On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) held a debate in the Black Ballroom about the possibility of legalizing prostitution in the United States. Many students attended, eager to learn about the topic and the multiple arguments that are currently being discussed across nation. Members of PAC, St. Olaf Students Against Slavery (SOLAS) and the St. Olaf debate team attended and contributed to the event.
Kathryn Ravey ’16, the president of SOLAS, gave an opening speech to provide the audience with background knowledge on the topic. The debate team then gave information on both sides of the issue, helping the audience form personal opinions on the matter. The team made sure to communicate that the positions argued were not necessarily the opinions of the debaters and that they were arguing both for and against the legalization of prostitution to help the audience understand why this topic is in question.
Ravey, a sociology and anthropology major with a concentration in women and gender studies, believes that prostitution should not be legalized. As the president of SOLAS, she has dedicated a lot of time and effort to discussing similar issues, as well as educating others about the many dimensions of these dilemmas.
Both her classes and her experience as an intern with Breaking Free, a St. Paul organization that supports sex trafficking victims, have informed Ravey’s anti-legalization position.
“[Legalization would only aid] a very select few of those [who] are in prostitution,” Ravey said. “It would do a huge disservice to those who are in sex trafficking, and I fundamentally, personally, disagree with the fact that you can sell a person.”
The St. Olaf debate team formed two teams of students to argue both for and against legalization, presenting important and relevant perspectives. The pro-legalization team high- lighted that the appeal of legalization lies in the possibility of protecting the lives and rights of prostitutes nationwide, a perspective that many do not consider when thinking about this issue.
“We weren’t arguing that prostitu- tion is a good thing,” Maddie Sabin ’17 said. “Rather, what we attempted to focus on was that legalizing pros- titution would be better than turn- ing a blind eye to the illegal practice that is happening now, and that it is more feasible to at least provide some standard of living for those who are forced into prostitution or who are working in prostitution as opposed to sweeping it under the rug.”
The pro-legalization argument maintained that the regulation of prostitution could lead to improved safety, security and health benefits for the women and men involved in the industry. The hope for potential legalization is that it would decrease rates of sexually transmitted infections, rape, abuse, coercion and maltreatment of prostitutes.
The anti-legalization perspective echoed the concerns Ravey voiced in her opening speech.
“One of the main points was talking about the implementation [of legalized prostitution] and how that would be pretty difficult to do nationwide,” Carly Fitzgerald ’18 said. “It may not prevent the coercion and abuse that is involved in prostitution.”
Besides the argument that legalizing prostitution would not stop illegal transactions, they also communicated that a much better approach would be to provide social services and rehabilitation opportunities to the women in the industry as well as to those attempting to escape it. This course of action might require a larger, more nationwide effort, with the idea that proactive measures are preferable to reactive ones. Rather than attempting to improve the industry by making it legal, the anti- legalization side argued that it would be much more efficient to prevent men and women from entering the industry in the first place.
Both sides made solid arguments and accomplished the goal of educat- ing the audience on the controver- sial but important issue. PAC will be hosting similar events all year on Tuesday nights, so look out for information concerning new topics of discussion and debate.