Prostitution and Paternalism

In David Boersema (ed.), Dimensions of Moral Agency. Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 194-202 (2014)
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Both liberals and feminists have long criticized the paternalistic approach to prostitution found in most jurisdictions in the U.S. In his recent book Prostitution and Liberalism, Peter de Marneffe defends just such an intervention, arguing that the demonstrated harmfulness of a life of prostitution justifies paternalistic policies aimed at reducing the number of women who are involved in it. Although de Marneffe does not endorse the prohibitionist approach typical in the U.S., he argues that the best reasons for alternative approaches to the practice (including some forms of regulated legalization) are necessarily paternalistic. In my paper, I question de Marneffe’s contention that the strongest reasons for state intervention with regard to prostitution are paternalistic in nature. I argue that reasonable state action toward prostitution is best understood not as a paternalistic intervention to remedy some moral or epistemological failure on the part of prostitutes, but rather as an attempt to advance the interests of vulnerable parties more generally concerning what they reasonably desire but could not otherwise ensure. I further argue that such an approach might favor abolitionist over regulatory policies, depending upon how the vulnerable class is defined.
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