Academic Opinion: Prostitution

The Prostitution Research and Education (PRE) Site is clearly against prostitution. Their stated mission is “to abolish the institution of prostitution while at the same time advocating for alternatives to trafficking and prostitution - including emotional and physical healthcare for women in prostitution”.[1] Included in their mission statement is the conviction that men (and their demand for prostitution) are the root of the problem. This is a narrow and sexist view which paints women as victims and men as over-sexed aggressors.

Men are not the only ones who use the services of prostitutes. Additionally, to use the term “demand” is to claim an inherent aggression, or anger, in the desire for the services of a prostitute. Yes, there is a definite chauvinistic aspect to prostitution. In fact, claiming that men are the root cause of prostitution is quite chauvinistic. In a 1994 Andrea Dworkin, a self proclaimed radical feminist, gave a speech entitled Prostitution and Male Supremacy.
[2] In this speech she asked the question “Prostitution: what is it?” and answered with the statement, “It is the use of a woman's body for sex by a man, he pays money, he does what he wants.” Was Ms. Dworkin unaware of male escorts (gigolos)? A cursory internet search of the terms “male escort” turns up a number of web sites. Additionally, many of the same women who object to prostitution might have no problem at all with attending a Chippendale’s show or even a bachelorette party which includes a male stripper.

The issue of prostitution seems rife with both gender and moral prejudice. Any discussion of the subject should include both male and female prostitution. Therefore, the arguments presented by the PRE are sexist in their exclusion of male prostitutes and their female johns. The PRE defines prostitution as inclusive of “stripping, exotic dancing, nude dancing, table dancing, phone sex, trafficking, child and adult pornography, lap dancing, massage brothels, and peep shows”.
[3] Males also participate in offering the services of all of the aforementioned, and females do also partake of these services.

In order to discuss prostitution we must first define it. If we accept the definition as the performance of sexual acts for money, then we must include popular actors, actresses and models in the discussion because a large number of contemporary Hollywood stars have engaged in representations of the same for both print and film. But everyone knows we are not talking about the latest blockbuster movie or perfume ad campaign.

What we are really talking about is the common streetwalker, often poor, drug addicted or underage. This is the kind of prostitution opponents want to end. Who doesn’t agree that the abuse of such women and children is legally, morally and inherently wrong? I am sure no one would argue that a crack addicted minor forced to give her body sexually and indiscriminately to men for a fee she will never see is not a victim. It doesn’t matter how or why she came to be in the situation. Sexual abuse, rape, and slavery are currently criminal acts.

So what is the argument about prostitution? The argument seems to lay in the interpretation of what is moral and what is legal. Char LaFontaine, a middle-aged former prostitute who is now a housing coordinator and outreach worker with Prostitution Alternatives Counseling and Education in Vancouver, Canada (PACE) says we must differentiate between survival sex and prostitution.
[4] The former arises out of poverty, abuse or lack of skills or education. The latter, she says, is an informed choice wherein the woman has a right to refuse service. These women use prostitution as a means to make good money. While many see prostitution as subjugation of women by men, others argue that prostitution is about the right of a woman to control and use her body as she sees fit. Alan Young, at right, a civil libertarian and criminal law professor, says he has met prostitutes who enjoy their work. When it comes to job dissatisfaction he says, "I see no difference between a miserable office worker and a miserable prostitute”.[5]

There is still an extremely negative connotation when the words hooker, prostitute, and whore are applied to women who sell sex for money. These women are stereotyped as trash; as bad girls; as sexually diseased; and as having no morals or respect for their bodies.
[6] Regardless of whether the person in question is a prostitute by choice, or as a means of survival, the occupation still offends the morals of most of society.

There is no solution to the problem of prostitution other than an enforcement of existing criminal laws against sex crimes, slavery and human trafficking. Unfortunately there will always be those deviants in society who seek the sexual gratification of one who is allowed no choice, but forced to offer their bodies for the satisfaction of one who hold more physical or monetary power. To decriminalize prostitution would, in many ways, be a backwards step in the cause of human rights. Therein lay the irony, because under existing laws the one guilty of the crime is often also the victim of the same.

End Notes :
[1] Prostitution Research and Education (PRE). (2008). About Prostitution Research and Education.
[2] Dworkin, Andrea. (1994). Prostitution and Male Supremacy.
[3] See note 1
[4] Gardner, Dan. (2002). Do Some Women Really Choose to be Prostitutes?,_2002.htm
[5] ibid
[6] Hickenbottom, Iris Leos. (2002). Women’s Issues: Prostitution Then and Now. Retrieved April 18, 2008 from