Prostitution, often called the world's oldest profession, has also been described as the oldest form of oppression. It is widely vilified, but remains an active and thriving market across the globe. The social implications of prostitution are far-reaching and debate surrounding the issue has expanded to moral, ethical, economic, political, and public health forums. Prostitution affords unskilled women one of the best opportunities to make a living wage. While there are economic benefits of prostitution, the less tangible costs are high. Sex workers suffer inordinately from addiction, low self-esteem, and violence. In the eyes of many, prostitution is immoral, degrades women, and contributes to the spread of disease.
ACADEMIC TOPIC OVERVIEWS
Sex, Gender, & Sexuality > Sociology of Prostitution
There are few subjects that draw a wider range of reactions than prostitution. Like its close relative pornography, prostitution is a polarizing issue. By definition, prostitution is the act of engaging in sex acts in exchange for some form of compensation, usually money. It is not entered into with the intent of procreation. As such, one could also consider prostitution "the act of rendering non- reproductive sex against payment" (Edlund & Korn, 2002, p. 183). The terms "prostitution" and "prostitute" are controversial. Some groups, regarding these terms as stigmatizing and pejorative, prefer the terms "sex work" and "sex worker" (Masenior & Beyrer, 2007).
The sex acts prostitutes perform and the contexts in which they work and survive are far from homogenous. Table 1 illustrates the different types of prostitution and the varying and general conditions and contexts for each.
Is Prostitution Really Lucrative?
Representative data on how much prostitutes earn is not easy to obtain: transactions are mostly made on a cash basis and subject to tax evasion and under-reporting. However, overwhelming evidence shows that prostitution is a lucrative profession, especially when compared to the wages that unskilled women command in the other professions available to them. In general, women who become sex workers would likely be relegated to low-wage service sector jobs if they were to enter the traditional work force.
Research on wages earned from the early twentieth century determined that "no practicable rise in the rate of wages paid to women in ordinary industries can possibly compete with the wages which fairly attractive women of quite ordinary ability can earn by prostitution" (Ellis, 1936, p. 263, quoted in Edlund & Korn, 2002). At the time, prostitution was viewed as easier and less oppressive work than other forms of income available to women. Modern studies--including one of welfare mothers in the late 1990s--showed that prostitutes earned a higher income than other women of comparable levels of skill and education. Some researchers have hypothesized that prostitutes earn higher wages because of the inherent risk of their work. However, though not all types of prostitution carry the same risk, the pay premium remains the same across all types of prostitution (Edlund & Korn, 2002).
Table 1: Types of Prostitution
Street Level Prostitution Brothels-Clubs Escort or Call Girl Services Mistress Very large number of clients Large number of clients Fewer clients, client list is screened One client Work on streets, in cars, or motels - not secure. Work inside a brothel or club - workplace is monitored and more secure Work independently or with an agency - conditions are fairly safe and clean Likely works from her own home Very high rate of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - condom use is rare High rate of STDs -condom use is optional Lower rate of STDs - condom use more frequent to protect client and worker Low rate of STDs - condom use is likely Workers less healthy, tend to be older Workers not as healthy, tend to be older Workers are healthier and younger Workers may be younger and more educated Services least expensive Services moderately expensive Services can be very expensive Client may contribute to living expenses or rent
Prostitutes earn more when they are young, an inverse of the usual career progression, which typically rewards experience and tenure. Since earning potential declines with age, prostitution is usually a short-term career when compared to other career choices. However, short-term opportunities in prostitution put women at risk of never acquiring skills that pay a living wage outside of sex work (Edlund & Korn, 2002).
Prostitution is a multibillion-dollar business that employs millions of women worldwide. The profession is low skill, labor intensive, predominantly female, and well paid (Edlund & Korn, 2002). One of the major challenges for sociologists when studying prostitutes is the difficulty reaching such a "hard to access" population. Nevertheless, researchers have taken some steps toward better understand why and how women enter into sex work.
The overwhelming reason that women enter sex work is for economic gain. Prostitution is much more lucrative than the other types of work for which unskilled women are qualified. However, this factor also means that most sex workers will exit the profession when they find alternative means to financial security. For most women, leaving prostitution is rarely ever the result of a single decision. Rather, leaving sex work is usually a process that unfolds over time. The cycle of entry, exit, and re-entry is not an uncommon path for women struggling to overcome many of the factors that have precipitated their entry into prostitution (Dalla, 2006).
Globally, economic conditions and lack of opportunity for women are major factors contributing to women's entering into and remaining in prostitution. Even the threat of disease, such as HIV/AIDS, is not sufficient to keep women out of this work (Dalla, 2006). Violence is also endemic in the sex industry regardless of the type of venue: massage parlors, strip clubs, dance clubs, or escort services all carry risks. The visibility of violent acts is greater at street-level prostitution, but the violence is pervasive throughout the industry. Drug addiction and unemployment are, again, a recurring theme that continues to surface in the lives of these women (Patterson, 2007).
Street-level prostitution poses a different set of challenges for women wishing to exit sex work. Street-level prostitutes contend more often with the following factors:
* Lack of treatment for substance abuse and mental health problems;
* Fewer opportunities to secure legal work that pays a living wage;
* Fewer educational opportunities; and
* A higher risk of re-entry due to a lack of treatment, educational, and employment opportunities (Dalla, 2006).
It is difficult to obtain accurate data about the entry-exit process, but numerous cycles of exit and re-entry appear to be common. Rochelle Dalla's research regarding the exit/entry process of street-level prostitute found that:
* Residential treatment centers were shown to provide a means for sex workers to exit the profession and treat substance abuse issues in a safe, supportive environment.
* Counseling sessions from therapists or parole officers were credited with providing information and direction for women.
* The support received from significant relationships with parents, siblings, and spouses was key to a successful exit, too, as was the studied women's desire to raise their children in a positive environment.
* Achieving distance from destructive influences was also key, as was finding employment that pays a living wage.
* Affiliation with a religious institution (church) emerged as a prominent and positive influence in helping prostitutes leave the profession. As their time out of the sex industry increased, reliance on their church communities for inspiration and support increased and use of formal services slowly diminished (Dalla, 2006).
Dalla's research focused on street-level prostitutes, whose experiences can be very different from those of women engaged in other types of prostitution. Additionally, her research is complicated by the fact that her sample size was relatively small. Because of this, her findings cannot be said to represent the experiences of all street-level prostitutes. Further research on the factors influencing street-level prostitutes' desire to leave sex work will require larger sample sizes and more frequent collection of follow-up data.
The Economics of Prostitution
At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in New Orleans in January 2008, preliminary results of a study of the economics of street prostitution were discussed. The study, titled An Empirical Analysis of Street-Level Prostitution, was authored by Steven Levitt, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, and Sudhir Venkatesh, a sociologist at Columbia University. Their research combined official arrest records with data on 2,200 transactions that Venkatesh collected in cooperation with sex workers in three Chicago districts. The findings offer a contemporary view of the paid sex market in a major US city:
* Nearly 50% of all transactions happened on 0.3% of street corners. The authors contended that because sex workers and clients need to be able to find each other easily, geographic concentration is likely more important for sex work than for other services where traditional marketing channels are used.
* Sex workers earned $25-30 per hour, or four times what they could expect to earn in a "legal" job.
* A 10% increase in the number of families on public assistance in a given neighborhood increased the number of prostitutes in that neighborhood by 50%.
* Prostitutes were more likely to have sex with a police officer than to be arrested by one. The authors estimated at 3% of the transactions prostitutes engaged in were done for free in order to avoid arrest (Levitt & Venkatesh, 2007).
The average work week for a sex worker was 13 hours and netted her $340.00 on average (Levitt & Venkatesh, 2007). In one...
Thesis: Prostitution should be legalized because not only does it financially benefit the country,
but legalized prostitution could also reduce crime.
I. Illegalized prostitution
A. Preservation of morality
B. Health risks
C. Violent crime
D. Costs to citizens
II. Legalized prostitution
A. Constitutional right
B. Regular health exam
C. Reduction of violent crime
D. Government regulation
Prostitution is known as the oldest profession in the world, however, many states in the U.S. outlaw it. The textbook definition of prostitution is the "act or practice of engaging in sexual acts for money" ("Prostitution," Macmillan 805). Nevada is the first in the United States to legalize prostitution. Although the long term effects of legalized prostitution is uncertain, the short term effects have been economically beneficial. Prostitution should be legalized because not only could it financially benefit the country, but it could also reduce crime.
There are many reasons why prostitution is illegal in 49 U.S. states today. First, and foremost, many people feel that prostitution should stay illegal in order to preserve morality. Parents do not want their children to grow up thinking that prostitution is acceptable. Worse yet, parents do not want to hear their children say, "When I grow up, I want to be a prostitute." Christianity also looks down upon prostitution because according to their beliefs, the act of sex is only to be done when a man and a women are in love and married. Monogamy is to be practiced in the marriage, and any violation of this is considered a sin. Another reason why the preservation of morality is so important is that people's morals shape the future of a nation. Many people feel that if prostitution is legalized, then its long term effects would be detrimental to the United States. The divorce rate in the United States peaked at an all time high in 1980 ("Marriage" 56). By the legalization of prostitution, this would allow room for husbands and wives to commit adultery. Thus, leading the marriage to a divorce. "The divorce rate has really increased over the centuries. In the U.S. today, the divorce rate is fifty percent of the U.S." (Holland 86).
Second, prostitution is a great health risk to the U.S. because of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). A major concern about STDs is the spread of AIDS, which is currently a deadly STD because a cure has not been found for the disease. The transmission of
STDs is already on the rise due to many uneducated teenagers having unprotected sex. In addition, most of theses teens are not going to a physician to be screened for STDs. Because of this, many curable STDs are going untreated and being spread throughout a community. Prostitution only adds to this problem because prostitutes have sexual contact on a daily basis, and rarely have themselves screened for STDs. Most of the time, prostitutes will not go to a doctor because they can't afford it, they're too afraid, and/or they just don't want to deal with it. Unfortunately, simply ignoring the problem does not make it go away. Some taxpayers feel that this problem will only increase the cost of health care. In some cases prostitutes become pregnant and are left to raise a child on their own. For these women, their futures are uncertain because now they have a child to care for. This is another concern for taxpayers because the majority of these women will seek government assistance.
With prostitution being illegal, many violent crimes against prostitutes go unreported every year. Prostitutes are often too frightened to report the crime to police. Most of the time, the crime's perpetuator is a pimp or a client. Several of the crimes committed against prostitutes include robbery, kidnaping, rape, battery, and/or homicide. Prostitutes, however, are not the only victims. Sometimes the client is also the victim. "A street prostitute is already a lawbreaker, which may encourage other crimes, such as ârolling' clients (drugging them and stealing their money)" ("Street Cleaning" 25). As a result, crimes associated with illegal prostitution often go unreported and without punishment.
Although enforcement of illegal prostitution exhausts a great amount of time, some citizens feel that the time is well spent. Many residents complain that street prostitution brings noise, declining property values, a bad environment for children, and a health threat. Residents
feel that street prostitution detracts from the innocence of their children's childhood; and no price is too high to prevent this from happening. One tactic that is being implemented by a few urban police departments is the seizure of the vehicle belonging to the prostitute's client. "The driver must then appear at an impoundment garage to pay a fine and processing costs, typically around $300. All parties whose names appear on the vehicle registration-wives and employers included-must then sign if the car is to be returned" ("Prostitution," CQ 32). Prostitution involves many different kinds of crimes. With this in mind, some citizens feel that if prostitution is eliminated, then many of the crimes associated with prostitution will also be eliminated or decreased. Thus, saving taxpayers money that would ordinarily be used in court fees and enforcement fees.
On the other hand, a survey taken in 1993 showed that 40 percent of Americans think that prostitution should be legalized and regulated ("Database" 16). From the technical aspect, prostitution should not be illegal because the act itself does not infringe upon anyone's constitutional right. Furthermore, no where in the constitution does it state that accepting or offering money for sexual acts is illegal. Many people, however, argue that our forefathers did not envision a nation where sex was a profession and taxable. Conversely, prostitution has been around for so long that it is almost apart of our history. No one actually knows when prostitution began or how it originated; yet, our forefathers had to know about prostitution, because Europe (especially France and Russia) is infamous for the prostitutes who work there. Still, "the world's oldest trade has always outwitted attempts to suppress it" ("Street Cleaning" 24).
Another reason why some citizens are calling for the decriminalization of prostitution is that it would greatly reduce the transmission of STDs. Legalized prostitution has shown that
prostitutes who work in brothels practice safe sex and are less likely to contract and transmit STDs. As indicated in the article entitled, "Prostitution":
George Flint, director of the Nevada Brothel Association, point with pride to the 20,000 monthly AIDS tests that have been performed on legal prostitutes since tests were required in 1986-with HIV showing up only among job applicants.
Similarly, not a single case of AIDS turned up in a 1991 survey of 7,000
tests on 246 legal prostitutes in Nevada from 1982 to 989. By contrast, of 700
illegal prostitutes arrested in 1990 for soliciting in Nevada, 10 percent tested
positive for HIV (36).
Many brothels in Nevada also require its customers to go through an exam before business is able to proceed. This practice of screening customers adds to the record of safe sex in legal prostitution. With this in mind, brothels are able to control (to an extent) the statistics of STDs in legal prostitution. In summary, legal prostitution is a safer alternative to street prostitution because customers and job applicants are screened for STDs.
Another benefit of legal prostitution is the reduction of violent crimes. Almost all brothels located in Nevada provide security for their workers. This creates a safe working environment for the prostitutes. Crimes against prostitutes such as robbery, kidnaping, rape, battery, and/or homicide are greatly reduced. Security is not only for the prostitutes, but it is also for the customers. This decreases the chances of prostitutes "rolling" their clients. Most brothels also enforce a drug-free policy, which also adds to the reduction in violent crimes.
A major advantage to legal prostitution is government regulation. Undoubtedly, the
government will earn revenue from brothels and be able to monitor part of the sex industry. A
significant benefit to government involvement in prostitution are the regulations and standards that will be set forth for all brothels to meet. This will allow for a clean and safe environment for both patrons and workers. Government regulation would also mean the elimination of pimps. Street prostitutes are normally controlled by a pimp who usually keeps the prostitute dependent on drugs so that he/she can control the money that the prostitute makes.
While many critics may maintain that prostitution is immoral and unethical, the issue cannot be denied. Prostitution happens all over the world and in most cities. A great deal of money and time is spent attempting to stop illegal prostitution. When a prostitute is picked up by the police, she/he usually spends a night in jail, goes to court, pays a fine, serves a short time in jail and/or completes community service. Then, the prostitute is released and is back on the streets in no time. Dennis Martin, president of the National Association of Police Chiefs, once observed that "prostitution enforcement is erratic and depends completely on how much the public complains and on pressure from politicians. It's much too time-consuming, and police forces are short-staffed" (qtd. in "Prostitutes," CQ 32). Many citizens feel that police efforts should be directed towards more serious crimes, such as drug trafficking. With the cost of court fees, enforcement, and jail housing for the convicted prostitutes, some citizens are beginning to wonder if the government is approaching the problem correctly. "In 1985 it was calculated that each of America's biggest cities spent $12m a year fighting prostitution . . . Mr. Richwald [a doctor from the University of Los Angeles] guesses that prostitution costs Los Angeles at least $100m a year" ("Street Cleaning" 25). For many people, money is the bottom-line. For some citizens, however, money takes a backseat to ethics, morals, and values. Legalized prostitutionis really a question of value and judgement. Nevertheless, morals and values cannot be imposed
by the government. Furthermore, it is not the duty of the government to teach values to children. Instead, it is the job of parents to teach their children from right and wrong. If the government was allowed regulate morals and values to a nation, then would that same government be a democracy or a dictatorship? Prostitution today, should be legalized because it would create revenue for the government and greatly reduce crime in most cities.
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"Marriage and Divorce, 1996." Monthly Vital Statistics Report. 45.12 (1997): 44.
"Prostitution." CQ Researcher June 1993: 32-40.
"Prostitution." Macmillan Dictionary for Students. 11th ed., 1993.
Prostitution and Law Enforcement: Practices and Abuses. The San Francisco Task Force on
Prostitution. 10 Nov. 1999. .
Prostitution Law Reforms: Defining Terms. The San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution. 10
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"Street Cleaning." CQ Researcher Sept. 1991: 24-25.
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