Prostitution - The Facts
The oldest profession - or the oldest oppression?
The facts on prostitution speak for themselves:
'Hell de Jour'
- 75% of women involved in prostitution started as children.
- 74% of women cite poverty as the primary motivator for entering prostitution (Melrose 2002).
Up to 70% of women in prostitution spent time in care, 45% report sexual abuse and 85% physical abuse within their families (Home Office 2006).
Up to 95% of women in prostitution are problematic drug users, including around 78% heroin users and rising numbers of crack cocaine addicts (Home Office 2004a).
More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted. At least three quarters have been physically assaulted (Home Office 2004b).
68% of women in prostitution meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as torture victims and combat veterans undergoing treatment (Ramsey et al 1993).
Four out of five women working in London brothels are thought to be foreign nationals (Dickson 2004).
The mortality rate for women in prostitution in London suffer is 12 times the national average (Home Office 2004a).
- A global study of prostitution found that 9 out of 10 women in prostitution would like to exit if they could (Farley, 2003).
- Ten years ago it was estimated that around 80,000 women were in prostitution in the UK (Kinnell 1999). Many experts believe the number to be far higher now.
The Effects on Wider Society
The prostitution industry also harms women in wider society.
Normalising prostitution normalises an extreme form of sexual subordination and objectification; it legitimises the existence of an underclass of women and it reinforces male dominance over women.
It also undermines our struggle for gender equality as it undermines 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 girls in prostitution.
So, what do we do about this oldest oppression?
This approach has been adopted by Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland – nations which consistently top the global polls in terms of gender equality.
The ‘Nordic model’ completely decriminalises those who sell sex acts whilst offering support services to exit prostitution. It further criminalises the purchase of sex acts to tackle the demand which expands prostitution and fuels trafficking for sexual exploitation.
This sends out a powerful message that it is not acceptable for women’s bodies to be bought and sold like commodities for sexual use and it overturns outdated legislation which essentially enshrines men’s right to buy women by focussing on those who sell sex acts whilst ignoring those who buy them.
In this way, the ‘Nordic model’ shifts criminal liability away from those who are exploited through prostitution and towards those who contribute to this exploitation by choosing to buy sex acts.
Furthermore, the ‘Nordic’ model has a broad and progressive political vision in that it actually aims to end the exploitative industry of prostitution rather than legitimise it which essentially ends up expanding it.
Why Decriminalisation does not Work
Total decriminalisation of the whole industry - including of pimps, traffickers and punters - does not make women safer. Why?
As the market for prostitution expands, so does the illegal sector. In New Zealand, where the enitre industry has been legalised - the illegal sector has actually expanded more than the legal sector. The illegal sector now makes up 80% of the industry (Instone and Margerison 2007).
This has also happened in Amsterdam where authorities have made a U-turn on legalisation and are now closing down areas of the red light district. 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” (Bindel and Kelly 2004).
Furthermore, decriminalisation of the entire industry and treating prostitution like any other job doesn’t deal with the long term psychological and physical effects of having unwanted and often violent & abusive sex numerous times a day and having to act like you enjoy it and are turned on by it.
Jo, a former prostituted woman who started at the age of 13 says: "When was the last time you enjoyed being penetrated by twenty lairy, half-pissed blokes who spit all over you, call you a variety of names, and demand you act as though you are really getting off on it in an evening, every evening?".
To be able to do this many women need to ‘split off’ from this process in their head, hence why drug and alcohol dependency is such a big part of prostitution.
To make women in prostitution safer we have to offer exit strategies and support to get out of prostitution, not legitimise commercial sexual exploitation by making it legal and by giving a green light for the industry to expand.
Furthermore, we have to work towards ending the exploitative industry of prostitution to ensure that future generations of vulnerable women and children are no longer drawn into or coerced into having to sell their bodies. To do this we have to tackle the problem at its route – we have to tackle demand.