Over the weekend more than 100 children were rescued from prostitution rings all across the country, the youngest of these victims was 13.
When asking who the victim is in prostitution, the child prostitute is the easy case. As a society we protect children. We don’t believe they should be used, exploited, or sexualized. But, prostitution of adults is the tricky case. The questionable line comes from that gray area of career longevity … women who are lured into the profession at a young age and then can’t find a way out. Can a woman (an adult woman) who has been sexually exploited and abused since she was 13 be seen as a consenting “entrepreneur” as an adult prostitute at 21?
People who call prostitution a victimless crime that should be legalized often overlook the very tricky reality of what might have lead to a woman arriving in this particular career field.
There are basically four legal approaches to prostitution. Prostitution can be criminalized, legalized, decriminalized, or abolished. Where there is criminalized prostitution, all parties to the prostitutional transaction are arrested. Legalized prostitution is limited to certain areas, times, or behaviors and is regulated to some degree to protect the consumer and the purveyor. To some extent regulation can watch for FUTURE child victims, but it does nothing to protect the adult prostitute who is entrenched in an exploitative system. Decriminalized prostitution removes all laws against pimping, pandering, and buying of sex and leaves the transaction and regulation up to the participants and the free market. Abolition of prostitution is a human rights based legal approach that aims to stop the buying and selling of sex while working to support those trying to escape prostitution, instead of arresting them.
Those of us who live in comfortable houses with families who love and care for us can easily think of prostitution as a victimless crime, and based on that it is easy to assume that it should be decriminalized. For a woman who has options: education, healthcare, stable childcare, and a couple of men who call her for weekly appointments it probably is victimless (at least until his wife finds out). But, I also have the luxury of believing that unicorns are probably really friendly, both are purely esoteric questions for me.
Additionally, many who support decriminalization believe that it helps the prostitute. They argue that the very act of criminalizing prostitution in the U.S. may actually increase victimization of the participants, even if they enter the field by choice. So, along those lines, just how bad is it to be dealing in this “victimless” crime:
- 65% to 95% of those in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children
- 70% to 95% were physically assaulted in prostitution
- 60% to 75% were raped in prostitution
- 75% of those in prostitution have been homeless at some point in their lives
- 85% to 95% of those in prostitution want to escape, but have no other options
- 68% of 85% of people in strip clubs, massage parlors, and street prostitution worldwide meet the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD
“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 prostitutes 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.“
“As a society, we do not allow the sale and purchase of body parts, such as kidneys. This is because we know that it would be the poor and disadvantaged who would exercise their ‘choice’ to sell body parts for cash. Others would be likely to ‘choose’ to live a healthier and longer life. Prostitution has been likened to “renting an organ for 10 minutes.” Why should we assume that anyone really chooses to rent out her sexual organs?”
This isn’t a perfect world. We are surrounded by people who are poor, heartbreakingly poor, and making decisions we cannot even imagine – especially in the third world and our inner cities where options for women (especially minority women) are few and low paying. Just as we view it as abusive to underpay and overwork migrant workers, or hire children, we should also look at prostitutes in that same vein of exploited labor. I believe that American men who travel to the third world and pay a woman $10 for sex are taking advantage of her, but we are all taking advantage of third world workers in factories who make $3.00 per day so that we can buy cheap unbruised bananas. There isn’t a perfect distinction of what is exploitative and what is just the unfairness of a global economy, except that in one instance the worker is selling the labor of their back rather than on their back – first world white guilt at its most complicated.
I do feel that we need better terms for prostitution. We need to look differently at “Sex Professionals” vs. “Prostitutes” vs. “Sex Slaves” – it might be a more useful classification for discussing legalization.
A sex professional (in my taxonomy) chooses prostitution among other options which provide a living wage. She is reasonably educated, physically and mentally healthy, and has choices in life – just like any professional. Her career was chosen and she is directing her own course of action. At a certain financial offer, most of us would sell sex to someone.
A prostitute fails into the field after a lack of options, family, or even the basic safety that the majority of us enjoy. She is stuck. She may have children to feed, mental illness (including addiction), or have found her way into prostitution after a childhood of abuse and neglect.
A sex slave is in the field and performing sexual acts under threat of injury or death. This person is held against their will and sold for sexual gratification. I hope we all feel that this is a disgusting practice. The tricky part, how would a John know? The prostitute isn’t able to tell him, she’s been beaten into submission by life and the profession.
I don’t know the answer to dealing with the oldest profession in the world, but I do know that we can’t call all exchanges of sex for money victimless, regardless of how fun the shopping scene in Pretty Woman was. But, maybe just calling it something that better represents the inequality many of these women face would help us start.
- FBI Rescues 105 Children From Horrific Sex Trafficking Operations in 76 U.S. Cities (theblaze.com)
- Special Report: Stolen Lives (mysouthwestga.com)
- Iyanla Vanzant discusses parenthood and ‘Daddyless Daughters’ on the ‘Melissa Harris-Perry’ show (thegrio.com)
- Victimless Crimes (twosidesofeverytriangle.wordpress.com)