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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. Louis Sirkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, cited a Supreme Court decision that struck down gay sex bans as evidence for their case. The ruling, in Lawrence vs. The case revives a long-running argument in which both sides invoke protecting vulnerable sex workers.
Proponents of decriminalising sex work argue that an ancient, consensual activity should be allowed and that making it illegal hurts marginalised members of society.
Opponents warn that removing criminal penalties would embolden pimps and validate abuse of women. Numerous civil rights and LGBT advocacy organisations have supported the case, arguing in a court filing that sex between consensual adults should not be illegal. The state, meanwhile, argued that the ban did not restrict consensual sex itself, but the sale and purchase of it.
The filing warns that legalising prostitution would empower pimps and traffickers. A ballot measure to decriminalise prostitution in San Francisco failed by almost 60 per cent of the vote. But the state has already removed criminal penalties for juvenile sex workers, passing a law that forbids police officers from arresting minors for prostitution or soliciting with intent.
Backers argued that the law would stop penalising young victims who are exploited by traffickers, but law enforcement opponents warned it would make it more difficult to separate sex workers from their pimps and get them help. Prostitution is illegal in every other US state, aside from a few counties in Nevada. Legislators in Hawaii also introduced a bill to decriminalise it in February.