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Riverdale senior's controversial capstone

Maverick Notes


TORVALDSSenior exhibition is defined as “Riverdale’s capstone project, a multi-week research paper on a topic of our choice.” I use this line in all of my emails to professionals in my field, and have already spoken to two brilliant women who had a lot to tell me about my topic.

My topic is the decriminalization of prostitution in America. My “essential question,” the question I will be answering through a 20-page research paper and extensive presentation to my peers and parents, is: “Should sex work be decriminalized in the United States?”

Senior exhibitions are always controversial. They cover an incredibly broad range of topics, although my specific question, to my knowledge, has never been asked. My teachers and peers have had two opportunities to provide input on my topic when I presented it to them, either as a slideshow overview or as a paper outline, and I’ve been asked a very unusual question in return.

“Will your paper be primarily supported by facts or by opinions?”

I have been asked this question both times I have invited feedback on my topic. Despite the fact that nothing in my outline or in my slideshow implied that my paper would be based on opinion rather than fact, a student and a teacher both questioned my ability to support the argument that prostitution should be decriminalized in the United States.

I’m sure neither of the people who asked me this intended to upset me, and I’m sure they had my best interests at heart. However, because of my number of outside experts and wide amount of evidence I’ve presented, this question comes across as doubt from my teachers and peers that decriminalization of sex work could be based on anything but opinion.

In fact, decriminalizing sex work (and subsequently treating it as any other work) is widely supported by studies of sex workers and has been demonstrated to be beneficial for sex workers in New Zealand and parts of Australia, where is it decriminalized now.

A 2005 literature review of the sex industry in New Zealand pointed out that, since decriminalization in 2003, “sex workers’ collectives internationally have sought to promote a range of safety measures.” In addition, it said, “Significant efforts have also been made to raise the New Zealand police’s appreciation of the risks street workers face and to increase workers’ confidence in the police.”

These measures would not be possible if sex work were illegal in New Zealand, as police officers would be actively working to arrest sex workers rather than working to protect them.

Furthermore, it is impossible to write a senior exhibition paper based entirely on opinion. We are required to use 20 unique sources to support our topic. We check in frequently with the teacher in charge of senior exhibition, who has emphasized that we should change topics in the case of a lack of evidence.

My paper, like everyone’s, has a persuasive bent. It would be possible to write a paper on the same topic as I am and come up with the opposite answer.

That’s why my question is controversial. But my paper is not unsupported.

So I appreciate the opportunity to prove the people who doubt the factual nature of my research paper wrong. Because sex work should be decriminalized in America.

And I can prove that with facts.

Patricia Torvalds is a senior at Riverdale High School and a regular columnist for The Review. She can be reached at education@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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