Arguments against prostitution


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Prostitution phone box adverts


"Prostitution is an extreme form of gender discrimination. Legalization of this violence to women restricts women's freedom and citizenship rights. If women are allowed to become a legitimate commodity, they are consigned to a second-class citizenship. Democracy is subverted"

Donna Hughes

Making the Harm Visible


There is intense debate surrounding the legalisation of prostitution.  Full legalisation involves prostitution taking the same status as any other occupation, i.e. giving sex workers access to social security and healthcare, regulating their places and terms of employment, etc.
In many EU countries prostitution is de-criminalised, in other words, it is not a criminal offence to work as a prostitute.  In the words of Hughes: "Considering the documented harm to women who are trafficked and prostituted, it is only logical that women should not be criminalized for being the victim of those abuses. Decriminalization also means that women will not fear arrest if they seek assistance and may be more likely to testify against pimps and traffickers."  Hughes goes on to argue that profiting from the services of a prostitute should be a crime in law, be this as a man buying sexual services, or as anyone gaining financial profit from a sex worker's activity:  "But there absolutely should be no decriminalization for pimps, traffickers, brothel owners, or the men who buy women in prostitution. All legal reforms should aim to stop these perpetrators and profiteers."
In her Factsheet on Prostitution, Melissa Farley argues that prostitution is: 

a) sexual harassment
b) rape
c) battering
d) verbal abuse
e) domestic violence
f) a racist practice
g) a violation of human rights
h) childhood sexual abuse
i) a consequence of male domination of women
j) a means of maintaining male domination of women
k) all of the above



The well known Andrea Dworkin is part of the feminist camp which claims "Violation is a synonym for intercourse" (Dworkin, Intercourse), and prostitution is no exception;  Beyond that, prostitution is the not only the affirmation, but the result of male supremacy.  In a 1992 speech called Prostitution and male supremacy, Dworkin claims: "When men use women in prostitution, they are expressing a pure hatred for the female body. It is as pure as anything on this earth ever is or ever has been. It is a contempt so deep, so deep, that a whole human life is reduced to a few sexual orifices, and he can do anything he wants."  Dworkin too asks how to define prostitution, she provides an answer:  "Prostitution is not an idea. It is the mouth, the vagina, the rectum, penetrated usually by a penis, sometimes hands, sometimes objects, by one man and then another and then another and then another and then another. That's what it is." 

Andrea Dworkin was speaking at a symposium with the focus of translating ideas from academia to action, but Farley claims Dworkin's brand of feminism is dead. Citing Catharine MacKinnon: "[In the past, we had a women's] movement which understood that the choice to be beaten by one man for economic survival was not a real choice, despite the appearance of consent a marriage contract might provide. ...Yet now we are supposed to believe, in the name of feminism, that the choice to be fucked by hundreds of men for economic survival must be affirmed as a real choice, and if the woman signs a model release there is no coercion there."  Farley's factsheet publishes results from one study which found 75% of women working as escorts had attempted suicide, and Hughes too points to the harm done to women through prostitution: "Prostitution causes extreme harm to the body and the mind. Women who survive the beatings, rapes, sexually transmitted diseases, drugs, alcohol, and emotional abuse, emerge from prostitution ill, traumatized, and often, as poor as when they entered." 

Calling on governments to realise that 'women's bodies and emotions belong to them', Hughes says that is a state permits prostitution to flourish, a certain portion of each generation of young women will be lost. "Prostitution should not be legalized. Legalization means that the state imposes regulations under which women can be prostituted. In effect, regulation means that under certain conditions it is permissible to exploit and abuse women."  
In 1998 the Swedish government brought a bill to parliament which would in effect criminalise the buyers of sexual services, punishing them with a heavy fine or 6 month in jail.   The bill as cited by EUROPAP states:  "This new prohibition marks Sweden's attitude towards prostitution. Prostitution is not a desirable social phenomenon. The government considers, however, that it is not reasonable to punish the person who sells a sexual service. In the majority of cases at least, this person is a weaker partner who is exploited by those who want only to satisfy their sexual drives... It is also important to motivate prostitutes to seek help to leave their way of life. They should not run the risk of punishment because they have been active as prostitutes."  The legislation in Sweden was not only the result of lesser social acceptance of prostitution , but also an effort to eradicate trafficking.

Legally able to sell her body, albeit for a short period of time, women become commodities. Commodification of women not only leads to women becoming second class citizens, but it also normalises the concept of a human being becoming the property of someone else.  For Hughes, there is no difference between trafficking which is by now universally recognised as a severe violation of human rights, and prostitution, which in Europe is widely tolerated, occasionally partly legal, and in the case of Holland, entirely so:  "Prostitution is consuming thousands of girls and women and reaping enormous profits for organized crime in post-communist countries. In addition, each year, several hundred thousand women are trafficked from Eastern European countries for prostitution in sex industry centers all over the world. The practices are extremely oppressive and incompatible with universal standards of human rights. The sex trade is a form of contemporary slavery and all indications predict its growth and expansion into the 21st century."  

The European Parliament reports that police do not expect the sex trade to grow substantially in the Nordic region, however, the Swedish government hopes "By prohibiting the purchase of sexual services, prostitution and its damaging effects can be counteracted more effectively than hitherto. The government is however of the view that criminalisation can never be more than a supplementary element in the efforts to reduce prostitution and cannot be a substitute for broader social exertions."  Hughes would agree that there is a wider social context, however she says "Above all, state bodies and non-governmental organizations should understand that prostitution is a demand market created by men who buy and sell women's sexuality for their own profit and pleasure. Legal reforms should therefore create remedies that assist victims and prosecute perpetrators"

The perception of the prostitute as a victim is one which resounds through the literature against legalisation of sex work.  For Dworkin, the prostitutes is a victim of male supremacy, poverty and/or incest, and Catharine MacKinnon puts prostitution in a wider context in Prostitution and Civil Rights: "The legal right to be free from torture and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment is recognized by most nations and is internationally guaranteed. In prostitution, women are tortured through repeated rape and in all the more conventionally recognized ways. Women are prostituted precisely in order to be degraded and subjected to cruel and brutal treatment without human limits; it is the opportunity to do this that is exchanged when women are bought and sold for sex."

An alternate school of feminism sees sex work as empowerment, and the sex worker as willfully exerting and exploiting her power over the client.  For Hughes, the concept is impossible:  "Most arguments in favor of legalization are based on trying to distinguish between 'free' and 'forced' prostitution and trafficking. Considering the extreme conditions of exploitation in the sex industry, those distinctions are nothing but abstractions that make for good academic debates. They are, however, meaningless to women under the control of pimps or traffickers."  

Failure to legalise prostitution is to deny civil and human rights



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