The concept of the sex worker is not new. In fact, is has been used in a number of countries to help the process of decriminalizing and legalizing prostitution, brothels, pimping, etc. Learn more about Why Words Matter in our last post. Those in the industry have created a false narrative that sex work is just like any other job. In the general population, some people love what they do. A lot of people don’t love their jobs, but that’s totally normal! That’s just life. They don’t understand that prostitution is something that happens TO somebody, not an identity. People outside of the industry have fallen into the trap that people actually want to be in it.
Countries like New Zealand fell into this trap. Convinced that sex work was just like any other job, it was decriminalized. They believed they had set in “safeguards.” Brothels and pimps pay taxes, and are now considered business owners. They have even created what they believe to be “unions.” Women are to be tested for STDs regularly; and condoms are freely handed out. The hope was that it would improve the sex work industry! Women were strong. They were empowered! Sexually liberated! It was only consensual sex after all. STDs and condom use are the only risks of being in this line of work, and they had solved the problem. But it has done nothing to improve conditions, in fact, it has made the conditions worse.
Women coming out of New Zealand have shared some of the ways the sex trade has worsened since the decriminalization. Before, women were not expected to kiss the men they were with. It was too intimate. Now, it is expected. Women are now expected to perform sexual acts that they never would have had to previously; but if they don’t, their client will just go to the brothel next door. This also includes safety measures like condom use, or in this case, a lack thereof. Regular STD testing is great, except that a clear test at 1pm means nothing when a client with chlamydia comes in at 7pm and passes it on. Decriminalization and legalization has created more competition and demand. Brothels offer package deals to entice patrons, which means that not only are the women expected to do more, but are paid less. If a John can not get a service at one location, they simply move on.
Another myth was that decriminalization would lessen human trafficking. If people don’t have to sneak it and can openly enjoy prostitution, there is no need to traffic people. In 2012, researchers Cho, Dreher, and Neumayer published a quantitative, empirical analysis of a cross-section of up to 150 countries that revealed, on average, countries with legalized prostitution experience a larger degree of human trafficking inflows.
Above all, legalization has not, and did not remove what has always been the case – prostitution is not safe. No amount of STD testing or free condoms can lessen this. A study was conducted of 9 countries, 5 of which have decriminalized and legalized prostitution.
Of 854 women interviewed:
60%-75% have been raped.
70%-95% have been assaulted.
68% of women met criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD, often cases on par with combat veterans and survivors of organized torture.
The American Journal of Epidemiology conducted a study of nearly 2,000 prostituted women. They found that these women had a mortality rate that was over 200 times greater than the general population. Fifty percent of women in this study were murdered. Traumatic brain injury was one of the number one causes of death. These mortality rates are higher than US Military service members, Logging, and Fishing. No other job has greater potential for rape, assault, death, and PTSD than prostitution and sex work.
The next time you hear someone make a joke about “prostitution is the oldest profession in the world,” or refer to sexual exploitation as anything but, start a conversation. Bring awareness. Don’t allow this to become normalized, and just another job. Help us be a part of the solution to end sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
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