Prostitution is the act or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment. The person who receives payment for sexual services is called a prostitute and the person who receives such services is known by a multitude of terms, including "john". Prostitution is one of the branches of the sex industry.
During the 1800s, prostitution was divided into three subcultures. Five to ten percent of women made up the first subculture. Women in it for the $. The second subculture was a "sporting male" group encouraged to hire prostitutes. Brothels made up the third subculture. Hundreds of brothels could be found in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
Donna J. Guy writes about the history of prostitution world-wide in her article entitled "Stigma, Pleasures, and Dutiful Daughters." Guy states that prostitution is linked to religious beliefs, family survival, and patriarchy authority. However, women chose prostitution to find independence, provide an income or control their own sexuality. Guy refers to "Feminizing Venereal Disease" by Spongberg where she links gender and disease. Physicians blamed venereal disease transmissions on prostitutes.
In Buenos Aires between 1875 and 1936 prostitution was medically supervised to monitor European prostitutes. However in neighboring Rio de Janeiro, populized by Afro-Brazilians, medically supervised prostitution was never approved.
In New York City and Chicago, prostitution zones were pushed into African-American neighborhoods. White women who dated non-white men were considered "mental defectives."
One of the earliest known civilizations to refer to prostitution was the Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia, which is modern Iraq. They referred to prostitutes as kar.kid. According to the book The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia by Gerda Lerner, the Sumerians mention prostitution as a profession in a list that dates back to ca. 2400 B.C. The assumption is that prostitution was connected to a temple service, Lerner wrote.
“In 1974, police estimated there were 400,000 prostitutes in Thailand, procured primarily for the U.S. military on R & R from the Vietnam War. As of 1993, an unofficial estimate is that there are 2 million prostitutes in Thailand, whose national economy is dependent on tourism. Prostitution is the largest commodity for the 450,000 Thai men who purchase prostitutes daily as well as for a large percentage of the 5.4 million tourists a year who arrive in Thailand for sex tours per year.” (Kathleen Barry, The Prostitution of Sexuality, 1995, New York, New York University Press).
Women trapped in prostitution are mothers, daughters and sisters. They suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, as well as other related illnesses including acute anxiety, depression, insomnia, flashbacks, and emotional numbing. Coping mechanisms may include alcohol, drugs, mental breakdown, suicide, self-mutilation, and abortion. An alarming number of the women were abused in their past, making them vulnerable to further exploitation.
We usually don't see prostitution as domestic violence because it is just too painful: "...the carnage: the scale of it, the dailiness of it, the seeming inevitability of it; the torture, the rapes, the murders, the beatings, the despair, the hollowing out of the personality, the near extinguishment of hope commonly suffered by women in prostitution." (Margaret A. Baldwin "Split at the Root: Prostitution and Feminist Discourses of Law Reform" in Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 1992, Vol 5: 47-120)
Prostitution is an act of violence against women which is intrinsically traumatizing. In a study of 475 people in prostitution (including women, men, and the transgendered) from five countries (South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, USA, and Zambia):
62% reported having been raped in prostitution. 73% reported having experienced physical assault in prostitution. 72% were currently or formerly homeless. 92% stated that they wanted to escape prostitution immediately. (Melissa Farley, Isin Baral, Merab Kiremire, Ufuk Sezgin, "Prostitution in Five Countries: Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" (1998) Feminism & Psychology 8 (4): 405-426)
A Canadian Report on Prostitution and Pornography concluded that girls and women in prostitution have a mortality rate 40 times higher than the national average. ( Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution, 1985, Pornography and Prostitution in Canada 350.) In one study, 75% of women in escort prostitution had attempted suicide. Prostituted women comprised 15% of all completed suicides reported by hospitals. (Letter from Susan Kay Hunter, Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Jan 6, 1993, cited by Phyllis Chesler in "A Woman's Right to Self-Defense: the case of Aileen Carol Wuornos," in Patriarchy: Notes of an Expert Witness, 1994, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine.)
Benefits of Legalization
Currently most everywhere in the United States, our legal system penalizes prostitutes and their customers for what they do as consenting adults. Money is still spent on law enforcement efforts to catch prostitutes and their customers. Once caught, justice departments have to process these people through very expensive systems.
What are the end results? Police personnel and courtrooms are overburdened with these cases, having little or no impact on prostitution. The prostitutes and their customers pay their fines and are back to the streets in no time in a revolving door process. Catch and release may work for recreational fishing but it has no deterring affect on prostitution.
Making prostitution legal will allow the act to be managed instead of ignored. Pimps and organized crime figures, who regularly treat their workers on subhuman levels, would no longer control women. In some countries, prostitute rings buy and sell women on the black market, force their women to comply through violence and create unhealthy working conditions. When prostitutes operate independently and in secret, many times they become abused by their own customers.
Legalizing prostitution would prevent underground prostitution that occurs today. When men want to pay for sex, they find prostitutes. These people work in massage parlors, escort services, strip bars and modeling agencies or still work corners as traditional streetwalkers. There are legitimate parlors, dating services, bars and agencies but of the hundreds that exist within newspaper classified advertisements and telephone directories, there are a large number that provide sexual services. A routine search through Google's Internet news engine for 'prostitution' routinely reveals connections between prostitution and these falsetto agencies (Google, 2004).
It is estimated that 100,000 to 3 million teens are nearly invisibly prostituted per year in the United States (Walker, 2002). If we allow prostitution to remain hidden from view and basically invisible to the law as it is today, we allow a number of teens to be swept up into prostitution every year. When adult women decide to exchange money for sex, it is a personal choice open to them under the philosophy of a free, democratic society. When troubled minors who do not yet have the social survival skills decide to prostitute, they are often manipulated by opportunists who exploit these teens, typically leading to horrific ends. Legalizing prostitution will help prevent these instances through regulation.
Legalized, regulated prostitution has many benefits. Encounters can happen within controlled environments that bring about safety for both the customers and the prostitutes. Prostitutes would no longer be strong-armed by pimps or organized crime rings. Underage prostitution would be curtailed. There would also be health-safety improvements.
For more than two years, "20/20" cameras documented the daily risks of streetwalkers and expensive call girls. The report captures the realities of who these women are and how the law deals with them compared to their male clientele.
The program follows women -- whether a single mom, a college student, a housewife, a school teacher or a drug addict -- who have ended up in places they never planned to be. Some are lured by the dream of a flashy lifestyle and fast money, others to feed their drug habit and just to survive, but almost all struggle with the challenge of how hard it is to get out of the profession.
Whether the women are making $20 in five minutes or $20,000 in one night, the program follows the grim spiral of dependence these women often fall into.
Although the word ‘prostitution’ can be used to describe the act of selling sex, it can also mean ‘using a skill or ability in a way that is considered shameful’. It seems to include a moral judgement, by implying that individuals who sell sex are involved in a practice that is corrupt and so are themselves unworthy. A far more neutral and respectful alternative is the term ‘sex work’.
This issue may not matter so much in the context of everyday conversations or casual debates, but in serious discussions on the topic it is important that words are chosen carefully. Since this article seeks to discuss the issue of HIV and sex work in an open and non-judgemental way, we refer to sex workers rather than prostitutes.
The term 'sex worker' refers to a wide array of people who sell sex, and who work in a variety of environments. They include women, men and transgender people and people who may work either full time or part time, in brothels, or bars, on the street or from home for example.
Ronald Weitzer, PhD, Professor of Sociology at George Washington University, in the July 2005 Violence Against Women article "Flawed Theory and Method in Studies of Prostitution," wrote:
"In no area of the social sciences has ideology contaminated knowledge more pervasively than in writings on the sex industry. Too often in this area, the canons of scientific inquiry are suspended and research deliberately skewed to serve a particular political agenda."
Lena Edlund, PhD, Associate Professor of Economics at Columbia University, and Evelyn Korn, PhD, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at University of Marburg in Germany, wrote the Feb. 2002 Journal of Political Economy article "A Theory of Prostitution" that stated:
"Before proceeding, we need to define prostitution. Despite being known as the oldest profession, a workable definition has proven elusive. From a dictionary we learn that prostitution is the 'act or practice of engaging in sexual intercourse for money'. But a prostitute cannot simply be a woman who sells her body, since 'that is done every day by women who become wives in order to gain a home and a livelihood'. Promiscuity has been proposed as another candidate. Medieval canon lawyer Johannes Teutonicus suggested that a woman who had sex with more than 23,000 men should be classified as a prostitute, although 40 to 60 would also do. However, promiscuity itself does not turn a woman into a prostitute. Although a vast majority of prostitutes are promiscuous, most people would agree that sleeping around does not amount to prostitution. Moreover, any threshold number of sexual partners, be it 40 or 23,000, fails to identify high end courtesans or call girls as prostitutes, although a reasonable definition would. Instead, we argue that prostitution is the act of rendering, from the client’s point of view, non-reproductive sex against payment."
Some years ago, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT), an international and domestic NGO that opposes the trafficking of children for commercial sex, initiated an anti-trafficking ethical code of conduct for hotels. St Louis event planner Kimberly Ritter is now using ECPAT's work as a basis for her anti-trafficking activism in St. Louis. Ritter looks at online photos in which young women are pimped for sexual use on websites such as backpage.com. Ritter then looks carefully at the furniture and curtain patterns in the room, sometimes identifying the hotel where the photo was taken. She plans to ask all hotels that her event planning agency does business with, to sign an anti-trafficking code of conduct. She sometimes shows hotel managers the photos, saying "I can buy a girl in one of your rooms." Meeting planners, who note that there are 3.6 million people staying in U.S. hotels nightly, are increasingly putting anti-trafficking language in their proposals.
This definition taken from "Call Girls" by Roberta Perkins and Francis Lovejoy, UWA Press, 2007, pg 2 - 3
The term "prostitute" derives from the Latin word prostituta. Its literal meaning is a combination of "up front" and the latin word situere i.e. "to offer for sale." Being "up front" or being "exposed" also referred to the Ancient Roman sex workers' habit of going about with their faces uncovered when seeking the attention of potential customers, in contrast to the general practice of women covering their faces with the palla (head cloth) in public. ... the term "prostitute"... refers to those women who chose independence over being controlled by men in the Roman patriachal family. Prostituta was more often applied to independent sex worekrs, or those who worked in taverns, on the streets or in their own homes, rather than to the meretrix, or slaves sold to the madams and brothel-owners of the state-regulated brothels, or lupinar (literally meaning "house of she-wolves.")
The word "prostitute" was carried down through various languages to the present-day Western society. But as Gail Pheterson has pointed out, the term gradually took on a Christian moralist tradition, as debasement of oneself or of others for the purpose of ill-gotten gains. (Pheterson, Gail The Whore Stigma: Female Dishonor and Male Unworthiness Ministerie van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelenheid Centrale Directie Voorlichting, Nederland, The Hague, 1984).
NB Sex worker groups in Australia reject the word "prostitute" and since the late 1970's have used the term "sex worker."
There is something familiar about the tide of misinformation which has swept through the subject of sex trafficking in the UK: it flows through exactly the same channels as the now notorious torrent about Saddam Hussein's weapons.
In the story of UK sex trafficking, the conclusions of academics who study the sex trade have been subjected to the same treatment as the restrained reports of intelligence analysts who studied Iraqi weapons – stripped of caution, stretched to their most alarming possible meaning and tossed into the public domain. There, they have been picked up by the media who have stretched them even further in stories which have then been treated as reliable sources by politicians, who in turn provided quotes for more misleading stories.
In both cases, the cycle has been driven by political opportunists and interest groups in pursuit of an agenda. In the case of sex trafficking, the role of the neo-conservatives and Iraqi exiles has been played by an unlikely union of evangelical Christians with feminist campaigners, who pursued the trafficking tale to secure their greater goal, not of regime change, but of legal change to abolish all prostitution. The sex trafficking story is a model of misinformation. It began to take shape in the mid 1990s, when the collapse of economies in the old Warsaw Pact countries saw the working flats of London flooded with young women from eastern Europe. Soon, there were rumours and media reports that attached a new word to these women. They had been "trafficked".