Sting raises question: Why not OK prostitution?
Look for the lawyer and the former state agency head to reinvent themselves without much trouble.
The Iowa Falls pastor, on the other hand, is probably finished in the preaching business, even if the court lets him off. It's tough telling others how to get to heaven when you've been arrested in a prostitution sting.
I'm referring to the 13 men, ages 43 to 70, who were nabbed last month at a West Des Moines apartment complex.
People love these kinds of stories. It gives them a chance to be smug and outraged at the same time.
There's always a big shot or two looking strung out in the police photo, making the rest of us feel a little better about ourselves: "Yeah, I've done some regrettable things, but nothing that embarrassing. So far."
Some study the pastor's mug shot and see a hypocrite. Some see a flawed human, want to know why it's anybody else's business in the first place, and ask the big question.
Why in the world is prostitution still illegal?
How is a simple cash transaction between a man and a woman different from a dinner and a show?
People sell their souls all the time. Why not their bodies?
You can sleep your way around the world, using no protection, with a different partner every night, and that's fine. The moment a few dollars change hands, you're a criminal.
Before he died, George Carlin put it another way, and I paraphrase for obvious reasons: Sexual intercourse is legal. Selling is legal. Why isn't selling sexual intercourse legal?
Is it because prostitution is immoral? If so, the Bargument doesn't work.
Immoral isn't the same as illegal. Shooting porn films might be immoral, but it isn't against the law. Sex outside marriage is considered sinful in almost every place of worship you can find, including the pastor's church.
Now turn it around. Profoundly moral acts are sometimes illegal. Think of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
Is prostitution illegal because it's dangerous? Because it leads to infectious disease and violence and human trafficking and broken lives and early death?
I saw some research that says the life expectancy of a hooker is far below average. That's at least partly because so many are physically abused.
The average female prostitute, the study shows, gets into the business at age 14, sometimes through no choice of her own. These are lost, desperate kids who become lost, desperate adults with drug addictions to feed.
Then again, maybe prostitution is dangerous precisely because it's illegal. Tax it and regulate it and maybe the human toll dips. Maybe you eliminate the 14-year-old and her pimp and many of the health issues.
If you're going to make it legal, though, you'd better do your homework. Beware of unintended consequences.
When Australia went legal, the major cities became sex-industry boom towns, which overwhelmed regulators and attracted organized crime and all kinds of unanticipated problems.
Then there's Amsterdam and its famous red-light district. Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000.
Everyone thought decriminalization would free the police to chase real criminals. And how's that working? Could be better.
A piece in the Economist last fall, "The Oldest Conundrum," says the Dutch are turning back the clocks, turning off the red lights, replacing tacky with glitz. And the citizens are cheering.
Consider Sweden, which has a novel approach. It's all right to sell sex but not buy it. In Sweden, the prostitute becomes a victim who can sue the customer.
In the first four years of the new policy, the number of streetwalkers was reportedly down 40 percent. Sweden and New Zealand seem to be the models for legalization.
The Internet, of course, changes the game completely. Now we have Craigslist, "the single largest source of prostitution in the country," according to a law enforcement official in Illinois. The Cook County sheriff is suing the company, trying to keep it from advertising "erotic services."
Craigslist brings something of an upside. It eliminates the need for pimps and streetwalking. But, according to the sheriff in Chicago, it creates more problems than it solves.
The question is easy. The answer is hard. You hear the cut-and-dried, black-and-white comments that surround the West Des Moines case.
This is why prostitution should be legalized. Period.