V. Types of Prostitution
Prostitution can be classified according to modus operandi and gender and age of providers. In their comprehensive review of studies on prostitution, Harcourt and Donovan (2005) identified 25 different modi operandi of commercial sex work in more than 15 countries. In their typology, they identified the name of the activity, how clients are solicited and where they are serviced, and in what world regions certain activities are prevalent. Among the more prominent modi operandi for sex work are street, brothel, and escort prostitution. Street prostitution is the mode where clients are solicited on the street, in parks, or in other public places and are serviced in side streets, vehicles, or short-stay premises. Street prostitution is widespread, particularly in societies where alternative work sites are unavailable (e.g., in the United States, Europe, United Kingdom, Australasia) or there is socioeconomic breakdown (e.g., Eastern Europe, parts of Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America).
Brothel prostitution is the mode where certain premises are explicitly dedicated to providing sex. Usually, brothel prostitution has better security provisions accorded to sex workers than street prostitution. Brothels are often licensed by authorities. Brothel prostitution is the preferred mode when sex work is decriminalized or brothels are “tolerated.” This type is prevalent in Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, India, Europe, and Latin America.
Escort prostitution is the mode where clients contact sex workers by phone or via the hotel staff. This is the most covert form of sex work. It is relatively expensive because of low client turnover (i.e., a higher price is charged for services because the client pool is smaller and more exclusive). The service can be provided at a client’s home or hotel room. This mode of prostitution is ubiquitous. In the United States, escorts and private workers contacted by phone and working from a “call book” are known as “call girls” or “call men.” Other less prominent modi operandi include: lap dancing, massage parlors, and traveling entertainers (Harcourt & Donovan, 2005).
Other modes documented by Harcourt and Donovan (2005) are culturally bound and unique to certain countries. For example, in Cambodia and Uganda, a mode called “beer girl” prostitution was documented where young women hired by major companies to promote and sell products in bars and clubs also sell sexual services to supplement their income. Also, in some Japanese cities, a popular mode is the geisha. These are women engaged primarily to provide social company, but sex may ensue. Harcourt and Donovan also found that policing of sex work can change the modus operandi and location of prostitution, but rarely its prevalence. They argued that it is necessary to develop complete understanding of the modus operandi of sex work in a particular area in order to come up with comprehensive sexual health promotion programs. Harcourt and Donovan concluded that there is no one best intervention for prostitution and that interventions must be suitable to the form (modus operandi) of prostitution in a local area to have some impact.
The following typology generally applies to male and transgender sex workers. In one of the few studies on male prostitutes, Luckenbill (1986) identified three modes of operation—street hustling, bar hustling, and escort prostitution—ranked according to level of income and safety from arrest. The author also found that while some male prostitutes developed relatively stable careers within a given rank, others developed ascending careers. Most of the respondents moved from street hustling to bar hustling, and a few ascended to escort prostitution (Luckenbill, 1986). Lately, with the prominence of the Internet, male prostitutes can find customers through their online advertisements (Pruitt, 2005). This has opened a new mechanism for male-to-male prostitution and entailed a more elaborate form of escort prostitution (Bimbi & Parsons, 2005; Pruitt, 2005). Compared to female prostitutes, male prostitutes are more likely to be either in bars or working as escorts. Male-to-female transgender prostitutes generally follow the typology of street and off-street prostitution (Belza et al., 2000; Leichtentritt & Davidson-Arad, 2004). Transgender prostitutes, however, are predominantly based on the streets and compete with female prostitutes for their customers. A recurrent theme for transgender prostitutes is the higher risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted disease (Risser et al., 2005), which limits their customer base. As such, to be competitive, transgender prostitutes offer more explicit sexual services and engage in unprotected sexual contact more often (Parsons, Koken, & Bimbi, 2004).
Finally, prostitution can also be classified according to the age of providers, namely adult and child prostitutes. Studies indicate that the dynamics of child prostitution are different from those of adult prostitution. Child prostitutes are involved without their consent, and they are usually systematically deceived (Ayalew & Berhane, 2000; Sachs, 1994). Child prostitution is generally condemned by most individuals, organizations, and governments. Nevertheless, some child prostitutes eventually become adult prostitutes, and many adult prostitutes had prior childhood histories of sexual abuse and prostitution (Widom & Kuhns, 1996). In some jurisdictions, the age limit of those who could legally become prostitutes is very low, as young as 16 years old in Singapore (http://www.procon.org/).