Prostitution: Factsheet on Human Rights Violations
by Melissa Farley PhD
Prostitution Research & Education
Box 16254, San Francisco CA 94116 USA
a) sexual harassment
d) verbal abuse
e) domestic violence
f) a racist practice
g) a violation of human rights
h) childhood sexual abuse
i) a consequence of male domination of women
j) a means of maintaining male domination of women
k) all of the above
The commercial sex industry includes street prostitution, massage brothels, escort services, outcall services, strip clubs, lapdancing, phone sex, adult and child pornography, video and internet pornography, and prostitution tourism. Most women who are in prostitution for longer than a few months drift among these various permutations of the commercial sex industry.
All prostitution causes harm to women. Whether it is being sold by one’s family to a brothel, or whether it is being sexually abused in one’s family, running away from home, and then being pimped by one’s boyfriend, or whether one is in college and needs to pay for next semester’s tuition and one works at a strip club behind glass where men never actually touch you – all these forms of prostitution hurt the women in it. (Melissa Farley, paper presented at the 11th International Congress on Women’s Health Issues, University of California College of Nursing, San Francisco. 1-28-2000)
“The everyday life of prostitution is distant from most of us. And here, our imagination is a poor assistant. Negotiate a price with a stranger. Agree. Pull down one pant leg. Come and take me. Finished. Next, please. It becomes too ugly to really take it in. The imagination screeches to a halt.” (Cecilie Hoigard and Liv Finstad, Backstreets: Prostitution, Money, and Love, 1992, translated by Katherine Hanson, Nancy Sipe, and Barbara Wilson; first published as Bakgater in Norway, 1986, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, Pennsylvania).
Men call up the image of the whore when they are abusing their partners. The accusations in between the kicks and slaps: “You slut….whore….” Historically, the words mean “subhuman,” “having no rights,” “invisible,” and “wicked.” As recently as 1991, police in a southern California community closed all rape reports made by prostitutes and addicts, placing them in a file stamped “NHI.” The letters stand for the words “No Human Involved.” (Linda Fairstein, Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape, 1993, New York, William Morrow.)
“[The prostitute] is a victim of every bad thing men do to women: physical and sexual abuse, economic oppression and abandonment.” (Mick LaSalle, “Hollywood is hooked on hookers, ” San Francisco Examiner, December 3, 1995).
Women in prostitution are purchased for their appearance, including skin color and characteristics based on ethnic stereotyping. Throughout history, women have been enslaved and prostituted based on race and ethnicity, as well as gender (Kathleen Barry, 1995 ,The Prostitution of Sexuality, New York University Press).
We usually don’t see prostitution as domestic violence because it is just too painful: “…the carnage: the scale of it, the dailiness of it, the seeming inevitability of it; the torture, the rapes, the murders, the beatings, the despair, the hollowing out of the personality, the near extinguishment of hope commonly suffered by women in prostitution.” (Margaret A. Baldwin “Split at the Root: Prostitution and Feminist Discourses of Law Reform” in Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 1992, Vol 5: 47-120)
“Male dominance means that the society creates a pool of prostitutes by any means necessary so that men have what men need to stay on top, to feel big, literally, metaphorically, in every way;…” (Andrea Dworkin, Prostitution and Male Supremacy, in Life and Death, Free Press, 1997).
“Prostitution isn’t like anything else. Rather, everything else is like prostitution because it is the model for women’s condition.” (Evelina Giobbe, 1992, quoted by Margaret Baldwin in “Split at the Root: Prostitution and Feminist Discourses of Law Reform,” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 5:
“The sex industry markets precisely the violence, the practices of subordination that feminists seek to eliminate from the streets, workplaces, and bedrooms.” Sheila Jeffreys, (1997) The Idea of Prostitution, Spinifex Press, North Melbourne, Victoria.
The practice of prostitution is a practice of sexual objectification of women. “… every act of sexual objectifying occurs on a continuum of dehumanization that promises male sexual violence at its far end.” John Stoltenberg (1990) Refusing to be a Man, Fontana, London.
The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years (M.H. Silbert and A.M. Pines, 1982, “Victimization of street prostitutes, Victimology: An International Journal, 7: 122-133) or 14 years (D.Kelly Weisberg, 1985, Children of the Night: A Study of Adolescent Prostitution, Lexington, Mass, Toronto). Most of these 13 or 14 year old girls were recruited or coerced into prostitution. Others were “traditional wives” without job skills who escaped from or were abandoned by abusive husbands and went into prostitution to support themselves and their children. (Denise Gamache and Evelina Giobbe, Prostitution: Oppression Disguised as Liberation, National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1990)
The age of entry into prostitution is decreasing. For example, how do we even conceptualize “juvenile” prostitution, when the age of consent for legal sexual activity is constantly lowered, as in Netherlands and Philippines? (Kathleen Mahoney, Professor of Law, Calgary University, Canada, 1995)
“Incest is boot camp [for prostitution.]” (Andrea Dworkin, “Prostitution and Male Supremacy,” in Life and Death, Free press, 1997)
Estimates of the prevalence of incest among prostitutes range from 65% to 90%. The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon Annual Report in 1991 stated that: 85% of prostitute/clients reported history of sexual abuse in childhood; 70% reported incest. The higher percentages (80%-90%) of reports of incest and childhood sexual assaults of prostitutes come from anecdotal reports and from clinicians working with prostitutes (interviews with Nevada psychologists cited by Patricia Murphy, Making the Connections: women, work, and abuse, 1993, Paul M. Deutsch Press, Orlando, Florida; see also Rita Belton, “Prostitution as Traumatic Reenactment,” 1992, International Society for Traumatic Stress Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA M.H. Silbert and A.M. Pines, 1982, “Victimization of street prostitutes,” Victimology: An International Journal, 7: 122-133; C. Bagley and L Young, 1987, “Juvenile Prostitution and child sexual abuse: a controlled study,” Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, Vol 6: 5-26.
80% of prostitution survivors at the WHISPER Oral History Project reported that their customers showed them pornography to illustrate the kinds of sexual activities in which they wanted to engage. 52% of the women stated that pornography played a significant role in teaching them what was expected of them as prostitutes. 30% reported that their pimps regularly exposed them to pornography in order to indoctrinate them into an acceptance of the practices depicted. (A facilitator’s guide to Prostitution: a matter of violence against women, 1990, WHISPER – Women Hurt in Systems of Prostitution Engaged in Revolt Minneapolis, MN)
The male sexuality in prostitution is “male masturbation in a female body.” (Hanna Olsson, regarding a study of Swedish prostitution, quoted by Kathleen Barry in The Prostitution of Sexuality, 1995, New York, New York University Press) In prostitution, “men buy not a self but a body that performs as a self, and it is a self that conforms to the most harmful, damaging, racist and sexist concepts of women…” (Kathleen Barry, The Prostitution of Sexuality, 1995, New York, New York University Press)
The prostitution market is driven by customer demand for sexual service. During WW II, the Japanese military forced from 100,000 to 200,000 Korean women into prostitution to service their military. (Kathleen Barry, The Prostitution of Sexuality, 1995, New York, New York University Press).
In 1974, police estimated that there were 400,000 prostitutes in Thailand, procured primarily for the U.S. military on R & R from the Vietnam War. As of 1993, an unofficial estimate is that there are 2 million prostitutes in Thailand, whose national economy is dependent on tourism. Prostitution is the largest commodity for the 450,000 Thai men who purchase prostitutes daily as well as for a large percentage of the 5.4 million tourists a year who arrive in Thailand for “sex tours.” (Kathleen Barry, The Prostitution of Sexuality, 1995, New York, New York University Press).
A more accurate term for “sex tourism” is prostitution tourism. (Melissa Farley, 1997)