Prostitution and Legalization
The question, whether prostitution should be adopted as a legal activity has been debated among scholars over the years. The school of thought that supports the retention of prostitution is deeply rooted in theory, yet the evidences adduced from the theoretical perspective deny the devastating effects the Decriminalization of prostitution causes, as it become impossible to draft a logical argument resulting from theoretical link with the real life experience.
When, in may 2003, prostitution was legalized in Netherlands, the arguments advanced was that it will safeguard the human rights of sex workers, to deliver them from the cold hands of exploitation, for occupation and health safety of sex workers, even to protect children from the exploitation of prostitution (New Zealand Justice and Electoral Committee, 2001.)
Former DMSC Director, Dr Samarjit Jana stated expressly that since sex workers fulfill men’s need, prostitution must be seen as profession (Dhar 1991.) Pimps also sermonized for the decriminalization of prostitution putting forward the argument ; why have a legion of freelance STD spreaders when you could control and regulate sex field workers’ health (Patrick, 2000.)
In fact, prostitution has been proposed as a development strategy for developing countries through formal adoption as business, contributing to the economic quota. Sex business includes escort prostitution, massage brothels, strip clubs, phone sex business (Melissa Farley;violence against women.) In Netherlands sex industry constitute 5% of GDP.
Although prostitution was promulgated as an official business to improve lives, it is viewed primarily as a way for state tax earnings, announced dutch woman in prostitution (Schippers 2002.) Despite the attracting and a logically constructed and balanced arguments, it constitute 1% of reality, it would be a no fallacy to affirm situations does not turn out to be what were proposed in books.
There seem to be no connection between the arguments advanced and what is obtained in the reality. What then are the resulting aftereffects of Decriminalization on women? Does decriminalization solve the problems attached with prostitution? What is the value of the problems after legalization?
Decriminalization of prostitution inevitably results in the increase of trafficking. The flow between legalization of prostitution and the growth rate of trafficking is parallel and inextricably linked. Theoretical argument for legalization of sex as work is that it will intercept the exploitation of desperate immigrant women who had been trafficked for prostitution, however, this has proven to be a mere historical fallacy.
The inseparability of prostitution and trafficking is recognized by Swedish law, as cited by Ekberg;2003 ‘prostitution and trafficking in women are seen as harmful practices that cannot and should not be separated;in other to effectively eliminate trafficking in women concrete measures against prostitution must be put in place.’
The Dutch Government, in 2000 sought after and received a judgment from the European Court adopting prostitution as an economic activity, thereby availing women from Soviet Bloc and EU to obtain work permit as sex workers in Dutch. In a report by the NGO in Europe, it was submitted that work permit become the ready tool used by traffickers to bring foreign women into dutch sex industry, concealing the reality of being trafficked women by coaching them to describe themselves as ‘migrant sex workers’ (personal communication Republic of international human rights Network;1999.)
Trafficking according to Republic of Philippines is defined as ‘The recruitment, transportation, transfer or harbouring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders by means of threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction,fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation which includes at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery,servitude or the removal and sale of organs.’
The UN Protocol, on the other hand recognizes the payment of money for prostitution is considered a means of coercing person’s sexual use. Arguments submitted by the abolitionist has it that selling of sex should not be legally frowned at, but the buying of sex by pimps, johns should be legally sanctioned. Another fact, subscribed to by the abolitionist is that prostitution is rarely truly a choice of the prostitute, but is always almost forced. According to research conducted in 9 countries, 89% of those in prostitution affirmed they are in sex work because there is no alternative to the means of livelihood. (Farley et al;2003)
While theory accurately denounce the effects of decriminalization of sex, the reality proves the contrary. A review committee set up in New Zealand to review the prostitution law submitted that after prostitution was legalized in 2003,violence and sexual abuse in prostitution remain unabated.
Although, some authors failed to address the aftermath of Decriminalization of prostitution, Limoncelli for example, submitted that the relationship between trafficking and prostitution may not exist objectively. However, evidence adduced shouts louder than theories.
A Nevada legal pimp once told Melissa Farley that a Russian trafficker wants to buy his brothel in 2005. Legalization of prostitution in Dutch and Netherlands spiraled the number of traffickers. As Melissa Farley wrote in ‘Theory versus reality: Commentary on four articles about trafficking for prostitution; Today, 80% of all women in German and Dutch prostitution are trafficked.’ Anywhere prostitution exists as an economic activity, trafficking exist as contemporary.
To clear doubt, evidence shows that legalized sex industry increase trafficking to meet the demands for women to be used in sex Industry (Hughes;2000)
The rate of violence remain pervasive. Despite the argument for the legalization of prostitution as one that will interdict and mitigate the matchless inhumane treatment caused on women in prostitution, evidences collected suggest the contrary. Exhibits prove that sex workers endure violence notwithstanding the liberty to report the occurrence of such cold-blooded act in the face of law. The cultural sentiment (stigma) attributed to decriminalization albeit the legal standing, compel sex workers to embrace the unpitiful discipline inflicted on them.
An NZ prostitute collective member stated ‘they do not want to draw attention to themselves and what they are doing ‘ (Else, 2003). The Dutch women, despite the fact that prostitution is officially registered as work, the women still preferred anonymity (Schippers, 2002). The implication of legalization to the police and sex workers is that police has the obligation to protect prostitutes, the liberty remain unused by the sex workers themselves, even when violently exploited and battered.
Violence becomes the normative experience of women in prostitution. ‘Sexual violence and physical assault are the norm for women in all types of prostitution (Melissa Farley). In a survey conducted by Farley and cotton, 71% suffer sexual assault, 62% reported rapes in prostitution of 854 people in prostitution in 9 countries, (Zambia, US, Turkey, Thailand, South Africa, Mexico, Germany, Colombia, Mexico) 89% confessed that the chances for economic survival would be unbearable if they abandon sex work. As Farley wrote ‘ to normalize prostitution as a reasonable job choice for women makes invisible their strong desire to escape prostitution.
Violence against women in prostitute is taken to another level when the gravity of the offence of rape is treated with less severity. For instance in El Salvador, Venezuela and Paraguay, the penalty for rape is alleviates by one fifth if the victim is a prostitute (Wijers and Lapchew, 1997.) A prostitute, if raped is assumed as part of her business service. To strengthen the prejudice, a judge in California overturned the decision of a jury to charge a customer with rape, saying ‘a woman who goes out on the street and makes a whore out of herself opens herself up to anybody’ (Arax, 1986).
Violence on women in prostitution has devastating health impact. Sanger in 1858 asked a number of prostitutes in New York about their health status, and concluded that premature old age was the invariable result of prostitution (as cited in Benjamin and masters, 1964). Other health issues can be summarized as;exhaustion, vaginal infections, frequent viral illness, back aches, depression, headache, sleeplessness. Relative to the general population, the death rate of women in prostitution was found to be higher by 40%. Sexual assault in prostitution were more physically violent and often times involved weapon, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) may be caused as a result of slamming one’s head into an object.
The psychological harm goes pari passu with physical harm. Sexual dysfunction is experienced by a long term prostitute with their chosen partners. They hardly experience sexual sensations arising from sexual acts. It becomes almost impossible to view partners as anything but a John (Melissa, 2004).
A corollary to the psychological harm is the occurrence of dissociation. It is recognized as a job requirements for surviving the emotional pain caused by prostitution. McLeod explaining the term writes ‘ if anything a prostitute treats herself like a chair for someone to sit on. Her mind goes blank, she just lies there. You become just an object… After a while it become just normal thing.’ While expressing her experience, Giobbe stated ‘prostitution is like rape. It’s like when i was 15years old and I was raped. I used to experience leaving my body… I didn’t want to feel what i was feeling. And while I was a prostitute, I used to do that all the time. I would numb my feelings. I wouldn’t even feel like I was in my body. I would actually leave my body and go somewhere else with my thoughts and with my feelings until he got off and it was over with him.’ To dissociate during sexual operation is to travel a distance out of consciousness, and it is adopted as a skill for professional.
Those who possess the skill can survive in prostitution work. In a test a new Zealand pimp conducted on her girls, she discovered only 30% of them could survive prostitution. These ones possess the know how of dissociation. Vanwesenbeeck called it dissociative proficiency, a contributor to a ‘professional attitude.’ It’s said by the supporters that once prostitution is regulated by laws, the rate of violence will suffer an uncontrolled diminishing return. We’re left to make choices as we scrutinize the validity of evidences collected and the openness of reality.
The problem of social stigma remain unmodified notwithstanding the legal status. Stigma is a form of prejudice attached to a person that make them socially unacceptable among groups. It is a bias that segregate and taint a personality from a corporate assembly. It imprint upon a subject negative self concept and identity formation. Other consequences are far reaching which include social isolation, employment and income. Stigma represent an added burden that affect people beyond any impairments or deficit they may have (Benoit, Jansson, Jansenbarger, 2018).
Stigmatization is held to become the fundamental determinant of social inequality (Hatzenbuchlar, 2013). Sex workers are routinely denied social rights (Vanwesenbeeck, 2001). In fact, derogatory label is attached to the term used ti describe prostitutes, whore, hookers, in legislation, social policies, media on a daily basis to emphasize the derogatory nature and the discreditable essence of such work.
The undignified assumption attached to sex work is accepted by sex workers as justified and being adopted as true reflection of self. They come to embrace the inhumane treatment as deserving and ‘comes with territory’ (Brucket;2002 Cornish;2006). The beliefs held by sex workers create an unpenetrated barriers to accessing appropriate services from Police, health care providers (Benoit, Ouellet, and Jansson, 2016). The problem of social stigma is best solved pragmatically through partnership with stigmatized women.
The foregoing is an apologia that present the persisting and unsolved problems associated with prostitution although the legal status it possess. The value of problems attached to prostitution escalate even when prostitution is legalized.
Consequently, it is submitted that legalization of prostitution in some countries mask the real intent of decriminalizing with the reasons to protect fundamental human right of the people. This is not necessarily true as there are vested interest concealed, since legalization has proven inefficient in the face of problem solving.
Jimoh Samuel is a law student at Obafemi Awolowo Univerysity, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He loves writing academic articles. He became a volunteer at LawGlobal Hub in January, 2023.