“One woman described her experience of the sex of prostitution very succinctly when she referred to it as: ‘Paid rape.’ . . . . another woman described it as ‘like signing a contract to be raped’ . . . I described prostitution as ‘being raped for a living.’” (National Center on Sexual Exploitation report)

In places like D.C. and New York, the possibility of decriminalizing prostitution has come back on the horizon. Activists are now referring to prostitution as “sex work”—a deceptive term used to label the buying and selling of human beings for sex as a legitimate profession. This concept was even being promoted to teenage girls in Teen Vogue, with the headline “Why Sex Work is Real Work.” To legitimize men buying women for sex is to say that men have a right to women’s bodies by default. This should enrage every feminist to the core and cause them to come clawing in like a mama bear on anyone who tells teen girls that “men buying your body is a legitimate profession for your future.”

The commercial sex trade is sexual exploitation—it should never be somebody’s job to be exploited by another human being.

That being said, we should not discount the various factors that play a part in leading some women to the commercial sex trade. Often, these women have been sexually abused, come from broken homes, face drug and alcohol addiction, and have been emotionally comprised, manipulated, lured, coerced, or forced into prostitution. To glamorize a system that preys upon these vulnerabilities and is only sustained by dehumanizing the individual is inherently evil.

In reality, there are no good arguments for why it is okay to buy and sell anyone for sex. In 2013, Business Insider published an article advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution in the United States. None of the arguments made back then have changed significantly to this day, and they are still used to spread current misconceptions about prostitution.

Would Legalizing Prostitution Reduce Violence Against Women?

No. A study published in the Journal of Trauma Practice indicates that violence is prevalent within the world of prostitution and tends to be multi-traumatic. The study contained 854 individuals (women, girls, and transgendered people) currently or recently in prostitution in nine countries (Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, United States, and Zambia). According to the study (as reported by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation):

Some of those interviewed had been trafficked for the purpose of prostitution and were engaged in legal prostitution. Types and amount of violence experienced in prostitution are as follows:

  • 71% physically assaulted;
  • 57% raped; of those raped, 59% were raped more than 5 times;
  • 64% threatened with a weapon;
  • 88% verbal abuse;
  • 49% had pornography made of them;
  • 47% were upset by attempts to coerce them to perform something a sex buyer had seen in pornography;
  • In Germany, where prostitution is legal, 59% responded that prostitution is not safer with legalization;
  • 89% wanted to exit prostitution.
  • Equating prostitution with death, one woman stated, “Why commit suicide? I’ll work in prostitution instead (p. 53).”

The same study reported that 68 percent of women in prostitution met the criteria for PTSD.

Here are some more disturbing statistics from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s report:

  • “Interviews of 100 individuals (females (42%), males (32%), and transgender males (26%)) involved in street-based prostitution in inner city Washington, D.C., found high incidents of violence. Since entering prostitution, 61% reported being physically assaulted, with the majority being perpetrated by sexual buyers (75%).”
  • “A study of 106 women involved in street-based prostitution conducted in New York City reported types and amounts of violence experience while in prostitution included: Physical abuse (45.3%), Sexual abuse (34.9%), and Physical and sexual abuse (50.0%).”
  • “An investigation into the mortality rate of women in prostitution revealed that the leading cause of death was homicide (19%) and found that actively prostituting women were nearly 18 times more likely to be murdered than women of similar age and race during the study interval.”

Dear Teen Vogue, does this sound like the type of “purchasing intimacy” you want girls to go into?

The Business Insider piece was shockingly written by a female who even acknowledged the violence perpetrated on women in prostitution by citing two studies, one from San Francisco where it was found that 82% of prostitutes “had been assaulted and 68% had been raped while working as prostitutes,” and another study in Colorado Springs that found prostitutes were “18 times more likely to be murdered than non-prostitutes their age and race”—yet the argument is made that because prostitution is illegal, these women can’t call for help when their hazardous “work” conditions are too dangerous.

Do any of these statistics sound like proper “work” for any individual? Why are women allowing other people to tell them that they should settle for this as “work”?

The answer is not to legitimize something bad so less bad things will happen, but to confront injustice with justice.

Prostitution clearly isn’t work, it’s paid violence against women.

Even a self-identified former prostitute and D.C. activist for legalizing prostitution shared her story of violence in the trade: “I myself am a former sex worker and faced violence that I couldn’t report to anyone. I have been stabbed several times, beaten and chased by a car. There were times I could have remembered license plates or at least reported the incidents; but because sex work is criminalized, these dangerous people, they’re still out there.”

Wrong. These people are still out there because we fail to prosecute buyers of sex and pimps as much as we do the women who prostitute.

Attitudes of Male Buyers Towards Prostitutes

After interviewing 16 women (aged 20-38) incarcerated for prostitution-related offenses, the authors noted:

“Once a prostitute has consented to any exchange of sex for money, these women see many men as assuming that she has given up the right to refuse consent in any situation. Once her sexuality has been ‘purchased,’ her body ‘belongs’ to the purchaser to use. This was the constant theme in the interviews. Many women encountered men who treated their agreement to engage in some form of sex as permission to abuse the women’s bodies in any way they wished, as long as they gave the women monetary compensation.”

The study “Deconstructing The Demand for Prostitution: Preliminary Insights From Interviews With Chicago Men Who Purchase Sex” interviewed 113 self-reported male buyers face-to-face, recruited in advertisements in free publications and on Craigslist. Here are some of the findings:

  • 46% “purchased sex in order to obtain sex acts they either felt uncomfortable asking of their partner or which their partner refused to perform,” including oral and anal sex.
  • 43% said if they pay for sex, the woman should do anything they ask.
  • 13% “would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it.”
  • 19% admitted to raping a woman.
  • 57% “believed that the majority of women in prostitution experienced some type of childhood abuse.”
  • 32% thought the majority of women had entered prostitution before the age of 18.
  • 20% “thought that they had bought sex from women who were trafficked from other countries.”
  • 75% have seen women with a pimp.
  • 40% knowingly bought a woman in prostitution who was under pimp/trafficker control.

Here are some verbatim comments from buyers:

“She has no rights because you are paying for a sex act- she gives up the right to say no.”

“…she gave up her rights when she accepted my money.”

“Prostitutes are like a product, like cereal. You go to the grocery, pick the brand you want, and pay for it. It’s business.”

“I almost killed a hooker because she tried to run off with my money and I wasn’t going to let her. I used the blunt side of the knife. She tried to leave the car. We struggled for awhile. I wanted to scare her, so I put the blunt side of the knife to her throat. Somehow there was blood, and she gave the money back. I left her lying down in the street. I didn’t even want the money no more.”

Stay tuned for a multi-part series to see how prostitution is linked to sex trafficking and the path forward for going after the perpetrators of sexual exploitation.