Little of what is known about the size of the population of sex workers in the world has been derived from careful scientific study. Most studies of prostitutes rely on samples of convenience, hearsay, typically recruiting in jails, STD clinics and methadone maintenance programs. A few studies also include outreach recruitment of respondents in areas known for street prostitution.
The usual way to minimize sampling bias is through the use of probability sampling techniques. However, the nature of commercial sex work makes that approach especially difficult. Because prostitution is an illicit activity, registries or rosters of prostitutes are not available and persons in the general population who are willing to admit to such activity is inefficient and unlikely to yield satisfactory coverage of the target population.
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.
The public discussion on legalizing prostitution in Saint Lucia has become an ideological brawl over the last few days in which both sides bend research to promote agendas and to slander opponents. Those on the sidelines who feel bewildered by a conflicting flood of arguments and evidence should find solace in the fact that some researchers are just as bewildered.
The argument that regulation of prostitution better protects women in prostitution is deceptive. Prostitution itself is deemed by some as a form of violence against women and a negation of women’s fundamental human rights. Studies have shown that women in prostitution, whether in private apartments, hotel rooms, sex clubs, massage parlors, or in large mega-centers of prostitution activities, still experience many forms of violence (Raymond et al., 2002). In a male-dominant culture, prostitution denies equality to women by treating the female body as an instrument of commerce. Flavia Cherry has been an advocate for battered and abused women in St Lucia for a number of years now; it is extremely odd that she would support an industry of flagrant abuse of women.
There are a multitude of studies to show the high level of abuse that prostitutes suffer. Women are literally bought and sold as property. The incidence of drug addiction is high among women, partially explaining why they became prostitutes to begin with.
The argument for legalization goes something like this, “Prostitution will happen anyway but legalization and regulation will help stem the abuses.” Using the same logic, slavery (which still exists in many places) should be legalized so underground slaves can be given some measure of human rights. The fact that the bevy of left-wing international groups don’t argue for the legalization of slavery shows the logical inconsistency of their position.
Further, the legalization of abortion has shown that it leads to a radical increase in abortion. The legalization will lead to an untold number of women being forced into sex slavery. Make no mistake, women will be forced into commercial sex work in greater numbers if it were legalized.
The US Government adopted a strong position against legalized prostitution in a December 2002 National Security Presidential Directive based on evidence that prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing, and fuels trafficking in persons, a form of modern-day slavery. Prostitution and related activities—including pimping and patronizing or maintaining brothels—fuel the growth of modern-day slavery by providing a façade behind which traffickers for sexual exploitation operate.
Where prostitution is legalized or tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.
Few activities are as brutal and damaging to people as prostitution. Field research in nine countries concluded that 60-75 percent of women in prostitution were raped, 70-95 percent were physically assaulted, and 68 percent met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Beyond this shocking abuse, the public health implications of prostitution are devastating and include a myriad of serious and fatal diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
The advocacy for legalized prostitution and AIDS prevention are mutually exclusive. One cannot support the reduction of AIDS infections and support legal prostitution at the same time. Prostitution remains one of the leading vectors for AIDS infection. This is true in the case of both legal and illegal prostitution.
Even if a prostitute is being tested every week for HIV, she will test negative for at least the first 4-6 weeks and possibly the first 12 weeks after being infected. If we assume that he or she takes only 4 weeks to become positive, because there is an additional lag time of 1-2 weeks to get the results back, there will be at best a window period of 6 weeks for a prostitute. The average prostitute services between 10-15 clients per day. This means that while the test is becoming positive and the results are becoming known, that prostitute may expose up to 630 clients to HIV. This is under the best of circumstances with testing every week and a four-week window period. It also assumed that the
prostitute will quit working as soon as he or she finds out the test is HIV positive, which is highly unlikely. This is not the best approach for actually reducing harm.
While on its face condoms seem like they could prevent the spread of AIDS, the truth is that they don’t. HIV infection rates increase in countries that have condom distribution programs. Abstinence programs, on the other hand, have been shown in Uganda to reduce AIDS infections. The simple truth is that when one only has sex with one’s spouse, the risk of AIDS exposure approaches zero.
Attempts to regulate prostitution by introducing medical check-ups or licenses don’t address the core problem: the routine abuse and violence that form the prostitution experience and brutally victimize those caught in its netherworld. Prostitution leaves women and children physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually devastated. Recovery takes years, even decades—often, the damage can never be undone.
As long as we point the finger away from ourselves, away from the institutions that blame and criminalize women and children for their own rape, sexual abuse, trafficking and slavery, away from the men who we normalize as ‘pimps,’ and as long as we disconnect adult prostitution and the exploitation of children and disconnect prostitution and trafficking in human beings for the purposes of rape and sex slavery; then we are to blame and we have assisted in creating well-funded transnational criminal networks—dollar by dollar.
A few years ago, prostitutes disappeared from the pages of medical journals; they returned as ‘sex workers.’ Nor did they work in prostitution any more: they were employees in the ‘sex industry.’ Presumably, orgasms are now a consumer product just like any other. As for pimps, the correct term is probably: ‘brief sexual liaison coordinators.’
The editors who decided on the new terminology almost certainly felt, and probably still do feel, a warm glow of self-satisfaction (one of the few emotions than never lets you down). How they must have prided themselves on their broadmindedness, as they strove to reduce thesmall-minded stigma traditionally attached to offering sexual services in return for money! How morally brave and daring they must have felt, to fly so boldly in the face of two millennia of unthinking condemnation!