Prostitution is probably, as many people like to say, the world’s “oldest profession”. It is a universal phenomenon, that exists in every country, in a more or less disguised way.
Mostly, more or less wherever you are, prostitution remains a taboo subject, due to religious beliefs and social stigma. Indeed, selling your body is something that is ill-regarded in any culture and in most civilizations, women are seen as the underlings (the subject of male prostitution being even more of a taboo).
In most countries in the world, prostitution is illegal and often criminalized (in most United States’ states, in Russia, in China etc.), with prostitutes facing severe penalties.
In Western countries, with growing concerns for human rights, came growing concerns regarding this profession, and the public authorities are more and more divided between criminalizing or legalizing.
Countries like Germany and the Netherlands have moved towards a more progressive stance: prostitution is not illegal, but it is a regulated business, with specific strict rules surrounding it. New Zealand, is quite revolutionary in this matter, since prostitution is completely decriminalized and not regulated at all, due to the view that criminalization is negative for sex workers.
In Canada, Portugal or the United Kingdom, prostitution is legal, in the sense that prostitutes can not be punished in the criminal system, but everything that surrounds this business is highly prosecuted: pimping, having a brothel, or public solicitation, are prohibited.
On the other hand, the North of Europe, like Iceland, Norway and Sweden, has yet evolved into something else, position that several other European countries (like France has already) might follow in the future. Going from the idea that it is wrong to exploit a woman’s body, prostitutes are not penalized, but their clients are. Therefore, not only pimping, brothels etc. are criminalized, but the fact of being a client also is. Several groups of sex workers are against this option because it drives prostitution even more into a “back-alley” in our societies.
Like in many other delicate subjects, such as drugs, the question of knowing if it is best to legalize or criminalize prostitution is not an easy one, and one could easily argue for both sides. Nevertheless, it is an interesting debate in societies that are growing more and more concerned with individual rights. For that same reason, it is a question that must be handled in a way that will not be detrimental for the main people who are concerned by it: the sex workers themselves. Maybe they should be the first ones to have an opinion on the place prostitution should hold in each country.