Prostitution is Not a Profession

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Prostitution is often referred to as the “world’s oldest profession.” This phrase implies that people, women especially, willingly choose to be prostitutes. People usually choose professions to further their ambitions or use their aptitudes and gifts. Prostitution is not a profession; it is the exploitation of a human being.

Why is this important and how does it relate to trafficking? Those wishing to legalize prostitution and thereby normalize it use the term “forced prostitution,” as opposed to “voluntary prostitution.” Some people believe that legalizing prostitution will end sex trafficking.

Abolitionists fighting to end sex trafficking see all prostitution as violent, exploitative and harmful to women, children and men. The distinction between forced and voluntary is a false one; it is all destructive and dehumanizing. Yes, some people willingly enter into prostitution; they are in the minority. According to research done by Melissa Farley, Ph.D., of Prostitution Research and Education, 88 percent of people working as prostitutes said they wanted to leave prostitution.

The hazards of the job and the toll it takes on mental health are some of the reasons for wanting to escape. Professor Donna M. Hughes at the University of Rhode Island listed the following statistics about violence perpetrated against women and girls by their pimps and “johns,” and the consequences:

Women in prostitution are 18 times more likely to be murdered than women of similar age and race;
80% sustained bruises, 35% sustained broken bones;
47% sustained head injuries, 53% sustained mouth and teeth injuries;
86% felt depressed, 41% felt hopeless;
64% felt suicidal, 63% have hurt themselves or attempted suicide;
68% of women in prostitution meet the criteria for diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In Chicago:

25% of the women in drug houses, hotels, and on the street were raped more than 10 times;
21% of the women in escort services were raped more than 10 times;
“Johns” men who purchase sex acts were the most frequent perpetrators of violence.

This does not sound like a profession, it sounds like torture. Pro-prostitution groups contend that legalization will make it safer and take the away the stigma felt by prostitutes. Abolitionists contend that banning prostitution and prosecuting the perpetrators, such as pimps, johns and traffickers, will free victims from slavery and degradation and be the first step to giving them back their dignity and self-worth.

Amsterdam is known for prostitution. Its red light district draws tourists from around the globe in search of sex and voyeurism. So, how did legalizing prostitution work for Amsterdam? The mayor admitted in October that the Dutch experiment to end abuse by legalizing prostitution has failed. An article on quotes Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen: “Almost five years after the lifting of the brothel ban, we have to acknowledge that the aims of the law have not been reached. Lately we’ve received more and more signals that abuse still continues.” The police admit, “We are in the midst of modern slavery.”

From 68-80 percent of women being prostituted in the Netherlands are from foreign countries. This indicates sex trafficking. Legalizing prostitution did not stop sex trafficking: It just made it easier and more profitable for the traffickers. A new report from the United Nations says that trafficking is now tied with illegal arms dealing as organized crime’s No. 2 money maker.

Sweden has it right on prostitution: It criminalized the buying of sexual services in its 1999 law. Boriana Jnson, member of the Stockholm-based Kvinna til Kvinna Foundation, a women’s group, said, “The ban demonstrates the ethical and political attitude of the state toward prostitution and gender equality in general. From the viewpoint of human rights, there can’t be such a relationship in which a man would purchase and own the body of a woman as a commodity. No civilized society, regardless of the possible fiscal or other benefits, should not [sic] allow for that. Furthermore, prostitution is treated in Sweden as a crime of violence and sexual exploitation in which the women are the victims.”

Criminalizing the demand for prostitution, that is, charging the traffickers and purchasers, and decriminalizing the selling of sex, have led to a massive decrease in street prostitution, brothels, massage parlors and the number of foreign women trafficked into Sweden. The third aspect of their law seeks to rescue and restore prostituted women and children with social service programs aimed at helping them leave prostitution, and also to educate the public about its horrors. Sweden seeks to help the victims and punish the perpetrators; the government realized legalization does not accomplish either goal. Germany, Belgium and the state of Victoria, Australia, should take note of this as they all have legalized prostitution.

Imagine career day at an elementary school: a doctor, a fireman and a prostituted woman. This could be the scene at a school in the Netherlands, Germany, Australia or Belgium. Little Sally and Johnny could be taught that letting their bodies be used as vehicles for pleasure and pain is a valid career path. Servicing up to 20 or 30 clients a day could be a way to save for their futures. Would any of us want our kids making this their chosen profession? Neither should we perpetuate this myth that it is the “world’s oldest profession.”


Brenda Zurita is the Project Director for CWA’s Crossing the Bridge initiative against sex trafficking and child exploitation.

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