Prostitution is one of the principal export that exist within the human trafficking industry. If not the largest division, it is certainly one of the most successful. But perhaps ‘successful’ isn’t the right word to describe a topic that has been labeled as taboo in most conversations. Though prostitution is certainly a flourishing business, somehow it feels wrong to discuss such a gauche subject in everyday terms of dealing and trade, as if it were a candy store. Yet there are some who believe that there is hardly anything wrong with prostitution. After all, isn’t a gender-neutral occupation? And it’s certainly an unbiased, legitimate way of making money. Many claim that it is not an act of violence forced on women, but rather, an expression of sexual agency. However, if this industry is merely a civilized expression, then why do we as a society still feel uneasy discussing it in open circles? If it is regarded as a valid occupation, then why do we choose to make crass jokes about it rather than referring to it as we would any other ordinary job? What is the appeal, or repellant, rather, that surrounds this commerce like a sordid perfume? Perhaps, after all, the overall subject of prostitution isn’t as sound and established as we’d like to make it out to be. Possibly it isn’t meant to be portrayed as a natural career. The fact remains that there is something at the industry’s core that disturbs us still, even after years of attempts at legalization. Looking closer at the matter, we will examine the argument that insists on normalizing prostitution, the opposing cases that follow, and finally, deliberate a voice of reason regarding the issue.
The co-executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), Dorchen Leinholdt, reflects on what the public would like to believe about prostitution in her 2003 article Prostitution and Trafficking in Women: An Intimate Relationship. “Prostitution,” Leinholdt says, “is often addressed in the abstract, as a transaction in which one gender-neutral individual purchases an act of sex from another, exchanging sexual pleasure for compensation. It is conceivable that in a radically different social order, the exchange of sex for money might be just such a gender-free, benign transaction.” She then however goes on to explain how the whole concept of prostitution cannot feasibly exist on any foundation except one of gender-based inequality. By contrast, sex work is the paradigmatic expression of male domination. Prostituted sex is coerced sex by nature, the money exchanged being the coercive force. Consider the scenario of a loaded gun being pointed at an unarmed victim. There is little doubt in identifying the gun as the means of coercion. Due to the consumer-based structure of our world, in which money plays a part in everything we see, do, and experience, we seem to have a great deal of trouble identifying monetary compensation as a coercive force. Nevertheless, it is the prevailing aspect that drives the sex industry. The reason why we are unable to comprehend prostitution as a societal norm is because it truly is not meant to be normalized. It is a toxic commerce that is neither balanced nor natural, and the effects made on those involved are devastating.
As a counterargument to the claim that prostitution is a freely-chosen line of work, or in some cases, an expression of sexual freedom, one need only examine the reports given by former sex workers. In Rachel Moren’s 2019 Articles of Sexual Behavior series, interviews are conducted with prostituted survivors that provide the readers with a bounty of evidence to draw from. These survivors described their former lives as “paid rape, voluntary slavery, signing a contract to be raped, the choice that is not a choice, and domestic violence taken to the extreme”. Likewise, clients have also freely given their two cents: “renting an organ for ten minutes,” “like a cup of coffee—when you’re done with it you throw it out,” “I use them like I might use any other amenity, a restaurant, or a public convenience,” and “You get what you pay for without the ‘no’ ”. The industry is rife with deception, using various forms of duplicity to make those prostituted appear secure and content. It is objectively fair to state that nobody willingly chooses to enter into the kind of occupation where your body is used multiple times for another’s pleasure, and your mental and physical health compromised in exchange for wages that possibly might not even be yours to keep. Studies have shown that the majority of sex workers experienced some form of sexual abuse in their childhood and therefore are accustomed to the kind of treatment that prostitutes are subjected to on a regular basis. Their sense of value has been diminished by abusers from the earliest they can remember.
After reviewing the cases attempting to legitimize the sex industry, and taking closer look at contrasting evidence and opinions, the viewpoint is such that the truth is clear. Prostitution is neither an unbiased transaction of business nor a gender-neutral expression of sexuality, but a base violation upon many human rights. The sexually abusive nature of the industry is something that cannot be denied. Sex industry survivor testimonies present a distinct line between the trauma experienced in prostitution as opposed to the socially-understood trauma that accompanies more widely-known forms of abuse, such as that which occurs in domestic situations and human trafficking capacities. Due to the social stigma surrounding prostitution, a stigma wrought by the general opinion of “Well, you chose to do it”, the face of prostitution is vastly misunderstood. Those prostituted are dealt with a feeling of shame and culpability, one of that ultimately convinces them that the violation of their bodies is their own fault. We cannot continue to normalize the sex industry as an accepted business. We cannot justify the rape of sex workers that truly did not choose this life for themselves. As a country that cherishes freedom, we cannot uphold human rights with a clear conscience by supporting a commerce to sells humans as commodities on the streets. By terminating the demand for prostituted victims, and subsequently erasing the conditions that allow prostitution to exist, we can work to end this global cycle of abuse.