The fall from grace in Washington of one of Indiana's own raises an interesting issue:
The resignation of Randall Tobias, the chief of the Bush administration's foreign aid programs, for "personal reasons" following the revelation that he had engaged the services of two escort-service workers has provided rich grist for amusement on the punditry circuit. There was indeed plenty of material for humor in the situation, from Tobias's strong stand in favor of abstinence teaching in AIDS prevention programs to his "I didn't inhale"-style assertion that he never had sex with the women. But the predictable laughs have obscured a much larger issue than hypocrisy in the ranks of social conservatives. The reason Tobias's call-girl adventures became public is that the owner of the Washington, DC-based service, Pamela Martin, is facing prosecution and has turned her records over to news organizations to help pay for her legal defense.
Even those who feel a certain schadenfreude at Tobias's downfall should be asking the question: should there have been a criminal case in the first place?
Prostitution is currently legal in virtually all developed nations, though often surrounded by restrictions and regulations. It is illegal everywhere in the United States except Nevada and, by a legal quirk, in Rhode Island if all transactions are conducted in a private residence.
Yet prostitution is perhaps the ultimate victimless crime: a consensual transaction in which both parties are supposedly committing a crime, and the person most likely to be charged—the one selling sex—is also the one most likely to be viewed as the victim.
If prostitution were legalized and taxed, the state could reap enormous economic benefits and, through regulation, reduce the sordid and dangerous elements associated with its illegality. Does anyone see any moral distinction between that and the state's approach to gambling? Just wondering.
Prostitution, like most other vices, involves the lies people tell themselves. Gamblers chase the illusion that luck will bless them with unearned wealth. Drunks and drug addicts think the harshness of reality can be diffused, if not ignored. Those who frequent prostitutes are not, as many believe, merely seeking physical pleasure as a substitute for real intimacy. They desperately want that intimacy, but don't know how to achieve it. When I was in Vietnam, I lost track of the number of fellow soliders who boasted that certain prostitutes they had been patronizing liked them so much that, "You know what -- they don't even charge me anymore." That may not be the saddest lie I ever heard, but it comes pretty close.