Several Facts About Prostitution

Courtesy of the Demand Change! campaign and www.prostitutionresearch.com

FACT 1: Prostitution is not an issue of choice.

Prostitution is an intrinsically abusive institution and the vast majority of women stay poor in prostitution (although lots of cash passes through their hands on the way to pimps, strip club managers, bartenders, taxi drivers, casino hosts and other predators). Women deserve equal pay for equal work. Yet prostitution is an activity unlike any other “work,” which is why we should see it as the Swedish do: as institutionalized sexual oppression or as a human rights violation.

Women are in legal prostitution for the same reasons they’re in illegal prostitution – a lack of alternative survival options. Most women in prostitution did not make a choice to enter prostitution from among a range of other options. They did not decide that they wanted to be prostituted instead of doctors, lawyers, website developers, or politicians. Instead, their “options” were more in the realm of how to get enough money to feed themselves and their children. If prostitution were really a choice it would not be those people with the fewest choices available to them who are disproportionately in prostitution. Such choices are better termed survival strategies.

It is the men who buy sex who are exercising free choice, and it is this ‘choice’ to purchase vulnerable women and girls that expands prostitution and fuels trafficking for sexual exploitation. It is also important to note that receiving payment for a sexual act does not equate sexual consent.

75% of women in prostitution became involved when they were children.

70% spent time in care and 45% report experiencing sexual abuse during their childhoods. Once in prostitution, 9 out of 10 surveyed women would like to exit but feel unable to do so.

FACT 2: Prostitution is not about sex.

Prostitution is about exploitation, violence and abuse.

Most men who use women in prostitution have other sexual partners. The myth that men have uncontrollable sexual urges that must be fulfilled only justifies the idea that prostitution is a male right to buy women’s bodies. The act of prostitution is structured by the desires and fantasies of the buyer, which have nothing to do with the sexual desires of the person who is being bought. Men do not have the right to unlimited sexual access to women.

More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted at the hands of pimps and punters; up to 95% of women in street prostitution are problematic drug users; and 68% of women in prostitution meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as victims of torture undergoing treatment:

“I would numb my feelings… I would actually leave my body and go somewhere else with my thoughts and with my feelings until he got off me and it was over with. I don’t know how else to explain it except it felt like rape. It was rape to me.” (Survivor of prostitution)

FACT 3: Prostitution is harmful in and of itself.

Legalisation or complete decriminalisation of the entire industry doesn’t remove the harm of prostitution– it simply makes that harm legal.

Legalisation does not deal with the long term psychological and physical effects of having unwanted and often violent and abusive sex numerous times a day and having to act like you enjoy it. To cope with this, women in prostitution report having to disassociate and ‘split off’ in their heads – hence why drug and alcohol abuse is so prevalent.

FACT 4: Legalising prostitution only benefits pimps, traffickers, and sex buyers.

Some people believe that legalising prostitution would offer dignity and professionalism to women in prostitution. But legitimising prostitution by legalising it does not change the actual experience of prostitution nor does it dignify prostituted women who still experience stigma and other harms in legal prostitution. Once prostitution is legalised, pimps become legitimate businessmen, and the predatory purchase of another person for sex is now a legitimate business transaction. Women in prostitution should not be punished for their own exploitation. The seller of sex should be decriminalised, as in the Swedish law on prostitution; governments should criminalise pimps, buyers, procurers, brothels or other sex businesses.

FACT 5: All women’s groups want to decriminalise those selling sexual acts.

There is broad consensus across the women’s movement that those who sell sexual acts – the vast majority of whom are women – should NOT be criminalised for the exploitation they face. This means that all criminal records and ASBOs for being involved in prostitution should be wiped.

We are calling for the buying of sexual acts to be criminalised in order to tackle the demand for prostitution which expands the industry by drawing more women and children into prostitution and fuelling trafficking for sexual exploitation.

FACT 6: Legalising prostitution does not remove the stigma.

Normalising prostitution makes the abuse, violence and exploitation invisible and turns pimps and punters into businessmen and legitimate consumers. Recognising prostitution as ‘just a job’ ignores the violence, poverty and marginalisation which drives women into prostitution, and means an end to services to support women out of prostitution – why would you need exit strategies for a ‘normal’ job?

Women don’t want to be prostituted and the shame and stigma of prostitution persists despite legalisation. Although they would have been earning retirement benefits if they registered, women in Dutch prostitution did not register as legally prostituted women because they are ashamed to be publicly known as such. Regardless of its legal status, women would prefer to get out of prostitution and usually feel ashamed of it. Does any woman in prostitution deserve to be treated disrespectfully or stigmatized? Of course not.

FACT 7: Legalising indoor prostitution does not make women safer.

Contempt and ill treatment of those in prostitution stays the same whether prostitution is legal or illegal, in an apartment or on the street. It doesn’t matter where prostitution takes place: the serious risks of harm are ever present. 48% of women in indoor prostitution have experienced violence from buyers. Women are frequently raped in escort and brothel prostitution. Legalised systems of prostitution may mandate health checks, but only for women in prostitution – not for male buyers. Health examinations for women but not for men make no sense from a public health perspective. Women are not protected from HIV contracted from johns. In one study, the longer women were in brothel prostitution, the more likely they were to be infected by HIV.

In addition to physical violence, women in indoor prostitution report high levels of coercion and control from pimps and brothel owners, including being pressured or forced not to use condoms, having to see more customers than women on the street, paying inflated charges and fines, and having to have sex with pimps or brothel owners, and/or their friends. The parents of Marnie Frey, a young woman murdered in prostitution, give their view:

“To think the best we can do for these women is giving them a safe place to sell their bodies is a joke. There is no such thing as a ‘clean safe place’ to be abused in. For a man to think he can buy a woman’s body is insane… Marnie did not choose prostitution; her addictions did, and any man who bought her body for their sexual pleasure should go to jail for exploiting her desperation.”

FACT 8: Decriminalising prostitution sends out the message that is is harmless.

Legalising prostitution or decriminalising the entire industry sends out a message to new generations of boys and men that women are objects for sexual use and that prostitution is harmless fun.

Is this what we want, for generations of boys to grow up thinking that it is normal for men to have entitlement over women as sexual commodities? What is the meaning of our efforts to combat sexual harassment and male violence in the home, the workplace and the streets if men can buy the right to perpetrate these very same acts against women and children in prostitution?

Legalising or decriminalising the entire industry of prostitution normalises an extreme form of sexual subordination, it legitimises the existence of an underclass of women, it reinforces male dominance, and it undermines struggles for gender equality. It is time to start tackling the attitudes which say that it is acceptable to view and treat women as sexual objects by tackling the demand for commercial sexual exploitation.

FACT 9: Legalisation or decriminalisation of the entire industry expands prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Legalisation and complete decriminalisation gives a green light to pimps and traffickers making it easier for them to operate. In New Zealand, complete decriminalisation has led to the illegal sector expanding to make up 80% of the industry, and according to the Mayor of Amsterdam “it is impossible to create a safe and controllable zone for women that is not open to abuse by organised crime”.

Pimps are the people that johns pay to outsource the violence necessary to keep women in prostitution obedient. While it is difficult to obtain accurate percentages of women who have pimps, consider that pimps are not named “pimps” by women in prostitution. They are named boyfriends, husbands, friends, sometimes girlfriends. Pimps are also taxi drivers, casino hosts, strip club owners, valets, massage parlor managers, bartenders, and many others who earn money by selling or helping to sell women in prostitution. Legal pimps own brothels, and legal pimps control legal prostitution the same way illegal pimps run their businesses.

FACT 10: Tackling demand for prostitution decreases prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Criminalising the purchase of sex whilst at the same time decriminalising those who sell sexual acts and offering support services to people in prostitution is the only viable way to work towards an end to this exploitative industry.

Criminalising the purchase of sexual acts makes punters take responsibility for their actions and sends out a clear message that it is not acceptable for women to be treated as commodities to be bought and sold for sexual use.

Several countries throughout the world, including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Lithuania, South Korea and Cambodia have successfully introduced legislation that tackles the demand for sexual acts. In Sweden, where this legislation has been in force since 1999, there has been a significant reduction in trafficking and prostitution with a halt in the recruitment of new women. Sweden is a no longer an attractive destination for traffickers, and the number of men purchasing sexual services has fallen significantly – the law clearly works as a deterrent.

FACT 11: Sex trafficking and prostitution regularly affects children; when legalised, even more so.

A number of women are groomed for prostitution as children, due to environmental factors and vulnerabilities in their lives.

Legalisation of prostitution increases the number of minors who are prostituted. Legal prostitution means that there are more locations for children to be sold for sex. And wherever there is a legal sex business, there are likely to be 5 times as many illegal sex businesses as well.

In the UK, approximately 50% of women in prostitution began selling sex under the age of 18. The average age of entry into any kind of prostitution in the US is 13-14 years of age. There are a range of precipitating factors including family disruption or dysfunction, sexual or physical abuse, alienation from school, running away and homelessness and substance misuse. These experiences render young women vulnerable to grooming by older predatory men and being pimped into selling sex.

Sometimes it appears as if young women and girls are ‘choosing’ to enter prostitution. The UK children’s charity Barnardos refers to this as ‘constrained choice,’ recognising that sexually exploited young women have histories that create vulnerability to pimp manipulation.

According to the New Zealand decriminalised prostitution law, the police have no right of entry into brothels, and have no right to ask for age-identification papers of those in prostitution – thus investigation of suspected youth prostitution is extremely difficult, according to police officers, who asked that the law be revised.

An argument for legalising prostitution in the Netherlands was that it would help end child trafficking. Yet child trafficking in the Netherlands has increased dramatically during the 1990s. The Amsterdam-based ChildRight organization estimates that the number of children in prostitution has increased by more than 300% between 1996 (4000 children) and 2001 (15,000 children).

Prostitution of children increased in the state of Victoria compared to other Australian states where prostitution has not been legalised. Of all the states and territories in Australia, the highest number of reported incidences of child prostitution came from Victoria. ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) conducted research for the Australian National Inquiry on Child Prostitution, and found that there was increased evidence of organized commercial exploitation of children in Australia.

See also: Demand_Change Campaign UK

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