Comic: Why Some Jobs Are Illegal

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Sex work is, for me, in the same category as smoking pot or (until recently) not legally recognizing same-sex marriages, a category I’d describe as “there’s just no logical reason this should be illegal.”

This cartoon focuses on how little sense the arguments against legalization make. But the most important line, for me, is in panel 2: “Wouldn’t that make things worse for maids?” It seems clear that 1) no law will ever succeed in wiping out sex work, and 2) laws making sex work illegal inevitably hurt the sex workers themselves.

When the government outlaws something, it’s going to lead to people being hurt.

And sometimes it’s worth it. Lowering the speed limit to 20mph in a residential zone will harm some people. Some people will be made late, some people will have to pay speeding tickets, etc. But in exchange for that, we get a big gain – pedestrians hit by cars will have a much higher chance of surviving. The gain, in this case, seems worth the loss.

But outlawing selling sex makes it much more likely that sex workers will be assaulted, hurt, even killed, and makes it much harder for them to go to police for help. And the more marginalized a sex worker is (for instance, because of race, or because of being trans) the more endangered they are. This doesn’t seem to be a case where the gains justify the losses.

Artwise, this strip looks good to me, although I wish I had inked with bigger, meatier lines – the lines in this one look a bit too thin and controlled to my eyes. But that’s the sort of thing I notice a lot more than readers do, I think.

There are a bunch of things I think came out well. The clothing is better than usual for me this strip. The hardest thing to draw here was the maid’s cart, but I think it came out well (by which I mean, I think readers will immediately recognize what it is without having to think about it). And I think some of the body language looks good (especially the woman in the plaid shirt in panels 3 and 4).

Transcript of cartoon

Panel 1
In the foreground, a young woman with her head shaved on the sides and sunglasses is walking three dogs. In the background, standing on a grassy hillside, two women, one in a polo shirt, the other in a plaid shirt, are talking.
POLO: No one could want to be a dog-walker. It shouldn’t be legal.
PLAID: Some people like it.

Panel 2
In a hotel hallway, in the foreground, a maid pushes a cleaning cart. In the background, the same two women are talking.
POLO: Many maids are exploited or even trafficked. We should outlaw being a maid!
PLAID: Wouldn’t that make things worse for maids?

Panel 3
A hilly park again. In the foreground, a man with a knit cap and one of those orange “I work for the city” vests is picking up trash off the ground with a trash-picking stick. In the background, the same two women talk; Polo looks disgusted, and Plaid is facepalming.
POLO: Picking up trash for a living is gross. It shouldn’t be allowed.
PLAID: You’re being ridiculous.

Panel 4
In the final panel, we see only Polo and Plaid, talking to each other. Polo has a forefinger pointing up, making a point, and Plaid responds fervantly, leaning forward and smacking her fist into the palm of her other hand.
POLO: And for the exact same reasons, we should outlaw prostitution!

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37 Responses to Comic: Why Some Jobs Are Illegal

  1. 1
    Gracchus says:

    It constantly annoys me that a lot of anti-sex work feminists like to precede their plans to make sex work illegal with a lot of boilerplate about how they respect the choices of sex workers.

    To me, it’s pretty much self-parody to talk about how you respect somebody’s choice, and then to go on to outline a plan to make that choice illegal.

    More broadly, the anti-sex work strand of feminism provides a good illustration of the very common slice of cognitive dissonance that seems to pop up across all political ideologies, namely “the government can’t do anything, except the things I want it to do”. Specifically, almost all anti-sex work feminists are also pro-choice, and believe that trying to outlaw abortion will simply drive it underground (with all the horrors that entails), while simultaneously believing that outlawing sex work is potentially an effective way to end it.

  2. 2
    Tatterdemalion1983 says:

    The arguments I’ve seen for banning prositution (or for legalising selling sex but criminalising buying it) seem to divide up into two categories:

    1) We should not legalise consensual prostitution because it is bad in its own right – exploitative, shameful, what have you.

    2) We should not legalise consensual prostitution because doing so leads to an environment in which more people end up being coerced into prostitution, and making life harder for willing prostitutes is a price worth paying for that.

    I think that the first category can be safely dismissed out of hand without much further thought; I’m very dubious of the second category – my expectation would be that above-board prostitution would reduce the demand for coerced prostitution – but don’t have the information to confidently reject it.

  3. 3
    Petar says:

    I have never heard the arguments in the cartoon from anyone who was being serious. I have heard them mocked often enough.

    Apart from the arguments of the “It’s an abomination under [Deity] and imperiling the immortal souls of both worker and client” (which are of course impossible to disprove) and the ones who claim causation between the wealth of the community and the prevalence of prostitution (which are suspect in many ways) there is also the argument from Communist Bulgaria:

    Prostitution is destroying the sense of self-worth of workers and clients, making them less likely to participate in the activities useful to society:
    – the meaningless sex makes them less likely to enter a stable marriage
    – the easy income makes them less likely to seek a productive job
    – the easy income makes everyone else resentful
    – the prostitution infrastructure concentrates other criminal elements
    – the value of the workers makes coercion and isolation likely
    – the high burnout rate saddles society with useless citizens in the long run

    Wannabe pimps were treated worse than anyone but child molesters. During a bust in which I was personally involved, one had his skull dented a against a cast iron radiator, and no one batted an eye.

    Of course, most of the problems above can addressed by legalizing, taxing, regulating and insuring the industry. Instead, in Bulgaria, prostitutes practically all either:

    1) Worked for law enforcement, and served exclusively foreigners
    2) Operated on word of mouth, were remunerated by barter, and kept a low profile, staying out of public consciousness.

    The latter were not even called prostitutes. I saw something very similar to them in South Carolina – 16 year old teenagers trading ‘dates’ against a day of being treated well and being bought stuff in the malls.

  4. 4
    Gracchus says:

    “I have never heard the arguments in the cartoon from anyone who was being serious.”

    There you go, now you’ve heard them.

  5. 5
    Petar says:

    Gracchus, I started reading the first article, and the argument accepts the following axiomatically: “prostitution is inherently abusive, and a cause and a consequence of women’s inequality. There is no way to make it safe, and it should be possible to eradicate it. ”

    This is absolutely NOT one of the arguments in the cartoon.

    As for your second link, first of all, I have trouble taking the author seriously. She sounds simply incoherent. But even assuming that this is not a false flag posting, she is not making the arguments in the cartoon.

    There is a huge difference between the “Some maids are exploited” and “Here is how prostitution works: men buy sex so that they can force women cater to their desires and fantasies.”

    Both articles are a lot closer to the unassailable argument from Word of [Deity] and the Communist argument of “No inherent worth”. The cartoon mocks overreaction to imperfection, but the articles linked by you assume total worthlessness and go from there.

    As for your flippant and dismissive tone, I wonder what makes you think that you have earned it.

  6. 6
    Gracchus says:

    “As for your flippant and dismissive tone, I wonder what makes you think that you have earned it.”

    Wow, OK. I guess I won’t engage any further then.

  7. 7
    Joe in Australia says:

    It’s so cute that you think drawing a linear and mechanical thing like the maid’s cart is “hard” when you can knock it out of the ballpark with figures like the plaid woman in the last panel.

  8. 8
    RonF says:

    “pedestrians hit by cars will have a much higher chance of surviving”

    Ah, I think the actual concept is that if you’re going 20 MPH you’re much more likely to be able to stop or otherwise avoid hitting the pedestrian in the first place. Getting hit by a car at 20 MPH still has a pretty good chance of being fatal.

    As far as the various arguments go, I’m generally in favor of keeping the government out of the business of private individuals. The potential for danger to public health through the spread of venereal disease by careless/ignorant sex workers or clients and the potential for abuse of either one by the other given the vulnerable position that they are in during the provision of the service – plus the ability to generate revenue for the state – has generally led to heavy government regulation of the trade where it has been made legal.

    So my question is, where prostitution is legal, what does experience tell us of the validity of the arguments presented against it? What does experience tell us of the effects of government regulation (and the abundant opportunities for graft and corruption)?

  9. 9
    RonF says:

    And if you want to see how attitudes might change towards legalizing prostitution, I’d suggest that we all pay careful attention to India and China in the upcoming years. The combination of relatively ready availability of abortion and in utero ultrasound imaging and cultural preferences for male children have led to a huge imbalance in their populations’ sex ratios. Having massive numbers of young men with no hope of marriage in your population is just begging for social disruption.

  10. 10
    Gracchus says:

    “where prostitution is legal, what does experience tell us of the validity of the arguments presented against it? ”

    You’ll notice that a lot of these debates revolve around highly contested interpretations of the experience in New Zealand and Sweden. New Zealand is the only country where it’s fully legalised; Sweden is the only country where it’s illegal to pay for sex, but not to sell it. You hear a lot written about how the country that doesn’t confirm to the author’s prescription is suffering, how sex workers were excluded from the discussion that framed the law, etc etc.

  11. 11
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Gracchus – do you have a source for your claims about New Zealand and Sweden being the only exemplars of their particular statuses? I’m asking because I believe France is another country where charging for sex is legal but paying for it is not, and the UK is another country where it is legal to both charge and pay for sex. In what way are New Zealand and Sweden unique?

  12. 12
    Ampersand says:

    It’s so cute that you think drawing a linear and mechanical thing like the maid’s cart is “hard” when you can knock it out of the ballpark with figures like the plaid woman in the last panel.

    Aw, thanks! I definitely find mechanical things much harder to draw than figures.

  13. 13
    Ampersand says:


    Getting hit by a car at 20 MPH still has a pretty good chance of being fatal.

    But much less than if the car is going at 25 or 30 mph. “According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), research suggests that the speed at which a vehicle moves when it hits a pedestrian can significantly influence the risk for fatality or serious injury. A car traveling at 40 miles per hour, for example, has an 80% to kill or seriously injure a pedestrian upon impact, while a car traveling at 30 miles per hour has a 40% of doing so. At 20 miles per hour, the likelihood for fatalities and serious injuries drops to 10%.”

    But of course you’re right that a lower driving speed also makes hitting a pedestrian less likely in the first place.

  14. 14
    Ampersand says:

    According to Wikipedia, “In Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland), prostitution itself (the exchange of sexual services for money) is legal,[2] but a number of related activities, including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering, are crimes.”

    So this would be “legalization” but not “decriminalization.”

    New Zealand, in contrast, has “decriminalization” – for the most part, adult prostitution there is completely legal, for both sex workers and clients.

    I think that New Zealand may be the only country in which prostitution has been fully decriminalized? Germany sort of has on a national level, but individual districts of Germany have passed their own laws, so it’s not really decriminalized nationwide. (But I may have this wrong.)

    The Nordic model is used in Sweden, France, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Northern Ireland, according to a list in some article I googled. :-p I have no idea how accurate that list is.

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    OTOH, these academics say “We found that the differences not only between, but also within, the Nordic countries are too great for there to be anything like a shared “Nordic” model.” So it’s complicated.

  16. 16
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Amp – thank you for the clarification.

  17. 17
    RonF says:

    How can selling something be legal but paying for it not be legal? That makes no logical sense.

  18. 18
    Ampersand says:

    How can selling something be legal but paying for it not be legal? That makes no logical sense.

    Laws are laws. Something can be legal to sell, but illegal to purchase, if that’s what the law says.

    The premise behind the Nordic model is that “prostituted women” (and men) are victims of pimps and clients. If you imagine it from that premise, then the logic behind the Nordic model may be clearer.

  19. 19
    desipis says:

    > How can selling something be legal but paying for it not be legal? That makes no logical sense.

    The same way one can hate male sexuality while celebrating female sexuality.

  20. 20
    Ampersand says:

    The same way one can hate male sexuality while celebrating female sexuality.

    You need to keep comments like this – which, if you’re being honest, you’d admit are about demonizing feminism – in check if you want to continue to post comments here. There are a thousand forums where mindless feminist-bashing is welcome, there’s no need to post that here.

  21. 21
    Gracchus says:

    Thanks, Amp. I meant pretty much what you said – New Zealand is the only country where sex work is, in the eyes of the law, like any other job. In countries like the UK the central act is legal but there are so many things that are illegal connected with it that sex workers are still effectively going to have dodge around the law. For context, New Zealand used to have a UK-style legislation before deciding to deciminalise fully in 2003.

    Conversely, only Sweden really practices the anti-client model.

    So, yes, for better or worse, many of these debates come down to debates about New Zealand or Sweden, usually by people with little experience or knowledge of either country who cherry pick a few factoids. I don’t have much experience with Sweden personally but I have a good friend who has written several academic studies of prostitution in New Zealand (before and after 2003) and I have never once seen her work referenced by people criticising decriminalisation, Within New Zealand any academic analysis of prostitution that didn’t at least mention her books would be considered severely lacking. I can only assume that there are parallels for Sweden (As an aside, I don’t actually support the Swedish model, but that doesn’t mean I think every critique of the Swedish model is fair).

    But here’s the beginning and the end of it: for me, I have never heard or seen a sex worker say “I want my work to be made illegal”. And frankly, I can’t imagine them saying it, either.

  22. 22
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Ron @17 – as Amp points out, these laws are written under the assumption that sex workers are a vulnerable population, and in that context it makes sense. Consider child labour laws – it is illegal to pay children to work in a factory, it is not illegal for children to receive money for work they’ve done in a factory. If the police were to break down an illegal child sweatshop, the children will not be arrested for working there. The same logic applies to prostitution in the so-called Nordic model – it is illegal to pay for sex, it is not illegal to receive money for sex.

    Of course, some of the objections to this model from the sex-worker side is exactly that – assuming that adults have to be protected from being sex workers in the same way as children have to be protected is inherently demeaning.

    Gracchus @21 – Regarding Sweden, you are just restating what you said before. Just in case it wasn’t clear, I was asking a genuine question, not trying to play some sort of rhetorical trick, because I genuinely am not fully informed about this – what makes Sweden the only true exemplar of the anti-client model?

  23. 23
    Gracchus says:

    As far as I’m aware Sweden is the only country that actively seeks out and prosecutes men who pay for sex work. The other countries may nominally make it illegal but the police force is not enthusiastic about it, nor are courts. As is mentioned in the link Amp posted, the Swedish police are very much “on board” with the law, describing it as a major tool in their attempts to police criminal behaviour.

    There are also other reasons Sweden attracts attention – Sweden has something of a “model country” reputation among the international progressive left (something that broadly suffers from the same problems that I’ve talked about generally with the sex work-law debate), and Sweden was also the first country to implement a law along these lines. Swedish lawmakers, academics and police have also been quite enthusiastic about promoting this law as an international model, organising international conferences of this sort: where the Swedish political community actively promotes Sweden as a model to be reviewed, discussed and potentially emulated by people concerned with harm done in sex work around the world.

  24. 24
    Charles says:


    There are lots of examples of transactions where one side of the transaction is legal and the other is illegal, e.g.: paying less than the legal minimum wage, selling expired medicine, having employees work under unsafe working conditions are all illegal, but being on the other side of those transactions (agreeing to work for sub-minimum wages, buying expired medicine, working under unsafe conditions) is legal. None of those require that the person on one side be a child or otherwise legally incompetent, they just require an imbalance of harm.

    There are arguments for why some people would benefit from being able to work for sub-minimum wages or in unsafe conditions or from being allowed to buy expired medication, but preventing the harm to the majority of people in those situations is considered to be worth the limited harm to the minority of people who would benefit from being allowed to do those things. Is that inherently demeaning as well?

  25. 25
    Charles says:


    Could you point us to good research on the results of decriminalization in New Zealand?

  26. 26
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Charles @24 – I wasn’t reporting my own views, I was reporting views that were expressed to me (in a public talk, not a personal conversation) by sex-workers who want full legalisation/decriminalisation and oppose anti-client laws.

    I do not feel that I have enough understanding of the consequences, intended and unintended, of the different models to support one over the other. In general, I support both safety and dignity of sex workers, but I defer to actual sex workers, experts, and advocates with more experience than me about how to do it.

  27. 27
    Gracchus says:

    @Charles: I’d check out “Taking the crime out of sex work: New Zealand sex workers’ fight for decriminalisation” by Gillian Abel, Lisa Fitzgerald, and Catherine Healy.

  28. 28
    Charles says:


    I agree entirely with your second paragraph, recognize that the Swedish model is demeaning to professional sex workers, and am personally uncertain on whether the trade-offs even in a version of the Swedish model that wasn’t punitive towards sex workers (even though sex work itself is not criminalized in Sweden, there is currently still systematic legal harassment of sex workers) would be preferable to the trade-offs in the New Zealand system. I just think using child labor laws as the equivalent example to sex work laws and then claiming that that means sex workers are being treated like children is a suspect argument because child labor laws are far from the only example of laws that protect people from completely free participation in the market (either the labor market or the commercial market). On the other hand, it may be an emotionally true argument.

    I’d be interested in seeing research that conclusively pins the shittyness of labor conditions for sex workers in Germany and the Netherlands (as compared with New Zealand) on the defects in legalization vs. decriminalization, rather than the lack of conditions specific to a tiny island nation with extremely restrictive immigration laws.

    Gracchus, thanks for the suggestion, my library has an e-pub copy, so I’ll take a look (at first glance, it has the disadvantage of only covering conditions during the first 5 years, so I’d be curious to know what the next 10 years have brought, I think my university library may have a copy of “A decade of decriminalization: Sex work ‘down under’ but not underground” by
    Gillian M Abel, so I’ll see if I can find that too- just from the abstract, it looks like it at least acknowledges the question of the broader applicability of the NZ experience).

  29. 29
    Eytan Zweig says:

    I get your point as to the juxtaposition of my two paragraphs, but that’s giving it more thought than I did – I simply though child labour laws are a good analogy to answer Ron’s question, and then worried that not addressing the critique will be irresponsible. I wasn’t trying to construct an argument, implicit or explicit.

    That said, I don’t think minimum wage/workplace conditions laws are a good analogy, because in those cases what is illegal isn’t paying for the work in and of itself, but other aspects of the relationship between the worker and the employer/client. And the case of selling expired medicine is similar in that only one side of the transaction is illegal, but in that case it’s the side receiving the money. That’s equivalent to the de-facto situation in many areas, where sex workers are prosecuted but their clients are not.

  30. 30
    Gracchus says:

    “the lack of conditions specific to a tiny island nation with extremely restrictive immigration laws”

    Just for the record Charles, what makes you characterise NZ as a country with extremely restrictive immigration laws?

  31. 31
    Charles says:

    I’m not sure what made me think that NZ had extremely restrictive immigration laws, but I can’t back it up with anything substantial. It does seem like New Zealand has a quite low undocumented immigrant population (10,000 in 2017, or 0.25% of total population), and certainly seems highly restrictive relative to the free movement zone in the EU. The Netherlands is also a relatively small country, but is part of the 400 million population Schengen Zone.

  32. 32
    Charles says:


    I agree that there aren’t exact parallels (although unsafe working conditions come close), but child labor also isn’t an exact match, since there the type of work isn’t the issue, but instead the type of worker is the issue.

  33. 33
    Gracchus says:

    @Charles: Undocumented immigration is low, but legal immigration is substantially higher – 75,000 new immigrants in 2017, which doesn’t seem like much on an absolute level, but is about 2% of the population, or the equivalent of 7 million documented immigrants into the USA.

    New Zealand is generally perceived within the NZ media as a country with a pretty high immigration rate (perception is, of course, not reality).

    I ask not just to call you out, but because immigration is a pretty major factor in discussion of sex work in New Zealand – there is a perception that many sex workers are from immigrant backgrounds (again, not reality).

    It’s also worth noting that New Zealand is part of a free movement zone with Australia – again, not on par with the EU, but significant in a New Zealand context.

  34. 34
    Charles says:

    One of my main impressions of NZ prostitution (from cursory reading online) was that NZ sex workers were much less likely to be immigrants than sex workers in Germany or Netherlands and much less likely to be coerced into sex work, so it’s interesting that the NZ popular perception is that NZ sex workers are immigrants (I did see some articles suggesting that about NZ streetwalkers).

  35. 35
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Associating prostitution with immigrants is a standard tactic in the media whipping up a moral panic against immigrants, and is usually very effective in making the connection part of public perception, regardless of actual fact (both with regards to immigration and the realities of sex work).

  36. 36
    Ampersand says:

    I think my university library may have a copy of “A decade of decriminalization: Sex work ‘down under’ but not underground” by Gillian M Abel, so I’ll see if I can find that too-

    A Decade of Decriminalization (pdf file)

  37. 37
    Gracchus says:

    Yeah, well, that’s why I was careful to say it was the “perception”, not the reality. Unfortunately like a lot of other rich countries New Zealand has a tradition of seeing immigration as the cause of many societal problems (for example, housing prices).

    Thanks for the link, Amp.