Prostitution is the performance of sexual acts for pay, including money, drugs, or other rewards. It has occurred throughout history. Women and men in ancient Babylon who worked as "sacred harlots" in the temples were greatly respected. Secular prostitution though has been much more common. Some prostitutes have enjoyed a high social status as courtesans—companions to wealthy men, kings, popes and emperors.
Brothels, or houses of prostitution, were legal and regulated in many European cities during the Middle Ages. Prostitution continued to be legal in the frontier towns and mining camps of the American West and the Yukon in the late 1800s.
Prostitution continues to be legally tolerated in a few Euro] countries today, including the Netherlands, Germany, and England. Nevada is the only state in the United States that has continued to allow legalized prostitution; however, it is allowed there only in cc ties with fewer than 250,000 people.
Most industrial societies have laws against prostitution because of concerns about public morals and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Interestingly, the incidence of sexual infections among prostitutes in Nevada is virtually nonexistent because of increased condom use and frequent, mandated medical examinations.
In most states, prostitution is a misdemeanor. The penalty is usually a short jail term and payment of a fine. The charge under which most prostitutes are arrested is solicitation, which means openly offering sex to a potential client. Clients, called Johns or tricks, are rarely arrested or prosecuted. They are usually white, middle-aged, middle-class, and married.
The more serious crimes in the sex industry include "pandering'', procurement," and "pimping"—recruiting prostitutes and living off their earnings. These are typically felonies punishable with significant jail sentences. A pimp is most often a man who takes care of the prostitute, offers clothes, shelter, and food, but takes most of the prostitute's earnings.
Prostitutes can be women or men. Many were sexually abused as children. They often refer to themselves as sex workers and serve heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual clients. Some are teenagers, many of whom are runaways. There are more than 2 million teen sex workers in the United States. Streetwalkers or hustlers work the streets in urban areas. Many are drug addicts. Bar girls and boys, hotel prostitutes, call girls and boys, and "escorts" are often more independent than streetwalkers, who usually work for pimps.
There are groups working to decriminalize or legalize prostitution. They were formed by sex workers to offer assistance to others "in the life" and to promote social tolerance for this profession. These groups include COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), which is based in California, and PONY (Prostitutes of New York) and Scapegoat, which are both based in New York.
Decriminalizing prostitution would eliminate penalties for prostitution but would retain penalties for procurement or pimping. Legalizing prostitution would legalize all aspects of the business. However, many people fear that suspending penalties for prostitution would increase organized crime, street crime, drug use, and pornography. But this has not been the case in European countries where prostitution is tolerated.
Through restrictive zoning and other local laws, many cities and towns try to limit commercial sex in areas for "adult entertainment." These areas can include pornography stores and theaters, peep shows, massage parlors, saunas, strip and lap dance clubs, and sexually explicit video arcades. These businesses often include prostitution services.
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