A federal appeals court has opened the door to legalising prostitution in California.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco recently allowed a legal challenge to the statewide ban on prostitution to proceed. The ruling overturns a lower court’s decision to toss the case out last year.
During the Thursday hearing, conservative Judge Carlos Bea wondered aloud: “Why should it be illegal to sell something that it’s legal to give away?”
The case was originally filed in 2015 by three unidentified former sex workers, one potential client and the San Francisco-based Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational and Research Project (ESPLERP).
The plaintiffs argue that the 145-year ban “unfairly deprives consenting adults of the right to private activity, criminalises the discussion of such activity, and unconstitutionally places prohibitions on individuals’ right to freely associate”.
Backing California’s argument are a number of anti-sex trafficking organisations that argued in a court filing that “prostitution is inherently harmful and is integrally connected to sex trafficking, drugs, brutal physical violence, rape, and murder”. The filing warns that legalising prostitution would empower pimps and traffickers.
Lisa Thompson of the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation, which joined that filing, called prostitution a “raw manifestation of male sexual entitlement”.
“To the extent that this is permitted by law, they enshrine a right to buy human beings”, Ms Thompson argue in an interview, warning of “gender-based sexual exploitation” that would allow men to prey on women who have “acute vulnerabilities”.