Feminist Writing. Fourth Wave. For Women.

We've Known for Two Decades the Harms of Prostitution

So why are liberal feminists still supporting it?

We've Known for Two Decades the Harms of Prostitution

In 1998, The New York Times published an article titled, ”Many Prostitutes Suffer Combat Disorder, Study Finds”. The author, Abigail Zuger, pointed to research demonstrating that two-thirds of prostitutes experience PTSD (more than twice the rate of Vietnam veterans). The rate was true regardless of whether the prostitutes were male or female, children or adults, or located in San Francisco or Istanbul. The article quoted Dr. Melissa Farley, who stated, "Essentially, we need to view prostitution itself as a traumatic stressor."

So if we've known this for two decades, why are liberal feminists still pushing to normalize prostitution?

The push to re-brand sexual violence as a legitimate job "choice" is disturbing in its goals, and hypocritical in its messaging.

In June, lobbyists pushed to legalize both the buying and selling of sex in New York. At the time, multiple articles quoted former prostitute TS Candii, stating:

"We only want to live, be free and be safe," said TS Candii, a former sex worker and current leader in the effort to decriminalize the industry. She said she started selling sex at age 13 as a matter of survival.

Democrat Richard Gottfried, on the other hand, stated "Trying to stop sex work between consenting adults should not be the business of the criminal justice system."

Yet, it is clear there is nothing consensual (and often, nothing "adult") about "sex work," Candii herself even states that selling sex was a matter of survival for her. A child can not consent to sex, nor can someone who is under threat of starvation, homelessness, or death.

Modern advocates of the sex trade like to argue that selling sex is no different than selling any other form of labor under capitalism. We all do what we have to to survive, why should prostitution be any different?

There is a grain of truth in this. A coal miner sells his body, his labor, and often his health in exchange for a paycheck to put food on his family's table. This labor is not freely chosen, since under capitalism those who do not succeed to a certain degree will starve. There is essentially no social safety net, especially in America. Labor under capitalism can nearly always be viewed as coercive—as if you had a gun to your head saying "work, or I shoot."

The difference, though, is that we have a word for sex that is coerced: rape.

Under capitalism, sex that is conducted solely for the purpose of attaining money or basic resources needed for survival is inherently coerced. RAINN, the nation's largest sexual assault advocacy network, asks these questions to determine if there was "freely given consent,"

"Was the consent offered of the person’s own free will, without being induced by fraud, coercion, violence, or threat of violence?"

In the case of prostitution, especially any sexual exchange for "survival," the answer is a resounding "no."

Violence in Prostitution

Given the inherent sexual violence of prostitution, it's not surprising that other forms of violence often follow.

A study which took place across nine different countries found that 64% of prostituted had been threatened with a weapon, 73% were physically assaulted, and 57% had been raped (which, in this context, means unwanted sex for which they were not paid).

The study's abstract makes their findings crystal clear:

"Our findings contradict common myths about prostitution: the assumption that street prostitution is the worst type of prostitution... that most of those in prostitution freely consent to it... that prostitution is qualitatively different from trafficking, and that legalizing or decriminalizing prostitution would decrease it's harm."

Prostituted people in Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, and Zambia reported that they wanted to escape prostitution at a rate of 89%, but they did not have other options for survival.

The study replicated the findings that over two-thirds of individuals (68%) met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

The majority of prostitutes in Germany, where prostitution is legal, stated they did not believe legalization made them any safer from rape or physical assault.

Prostitution is Not a Normal Job

Activists who oppose the legalization of buying sex are constantly told to "listen to sex workers," yet, it is clear that the loudest voices in the debate are only those privileged enough to feel they would benefit under legalization. The majority of people who experience prostitution disagree.

Among Canadian women studied, 76% reported receiving physical injuries from violence in prostitution. For comparison, the legal industry with the highest injury rate, according to Forbes, is Animal Agriculture - with an injury rate at just 6.6%. Prostitution is simply not comparable to other jobs on nearly any front.

Julie Bindel, feminist campaigner, pointed out in an article for the Telegraph how the law is being used against women in Australia, where prostitution is legalized:

"A bill was passed in the Australia’s Northern Territories which decriminalises every aspect of the sex trade. The bill also gives pimps and punters the right to take women to court for damages if they don't "complete service" or if they withdraw consent."

If sex truly is a service that can be bought and sold like any other, that means punters now have the right to sue women for "breach of contract" if they decide not to go through with it.

The implications of treating prostitution as a job rather than as a traumatic experience for which we should provide services and punishment to the perpetrators are far-reaching, touching nearly every aspect of women's lives.

95% of those in prostitution experienced sexual harassment, which in the United States is legally actionable in any other job setting. How would equal protections apply to these women?

Jacqueline Gwynne, who worked as a secretary in a legal Australian brothel, pointed out that even though women technically had the right to say no to certain clients or push a "panic button," in her time there she never once saw this happen. Prostitutes were often underage using fake IDs, and there were none of the legal benefits offered in other workplaces:

"They didn’t get any pension contributions or maternity or sick leave or pay. And they couldn’t take out insurance for income protection like you can in a conventional job. They’d have to take time off for their period, or unwanted pregnancies or tears to their anus or vagina, or because they just needed a break from the abuse and trauma."

So why are people still pushing to legalize the buying of sex when we've known the harms of this practice for two decades?

Certainly not out of any concern for the women involved. Liberal feminists have been sold a lie, and are doing the patriarchy's work for it when they advocate the buying and selling of (mostly) women and girls. As we previously wrote, if you want to know if something is feminist, ask yourself who it benefits.

The only people who benefit from this arrangement are the pimps and punters.

The generous support of our readers allows 4W to pay our all-female staff and over 50 writers across the globe for original articles and reporting you can’t find anywhere else. Like our work? Become a monthly donor!

Enter your email below to sign in or become a 4W member and join the conversation.
(Already did this? Try refreshing the page!)