Not Quite What You Think: Lives Surrounding Prostitution


At this moment, the United Nations estimates there are 2.5 million people who are deprived of their liberty and trafficked around the world. Regarding the United States, approximately 300,000 American children are victims of human trafficking and UNICEF reports that 50-60% of children trafficked worldwide are under the age of 16. The organization ECPAT, devoted to ending child prostitution and trafficking, estimates that 25% of international ‘sex tourists’ are Americans. The human trafficking industry is the second most profitable industry behind drugs as reported by A study by Emily Butler (who holds a JD in Law) and Melissa Farley found that people in prostitution wish to escape but have no other options. Prostitution enables industries such as human trafficking and drug abuse; the physical and mental abuse of victims is often ignored. Children that have a history of drug or sexual abuse as well as being repeat runaways are high-risk for becoming human trafficking victims.  In the past few weeks, there have been news reports detailing a nation-wide sting operation to bring down the prostitution ring operating in the US.  One report stated that a recent operation rescued 105 minors from sex trafficking while arresting 150 adults allegedly participating as pimps.  Further reports indicated that family members are pimping out the younger members of their family and that Mexican drug cartels are now the major directors of human trafficking in Mexico.  Prostitution is a harmful industry to the victims involved as well as communities that experience prostitution; legalizing prostitution increases the benefits of those exploiting women and thus, prostitution should not be legalized in the United States.

There are no scientific studies that can affirm that legalizing prostitution will reduce the crime and health hazards related to prostitution and, by extension, human trafficking; on the other hand, there are studies that reveal the nature of the environment: that abuse is the standard for victims. By supporting the legalization of prostitution, it enables the demand for prostituted persons, does not stem the industry of human trafficking, and ignores the voices of the unrepresented victims, some 85-95% of prostitutes. By stating that taxation of the industry will create revenue for the government, it introduces a new pimp, the government, and studies have shown that counties with legalized prostitution do not experience additional revenue.

Arguments for the legalization of prostitution include ‘It happens anyway, it should just be legalized’, prostitution-related crimes will decrease, legalization leads to regulation of all participants, legalization allows taxation of the industry, and individuals deserve the right to choose what they do with their bodies. Counter-arguments for the legalization of prostitution include the fact that no studies support the implied benefits of legalization, civil liberties are not guaranteed, regulation does not protect the prostitute from abuse or sexually transmitted infections, and that legalization creates demand so the supply will respond.

There have been no scientific studies that can affirm that legalization produces the benefits that pro-legalizers advocate. Melissa Farley, whom I mentioned earlier, does an incredible job of summarizing the truth about those claims.  Farley is an anti-prostitution advocate that holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Iowa is best known for her studies regarding the effects of prostitution, trafficking, and sexual violence.  One report I will quote often by Farley is Myths & Facts about Legalized Prostitution. In the report, she states that legalization of prostitution actually turns pimps into legitimate businessmen as well as turning brothels, massage parlors, etc. into legitimate venues. In a different report, Prostitution Quick Facts, produced by Farley, she reports that 60-75% of prostitutes were raped, 70-95% were physically assaulted, and 80-90% suffer verbal abuse and social contempt.  Farley also reports that 85-95% of prostitutes wish to get out of prostitution, and when asked what they want, prostitutes responded that they wanted “a decent job, safe housing, medical care including psychological counseling”. Studies have shown that prostitution is a choice made from desperation and prostitutes intended for the ‘profession’ to be temporary, but found that their pimps, addictions, or providing for children made it too difficult to get out of the business; that means prostitution is not a choice of free will. It has also been indicated that moving prostitutes into brothels (i.e. confined spaces) removes the chance of people who could potentially help the prostitutes from meeting them.

The stigma of being a prostitute (whore) will still follow them, especially if they are forced to register as a prostitute which removes their anonymity. Also, Dutch Parliament members admitted that the legalization reinforced the oppression of women and that the Dutch could not control the traffickers or pimps that operated out of legal brothels; as a result, 50% of Amsterdam’s legal brothels were closed. Submitting prostitutes to health inspections don’t guarantee that they will operate in proper health; e.g. according to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, there is a period between 9 days and 6 months where a person infected with HIV will test negative, that is an incredibly long period to be out of work. Also, the Foundation emphasizes that people can be infected with HIV by a person that is in the window period, so infected prostitutes can spread infections if they’re forced to work, defeating the point of health inspections. As stated before, women enter prostitution because they lack other viable options, i.e. women chose prostitution because they needed to feed themselves or their children: “If prostitution were really a choice, it would not be those people with the fewest choices available to them” (Myths & Facts). The fact is, prostitutes typically don’t make money, rather, they end up in poverty. Some women in legal brothels report that they pay high sums for rent and food on top of having to pay their pimps.

The majority of persons engaging in prostitution do so because they were forced into the profession or because they had no other viable option. Studies actually show that legalization of prostitution has benefited the people that exploit the industry, not helped to regulate or create a safer environment. Prostitution-related crimes have been shown to remain the same or increase in locations that have legalized prostitution, like Amsterdam. Legalization also enables the industry of human trafficking and the abuse that goes hand-in-hand with the industry; it also ignores the voices of victims that wish to not participate in prostitution. Regulation does not guarantee the safety of prostitutes, from physical/mental abuse to the contraction and spread of STIs. Also, taxation of the industry is not viable because in counties with legal prostitution, the counties don’t experience additional revenue from brothels. Along with no tangible profits, taxation turns the government into a pimp, and by extension, confers responsibility to all citizens who will benefit from the taxation of the exploitation of humans. Can an American citizen that claims liberty and justice for all actually consider condoning the abuse and exploitation of human beings?

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