The Oldest Profession in the World

From NBC.Net, October 5th 2005.

A 16 year runaway girl found herself in the most desperate of situations. With the promise of food and shelter, she instead found herself trapped, forced into a life of prostitution. Leo Guevara, the leader of the ring, had sex with her to test her , as it was called, work skills. Not too long after, she was forced to have sex with 5 men as an initiation into the so-called family. Upon attempting to leave the room due to exhaustion, begging for a break, Guavera forced her back into the room to finish what was started. And this process was repeated again on the second day. Once in, no escape. Enforcers took the girls to and from locations and would beat them mercilessly if they didn’t follow the rules.

This story is not uncommon. And unfortunately, stories such as this can be found in many cities throughout the United States.

Let’s face it, prostitution will never go away. It has been called the oldest profession in the world and for good reason. People will throw down money to have their desires fulfilled and you must admit that sex is a pretty potent desire. Most folks don’t become prostitutes because they see it as a good opportunity for employment. In fact most, especially concerning street level and low end prostitutes, find their path to this through nothing more than terrible desperation. Yet typically this is only the beginning. The problems included are abuse, the spread of STD’s, chemical dependency, rape, human trafficking, and a situation that is little more than blatant slavery. Yet as I pointed out, it would be unrealistic to expect prostitution to dissapear. So what’s the solution?

I approach the reader today to talk about ideas concerning the legalization of prostitution, which I see as a possible solution to the previously mentioned problems. In addition, we will be hearing from a few different sources which include The Associated Content, Prostitute’s Education Network, Chicago Intersystem Assessment Work Group, The Los Angeles Times, and Janice G. Raymond, Professor of Women’s Studies and Medical Ethics at the University of Massachusetts. I feel compelled to point out that religion and spirituality is an important aspect in the lives of most Americans. However, I will be letting go of moral issues based on spiritual belief systems and instead will be focusing on empirical evidence to support my claims. We will begin by examining the problems of prostitution, followed by the continued effects of prostitution as an illegal act, and finally we will see a few examples where legalization has had positive effects.

How does this all effect us? We aren’t involved in the acts themselves. In fact, I seriously doubt that too many folks who are reading this essay have engaged the services of a prostitute. Then again, current statistics state as reported by the Associated Content, that nearly 50% of men have engaged in these very same services. It seems that a great deal of America may not be talking the talk but definitely walking the walk. And when it comes to violence against women, that affects all of us, whether we choose to walk in blissful apathy or are willing to take the hard look. In examining the problems that prostitutes face, the statistical evidence speaks for itself. Let’s take a look at the spread of STD’s. Only 3-5% of STDs are prostitution-related. Initially this may seem like a very small number. Yet when you examine the number of prostitutes versus the number of ordinary folks, this statistic is alarming. Violence against women seems to be the key problem. In a sample of clients from St. James Infirmary, a sex worker clinic in San Francisco 53% of their sample experienced “past or current occupational violence” including 32% by customers, 20% from employers and 15% by police. A study of 130 street workers (primarily homeless) who engaged in prostitution or survival sex found that 80% had been physically assaulted. And it gets worse. There are some women who have been raped as many as 8 to 10 times a year. And this doesn’t include certain prostitution rings which are primarily set up to allow it’s customers to engage in rape and other violent acts.

And now we turn our focus to the problems faced with the criminalization of prostitution. The chief problem rests on the fact that these women have very little if no recourse. The law doesn’t provide much help to those who are engaged in illegal acts, whether they are done by choice, or in a good number of cases, by force. Yet this is an illegal act that roughly one fourth of the American population have paid money for at one time or another. And as I’ve stated previously, it isn’t going to go away. Sweden’s 1998 criminalization of commercial sex – a measure titled “The Protection of Women” – appears not to protect them at all. A 2004 report by the Swedish Ministry of Justice and the police found that after it went into effect, prostitution, of course, continued. Meanwhile, prices for sexual services dropped, clients were fewer but more often violent, more wanted to pay for sex and not use a condom – and sex workers had less time to assess the mental state of their clients because of the fear of getting caught. Prostitutes have a hard time getting help if they are hounded by the police in addition to facing the dangers of their profession. Extensive arrest records make it difficult for them to find legitimate jobs when they want to get out of prostitution. In hearing this, it becomes clear that our current ideas over here in America are not working when dealing with prostitution either due to our laws concerning prostitution. We can discuss over and over moral debates. Yet as we continue to have our discussions, brutality continues to exist, woman are raped and assaulted for the crime of finding themselves in desperate situations.

So what is the solution? I propose legalization. Patty Kelly, an anthropology professor at George Washington University, authored an article for the LA Times entitled simply, “Decriminalize Prostitution”, which was based on her observations of a state authorized brothel in Mexico. As quoted from Kelly, “The women made their own hours, set their own rates and decided for themselves what sex acts they would perform. Some were happy with the job.” No enforcers brutalizing women into submissive acts and if there were pimps, it was usually the workers boyfriend. It’s not to say that there weren’t problems. Kelly saw instances of STDs and some violence. But overall, it was much safer than being on the streets due to police protection, condom distribution by government authorities, and mandatory testing for STD’s. Not only are these women protected but they do have rights as well. In fact, there are some who are even taking it farther than just legalization. New Zealand’s 2003 Prostitution Reform Act is perhaps is just one example. It not only decriminalizes prostitution but seeks to protect the human rights of sex workers and keep them safe from exploitation. It also promotes the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers, which in itself serves the public health at large as well. In addition it also prohibits the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age. We can see the same examples occurring in our own United States such as the legal brothels in Nevada and the current discussions of laws for the possible legalization of prostitution in Hawaii, which are gaining more support everyday. There are benefits to be had.

I have now done my part in talking to you about ideas concerning the legalization of prostitution. Not only have I attempted to show you the plight of prostitutes in America, I have also attempted to show how the criminalization of the act can be counter productive. In addition, I hope that I have also shown how legalization could be a possible solution. If this small essay has been uncomfortable for some of you, then I have done my job. More than anything, I hope I have made you think about something that most people don’t want to take a look at. We cannot be the ostrich who buries his head in the sand. We have to blaze forward and sometimes that means making some hard choices. One more time, no matter how much we choose to ignore it, prostitution exists. There is a reason as to why it is called the oldest profession in the world. People desire sex, it’s as simple as that. And people will pay for it. Why not make it safe for all those concerned?

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