VII. Effects of Prostitution
A. Prostitution as a Fall from Grace
The view that prostitution is a socially and morally deviant act implies that prostitutes are criminals and sinners. One common effect of this perspective is the stigmatization of those involved in prostitution. This affects more than just the prostitute; rather, the stigmatization spreads to individuals associated with the prostitutes like their children and other family members. This negative labeling may also be the cause of long-term involvement in prostitution, as prostitutes who want out may have limited options. For example, employers may not want former prostitutes working for them.
The stigmatization associated with prostitution also makes prostitutes vulnerable to physical attacks. Words like “whore” and “hooker” provoke extreme reaction on the part of some individuals who may take a vigilante attitude of ridding the streets of prostitutes (Lowman, 2000). Likewise, considering that prostitution is illegal in most places, prostitution exchanges may be done in the streets, usually in the dark, where the security of the prostitutes against aggressive clients is compromised (Kurtz et al., 2004). In addition to this, some prostitutes are also dependent on illicit substances, thereby increasing their vulnerability. Thus, cases of homicide, mutilation, harassment, and rape are elevated among those involved in prostitution (Erickson & Butters, 2000; Lowman, 2000).
The deviance perspective also normalizes police misconduct against prostitutes. Since the prostitutes are seen as criminals and “sinners,” the reasoning goes that it is best for the police to handle them with discretionary decisions. Police officers can abuse this discretionary power and may turn it to their personal advantage. There is then little option for the prostitutes, given their marginalized states.
B. Prostitution as Voluntary or Free Choice
Those who view prostitution as voluntary do not deny that prostitutes are stigmatized. In fact, they decry systematic efforts to stigmatize sex workers because they believe that involvement in prostitution has substantial positive effects. Among these positive effects is the support provided by the sex workers to their families and other dependents. In developing countries, for example, sex workers in the urban areas send their earnings to sustain the needs of family and relatives in the rural areas. Related to this, prostitution as an industry provides income for the state. When properly regulated, sex workers, pimps, and brothel owners can be taxed on their incomes. It also reduces the number of unemployed people and thus stimulates economic activity.
Those who freely engage in prostitution are also found to have relatively high self-esteem (Vanwesenbeeck, 2001). This is especially true for those involved in high-end prostitution, like the escort service providers who have control in choosing their clients (Vanwesenbeeck, 2001). Generally, studies that assume that individuals willingly chose this trade find that sex work enhanced the workers’ self-worth.
Others argue that due to its functional role (Goodall, 1995), prostitution sustains traditional institutions like marriages. Many adolescent males who explore their sexuality employ the services of professional sex workers. Without these readily available services, adolescent sexual pressures may translate into sexual aggressions like rape and other sex crimes.
C. Prostitution as Involuntary and Coerced
Studies that subscribe to the perspective that prostitution is involuntary emphasize the mental, psychological, and physical harms inflicted on prostitutes. For example, they indicate that prostituted women experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depressive symptoms, and other forms of trauma (Farley, 2000; Farley et al., 1998; Surratt, Kurtz, Weaver, & Inciardi, 2005). Anecdotal accounts of young prostitutes show that they have sleepless nights and that their experiences of assault hound them in their sleep. Women saved from prostitution were also found to have difficulty assuming normal lives. Scholars who use this perspective also found that prostitutes often have low self-esteem and exhibit suicidal tendencies (Kidd & Kral, 2002; Risser et al., 2005).
Another negative effect of prostitution is the elevated risk of acquiring HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Surveys from different locales estimate that positive testing of HIV run from 20 to 80% of all identified prostitutes (Farley & Kelly, 2000). The prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is higher for those who use drugs (Graaf et al., 1995) and for transgender prostitutes. Studies also show that despite efforts to educate prostitutes to use condoms for protection, most prostitutes report that they do not often use condoms (Farley & Kelly, 2000). One of the common reasons mentioned is that customers are unwilling to use them.
Other studies have documented the physical violence inflicted on prostituted women who run away from sex dens. These women are usually victims of organized syndicates and are imprisoned in their place of work. Usually coming from rural areas of developing countries and exported to urban areas in a different country (Bamgbose, 2002; Mukhopadhyay, 1995), the prostituted women rarely get any social support. Worse, they may run into police systems of the host country, which may be part of organized crime groups.