Prostitution - The Facts
The oldest profession - or the oldest oppression?
For OBJECT, tackling the demand for prostitution is a crucial part of challenging the sexual objectification of women. Prostitution is the ultimate form of objectification as it is based on the idea that it is acceptable for women to be treated like commodities to be bought and sold for sexual use.This harms women and girls in prostitution, many of whom experience violence and abuse and are unable to speak out.
The facts speak for themselves:
- 75% of women involved in prostitution were drawn into prostitution when they were children.
- 74% of women cite poverty and the need to pay household expenses and support their children as a 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).
- The mortality rate for women in prostitution in London suffer is 12 times the national average (Home Office 2004a).
- 9 out of 10 women surveyed would like to exit prostitution (Farley 2003).
- Four out of five women working in London brothels are thought to be foreign nationals (Dickson 2004).
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?
The last thing we want is for people in prostitution to be criminalised. We therefore call for decriminalisation for all prostituted people (who are mainly women and children) and the criminalisation of all people who use prostituted people.
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.
For more information about the Demand Change! campaign see the website at www.demandchange.org
Bindel, Julie and Kelly, Liz (2004) A Critical Examination of Responses to Prostitution in Four Countries: Victoria-Australia, Ireland, The Netherlands, Sweden. Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University.
Dickson (2004). Sex in the City: Mapping Commercial Sex Across London. London: Eaves Housing for Women
Farley , M. (2003). Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4, 2003, pp.33-74.
Frey, Lynne and Rick Frey (2008) Not in My Daughter’s Name. Accessed at http://www.orato.com/node/12087&page=14Philadelphia: The Haworth Press Inc.
Home Office (2006) A coordinated prostitution strategy and a summary of responses to ‘Paying the price’. London: UK Government.
Home Office (2004a) Solutions and strategies: Drug problems and street sex markets. London: UK Government.
Home Office (2004b) Paying the Price: a consultation paper on prostitution. London: UK Government.
Inston, Tighe and Margerison, Ruth (2007) Shadow Report for the CEDAW Committee on New Zealand, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women New Zealand (CATW NZ)
Kinnell, H. (1999). Survey of Sex Work Characteristics and Policies in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Ireland & Luxembourg. EUROPAP.
Melrose, M. (2002), Ties that bind – Young People and the Prostitution Labour Market in Britain, presented at Fourth Feminist Research Conference, Bologna: September 2000(www.women.it/cyberarchive/files/melrose.htm)
Ramsay, R. et al (1993). Psychiatric Morbidity in Survivors of Organized State Violence Including Torture. 162:55-59, British Journal of Psychiatry