Although prostitution may be the “world’s oldest profession,” mere longevity of something does not mean it is right or necessary. That prostitution itself is anti-women and anti-family should be clear. Anything that encourages men to violate their wedding vows is harmful to marriage and family.
Prostitution is certainly harmful to women. Numerous writers and academics have noted the connection between prostitution and violence and exploitation of women. Well-known feminists, for example, such as Sheila Jeffreys and Christine Stark and Rebecca Whisnant have written eloquently of the dangers and exploitation of prostitution. As one feminist puts it, “Prostitution is a form of brutal cruelty on the part of men that constitutes a violation of women’s rights, wherever and however it takes place.”
And prostitution of course adds pressure on marriages and families. Not only is there the wasted income, but men seeing prostitutes do great damage to their own marriages. The breaking of the wedding vow is just part of the broken trust and broken relationships that result. How many marriages have ended because of men’s involvement with pornography and prostitution?
The research on the many harms of prostitution is widely available. The evidence is voluminous. For example, Melissa Farley, PhD has written extensively on these issues. Here is just a tiny sampling of her findings. She writes,
“It is a cruel lie to suggest that decriminalization or legalization will protect anyone in prostitution. There is much evidence that whatever its legal status, prostitution causes great harm to women. … In the past two decades, a number of authors have documented or analyzed the sexual and physical violence that is the normative experience for women in prostitution…
“Sexual violence and physical assault are the norm for women in all types of prostitution. [One study] found that 80% of women who had been trafficked or prostituted suffered violence-related injuries in prostitution. … In another study, 94% of those in street prostitution had experienced sexual assault and 75% had been raped by one or more johns. In the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal, 60% of prostituted women suffered physical assaults; 70% experienced verbal threats of physical assault; 40% experienced sexual violence; and 40% had been forced into prostitution or sexual abuse by acquaintances.”
She continues, “It has been assumed that decriminalization/legalization will decrease street prostitution and that prostitution will then move indoors, where it will be physically safer for those in it. Those promoting legalized prostitution suggest that women will be safer in indoor prostitution than they are in street prostitution. However, women in Chicago reported the same frequency of rape in escort and in street prostitution.
“No research has demonstrated that legal prostitution decreases illegal (street and brothel) prostitution. Following legalization of prostitution in Victoria, Australia, although the number of legal brothels doubled, the greatest expansion was in illegal prostitution. In 1 year (1999), there was a 300% growth of illegal brothels.”
Given the overwhelming harm of prostitution, governments certainly have a role to play here. One of the best ways to deal with prostitution, as one expert notes, is to follow the Swedish model: instead of arresting the prostitute, the man is prosecuted, and the woman is treated as a victim, and offered rehabilitation.
If the demand for prostitutes is reduced, it follows that the demand for sexual trafficking for prostitution will be reduced as well. In this area, we need not only speak of the sexual integrity of individuals. Why not speak of governmental sexual integrity? Governments owe it to their citizens to stamp out sexual trafficking. They have an obligation to protect women from the evils of prostitution, and to curtail this male-orientated, profit-based trade.
And the Swedish experience bears this out. Sweden has seen a decline in trafficking because of its approach to prostitution. For example, since the Swedish government passed legislation in 1999 to decriminalise the selling of sex but criminalise the buying of sex, the number of women in prostitution has been dramatically reduced. The Swedish government estimates that around 300 women a year are sex trafficked into Sweden, compared to the 16,000 a year into neighbouring Finland. In Stockholm, the number of street prostitutes have been reduced by two-thirds, and the number of johns has been reduced by 80 per cent.
France has just recently moved in the direction of Sweden. As the BBC reports, “France’s parliament has backed a proposal to fight prostitution by making payment for sex a crime punishable by fines and prison. The National Assembly approved by a show of hands a cross-party, non-binding resolution which is due to be followed by a bill. Six-month prison sentences and fines of 3,000 euros (£2,580; $4,000) are envisaged for clients of prostitutes.
“Some campaigners reject the bill, advocating prostitutes’ rights instead. Around 20,000 people are believed to be working as prostitutes in France. France has been committed to abolishing the practice in principle since 1960.
“The resolution said the country should seek ‘a society without prostitution’ and that sex work ‘should in no case be designated as a professional activity’. It urged abolition at a time when ‘prostitution seems to be becoming routine in Europe’. In 1999, the Swedish government brought in similar legislation to criminalise the buying of sex, while decriminalising its sale.”
Some might argue that the legalisation and decriminalisation of prostitution will both make conditions safer for women and eliminate or lessen sexual trafficking. This has not been the case. Indeed, the opposite has occurred. As one authority puts it: “Legalisation and decriminalisation lead to the growth of the industry of prostitution. The traffic in women to supply the legal and illegal brothels is an inevitable result. Sex entrepreneurs find it hard to source women locally to supply an expanding industry and trafficked women are more vulnerable and more profitable.”
Article 6 of the 1980 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) says “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women”. In clear breach of this Treaty which Australia has signed and ratified, several Australian states have legalised brothels. It is essential that the legalisation of brothels in the Australian States of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT be reversed.
Not only can the Federal Government work for sexual integrity in the elimination of legalised prostitution, thus easing the demand for sexual trafficking, but it can also help those who are seeking to leave the sordid world of prostitution. For example, it should be supporting financially and in other ways those services which are helping women to leave the sex slave trade. An example of this is Linda Watson’s “House of Hope” in Perth which provides an Australian model enabling women to leave the sex trade and assist them in their rehabilitation.
The moves by countries such as Sweden and France need to be looked at here in Australia and in other nations. For the sake of women, families, and societies, this is one “profession” which should be given the flick.