Guest post: Laws against midget bowling

Originally a comment by As the smoke rises upward on A long-awaited judgment.

One can make the same argument for selling organs. There are thousands of desperately poor people in rural India suffering from the lifelong health effects of having one kidney because they—ostensibly voluntarily—sold the other one.

Here’s another, more obscure analogy: midget bowling. If you are fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it’s the practice of tossing a little person down a bowling lane in place of a bowling ball, which is apparently high comedy to certain crass fratboy types. Some little people rent themselves out to would-be midget bowlers, but some state legislatures have passed laws prohibiting the practice, on the grounds that it is inherently hazardous to the person selling the service (being tossed around like a literal ball is dangerous for anyone, but especially dangerous to little people, who tend to have fragile spines). Simply put, laws against midget bowling boil down to the conviction that it’s not okay for a bunch of dudes to have a good time by putting other people at real risk of serious harm, even if the people taking the risk have agreed to do so in exchange for money.

Of course, one can take the extreme libertarian position that any transaction should be permissible as long as there is the appearance of consent; the exchange of money sanctifies anything that the payer might do to the payee. Sweatshop workers, diamond miners, gestational surrogates, organ sellers, midget bowling balls, prostitutes—they all knew the work and the wages and they chose to accept. If it’s all right for me to grind away at my tedious and stressful white-collar job because I need the money, then it must also be all right for a homeless eighteen-year-old girl to allow strange men to ejaculate in her orifices because she needs the money. Really, what’s the difference? Everyone hates their job.

But I’m less interested in abstract questions than I am in concrete realities. Overwhelmingly, the women and girls (and the smaller number of men and boys) who are in prostitution are harmed by it and do not want to be there. Many of them are trafficked, many of them are drug addicted, many of them come from abusive backgrounds, many of them are being exploited by pimps, and many of them develop PTSD. The large majority of prostitutes—around 90%—interviewed in several countries say that they would leave the sex industry immediately if they could. As one study (from 2006, but I doubt much has changed since then) dispassionately concludes, “Sex work is associated with excess mortality and morbidity including the sequelae of STI, mental health problems, and substance misuse.” In plainer terms, buyers of sex do very real damage, both physical and psychological, to the people (mostly women and girls) whose bodies they buy.

Addendum/clarification: apparently, midget bowling is less common than the closely related “sport” of dwarf tossing, which involves tossing the little person against a velcro wall rather than down a bowling lane.

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