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Prostitution In The United States: Sex, Drugs, Alcohol & America's Moral Outlook

Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. Our government leader, sports heroes, and celebrity icons have been caught engaging in prostitution's illegal "activities". The media is obsessed with its both seedy and glamorous appeal. Heidi Fleiss, the Madame to the stars, has risen to the heights of national celebrity, which helped to launch her own line of clothing. Prostitution and prostitutes have been under moral and political fire since the time of Jesus Christ; yet the profession remains.

Hypocrisy rightcheousness, and radical political activism have all guided the plight to keep prostitution illegal and its workers unseen; however in many cases it is the very people that lead the fight against it that have partaken in its lure, whether it be government officials, religious family men, or the police. The issue of prostitution exists in a dichotomy of ideals, practices, and perception. There is the dichotomy of street hooker versus high priced whore, of feminist theory and the issue of women being either exploited or liberated, and the ideals behind criminalizing prostitution-who are we punishing? Who are the real victims?

Does prohibition really work, and do we as a society truly have the right to criminalize a consensual act between to adults? This paper will mainly address these issues and questions in relation to the adult female prostitute and the male "john". This must be specified because so many sub-layers of prostitution exist with their own set of problems concerning them, such as child prostitution, male prostitution, and the small but ever present female clientele of both male and female prostitutes. There is also the issue of sex surrogates, a legal profession where a doctor can prescribe a man or woman to visit a professional sex surrogate to have sex with in cases of impotence, disability, etc.

In fact, this is a controversial issue in and of itself-a disabled man named Mark O'Brien, who was confined for his entire life to an "iron lung", a machine that breathes for him, hired a sex surrogate because he was a virgin and wanted to experience the intimacy of another human being, something he had been denied his entire life. He wrote about the experience and claimed it a type of therapy-the article was received with mixed views. Essentially, this was a form of prostitution, but because a medical doctor was involved the act was not illegal. It seem interesting that with a doctors authority prostitution is legitimized as a form of therapy; however if someone cannot afford a sex surrogate or a doctor to prescribe the surrogate, their actions are illegal. The first issue this paper will tackle is prostitution, street prostitution and its victimizing and criminalizing factors.

It is difficult to estimate the number of persons who currently work, or have ever worked as prostitutes for many reasons, including the various definitions of prostitution. Arrest figures range over 100, 000 every year. The National Task Force on Prostitution suggests that over one million people in the U.S. have worked as prostitutes in the United States. This figure works out to be about 1% of American women. The average prostitution arrests include 70% female prostitutes, 20% male prostitutes, and 10% customers. This discrepancy in arrests between prostitute and client represents one of the problems of the criminalization of prostitution. The male clientele is creating the demand, thereby keeping prostitutes in business. The profession would not exist if the demand were not there; however these men are arrested and punished at much lower rate than the women.

A disproportionate number of prostitutes arrested are women of color and a large majority of prostitutes arrested and that are actually sent to jail are women of color as well. Eighty-five to ninety percent of those arrested work on the street even though street prostitutes account for approximately 20% of all working prostitutes. Street prostitutes are not the glamorized, $1000 a night girls, these are often women working because they are impoverished, drug addicted, etc. The ratio of on-street prostitution to off-street (sauna, massage parlor, in call-outcall escort) varies in each city depending on local law and enforcement. In larger cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco street prostitution accounts for only 10-20% of the prostitution profession, whereas in some smaller, lower income cities/neighborhoods with limited indoor venues street prostitution may account for 50% of the active prostitution in that city. Percentages of male to female prostitutes vary from city to city.

Estimates in some larger cities suggest 20-30% of prostitutes are male. In San Francisco, it has been estimated that 25% of the female prostitutes are transgender. Incidence of substance use and addiction varies widely. Studies in the United States found prevalence of substance use and addiction ranging from 0% to 84%, depending on the population being studied, with substance addiction relatively common among street prostitutes, but rare among women who work off the street. One study showed that nearly 50% of one population of women who used drugs did so before they became prostitutes. The United States Department of Health consistently reports that only 3-5% of the sexually transmitted diseases in this country is related to prostitution (compared with 30-35% of teenagers). There is no statistical indication in the U.S. that prostitutes are the purveyors of HIV. Although a small percentage of prostitutes may be HIV positive, William Darrow, CDC AIDS epidemology official, cites no proven cases of HIV transmission from prostitutes to clients. The rate of STDs among street prostitutes is higher because in many private prostitution rings and in legal brothels etc. the women are required to use condoms and get checked regularly for STDs.

Violence is one of the major problems for both male and female prostitutes. One report cited that 60% of the abuse against street prostitutes is perpetrated by clients, 20% by police, and 20% in domestic relationships. According to one massage parlor owner, 90% of abuse against some prostitutes take place within a domestic relationship. Between 35-85% of prostitutes are survivors of incest or early sexual abuse. (Figures vary widely in different populations). A study of 130 street workers, almost all primarily homeless, who engaged in prostitution or "survival sex" found that 80% had been physically assaulted both on the job and off. It has been reported that some prostitutes are raped between 8 and 10 times a year, or more. Of these women 7% seek help from a rape crisis center, and only 4% report the rape to the police. These women are silenced because of their profession and the illegality of it, as well as the fact that it is hard for a prostitute to prove that she has been raped, as many people refuse to believe such a thing can happen.

Women who sell sex are apparently stripped of free will and choice in their sexual lives according many members of society, including their clientele and the police. A recent study showed, in cases of (non-domestic) rape and abuse, 5% of the perpetrators identified themselves as police officers, often producing badges and police identification (this does not include actual cases of police misconduct and rape). Although violence and the threat of violence is a serious problem, some populations of prostitutes show no higher incidence of violence and abuse than women in general. These prostitutes tend to work in legal brothels or private prostitution rings.

Some researchers suggest that prostitutes, in general, suffer from "negative identities" or lack of self-esteem. A 1986 study by Diane Prince, however, found call girls and brothel workers had higher self esteem than before they became prostitutes; Ninety-seven percent of prostitutes liked themselves "more than before". Although little work has been done regarding client profiles, anecdotal reports and arrest statistics indicate that clients also vary widely in terms of race and class. In a study in England 50% of clients were married, or cohabitating. According to Kinsey's report, 70% of adult men have engaged in some sort of prostitution at least once. Male prostitutes sometimes report that their clients include married men who identify as being heterosexual. Customers are rarely arrested more than once for prostitution and are infrequently jailed. Apparently paying money for sex isn't a crime, but accepting money for sex is. The burden seems to continuously fall on the women's shoulders.

Police officers arrest prostitutes for "public nuisance" or "loitering" violations or by disguising themselves as customers. They will often approach someone that they suspect of prostitution and then solicit their services until the person is deceived into agreeing to perform sex for money. The individual is then arrested for offering or agreeing to an act of prostitution. It is contended by many decriminalization activists that arrests of prostitutes necessarily include the use of entrapment, an invasion of privacy, and/or the use of discriminatory laws or tactics. Average arrest, court and incarceration costs amount to nearly $2000 per arrest. Cities spend an average of 7.5 million dollars on prostitution control every year, ranging from one million dollars (Memphis) to twenty-three million dollars (New York).

In 1949, the United Nations adopted a resolution in favor of the decriminalization of prostitution, which has been ratified by fifty countries (not the United States). Many countries complied with decriminalization by decriminalizing prostitution, but leaving all related activities criminal such as soliciting, advertising, etc. San Francisco has set up a Prostitution task force to deal with the problems surrounding illegal prostitution. It is made up of representatives from the Mayor's office, neighborhood groups, law enforcement agencies, public health agencies, social service agencies, City Departments and Commissions, women's rights advocates and immigrant and prostitute rights groups. Below are several quotes excerpted from Prostitution Task Force Mission Statements, etc.: "The traditional practice of dealing with prostitution as a law and order issue is costly and simply does not work. The Task Force creates a forum in which everyone who is impacted in whatever way by prostitution can sit together and come up with solutions that work for San Francisco"-Terence Hallinan, San Francisco Supervisor/Sponsor of Prostitution Task Force.

Mission Statement: "The San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution was established by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to consist of twenty-eight member who shall represent a broad cross-section of San Francisco with regard to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, age, socioeconomic status and sexual orientationto do a comparative study of current prostitution laws and regulations in other cities in the United States and internationally, and to explore all options for reform on prostitution laws, social services and law enforcement practices in San Francisco."

The Prostitutes Collective Of Victoria cites ten reasons to decriminalize street prostitution, the very first being that prohibition does not work. Although prostitution is legal in brothels and through escort agencies, "it is a crime to sell sex on the streets. The recent economic recession (1996) has seen the number of poor and unemployed entering street prostitution escalate rapidly. When we consider that street prostitutes are often homeless, unskilled, impoverished and drug addicted, and that prostitution is merely symptomatic of such a lifestyle, it is understandable that they will continue to reoffend until the reasons why they are on the streets are addressed. Prohibition has not and cannot deal with these issues, not has it stopped street prostitution." (Prostitutes Collective of Victoria website).

In Singapore and Denmark, having sex for money is as legal as any other enterprise and is done so in the open. In Saudi Arabia, women have to wear clothing to hide their faces, even though polygamy is still commonplace. The United States fits somewhere in between, having monogamy, illegal prostitution in most states, and legal prostitution in Nevada. Legalizing prostitution in all states would do much for the safety and comfort of both prostitute and client. Instead of pimps controlling the lives of their prostitutes with drugs and violence, a madam would provide a safe, even friendly, place to provide the service. The legalization debate is a civil rights issue too.

What rights should two consenting adults have in privacy? Many people believe that the government should be careful how it addresses that question. A number of people even believe that the government should have no right deciding how adults conduct themselves sexually, even for money. In their defense, there are two arguments that are worth mentioning. One argument is that of a comparison to an already existing freedom.

A woman is able to decide whether or not she wants to keep a pregnancy. This right has been attacked and upheld within many courtrooms. Many individuals must have examined all of the angles and sided with the rights of the individual. It is not hard to see why other people would like an equal amount of freedom and respect for one's decisions extended their way concerning prostitution. Compared to abortion, there would be less controversy surrounding prostitution if it were made legal today. The other argument addresses the sexual rights of women.

A woman who has sex with multiple partners is behaving within the law. However, if that same woman were to charge a dollar for sex, the act would become illegal. The real heart of the issue, in the minds of many people, is about controlling sexuality for moral reasons. Christianity and many other faiths tell us how to live our lives. A major piece of that life has to do with promoting the family. That is why the drive to pair males and females is so strong in nearly every society. Maybe those that hold great power desire to maintain their relatively easy lives on the backs of uneducated people and an economy based on monogamous relationships. Along time ago, pairing men and women and punishing those that stray, was probably a way of keeping people productive and in line. Families promote other families and the dependence on those families takes us to a present-day economy.

Nevada is the only state in the United States that has experimented with legalizing prostitution. There are 33 brothels in the state of Nevada, but street prostitution is still illegal. Many women are still being arrested in Nevada for street prostitution, and every few months or so a senator or congressman from the state tries to outlaw prostitution altogether again. With legal prostitution in Nevada, why do the male customers pay for street sex exposing themselves to STD's, rip-offs, and legal trouble? The answer is money. Legal prostitutes must test each week for STD's and drug use to keep the client safe. Drug addicted and infected women cannot legally work as a prostitute. The men use street sex in Reno because the average price of oral sex in a legal house is $200, but on the street it is $20. The lower class client will go to the streetwalker because he doesn't have the $200 for a legal prostitute. By making all prostitution legal then the prices for legal prostitution will be driven down simply by means of competition.

Decriminalizing prostitution is just one aspect of the entire paradigm. Few things have divided feminists as much as the sex industry. Theorists who agree on a vast majority of issues - economic equality, affirmative action, even sexual liberation - often find themselves bitterly opposed over pornography and prostitution. Most 19th-century feminists opposed prostitution and considered prostitutes to be victims of male exploitation. But just as the suffragette and temperance movements were bound together at the turn of the century, so too were feminist and contemporary moral objections to prostitution. Women, the argument went, were pillars of moral virtue, and prostitution tainted their purity: the sale of sex was, like alcohol, both the reason for and the symptom of societies fall. By the 1960s and '70s, when Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer asserted that sexual liberation was integral to women's liberation, feminists were reluctant to oppose prostitution on moral grounds. Traditional morality, Greer argued, had helped to repress women sexually and had made their needs secondary to men's. That sexual subordination paralleled women's economic and political subordination.

Today, some feminists see prostitution as a form of sexual slavery; others see it as a route to sexual liberation. In between are people who accept that prostitution is here to stay, like it or not. Radical feminists such as lawyer Catharine MacKinnon and antipornography theorist Andrea Dworkin oppose sex work in any form. They argue that it exploits women and reinforces their status as sexual objects, undoing many of the gains women have made over the past century. Others detect in this attitude a "strain of neo-Victorianism", a condescending belief that prostitutes do not know what they are doing and need somebody with more education to protect them and tell them how to live their lives.

This could be translated into men needing to show them their direction by finding a monogamous relationship and being taken care of. Some women, these dissenters point out, actually choose the profession. Feminists who question the antiprostitution radicals also point out that, "Dworkin and MacKinnon sometimes sound eerily like their nemeses on the religious right"(Califia). Phyllis Schlafly, an intense family-values crusader and activist, has even cited Dworkin in her antipornography promotional materials. This kind of thing does not improve the radical's image among feminists. At the other extreme from Dworkin and MacKinnon are sex-radical feminists like Susie Bright and Pat Califia. They argue that sex work can be a good thing. It can be a bold form of liberation for women, a way for some women to take control of their lives. The problem there, though, is that the life of a prostitute is often not as glamorous as the movie Pretty Woman makes it out to be.

Many feminists, like myself, fall somewhere in between the rad-fem and sex-radical poles. I believe that it is a woman's right to choose her own sexual path. However, there is a strong difference between women who are choose to become call girls or sexual gurus or some sort of legal prostitute and the women who are forced to on the street due to socio-economic factors. The women who make the decisions to become a prostitute in order to fulfill their own sexual desires and to discover their sexual freedoms are a minority. More power to thembut the women having survival sex is the one who's body is being degraded and used, who is having to deal with the police on a regular basis, who is constantly putting themselves at risk of physical harm and rape, etc. These are the women that need to be protected by the law, but instead they are the ones persecuted by it.

The question posed earlier in the paper, who are the real victims in this crime? Some might answer that it is a victimless crime. And in the case of the empowered whore, this is true. However, this is not the case for street prostitute-she is often the victim of her own crime. One last important factor to address would be that regardless of how the prostitute, whether she be a legal or illegal prostitute, feels about herself and her work, there will always be a social stigma attached to their work. The very men who pay for their services, will turn around call them a whore and persecute their actions. Women use the term whore against other women, further dividing the solidarity that women so desperately need to hold on to in order to promote social reform. Judgment is placed so easily on these women because of the moral construct of out country; however religion and the way this country was established is based on hypocrisy and corruptness-two entities that are made manifest through the illegalization of prostitution.

This paper is concluding with a quote from a sexual-radical, new feminist, Inga Muscio. She is a proponent of women's sexual power and believe that "whoredom" is an essential way to discover one's own sexuality and a way to teach the art of making love to a women to both men and women. She writes: "Whoredom is a massive part of our history and power of women. When fully instructed in the art of sacred sexual power, Whores are the people who can teach us all the stuff we grow up not learning about sexuality, our bodies and our innate sexual power. Our cultural ignorance and intolerance of whores keeps whores from realizing the full potential of whoredom. It likewise robs men and women of teachers who can help us understand women's sexual power. Whores were a central part of religion, spirituality and everyday life in times when the Goddess-a truly sexual being-was overtly worshipped. It took a lot of work, study, devotion, and commitment to become one of the Goddess's sexual priestesses. People were free to visit the temples of Whores, and did so to learn, to love, to open up physically, to heal."

Works Cited Muscio, Inga; Cunt, Seal Press, Seattle, 1998. San Francisco Prostitution Task Force-website-mission statement/fact page Prostitutes Collective of Victoria-website Abraham, Yvonne, "Prostitution Theory 101"-found under www.About.com Prostitution in the United States-statistics-found under www.About.com


By J Mac - I live in LA  

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