuals with diverse views. “Society” can’t be a hypocrite; only individuals can be.

21 Urso August 7, 2014 at 11:46 am

The most popular song in America, 2014, goes like this:

“Because I’m happy; Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Because I’m happy; Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.”

22 dan1111 August 7, 2014 at 10:00 am

“It is ‘your fault’ as well”.

I’m not attacking his argument per se. I’m saying it’s hypocritical to criticize people who indirectly help create the situation, while excusing his own direct support for the situation.

23 Urso August 7, 2014 at 10:34 am

In fact, if one were cynical, one might imagine that the author of this article isn’t really concerned as about the prostitutes as much as he is about the johns.

If one were cynical.

24 msgkings August 7, 2014 at 9:56 pm

As I mentioned above, this cheap bastard should stop picking up street whores and hire ‘escorts’

25 Slocum August 7, 2014 at 10:17 am

If you look around even a little bit, you’ll find that U.S. libertarians are pretty consistently in favor of legalizing prostitution.

26 Art Deco August 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm

And obsessed with the drug laws. There’s a reason a Catholic wag says libertarianism is an ideology for people without children.

27 PeteM August 7, 2014 at 3:04 pm

When the truth is it’s an ideology for people who didn’t have to pay for their own college education!

28 msgkings August 7, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Great comment Art Deco

29 Student August 7, 2014 at 9:38 am

I dont understand why prostitutes dont just film their johns and post it on the internet. Then its not prostitution its pornography, which is legal.

Dan, you realize by your logic you support a violent industry (the defense industry) by paying taxes or investing in funds that own any share of those companies, right? You support a violent industry when you watch porn on the internet (but I suppose you never ever do that do you).

30 dan1111 August 7, 2014 at 10:58 am

“you realize by your logic you support a violent industry (the defense industry) by paying taxes”

Paying taxes is not voluntary, and choosing to support any government usually involves weighing good and bad and deciding whether it is a net benefit. So, it is not really equivalent at all.

The other two examples are analogous to some extent, given one’s view of the activity one is supporting.

31 Dan Lavatan August 7, 2014 at 10:38 pm

You could choose to obtain citizenship in a country that does not maintain an active military or that has no taxes that apply to you.

In any event, while use of prostitution might result in harm, it also benefits the legitimate sex workers by paying for their well being including food, medical care, etc. So the author clearly performed a cost-benefit analysis and decided he does more good than harm, a fact that is obvious to the casual observer.

32 The Original D August 7, 2014 at 2:44 pm

“I dont understand why prostitutes dont just film their johns and post it on the internet.”

Because then they can’t control who sees it. Parents, friends, future bosses etc

Not to mention the john would have to consent to it. I’m sure Eliot Spitzer would’ve been all for it. /s

33 andrew' August 7, 2014 at 3:59 am

The reason the reader bears some blame when the reader thinks they aren’t involved is because they aren’t involved. They tacitly tolerate policing and legal enforcement against something they have no stake in.

This legal intervention stops less than 100% of prostitution while ensuring that a full 100% of prostitution operates outside of the rest of the legal protection system.

This can be fixed. People seeking legal protections should not be persecuted when the legal system itself has created a bubble of anarchy around them.

34 chuck martel August 7, 2014 at 6:40 am

A “bubble of anarchy”?

35 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 1:12 pm


I’ll use whatever better phrase you like.

36 The Anti-Gnostic August 7, 2014 at 11:29 am

Aren’t black markets actually free markets? There’s nothing stopping the market actors from providing a safe, well-regulated space for their prostitutes. Surely that would be in all the participants’ longer-term interests.

This is where libertarians prove the conservatives’ point for them. Prostitution is bad because it attracts bad people, not because criminalization is bad policy.

Another little bit of reality was pointed out downstream: we don’t pass laws against prostitution for the benefit of women like Howard Sterling’s girlfriend.

37 China Cat August 7, 2014 at 11:43 am

That was artfully succinct.

38 Hasdrubal August 7, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Yes, black markets are free markets. What makes them black markets is that they don’t have access to the courts and other traditional intermediaries for contract disputes and other conflicts. So they have to provide their own methods of contract enforcement and dispute resolution. Violence is a much more credible method when the victim of the violence is also a criminal by definition, so the victim has much less incentive to go to the authorities for help.

Also, I beg to differ that “There’s nothing stopping the market actors from providing a safe, well-regulated space for their prostitutes.” If that were the case, stings at strip clubs and “massage parlors” wouldn’t be a thing. But those kinds of places do get raided, indeed there’s generally a big hullabaloo about it when they do. So, the criminalization of prostitution not only prevents access to normal conflict resolution services, it actively prevents some of the less violent and safer methods that might otherwise be available.

39 The Anti-Gnostic August 7, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Please identify for me what it is exactly that prevents participants in a black market from setting up non-violent procedures for conflict resolution. You seem to be agreeing with my point: bad people prevent it.

There are active drug markets at Harvard and at Burning Man, but we don’t read about drive-by shootings at those places. Why do you think that is?

40 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Government monopoly.

41 The Anti-Gnostic August 7, 2014 at 1:23 pm

People arbitrate conflicts outside the government’s monopoly on coercion all the time. That’s actually how the overwhelming majority of conflicts are resolved.

42 The Original D August 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm

“non-violent procedures for conflict resolution.”

Who will enforce it? Contracts for illegal activity are not enforceable.

43 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm

“People arbitrate conflicts outside the government’s monopoly on coercion all the time.”

This is like saying most of the time banks don’t need bailouts. In that, it is both true and completely false.

44 Turkey Vulture August 7, 2014 at 5:35 pm

People arbitrate disputes in the shadow of whatever enforcement system is theoretically available to them.

45 The Original D August 7, 2014 at 6:35 pm

“People arbitrate conflicts outside the government’s monopoly on coercion all the time”

That’s because there’s an implied higher authority – the legal system. Threatening to sue someone can be part of the arbitration process. If one party can just walk away from a contract, vigilante justice ensues.

46 Brian August 7, 2014 at 12:49 pm

“Aren’t black markets actually free markets?”

No, not in a meaningful way. They lack the legal framework of non-violent contract enforcement and property rights which are absolutely necessary for free markets.

“Prostitution is bad because it attracts bad people, not because criminalization is bad policy:”

“Alcohol production is bad because it attracts bad people, not because prohibition is bad policy.” Said someone I’m sure. There was nothing stopping the market actors from providing safe, well-regulated alcohol distribution networks for their customers. Surely that would have been in all the participant’s longer-term interests.

Or, could it be that its very illegality creates reduced supply and higher prices and thus large potential profits which might attract a criminal element willing to use violence to protect its interests in lieu of legally recognized property rights and enforceable contracts? And, that very lack of contract and property rights would tend to be a pretty strong barrier keeping those people concerned about safety and long-term interests away.

47 The Anti-Gnostic August 7, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Or, could it be that its very illegality creates reduced supply and higher prices and thus large potential profits which might attract a criminal element willing to use violence to protect its interests in lieu of legally recognized property rights and enforceable contracts?

That would be true for any scarce good or service. Would your legalization scheme work for hit men, or would hit men continue to be amoral sociopaths?

48 The Anti-Gnostic August 7, 2014 at 1:04 pm

tag closed.

49 Steve J August 7, 2014 at 2:21 pm

“Would your legalization scheme work for hit men”

Isn’t that against the most basic principles of libertarianism? Not sure where you are going with that…

50 The Original D August 7, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Not many people voluntarily enter into transactions in which they are killed as a result.

51 Nils August 7, 2014 at 5:05 am

One should not forget the experience of Germany though, where prostitution has been broadly legalized. What happened was that Germany turned into the ‘brothel of Europe’, with huge numbers of Eastern European women being trafficked to Germany and forced into prostitution. Now that it is legal, the police hardly ever investigates, and as long as the prostitutes don’t speak up – which of course most of the time they don’t do, for fear of their traffickers – there’s no way to get at the organizational structure of the whole thing. This has further lead to a resurgence of motorcycle gangs (Hells Angels, Bandidos) who have vastly expanded their sex operations.

I agree that the situation in the US is far from ideal, but it’s not immediately clear to me that the alternative of full legalization provides a better alternative.

52 andrew' August 7, 2014 at 5:28 am

Are the eastern prostitutes threatened with deportation if they turn state’s evidence?

53 prior_approval August 7, 2014 at 7:15 am


‘According to the federal police, authorities proactively identified 38 percent of all victims registered by the government in 2008. Authorities registered 676 sex trafficking victims and 96 forced labor victims in 2008, down from 689 sex trafficking victims and 101 forced labor victims identified in 2007. Formal victim referral mechanisms existed in 12 out of 16 German states. The government encouraged victims to cooperate in anti-trafficking investigations; however, police and NGOs reported that victims were often reluctant to assist law enforcement officials due to fear of retribution from traffickers. The government provided legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. Trafficking victims were provided a 30-day reflection period to decide whether to cooperate with investigators. Victims who agreed to act as witnesses were provided temporary residence permits for the duration of trial proceedings as well as long-term residence permits in certain circumstances, such as when the victim faced severe threats in the country of origin. The government reportedly did not penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The governmental German Institute for Human Rights in July 2009 began a $800,000 project to assist trafficking victims in claiming their financial rights in German courts, as few victims had made claims for financial compensation.’

54 Moreno Klaus August 7, 2014 at 6:25 am

Nils I find your statement very strange, i dont live far from Germany but i have never heard someone saying “germany is the brothel of europe”.

55 Axa August 7, 2014 at 7:09 am

If that human trafficking scheme, do you acknowledge half of the crime happens outside Germany borders? Spiegel have shown some cases of forced labor, but it would be great to find some data on what % of the total labor is forced. If prostitution is illegal, 100% of sex workers are abused, if it’s legalized and 25% of workers are abused……..that’s a improvement. It’s not right of course, but where the trend is going? Also, forced labor is a product of the system of legalized prostitution or is it a remaining practice before legalization?

56 prior_approval August 7, 2014 at 7:27 am

I live in Germany, and the term ‘Bordell Europas’ is bandied about occasionally in the press. The last major time it was used was with flat rate brothels – that’s right, pay a single fee (generally too cheap to imagine any source of labor but the exploited), and spend a day.

But then, before that, it was the Czech border that was the ‘Bordell Europas’ because it was so much cheaper to buy such services in the Czech Republic than in Germany.

And in the very early 1990s, a decade or two after Hamburg lost any claim to being a major commercial center of prostitution, Amsterdam was the ‘Bordell Europas’.

The term is pretty flexible, after all.

57 Axa August 7, 2014 at 8:03 am

I hate to admit it but PA is right 😉 Every place with a bordello is the prostitution capital of the world.

58 Thursday August 7, 2014 at 8:54 am

Everyone should read this article to see what legalized prostitution in Germany is like.

59 Axa August 7, 2014 at 10:27 am

The German model may have a problem.

“…the legalization of prostitution has two contradictory effects on the incidence of trafficking, a substitution effect away from trafficking and a scale effect increasing trafficking. The scale effect of legalizing prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market and thus an increase in human trafficking, while the substitution effect reduces demand for trafficked
prostitutes by favoring prostitutes who have legal residence in a country.” There’s no perfect data but it seems that after legalization the scale effect is greater than the substitution effect, overall more human trafficking/forced labor.

60 prior_approval August 7, 2014 at 11:30 am

Not that the article doesn’t contribute to a good overview of the German prostitution, but as is generally the case, the numbers seems extremely unreliable – ‘People think Amsterdam is the prostitution capital of Europe but Germany has more prostitutes per capita than any other country on the Continent, more even than Thailand: 400,000 at the last count, serving 1.2 million men every day.’

Make a simple assumption – that the number of men available as customers for female prostitutes is 30 million (excluding children, gay men, and those simply not desiring sex, thus excluding a quarter of all males in Germany). Resulting either in the fact that in less than a month, every potential male customer of female prostitutes has purchased such services. Or if one uses the idea that the actual potential number of male customers is 10 million, each of those customers are visiting prostitutes about 50 times a year.

The numbers just don’t add up at any realistic level, to be honest, when viewed through such a time frame lens.

61 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly August 7, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Or, y’know, sex tourists exist.

62 Jeff R. August 7, 2014 at 9:07 am

That’s hawt!

63 JC August 7, 2014 at 9:09 am

I think Europeans are way more open minded than most when it comes to prostitution. Many years ago, when I was 17 or 18 I visited the Netherlands for the first time and I was shocked how parents would take a walk with their kids in front a “window” with half-naked women offering their services. But the system seems to work well and prostitutes, as per numerous reports, are safer under such conditions.

It’s clear that current prohibition laws will not put and end to prostitution and do very little to protect sex workers. Maybe legalizing the trade is the way to go, it’s not like we’re talking about inventing the wheel… Europe is full of benchmarks.

64 Jon August 7, 2014 at 9:26 am

Don’t forget there is much human trafficing for other industries also; notably domestic work; but we don’t ban them.

One can legalize an industry without cutting resources towards enforcement of anti slavery laws.

65 Peter Schaeffer August 7, 2014 at 11:37 am


The situation in the United States is somewhat similar. We have large number of foreign women being brought into the United States for prostitution. Some are smuggled over the border. Others use a tourist visa to gain entry and just stay. Some are directly controlled by violent and abusive brothel operators. However, many (probably most) are not. They are quite free to come and go as they please, and are not under the control of, or threatened by anyone, in the United States… The caveat is that their families are frequently under a death threat in their own countries. In many cases, the girls are working in the U.S. to pay off family debts back home. Sadly, many of the girls are slaves of a different sort. They are addicted to one drug or another. Only a minority are truly free.

Would legalization help? The results might end up more like Germany.

Note that the U.S. government (Federal) does not make a major effort to prosecute prostitutes, brothel operators, etc. even when the girls are of foreign origin (illegally present in the United States). Conversely, violent and abusive trafficking cases are subject to much more intensive investigation and criminal penalties. Does it still go on in the United States? Yes.

66 The Original D August 7, 2014 at 2:49 pm

The vast majority of human trafficking is not for sex work. Trafficking is a different kind of problem involving different types of laws.

67 Legalize and regulate August 8, 2014 at 12:51 am

The US should legalize prostitution, but it should also *gasp* regulate it. I see no problem with a law that requires prostitutes to be citizens to help prevent trafficking.

68 Adrian Turcu August 7, 2014 at 5:23 am

“ith huge numbers of Eastern European women being trafficked to Germany and forced into prostitution ”
You know this how?

69 J. Srnec August 7, 2014 at 7:54 am

“. . . it never occurred to me that some of them are possibly forced into prostitution or have abusive pimps.”

Yet shame on us for allowing this situation? My grandmother’s supposed to know this about prostitution when the johns don’t?

70 Mike W August 7, 2014 at 8:48 am

We don’t “allow” it, prostitution is illegal…and where legalization has been tried it hasn’t seemed to reduce the incidence of exploitation or abuse. So should I feel “shame” that this situation exists? Provide another better alternative and I’m all for it. How about if society accepted and made it clear that engaging in prostitution is a choice and the risks and consequences will be borne by those who choose to sell…or buy…sex?

71 J. Srnec August 7, 2014 at 10:01 am

I was responding to the quotation posted by Alex.

72 Brandon August 7, 2014 at 10:34 am

That’s a remarkably naive statement that he made, anyway. Like, so naive I can’t believe a grown man would have actually not realized that before becoming a john.

73 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 3:01 pm

The main point is that he only saw it one time. Like you finding out something you had bought for years or decades wasn’t fair trade. The point that you don’t see it means it is or isn’t a big problem.

I would bet that it isn’t a large part of prostitution. We should wonder “why are there pimps?” My guess would be that the pimp starts out as protection (of territory, competition, and from other pimps), then evolves into the protection racket, and finally exploitation.

Is there competition between pimps? Why would women choose bad pimps? Well, since there is no resort to the legal system, violent pimps probably displace non-violent pimps. You are left with the high testosterone alpha sociopaths who will protect their turf ruthlessly and take a few liberties along the way. Just my guess.

74 Peter Schaeffer August 7, 2014 at 11:40 am

J. Smec,
You have to blind, deaf, and dumb not to know that street girls have a rough life. A few folks might be so isolated that they have never heard of such a thing. A John picking up girls in a city? Make that deliberately blind, deaf, and dumb.

75 China Cat August 7, 2014 at 11:52 am

To channel Upton Sinclair: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his gratification depends on his not understanding it.

76 Peter Schaeffer August 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm



77 China Cat August 9, 2014 at 9:12 am

Peter Schaeffer,

Thank you. I think your posts are great.

78 Dan B. August 7, 2014 at 8:51 am

The Internet, at least in a major city I am aware of, has pretty much killed off the pimps. Any girl can run an ad on They do not need a pimp to solicit customers, or beat up other prostitutes who invade “their corner.”

Anyway, prostitution should be legalized. Along with polygamy. And wide open immigration.

Rome, where we come!

79 Das August 7, 2014 at 9:41 am

You are already there.

80 Michael August 7, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I’m certainly no expert on the practice, but I always thought the purpose of pimps was not to solicit, nor to discourage competition, but to ensure that Johns paid up and did not abuse the women. Notice that the Internet doesn’t really solve either of these problems. My working assumption is that pimps still exist in the online business, but Hollywood hasn’t made a movie about it, so we don’t realize they’re there.

81 Dan B. August 8, 2014 at 3:03 am

Now you tell me. Man, does my head hurt, And I think my right arm may need a sling.

82 Steven Kopits August 7, 2014 at 8:58 am

As ever, a quick search of the internet provides an academic’s view of the matter:

83 Mike W August 7, 2014 at 9:40 am

From the paper: Escorts interviewed by sociologist Tanice Foltz took pride in their work and viewed themselves as morally superior to others: “They consider women who are not ‘in the life’ to be throwing away woman’s major source of power and control, while they as prostitutes are using it to their own advantage as well as for the benefit of society.”

So, the objection to prostitution would seem to be from men who just don’t want to give up that power…or pay for sex.

84 dan1111 August 7, 2014 at 11:17 am

“So, the objection to prostitution would seem to be from men who just don’t want to give up that power…or pay for sex.”

Ideological Turing Test failed.

85 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 9:04 am

What is wrong with shaming men who pay for sex? And do we really sham all men who pay for sex, Charlie sheen didn’t seem to ashamed? It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to know that this john’s concern is 99.5% being exposed as the type of guy that can’t get sex without paying and maybe .5% about violence against prostitutes. That’s the real hypocrisy.

86 Steve-O August 7, 2014 at 1:04 pm

He wrote an op-ed and has appeared on numerous broadcasts discussing use of prostitutes yet you think he’s motivated by fear of being exposed as someone who can’t get sex without paying?

Also, I’m guessing he can get plently of sex without paying, given the number of drunken women who are attracted to celebrity who attend his shows.

87 TheATeam August 7, 2014 at 9:21 am

So this man outs himself as someone who pays for sex but somehow his main concern is not being exposed as someone who pays for sex?

88 TheATeam August 7, 2014 at 9:22 am

Should have been in reply to Sam Haysom @ 9:04.

89 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 10:40 am

“Law enforcement stings designed to shame men who pay for sex are nothing more than the state blowing its own morality horn.”

Sure sounds like it. Look I can’t be responsible for his bad arguments. I’m already responsible for hookers getting beat up by their pimps apparently.

90 Dan Lavatan August 7, 2014 at 10:46 pm

I don’t infer that from the article. His objection is that the state interferes with his civil liberties. If he were caught using a courtesan, the state would arrest him and take some of his wealth, reducing his ability to conduct personal business and pursue happiness. If he resisted going to jail they would shoot him. He also has to expend energy not getting caught.

For example, I don’t believe speed limits are constructive and I don’t care who knows it, but I still get annoyed when officers interfere with my sovereign right to travel. I consider anyone who supports such restrictions to be quite petty.

91 er August 7, 2014 at 10:16 am

look what i found:

worth reading throughout

92 Steve J August 7, 2014 at 10:18 am

Can someone explain why legalized prostitution uses slavery more than other legal services? Is it a supply and demand problem?

93 Mike W August 7, 2014 at 10:50 am

It doesn’t.

LIE: Most or nearly all prostitutes are controlled by pimps and forced to work.
TRUTH: In nearly every stable modern society [which would seem to include those where it is legal as well as those where it is illegal], the rate of coercion for adult prostitutes is about 2% or less, and for underage ones about 8-10%; this is roughly the same as the rate of non-sex-working women who report an abusive or controlling boyfriend or husband.

94 Steve J August 7, 2014 at 11:14 am

Do you think the articles claiming increased human trafficking in Germany as a result of legalization are incorrect? The politicians of Sweden, Norway, Iceland criminalized buying sex in an attempt to reduce sex trafficking.

95 Mike W August 7, 2014 at 11:39 am

I think there is no political cost and positive political benefit for politicians to claim they are addressing trafficking by criminalizing all prostitution.

96 The Anti-Gnostic August 7, 2014 at 11:16 am

I’m curious about the “slavery” allegations. I assume pimps aren’t raiding the shores of the Adriatic and carting them off to Germany. Are they promised “jobs” and then, when they get there, they find out they’re prostitutes? Why not walk to the nearest police station? Or do they keep them under 24/7 lock-and-key–wouldn’t that be kind of difficult? Are their families back home under blackmail from gangs?

97 Steve J August 7, 2014 at 11:31 am

I agree and wonder as Mike W suggests if it is a real problem at all. But certainly there are well meaning people who believe it is a problem. An idea for how prostitution might increase slavery is the natural price for sex may be higher than the average john can afford.

98 Art Deco August 7, 2014 at 10:43 am

A debauchee wants his bad behavior legitimized and a claque of libertarians say rah! rah!. Gets to be a bore after a while.

99 Mike W August 7, 2014 at 10:53 am

A prude wants harmless behavior banned and a claque of religious fundamentalists and feminists say rah! rah!. That’s been boring for a long time.

100 The Anti-Gnostic August 7, 2014 at 11:18 am

Would it be a matter of total indifference to you if your daughter or niece got into this “harmless” line of work?

101 Steve J August 7, 2014 at 11:37 am

It is interesting to me that we always ask about the daughter or niece rather than the son or nephew. If sex was viewed the same way for both men and women would there be any problem with prostitution? I am a person who believes if men had babies abortions would be offered at gas stations so clearly I am biased.

102 Urso August 7, 2014 at 11:53 am

You think people wouldn’t be embarrassed if their son was a prostitute?

103 The Anti-Gnostic August 7, 2014 at 11:57 am

A son or nephew would likely be a homosexual prostitute, which is a very small percentage of the population. Hence, it’s not the example that most readily comes to mind. But yes, I would be quite troubled by a male family member in this totally harmless, victimless, purely consensual line of work.

Gigolos are ridiculous and objects of scorn, which is why very, very few sexually desirable men are engaged in it. Also, men are physically stronger and less emotionally vulnerable, which is why we don’t read about “pimps” for gigolos.

I am a person who believes if men had babies abortions would be offered at gas stations so clearly I am biased.

If sperm were as scarce as ova, we’d be debating masturbation laws. But here in Reality Land, men don’t have the babies.

104 Steve J August 7, 2014 at 12:06 pm

“But here in Reality Land, men don’t have the babies.”

It is never a good idea to run thought experiments. That would require, you know, thought.

“If sperm were as scarce as ova, we’d be debating masturbation laws.”

I wouldn’t base my morality on things that can be changed by technology. But that’s just me.

105 Steve J August 7, 2014 at 2:12 pm

“You think people wouldn’t be embarrassed if their son was a prostitute?”

Of course. My question is more along the lines of why do we have different expectations on sexual behavior for women? This question will become much more interesting when ectopic pregnancies (test tube babies) become the norm.

106 HL August 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm

“My question is more along the lines of why do we have different expectations on sexual behavior for women?”

Women have the scarcity in this instance. It affects their economic rationale.

107 Steve J August 7, 2014 at 4:27 pm

“Women have the scarcity in this instance.”

This is exactly the part I don’t understand. It seems like men should encourage women to be more sexually active. Yet my impression is we do the opposite with our policies on birth control.

108 Mike W August 7, 2014 at 11:41 am

She’s an investment banker but she tells people she is a call girl.

109 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 3:04 pm

If your daughter or niece did it would you want her imprisoned?

110 The Original D August 7, 2014 at 6:12 pm

No, but I wouldn’t want her to move to Hollywood and try to make it as a star either. As long as she takes care of herself — something legalization would greatly enhance — her life decisions are hers to make.

111 Art Deco August 7, 2014 at 11:55 am

A prude wants harmless behavior banned

And a libertarian does not realize that he lives in a commons very likely to be trashed without proper ground rules. This is a bore as well.

112 Ken August 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm

That’s a rather broad definition of “commons” that would justify regulation of all human behavior. I don’t see how a prostitute soliciting clients via the internet for services in private has any detrimental effect on the “commons” under the typical definition of that word.

113 Ken August 7, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Also, come to think of it, the solution to the tragedy of the commons is not to regulate use of the commons, but rather apportion property rights to encourage efficient use. The allegory doesn’t apply to questions of public morals.

114 Art Deco August 7, 2014 at 1:59 pm

You have no choice to ‘apportion property rights’. Life is lived socially, every social relationship has knock-on effects on every other, and there are not many equilibria.

Switching metaphors, you can live in a well constructed house (and that’s going to require inhibition and principle) or you can live in a ruin. The former prevailed more-or-less up to 1958. Now you’ve got the latter (an people proposing to crap wherever they please in the ruins).

115 Steve J August 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Art Deco you seem to be saying things have gotten worse since 1958. My impression is things are significantly better. What are you referring to?

116 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Yeah. The drug war and other vice wars have knock-on effects too.

Talking dismissively in vague hypothetical bromides is a bore.

117 Art Deco August 7, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Art Deco you seem to be saying things have gotten worse since 1958


118 Ed August 7, 2014 at 10:46 am

Are there any goods other than sex where its legal to give or receive the good as a gift, but illegal to charge money for it?

119 Urso August 7, 2014 at 11:52 am

Plenty. Political votes, jobs, witness testimony (although the state can offer certain non-monetary benefits in exchange for testimony). Technically none of these are “goods” but neither is sex of course.

120 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Sex is pretty damn good.

121 Mrs Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Says who?

122 msgkings August 7, 2014 at 10:10 pm


Also we forgot one of Alex’s bugaboos: organs are giftable but not vendable

123 msgkings August 7, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Probably should have specified: human organs. The musical ones you can sell all day.

124 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 10:51 am

The most revealing bit is how after whining about the shame and indignity of it all he still can’t cleave himself from traditional morality enough to let married men get into the hooker enjoying game. Have some courage of your antinomian convictions Jim. Don’t just transparently seek a carve out of your particular vice. If prostituion is fine then so is adultery why should adulterers be shamed. Theocrats like Jim Norton have no place in our libertarian utopia. If it feels good do it.

125 Mike W August 7, 2014 at 10:56 am

The difference is that adulterers are violating a contract that they willingly entered into.

126 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 11:01 am

Lame. You lost this red herring argument the second no fault divorce came into effect. No other contract can be dissolved by only one party with no cause.

Moreover, Where in the marriage contract is adultery forbidden. You sound like a theocrat. Get your Old Testament theocracy out of the backseat of my Honda Accord.

127 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Government marriage is (or should be) about how to split assets and custody. Pre-nups and specifics would be outstanding if government could be relied on to enforce them. My guess is that they don’t because it doesn’t benefit the people who decide.

128 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Take it up with Mike he thinks a marriage contract prohibits adultery.

129 Turkey Vulture August 8, 2014 at 12:35 am

“No other contract can be dissolved by only one party with no cause.”

Absolutely false. Many contracts contain language specifically allowing one or either Party to terminate the contract, without cause, typically with some notice (30, 60, 90, 180 days). I was just looking at one a few hours ago.

130 Ken August 7, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I think you’re missing the point about his reference to unmarried men. He made that particular aside to avoid discussing the morality of married men visiting prostitutes – that question is irrelevant to his argument, and ultimately a distraction.

Moreover, it’s perfectly coherent to believe that there is nothing immoral about an unmarried person’s hiring of a prositutue, but that it is immoral for a married person to do so without the consent of one’s spouse. Sort of the harm principle applied to relationships.

131 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 3:05 pm

What harm? Adultery neither breaks the wife’s arm nor picks her pocket. Abstract claims to harm make no sense according to the libertarian ethos. Show me specific harm or realize you are just a redneck fundamentalist looking to impose his values on society. Why should society be in the business of policing a spouses behavior? See traditional morality isn’t so easily dispensed with is it? Would that libertarians had thought this through.

132 Andrew' August 7, 2014 at 3:14 pm

It isn’t that hard. We can talk about whether it is fraud or breach of contract. Or we can talk about how the state does a piss poor job of it already even under the guise that they are supposed to.

133 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Or we can talk about how adultery is in no way shape or form construed as a breach of contract. Why do you want to pretend it is? How about this you and your libertarian buddies repeal no fault divorce and make adultery actionable in criminal court and then we can talk about legalizing hookers. No desert before dinner.

134 Ken August 7, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Sigh. Libertarianism is not an ethos, it’s a political philosophy/ideology that generally holds that favors permitting voluntary and reducing government coercion. One can be a libertarian, favor removing the legal prohibition to prostitution, yet still believe the practice is degrading and harmful to society. You seem to assume that removing the legal prohibition to an act is endorsing the act itself.
Reading your comments, you’re deliberately obtuse in refusing to understand the argument against your position. Instead, you attempt to portray libertarians as unthinking, uncritical libertines. You’re displaying the worst tendencies of the Fox News/MSNBC tactic of misrepresenting your opponents’ arguments. You must be a blast at Thanksgiving.

135 Ken August 7, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Gah, I should stop writing comments on my phone.

136 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Sigh you are unfortunately someone who is used to dominating a conversation purely by will being forced to argue on the actual principles of logic and floundering. You invoked the harm principle. I correctly pointed out that that is a red herring because libertarians don’t accept the idea of abstract harm. As you demonstrated this isn’t out if any kind of philosophical principles but because it was a weaselly way to evade issues like the harm to commons argument that Art Deco brought up above. Do you have an actual argument or just name calling. Because right now you are embodying all the worst traits of the weed uber alles if I feels good do it nihilism of a Reason editor. The deliberate obtuseness is on your part. I’m fully aware that something can hypothically by decriminalized and yet remain stigmatized. There aren’t any actually good examples of this which should count against the argument but whatever. Smoking is a perfect example of the reverse dialectic namely that stigmatization if it is allows to persist inevitably leads to a restrictions. So you will have to forgive for seeing through the libertarian we will legalize but pinky swear we will keep stigmatizing feint because illigent libertarians understand that stigmatization is the first step to criminalization.

137 Thomas August 8, 2014 at 3:51 am

“libertarians don’t accept the idea of abstract harm”

– The harm isn’t abstract
– Libertarians are not a uniform bloc, despite your rant to the contrary
– Some/most libertarians do explicitly support concepts of abstract harm given their preference for a court based system of punishment vice pre-emptive regulation. “Pain and Suffering”

Lastly, one must truly appreciate the rage that you are unable to stop at the mere suggestion of the loosening of some regulations. After all, how can one be vicarious dictator, if there is no dictator, right?

138 S August 7, 2014 at 10:54 am

Most likely pimps would not disappear, instead we would call them club owners. And hos would pay them some % of their nightly pull to work there, in the exact same way strippers do now.

139 S August 7, 2014 at 10:57 am

Then, of course, there will be the nasty cracked out hos that no club wants, not even for the day shift, and they will continue to work the streets, and we will continue to call their pimps “pimps”.

140 Michael August 7, 2014 at 3:27 pm


That Guardian article linked above implies this is exactly what is happening in Germany.

141 Sam Haysom August 7, 2014 at 11:04 am

I’ve got the solution let’s legalize the sale of sex but not it’s purchase. That way Jim Norton can visit whores with a clean conscience. Of course he won’t be able to whore around without fear that the whore he just paid won’t immediately turn around and narc on him. But like Jim says we must protect the prostitutes.

142 Thomas August 8, 2014 at 3:52 am

Let’s face it, you would never use the term whore when discussing prostitutes with your liberal friends. You mad?

143 anonymous August 8, 2014 at 6:53 am

This is the legal situation in Sweden and Norway.

I don’t know of a source for statistical comparison with Germany, but certainly there continue to be severe problems with trafficking and forced prostitution, as well as addiction and abuse.

Despite the occasional purported blog from a happy high-end hooker, the prostitute population seems to consist essentially of the desperate, destitute and dysfunctional.

Despite prostitution nominally being a completely ordinary regulated tax-paying profession in Germany, it’s not really. There was a huge outcry when it turned out that a German woman who refused to interview for a brothel job (being offered though the local unemployment office — just like any employer, since it’s a perfectly ordinary job, right) was threatened with loss of unemployment benefits for refusing to work. Surely she would not have found such support if she had refused to consider a position as a cleaner, or an elder care worker…

144 desihorn August 7, 2014 at 11:35 am

I have been accessing MR on Chrome as long as I can remember and sometime around last month there was no link to comments. Just for testing, I came over to IE and lo and behold there they are. Did something change ?

145 Peter Schaeffer August 7, 2014 at 11:45 am


Welcome to the Internet. Actually welcome to the wide world of browsers, HTML5, CSS, JavaScript. It’s a mess and well known to be a mess. These days you need to have several browsers accessible. My choices are Firefox and IE. Just one isn’t enough.

146 Brandon August 7, 2014 at 12:36 pm

no problem for me on chrome

147 mhowell August 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm

I had never heard of Jim Norton till a few weeks ago. Then I caught his keynote speech at a Comedian’s Convention in Montreal on Sirius. Entertaining mix of both introspection and humor. Now he’s got a talk show gig on that just crushes the tired conventions of network and cable fare. This article just adds to his repertoire. He’s a self-admitted train wreck speaking out on behalf of all the other train wrecks in the world.

148 Pete August 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm

We’ve decriminalised prostitution here in NZ and it seems to be working rather well

Greatest good for the most people and all that

A recent sign of health was a working girl successfully sued the brothel owner for sexual harrasment.
Admittedly an island nation has an advantage when it comes to limiting trafficking, but to all those opposed to making sex for sale work I would say this- It’s the oldest profession for a reason and it’s not going away anytime soon so how about we minimise misery and make things better for all involved?
Screw ideological consistency, I’m interested in what works best on the ground

149 Dan King August 7, 2014 at 5:47 pm

There is a lot more about the economics of the sex trade here:

150 JC August 8, 2014 at 1:01 am

I favor legalizing prostitution but Canada has legal prostitution and they still have prostitutes being murdered (see Willie Picton) and being destroyed by the drugs prostitution pays for.

151 The Other Jim August 8, 2014 at 9:29 am

Why, this just sounds like an anecdote.

I don’t see how it can stand up to what a comedian says he saw one day.

152 JC August 8, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Prostitution is moving off the streets and on to the Internet. No street walkers means fewer pimps and harder targets for serial killers. The street walkers who remain will be those too stupid or dis-organized (addled by drugs) to sell themselves over the Internet. The prostitution market has been segmented for at least ten years with most prostitution moving indoors. Generally, only the johns who are low income or who get an extra thrill from picking a girl up off the street are still using street walkers.

153 The Other Jim August 8, 2014 at 9:28 am

What’s it going to take to kill that bogus Rhode Island factoid?

Can we throw it down an elevator shaft?

154 Terri August 8, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Violent pimp says, “No means yes!”
Violent cop says, “Yes means no!”

Two sides of one coin.

155 Simeon August 10, 2014 at 1:30 am

So he’s saying, “In all likelihood, I’ve raped dozens of women. Somebody ought to do something about that. But not in a way that might affect me.”

156 Jesse August 16, 2014 at 10:44 am

You Call that a Defense?

If Jim Norton thought he was going to be an advocate for the legalization – or even decriminalization – of prostitution or sex work in literally any country with his article in Time magazine, he has not only fallen short of the mark…he has made a strong case for why we should encourage law enforcement to focus even more efforts to arrest the buyers of sexual services and insist that they attend one of the many John Schools that are popping up throughout the country.

Before you dismiss my comments as that of a sex-work-hating-rhetoric-spewing member of the anti-trafficking movement that has become drunk on the fear mongering liquor they liberally dispense throughout the country, understand first that I speak from both the experiences of the sex industry worker and the advocates for the women who want out of the sex trade. I supported the concept of John Schools long before they regained popularity and mutated from efforts to educate and inform to an agenda to shame and penalize. I also understand – as Mr. Norton clearly does not – that the reasons for a woman to engage in Sex Work range from those that truly enjoy the work and the financial remuneration the receive, to those who are forced into the trade by circumstance, perceived cultural norms and a lack of opportunity to support themselves in any other way.

Additionally – the National Day of Johns was indeed a parade of sorts – for law enforcement to crack down on juveniles who were being prostituted, multiple cases of physical and psychological abuse and the ever present abuse of power – including a border patrol agent trying to buy sex in full uniform as well as a mother who was selling her 15 year old daughter for sex. The issues of sex addiction, and ritualistic compulsions – as Mr. Norton proudly claims to be paying a therapist to address – are also paraded in this 15 state sweep where they arrested a “daddy” soliciting the services of a prostitute with his new baby in his back seat. Wow. Who is exactly is your therapist Mr. Norton? If tallying the dollar amount is the only recommendation this therapist has to make to have you account for your behavior, you might want to check the validity of their license.

Mr. Norton also claims to be “extraordinarily loving and comfortable” towards the prostitutes he charms through the passenger window of his car. And he worries about violent behavior like rapes and homicides but did nothing when – during one of his “gentle and intimate” sexual service shopping expeditions he witnessed a woman bounced across the hood of his car and tossed into a van filled with more women. How exactly would he recommend this – or any other – pimp get :thrown down an elevator shaft” if Mr. Norton didn’t take a single action to alert authorities that he personally witnessed a violent kidnapping and did nothing?!? Way to take a stand Mr. Norton! I’m sure sex workers everywhere are taking up the mantle of legalization based on your action in hopes that they will be protected from violence in this manner. Perhaps you should volunteer to attend a local John School curriculum so that you could gain some understanding of how far off the mark your defense of johns actually is. It is not the legalization of prostitution that needs to be addressed here – it is the attitude created by those such as yourself that the woman who was bounced across the hood of your car didn’t deserve an anonymous call to the police with the license plate of the van in question. You display – by your lack of action – that this woman was of No Worth. Disposable. An antidote for a comedy bit.
Mr. Norton goes on to self-righteously claim that it is the society who is at fault for the prostitute being put in dangerous situations and quote studies that suggest that Rapes and STD’S would be reduced across the board if legalization of prostitution were to be signed into law when in fact this action would only legitimize the pimp and do nothing to protect the prostitute. Legalizing prostitution would not provide health insurance and a retirement package for the prostitute nor would it encourage her to report a violent crime against her person. Just exactly how do you see the “security” being “adequate” in places of legalized prostitution when the majority of violence would occur by the very providers of the security? It is the short-sighted, self-centered point of view of the john that continues to trip up the criminal and social justice system where sex work is concerned. You are not entitled to buy sex out of the passenger window of your car as if it were a Happy Meal of sorts and “giving johns a break” has never really been the central issue when the subject comes up.

Prostitution and Sex Work are complicated issues that demand sensitive and prolonged thought when considering solutions. Prostitution and Sex Work is not the same as Sex Trafficking but there is no clear delineation that both sides of the issue can agree on to make a law – or series of laws – that provide for the variety of needs that arise from the men and women – and indeed children – who work within the sex trade whether by free and fully informed choice or force, fraud and coercion.

Johns like Mr. Horton, who troll for paid sex indiscriminately in neighborhoods where poverty, hunger and homelessness are the primary economic factors that drive this facet of the sex trade can and should expect to be demonized and arrested posthaste. They are a danger to the community and they have no dog in this fight. There is a gap the size of the Grand Canyon when it comes to the difference between a john who discreetly seeks out the company of an independent responsible sex worker who is informed and over 21 and is willing to undergo a certain amount of screening and what Mr. Horton describes as his ritualistic addictive behavior to entice whomever might be working a corner under a streetlight.

Mr. Horton’s call to “give johns a break” is enough to confirm the need for education and information about sex work, prostitution and sex trafficking through a john school format. And if they have to be arrested in order to receive this information and behave in a socially responsible manner, then so be it.

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