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The real harms of prostitution

Before we decide whether to legalise prostitution, it is important to know
what prostitution is and what it is not. It is not a job like any other job.

Stolen Away
Copyright 1995 by Soon-Duk Kim
In prostitution, men remove women's humanity. Buying a woman in
prostitution gives men the power to turn women into a living, breathing
masturbation fantasy. He removes her self and those qualities that define
her as an individual, and for him she becomes sexualized body parts. She
acts the part of the thing he wants her to be.
A john who was guaranteed anonymity said prostitution was like "renting an
organ for ten minutes". Another man said, "I use them like I might use any
other amenity, a restaurant, or a public convenience."
As shocking as these men's observations may sound to those who think
prostitution is like the movie Pretty Woman, their descriptions closely match
women's descriptions of prostitution. The women explain to us how it feels
to be treated like a rented organ. "It is internally damaging. You become in
your own mind what these people do and say with you. You wonder how
could you let yourself do this and why do these people want to do this to
Women who prostitute have described it as "paid rape" and "voluntary
slavery". Prostitution is sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, often

worse. His payment does not erase what we know about sexual violence,
domestic violence and rape.
This understanding of the realities of prostitution by the john and the
woman he buys is at odds with the notion of prostitution as slightly
unpleasant labour that should be legalised. Whether or not it is legal,
prostitution is extremely harmful for women. Women in prostitution have the
highest rates of rape and homicide of any group of women ever studied.
They are regularly physically assaulted and verbally abused, whether they
prostitute on the street or in massage parlours, brothels or hotels.
Sexual violence and physical assault are the norm for women in legal
prostitution. In one Dutch study, 60 per cent of women in legal prostitution
were physically assaulted, 70 per cent were threatened with physical
assault, 40 per cent experienced sexual violence and 40 per cent had been
coerced into legal prostitution.
In nine countries, we found that 68 per cent of women, men and
transgendered people in prostitution had post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), a prevalence that is comparable to that of battered or
raped women seeking help, and survivors of state-sponsored torture.
Across widely varying cultures on five continents the traumatic
consequences of prostitution were similar whether prostitution was legal,
tolerated, or illegal.
Yet some who may not be familiar with the sex industry believe that
legalisation will decrease the harm of prostitution, like a bandage on a
wound. They ask: "Wouldn't it be at least a little bit better if it were
legalised? Wouldn't there be less stigma, and wouldn't prostitutes
somehow be protected?"
Underpinning laws that legalise prostitution is the belief that prostitution is
inevitable. Public statements by pimps emphasise that prostitution is here
to stay, with Dennis Hof in Reno and Heidi Fleiss in Sydney repeating the
mantra that "boys will be boys". Although false, these stereotypes about
men mainstream prostitution and they are also good business strategy,
relieving johns of ambivalence regarding the social acceptability of buying
sex while at the same time inviting men to spend like suckers.

Pimps do not suddenly become nice guys because prostitution is legal.

Legal Amsterdam brothels have up to three panic buttons in every room.
Why? Because legal johns are not nice guys looking for a normal date.
They regularly attempt to rape and strangle women.
As Amsterdam began shutting down its legal brothels a few years ago,
Mayor Job Cohen acknowledged that the Dutch had been wrong about
legal prostitution. It did not make prostitution safer. Instead, he said, legal
prostitution increased organised crime. It functioned like a magnet for
pimps and punters. Trafficking increased after legal prostitution 80 per cent
of women in Dutch prostitution have been trafficked.
Do not believe what you see on Cathouse. They are acting. A colleague
was telling the truth about her experience of prostitution on a TV talk show.
During a break in filming, she was approached by a second woman who
had been escorted in front of the cameras by her legal Nevada pimp.
Whispering, the frightened woman begged for help, saying the pimp had
coerced her to say on camera how much fun prostitution was. Leaving
behind her purse and coat so the pimp would assume she was returning,
they both ran and the woman was helped to escape.
The dilemma is not that there is no legal redress for coercion, physical
assault and rape in illegal prostitution. There are laws against those forms
of violence. The dilemma is that once in prostitution, there is no avoiding
sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, rape and acts that are the
equivalent of mental torture.
What do johns say about prostitution?
You get what you pay for without the "no," a sex buyer explained.
Non-prostituting women have the right to say "no." We have legal
protection from sexual harassment and sexual exploitation. But tolerating
sexual abuse is the job description for prostitution.
It's a myth that johns are harmless.
Research shows that a majority of johns refuse condoms, pay high prices
to desperately poor women to not use condoms, or rape women without

Research compared frequent and infrequent sex buyers. The men who
most frequently used women in prostitution were the most likely to have
committed sexually aggressive acts against non-prostituting women.
Do all women have the
right to live without the
sexual harassment or
sexual exploitation of
prostitution or is that
right reserved only for
those who have sex,
race or class privilege?
Although a majority of UK johns believe that most women have been lured,
tricked, or trafficked into prostitution, they buy them anyway. This finding is
consistent with another study showing that 47 per cent of US johns who
responded to an online escort advertisement were willing to buy a
childdespite three warnings.
According to a john interviewed for a research study, "All prostitutes are
exploited. However, they also have good incomes." (Di Nicola, Cuaduro,
Lombardi, & Ruspini, 2009, "Prostitution and human trafficking: Focus on
Some people have made the decision that it is reasonable to expect certain
women to turn ten tricks a day in order to survive. Those women most often
are poor and most often are racially marginalised. This neocolonial
economic perspective is enshrined in a Canadian prostitution tourist's
comment about women in Thai prostitution:
These girls gotta eat, don't they? I'm putting bread on their plate. I'm
making a contribution. They'd starve to death unless they whored.
This john-sympathetic economic Darwinism avoids the question: Do all
women have the right to live without the sexual harassment or sexual
exploitation of prostitution or is that right reserved only for those who have
sex, race or class privilege?
Which laws work, and which laws fail to stop the harms of prostitution?

All women should have the right to survive without prostituting.

Women, men, children, and the transgendered in prostitution should not be
arrested. There's no debate on that important issue.
Let's get to the facts, not the myths, about legal prostitution. There is lots of
evidence about the negative consequences of legal and decriminalised
Legal prostitution specifies where prostitution is permitted to take place,
including municipal tolerance zones or red-light zones. Decriminalised
prostitution removes all laws against pimping, pandering, and buying
women in prostitution, and decriminalises the person who is prostituted.
Legal and decriminalised prostitution are similar in their effects. Pimp-like,
the state collects taxes from legal prostitution. In decriminalised regimes,
the old fashioned pimps become legitimised entrepreneurs.
New Zealand passed a law in 2003 that decriminalised selling sex, buying
sex, and pimping. A Prostitution Law Review Committee (2008) reported
what happened after prostitution was decriminalised in New Zealand.
Seven years after the NZ law was passed, battles are still being waged
about whose neighbourhood prostitution will be zoned into. No one wants
prostitution next door. Prostitution is zoned into the neighbourhoods of
people who cannot afford the legal fees to prevent it.
The regulation of prostitution by zoning is a physical manifestation of the
same social/psychological stigma that decriminalisation advocates
allegedly want to avoid. Whether in Turkish genelevs (walled-off multi-unit
brothel complexes) or in Nevada brothels (ringed with barbed wire or
electric fencing), women in state-zoned prostitution are physically isolated
and socially rejected by the rest of society.
The social stigma of prostitution persisted five years after decriminalisation
in New Zealand, according to the Law Review Committee.
After decriminalization in NZ, violence and sexual abuse in prostitution
continued as before. "The majority of sex workers felt that the law could do
little about violence that occurred" and that violence was an inevitable
aspect of the sex industry, according to the Law Review Committee. After
the law was passed, 35 per cent of women in prostitution reported that they

had been coerced by johns. Women in massage parlour prostitution who

were under the control of pimps reported the highest rate of coercion. Five
years after legally defining prostitution as work, the New Zealand law was
unable to change the exploitative quasi-contractual arrangements that
existed before prostitution was decriminalised. Most people in prostitution
(both indoor and street) continued to mistrust police. They did not report
violence or crimes against them to the police.
Prostitution is legal in some Australian provinces. The Australian
Occupational and Safety Codes (OSC) recommend classes in hostage
negotiation skills for those in legal prostitution, reflecting johns' violence.
Trafficking is most prevalent wherever prostitution is legal or
decriminalised. When prostitution is legal, pimps operate with impunity and
johns are welcomed. Trafficking of children has increased in New Zealand
since decriminalisation, especially the trafficking of ethnic minority Maori
Reflecting increased organized crime since decriminalisation, Auckland
gangs have waged turf wars over control of prostitution.
Since decriminalisation street prostitution has spiraled out of control,
especially in New Zealand's largest city, Auckland. A 200-400% increase in
street prostitution has been reported.
After legalisation of prostitution in Victoria, Australia, the number of legal
brothels doubled. But the greatest expansion was in illegal prostitution. In
one year there was a 300 per cent increase in illegal brothels.
Staff at a NZ agency providing prostitution exit strategies observed that
there were twice as many johns in the street since decriminalisation. The
johns were more aggressive after prostitution was decriminalised, soliciting
the agency's women staff members. Similar post-decriminalisation
increased aggression against women has been noted among Australian
Is prostitution a choice?
Arguments for legalising prostitution depend on the strength of two
arguments: that prostitution is a choice for those in it and that the harms of

prostitution are decreased if it is legalised. There is little evidence that

either of these arguments are true. But zombie theories about prostitution
never seem to die no matter how many facts we beat them down with.
Only a tiny percentage all women in prostitution are there because they
choose it. For most, prostitution is not a freely-made choice because the
conditions that would permit genuine choice are not present: physical
safety, equal power with buyers, and real alternatives.
The few who do choose prostitution are privileged by class or race or
education. They usually have options for escape. Most women in
prostitution do not have viable alternatives. They are coerced into
prostitution by sex inequality, race/ethnic inequality, and economic
Here are examples of these invisible coercions:
More than 90 per cent
of those in it tell us that
they want escape from
* The woman in India who worked in an office where she concluded that
she might as well prostitute and be paid more for the sexual harassment
and abuse that was expected of her anyway in order to keep her job. That's
not a choice.
* The teen in California who said that in her neighborhood boys grew up to
be pimps and drug dealers and girls grew up to be hos. She was the third
generation of prostituted women in her family. Prostitution more severely
harms indigenous and ethnically marginalised women because of their lack
of alternatives. That's not a choice.
* A woman in Zambia who said that five blowjobs would pay for a bag of
cornmeal so she could feed her children. That's not a choice.
* The First Nations survivor of prostitution in Vancouver who said, "We want
real jobs, not blowjobs," See here for the rest of her 2009 speech and other
writings by survivors who have gotten out and who are supporting sisters to
also escape.

* The young woman sold by her parents at 16 into a Nevada legal brothel.
Ten years later, she took six psychiatric drugs that tranquilised her so she
could make it through the day selling sex. That's not a choice.
There is no evidence for the theory that legalisation somehow how is never
specified decreases the harm of prostitution.
In fact, legalisation increases trafficking, increases prostitution of children,
and increases sex buyers' demands for cheaper or "unrestricted" sex acts
(Sullivan, 2007, "Making Sex Work: A Failed Experiment with Legalized
Prostitution"). Whether prostitution is legal or illegal, research shows that
the poorer she is, and the longer she's been in prostitution, the more likely
she is to experience violence. The emotional consequences of prostitution
are the same whether prostitution is legal or illegal, and whether it happens
in a brothel, a strip club, a massage parlour, or on the street.
A decade ago, Sweden named prostitution as a form of violence against
women that fosters inequality. As a result Sweden criminalised buyers and
decriminalised the person in prostitution. Iceland, Norway, and South Korea
have now passed similar laws, with the UK passing legislation that moves
in a similar direction and Israel currently considering such a bill.
The Swedish government recently released an evaluation of the 1999
Swedish law on prostitution much like the New Zealand Law Reform
Commission's Report. The news is better from Sweden.
In a decade, street prostitution in Sweden has decreased by 50 per cent,
although it has increased in neighbouring countries. There is no evidence
that women have moved from street to indoor prostitution in Sweden.
The intimate relationship between prostitution and trafficking is highlighted
when buyers are criminalized. Sweden now has the fewest trafficked
women in the EU. The law interferes with the international business of
pimping and the practice of buying sex.
While there was initial resistance to the Swedish law, now more than 70 per
cent of the public supports it. Women exiting prostitution use state-provided
exit services. Not surprisingly, "those who have extricated themselves from
prostitution take a positive view of criminalisation, while those who are still
exploited in prostitution are critical of the ban."

Prostitution should not be legalised because it can't be fixed, only

abolished. More than 90 per cent of those in it tell us that they want escape
from prostitution. In order to escape they need housing, education, jobs
that provide a sustainable income, health care and emotional support. We
should all be working on providing women with alternatives to prostitution.
Melissa Farley "The real harms of prostitution" October 2010.
The Author
Melissa Farley, PhD, has practiced as a clinical psychologist for 45 years
and is a member of the American Psychological Association. In 1995 she
founded Prostitution Research and Education, a San Francisco-based
nonprofit, and manages its website which provides information to
advocates of women and children in prostitution around the world. She has
articulated the harms of prostitution, pornography, and trafficking as an
expert witness in forensic evaluations. She has been categorized as a legal
expert on the effects of sexual violence against women and children, post
traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, prostitution and trafficking.
Copyright 2010 Melissa Farley

Prostitution with the pursuit of freedom and

liberalism comes bondage, crime, and the issue of
human trafficking.
the legalization of prostitution has had a counter effect, as officials at Amsterdams City
Council now discover. Since prostitution was legalized, the European Union (EU)
enlargement has taken place and there has been free movement across borders. With
the high unemployment figures in Eastern Europe, many women looking for greener
pastures fall into the hands of traffickers. In countries such as Moldova, Hungary, and
Russia, job advertisements for dancers and waitresses turn out to be traffickers
manipulating them into prostitution. When these women cross over, they find
themselves sold into sex slavery to pimps or lover boys who enslave and house them,
forcing them to pay debts by working overtime as prostitutes.