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September 27, 2004


Julian Elson

Do you think that the government should mandate frequent health inspections for STDs for these women? Maybe just mandate such inspections if she's to maintain a certain health status certification, but not prohibit her from working if she doesn't (albeit with fewer and more nervous customers)? (some, like genital warts, can be spread while condoms are in use, and some STDs take a while (weeks) to be detectable with tests.) Or just caveat emptor? I wouldn't mind the latter if it weren't for the fact that so many of these particular emptors also happened to be husbands who had sex with their wives. Since you've periodically written on AIDS, I assume that these matters haven't failed to cross your mind. Of course, if you're interested in preventing the spread of STDs, the current system of banned and driven-underground prostitution probably isn't exactly great either.

Abiola Lapite

As STDs are communicable, and potentially fatal in the case of at least two (Syphilis and AIDS), they do provide unusually strong grounds for wishing to see the profession regulated. That said, there is always the danger that regulation might prove so onerous that sex workers might be driven into the black market to avoid it, as has been the case in some parts of Europe. People might also wish to avoid having their names written down in some government book as practicing a trade that carries infamia in the public mind.

Another complicating factor is that the husbands cheating on their wives scenario isn't really all that compelling once thought of in a slightly different light. A man who goes to a bath-house or to gay circuit parties would also be exposing his partner(s) to undisclosed sexual risks, but most people would be up in arms were anyone to suggest that those who partake in such activities be mandatorily subjected to AIDS tests. Why should it be any different with heterosexuals? It isn't as if money itself is the vector for disease, so the justification for singling out such transactions is unclear.

Probably the best outcome one can hope for is that as with the pornography industry, we'll see the emergence of voluntary codes of conduct that mandate certain safety procedures, with those who abide by them getting to display the "approved by XXX" seal to command higher prices. Better that at least some prostitutes abide by such a code of conduct than the current situation where none of them do.

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