Prostitution is Modern Day Slavery

On October 17, 2012, by MHeffern

Julia Davidson explains in her book Prostitution, Power, and Freedom, that prostitution is an institution that “founders upon the existence of economic and political conditions that compel people to act in ways they otherwise would not choose to act”. This statement explains the current status of prostitution as an institution built on unfreedom. For Davidson this does not mean that all women are in prostitution absent of free will, nor that sustainable alternatives to prostitution would cause all individuals to stop prostituting themselves. However, for the overwhelming majority of prostitutes currently working, it is not a choice. Furthermore, we must take into account that some individuals who say they enjoy prostituting themselves have childhood abuse that has psychologically scarred them, or struggle with extreme disassociation making it possible to cope with the harm they are experiencing. This institution thrives on conditions that force and coerce people into prostitution. Childhood and past physical and emotional abuse, age of entry, and poverty are all factors that coerce and force women into prostitution. Catherine MacKinnon in her book Women’s Lives, Mens Law’s, makes a fantastic observation:

“If prostitution is a free choice, why are the women with the fewest choices most often found doing it?”.

Physical and emotional abuse from childhood helps explain why many women (most beginning to prostitute as teenagers) enter into prostitution. In her article Prostitution, Trafficking, and Cultural Amnesia: What We Must Know in Order To Keep the Business of Sexual Exploitation Running Smoothly, Melissa Farley cites a study in which seventy percent of adult female prostitutes attributed childhood sexual abuse as their reason for becoming a prostitute. Many women in prostitution view themselves as nothing more than objects used for sex. Farley explains:

“One way women end up ‘choosing’ prostitution is that they are paid for the abuse they have already grown up with. They assume that’s all they are good for.”

Many females in prostitution not only experienced abuse as children, but also began prostituting at a very young age. The average age girls “choose” to enter into prostitution is between 12 and 14 in the United States. I agree with MacKinnon’s argument: “This is not a time when you are fully empowered to make a choice about the rest of your life”.

Melissa Farley conducted a survey of a sample of prostitutes from around the world. Her findings explain the current situation of most prostitutes around the world: “Of 854 people in prostitution in nine countries, eighty-nine percent wanted to leave prostitution but did not have other options for survival”. Poverty is most commonly cited as the reason for women’s entry into prostitution. Most prostituted persons struggle with extreme poverty and often entered prostitution as a means of paying the bills, helping support the family, and getting out of poverty. A majority of women “choose” prostitution because they have no sustainable job alternatives available to them. A survivor of prostitution, Nekome, in her essay How Prostitution Chose Me, explains how poverty was the deciding factor of her entry into prostitution:

“The first trick I turned was a week after my mother died. I had just moved out of a battered women’s shelter into the home my mother was renting before she died and if I wanted to stay there I needed to pay rent immediately. I had a two-year old baby to feed, no home, no car and I was presented with the choice to make money or not eat. I answered an ad on Craig’s list for online models. I had an eighth grade education and a learning disability. At the time I could barely fill out a job application and I had been refused work at McDonald’s because I couldn’t work the hours and afford childcare. In an instant I was asking myself, would you prefer to sell your body or prefer to live in poverty?”

Nekome’s story bares resemblance to many other women in prostitution today. The only choice that many prostituted individuals make is between survival and prostitution. If an individual is sold for sex before the age of 18 the act is legally considered human trafficking. Being that a majority of prostituted people begin selling their bodies before they are legally adults, it is rarely the case that prostitution is separate from human trafficking. Furthermore, due to the fact that most women lack any significant choice in being sold for sex, it is impossible to argue that most cases of prostitution are anything less than modern day slavery. If we’re going to truly combat human trafficking, we have to address the issue of prostitution in America.

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