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  Home : STOP Trafficking : Learn More : Prostitution FAQ

Prostitution:
Frequently Asked Questions

What is prostitution?
Is prostitution a choice?
What is the cause of prostitution?
Who profits from prostitution?
Who purchases sex?
Why do Johns engage in this practice?
How are women forced into prostitution?

What is the impact of prostitution?
What is Soroptimist doing to stop prostitution?

What is prostitution?

Technically speaking, prostitution is engaging in sexual acts in exchange for money. In actuality, prostitution is a form of violence against women and girls. While there are small numbers of prostituted men and boys, they are vastly outnumbered by prostituted women and girls. Those who purchase sex (johns) are almost always men. Prostitution is physical, sexual and emotional abuse inflicted on women by men. Journalist Victor Malarek describes prostitution as “the experience of being hunted, dominated, harassed, assaulted and battered … it is sexual terrorism against women at the hands of men.”

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Is prostitution a choice?

Many people believe that prostitution is a choice and a valid career path. However, this is a fallacy. Nearly all prostituted women do not choose to engage in prostitution of their own volition, but rather have been forced or coerced against their will. In the cases where women are not forced outright to engage in prostitution, they are generally forced into it by their circumstances, e.g. addiction and poverty. Additionally, 90 percent of prostituted women have been physically abused as children*, 74 percent have been sexually abused by a family member**, 50 percent have been sexually abused by a non-family member***, and 75 percent have drug problems****, damaging factors that further remove the “choice” from the equation. Once involved in prostitution, women are very often abused or murdered by johns and by pimps. In surveys of prostituted women, consistently 89 to 96 percent said that they wanted to exit the prostitution system but could not due to a lack of healthcare, money, education, and other basic resources. There is no real difference between prostitution and slavery.

Certainly no child every “chooses” to be prostituted. And yet, the average age of the entry into prostitution in the United States is 12 to 14 years old. This is a serious challenge to the idea that women choose to be prostituted.


* Giobbe, E.; Harrigan, M; Ryan, J; Gamache, D (1990) Prostitution: A Matter of Violence against Women. WHISPER. Cited  in Encyclopedia of Women and Gender: Sex Similarities and Differences and the impact of Society on Gender. 2. San Diego: Academic Press, 2002, page 882.

** Ibid.

*** Ibid.

**** Farley, Melissa and Howard Barkan. “Prostitution, Violence against Women, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” 1998.

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What causes prostitution?

Gender inequality is the root of prostitution. Entrenched cultural beliefs lead people to believe that women and are a commodity and that they can be bought and sold. Men’s demand for sex and their willingness to purchase it causes the prostitution industry to exist and to flourish which in turn causes women to be disadvantaged, abused, raped, and murdered. If men’s demand for prostitution were eradicated, keeping up a supply of prostituted women would become irrelevant and prostitution would end.

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Who profits from prostitution?

Pimps and traffickers profit from prostitution. Traffickers earn money by selling women and girls, and pimps collect and keep the money that prostituted women receive in exchange for sex. Prostituted women or girls rarely profit in any appreciable way from prostitution. Some believe that prostitution is a means by which women can earn money; in actuality, prostituted women keep very little to none of the money johns give them in exchange for sexual acts. While some prostituted women may earn a nominal amount of money, the fact remains that the vast majority of jobs are more lucrative, and, needless to say, the abuse and indignity suffered by prostituted women are not worth their meager earnings. The pimps and traffickers who force and coerce women into prostitution are the ones who truly profit in this equation.*


* Parker, Joe. “How Prostitution Works.”1998.  http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/How%20prostitution%20works.pdf

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Who purchases sex?

Purchasers of sex are essentially all men. Because many men will not admit to having purchased sex, it is impossible to know with certainty how many men have done so. Men who purchase sex are married and unmarried, and are of all ages, races, and socioeconomic statuses. It is impossible to claim that any one group of men is solely responsible for purchasing sex or to claim that any one group of men categorically does not purchase sex. Men of all ages and kinds engage in this practice.

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Why do Johns engage in this practice?

The overarching reason is the widespread cultural belief that women can be bought and sold. Similarly, there is a widely accepted cultural belief that men “need” sex and so it is permissible for them to purchase it, with no regard to the effect this demand has on women or girls. As long as it is culturally acceptable for men to purchase sex with impunity, they will continue to do so.

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How are women forced into prostitution?

There are multiple ways that women and girls are forced into prostitution. Often, a seemingly trustworthy person will offer a woman a false job opportunity, tricking her into traveling to a foreign country. Once she arrives, the woman finds out that she has an insurmountable debt to pay off and is forced to earn this money by selling sexual acts. However, a woman does not have to travel to be forced into prostitution or to be trafficked. Pimps and traffickers often trick women into thinking that they are getting involved in a legitimate industry or get women to become their girlfriends. They often do this by lavishing attention and false affection on women who seem vulnerable. Once the women are under their control, they force them into prostitution by means of verbal and physical coercion, abuse, and threats. Women can also be forced into prostitution by their circumstances, such as extreme poverty and lack of any other means of earning money, drug addiction, and a history of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

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What is the impact of prostitution?

The negative impact of prostitution on women and girls is impossible to overestimate. Prostitution facilitates the abuse, rape, and murder of women and girls. A study of prostitution in nine countries found that prostitution leads to threats, assault, and rape; results showed that 64 percent of respondents had been threatened with a weapon while in prostitution, 73 percent had been physically assaulted while in prostitution, and 57 percent had been raped while in prostitution.* This study also found that women, in addition to being at much higher risk of being prostituted than men, are at higher risk of being threatened, assaulted, and/or raped while in prostitution than men.** Prostitution leads to post-traumatic stress disorder: this study found that 68 percent of respondents met the criteria for a diagnosis of the disorder.*** Prostitution causes STDs and even localized STD epidemics. Prostitution leads to a much higher risk of suicide. One study found that 75 percent of prostituted women had attempted suicide and that prostituted women comprised 15 percent of all completed suicides.**** Prostitution reinforces harmful cultural beliefs that females are a disposable commodity, and it further mires women and girls in already difficult economic situations. There are no positive impacts of prostitution.


* Farley et al. “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” 2003, page 43.

** Ibid

*** Ibid.

**** Letter from Susan Kay Hunter, Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Jan 6, 1993, cited by Phyllis Chesler in "A Woman's Right to Self-Defense: the case of Aileen Carol Wuornos," in Patriarchy: Notes of an Expert Witness, 1994, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine. Via “Prostitution: Fact Sheet on Human Rights Violations” by Melissa Farley.

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What is Soroptimist doing to stop prostitution?

As an organization of business and professional women working to improve the lives of women and girls and local communities throughout the world, Soroptimist undertakes a number of projects that directly and indirectly help women who are being or have been prostituted and women who are at risk for being prostituted. Because prostitution and sex trafficking are deeply intertwined, Soroptimist’s efforts to halt trafficking aid women who have been prostituted. In 2007, the organization launched a major campaign aimed at raising awareness about the devastating practice of sex trafficking. Soroptimist club members are placing sex slavery awareness cards in highly visible locations including police stations, women’s centers, hospitals, legal aid societies, etc. These cards are available for purchase here: http://www.liveyourdream.org/shop/shop.html.

Soroptimist advocates for a Swedish model of prostitution legislation. The Swedish model makes purchasing sex a crime but not selling it, so that pimps, johns, and traffickers face harsh punishments but prostituted women are offered social services. This model also provides for public education about the truths behind prostitution and trafficking, and for proper training of law enforcement.

In addition, Soroptimist undertakes a number of projects that help victims and potential victims. These projects provide direct aid to women and girls—giving women economic tools and skills to achieve financial empowerment and independence:

The Live Your Dream Awards—Soroptimist’s major project—provides women who have primary financial responsibility for their families with the resources they need to improve their education, skills and employment prospects. By helping women to receive skill and resource training, Soroptimist provides trafficking and potential trafficking victims with economic options. Each year, more than 1,200 women receive $1.6 million dollars through this program.

The Soroptimist Club Grants for Women and Girls program provides Soroptimist clubs with cash grants for innovative projects benefiting women and girls. Many clubs undertake projects that address demand and benefit trafficking victims: a Soroptimist club in the Philippines supports a shelter for abused women and girls escaping from sex trafficking; a club in California held a conference in support of the Western Regional Task Force on Human Trafficking; a club in Chicago has held several educational events related to trafficking; and clubs around the world educate young people about healthy relationships free from violence and control.

Soroptimist’s Disaster Grants provides financial assistance to regions affected by environmental disasters or acts of war, to specifically benefit women and girls. Women and girls affected by disasters are often vulnerable to traffickers.

In addition, Soroptimist engages thousands of activists in stopping trafficking through LiveYourDream.org. For more information how you can help, click here.

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If you suspect an incident of sex trafficking in the United States, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24-hour toll-free hotline number at 888-3737-888. Callers can receive a number of services including crisis intervention, urgent and non-urgent referrals, tip reporting and comprehensive anti-trafficking resources.

 

Learn More
Access Soroptimist whitepapers, FAQs and other resources on sex trafficking.

 

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