Prostitution: The Facts
FACT 1: Prostitution is not an issue of 'choice' - most women enter prostitution because of lack of choice and many are coerced by pimps or traffickers.
75% of women in prostitution became involved when they were children (Melrose, 2002); 70% spent time in care and 45% report experiencing sexual abuse during their childhoods (Home Office, 2006). Once in prostitution, 9 out of 10 surveyed women would like to exit but feel unable to do so (Farley et al, 2003).
It is the men who buy sex who are exercising free choice, and it is this ‘choice’ to purchase vulnerable women and girls that expands prostitution and fuels trafficking for sexual exploitation.
FACT 2: Prostitution is not about sex. It is about exploitation, violence and abuse.
More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted at the hands of pimps and punters; up to 95% of women in street prostitution are problematic drug users (Home Office 2004); and 68% of women in prostitution meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as victims of torture undergoing treatment (Farley, et al. 2003):
“I would numb my feelings... I would actually leave my body and go somewhere else with my thoughts and with my feelings until he got off me and it was over with. I don’t know how else to explain it except it felt like rape. It was rape to me.” (Survivor of prostitution in Farley, 2003)
FACT 3: Prostitution is harmful in and of itself: legalisation or complete decriminalisation of the entire industry doesn't remove the harm of prostitution– it simply makes that harm legal.
Legalisation or complete decriminalisation of the industry does not deal with the long term psychological and physical effects of having unwanted and often violent and abusive sex numerous times a day and having to act like you enjoy it. To cope with this, women in prostitution report having to disassociate and ‘split off’ in their heads often using drugs and alcohol to block out reality.
Legalisation or complete decriminalisation of the industry does not make women safer. Instead it expands a multi billion pound industry which profits from violence against vulnerable women and girls.
FACT 4: Prostitution does not need to be legalised or completely decriminalised to provide better protection for women.
A sympathetic response from police when women report rape or violence should be the norm for all women regardless of who they are or what they do. It is not necessary to legalise the sex industry in order to extend such basic rights and services to women in prostitution. In fact legalisation just serves to expand an industry in which violence against women is at its most extreme.
FACT 5: There is broad consensus that those who sell or are sold for sexual use should be completely decriminalised.
It is completely wrong for those who are exploited by the sex trade should be criminalised for the exploitation that they face. This means that all criminal records and ASBOs for being involved in prostitution should be wiped.
Demand Change! calls for the buying of sexual acts to be criminalised in order to tackle the demand for prostitution which expands the industry by drawing more women and children into prostitution and fuelling trafficking for sexual exploitation.
FACT 6: Treating prostitution as ordinary work does not remove the stigma.
Normalising prostitution makes the abuse, violence and exploitation invisible and turns pimps and punters into businessmen and legitimate consumers. Recognising prostitution as ’just a job’ ignores the violence, poverty and marginalisation which drives women into prostitution, and means an end to services to support women out of prostitution - why would you need exit strategies for a ‘normal’ job?
FACT 7: Legalising indoor prostitution does not make women safer.
It doesn't matter where prostitution takes place: the serious risks of harm are ever present. 48% of women in indoor prostitution have experienced violence from buyers (British Medical Journal 2001). In addition to physical violence, women in indoor prostitution report high levels of coercion and control from pimps and brothel owners, including being pressurised or forced not to use condoms, having to see more customers than women on the street, paying inflated charges and fines, and having to have sex with pimps or brothel owners, and/or their friends. The parents of Marnie Frey, a young woman murdered in prostitution, give their view:
“To think the best we can do for these women is giving them a safe place to sell their bodies is a joke. There is no such thing as a ‘clean safe place’ to be abused in. For a man to think he can buy a woman's body is insane...Marnie did not choose prostitution; her addictions did, and any man who bought her body for their sexual pleasure should go to jail for exploiting her desperation.” (Lynn & Rick Frey, 2008).
FACT 8: Legalising prostitution or decriminalising the entire industry sends out a message to new generations of boys and men that women are objects for sexual use and that prostitution is harmless fun.
Is this what we want, for generations of boys to grow up thinking that it is normal for men to have entitlement over women as sexual commodities? What is the meaning of our 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 children in prostitution?
Legalising or decriminalising the entire industry of prostitution normalises an extreme form of sexual subordination, it legitimises the existence of an underclass of women, it reinforces male dominance, and it undermines struggles for gender equality. It is time to start tackling the attitudes which say that it is acceptable to view and treat women as sexual objects by tackling the demand for commercial sexual exploitation.
FACT 9: Legalisation or decriminalisation of the entire industry expands prostitution and traficking for sexual exploitation.
Legalisation and complete decriminalisation gives a green light to pimps and traffickers making it easier for them to operate. In New Zealand, complete decriminalisation has led to the illegal sector expanding to make up 80% of the industry (Instone and Margerison, 2007), and 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).
FACT 10: Tackling demand for prostitution decreases prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Criminalising the purchase of sex whilst at the same time decriminialising those who sell sexual acts and offering support services to people in prostitution is the only viable way to work towards an end to this exploitative industry.
Criminalising the purchase of sexual acts makes punters take responsibility for their actions and sends out a clear message that it is not acceptable for women to be treated as commodities to be bought and sold for sexual use.
Several countries throughout the world, including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Lithuania, South Korea and Cambodia have successfully introduced legislation that tackles the demand for sexual acts. In Sweden, where this legislation has been in force since 1999, there has been a significant reduction in trafficking and prostitution with a halt in the recruitment of new women (Baklinski, 2007). Sweden is a no longer an attractive destination for traffickers, and the number of men purchasing sexual services has fallen significantly - the law clearly works as a deterrent (Ekberg, 2008).
Want to get involved in raising awareness about the reality of prostitution as exploitation and in urging the government to follow the 'Nordic' model to stop the demand?
Go to our GET INVOLVED page here
Download the Demand Change! PROSTITUTION: FACT OR FICTION? Fact sheet here
Baklinski, Thaddeus (2007) Swedish Prostitution Ban An Apparent Enormous Success. Accessed at http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2007/nov/07111506.html
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.
Ekberg, Gunilla (2008) Summary of Speech given at a conference organised by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Asia-Pacific (CATW AP), April 25 2008, Manila, the Philippines.
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 (2004) Solutions and strategies: Drug problems and street sex markets. 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)
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