Prostitution: The Facts

FACT 1: Prostitution is not an issue of ‘choice’ – most women enter prostitution because of lack of choice and many are coerced by pimps or traffickers.

75% of women in prostitution became involved when they were children (Melrose, 2002); 70% spent time in care and 45% report experiencing sexual abuse during their childhoods (Home Office, 2006). Once in prostitution, 9 out of 10 surveyed women would like to exit but feel unable to do so (Farley et al, 2003).

It is the men who buy sex who are exercising free choice, and it is this ‘choice’ to purchase vulnerable women and girls that expands prostitution and fuels trafficking for sexual exploitation.

FACT 2: Prostitution is not about sex. It is about exploitation, violence and abuse.

More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted at the hands of pimps and punters; up to 95% of women in street prostitution are problematic drug users (Home Office 2004); and 68% of women in prostitution meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as victims of torture undergoing treatment (Farley, et al. 2003):

“I would numb my feelings… I would actually leave my body and go somewhere else with my thoughts and with my feelings until he got off me and it was over with. I don’t know how else to explain it except it felt like rape. It was rape to me.” (Survivor of prostitution in Farley, 2003)

ACT 3: Prostitution is harmful in and of itself: legalisation or complete decriminalisation of the entire industry doesn’t remove the harm of prostitution– it simply makes that harm legal.

Legalisation or complete decriminalisation of the industry does not deal with the long term psychological and physical effects of having unwanted and often violent and abusive sex numerous times a day and having to act like you enjoy it. To cope with this, women in prostitution report having to disassociate and ‘split off’ in their heads often using drugs and alcohol to block out reality.

Legalisation or complete decriminalisation of the industry does not make women safer. Instead it expands a multi billion pound industry which profits from violence against vulnerable women and girls.

FACT 4: Prostitution does not need to be legalised or completely decriminalised to provide better protection for women.

A sympathetic response from police when women report rape or violence should be the norm for all women regardless of who they are or what they do. It is not necessary to legalise the sex industry in order to extend such basic rights and services to women in prostitution. In fact legalisation just serves to expand an industry in which violence against women is at its most extreme.

FACT 5: There is broad consensus that those who sell or are sold for sexual use should be completely decriminalised.

It is completely wrong for those who are exploited by the sex trade should be criminalised for the exploitation that they face. This means that all criminal records and ASBOs for being involved in prostitution should be wiped.

Demand Change! calls for the buying of sexual acts to be criminalised in order to tackle the demand for prostitution which expands the industry by drawing more women and children into prostitution and fuelling trafficking for sexual exploitation.

FACT 6: Treating prostitution as ordinary work does not remove the stigma.

Normalising prostitution makes the abuse, violence and exploitation invisible and turns pimps and punters into businessmen and legitimate consumers. Recognising prostitution as ’just a job’ ignores the violence, poverty and marginalisation which drives women into prostitution, and means an end to services to support women out of prostitution – why would you need exit strategies for a ‘normal’ job?

FACT 7: Legalising indoor prostitution does not make women safer.

It doesn’t matter where prostitution takes place: the serious risks of harm are ever present. 48% of women in indoor prostitution have experienced violence from buyers (British Medical Journal 2001). In addition to physical violence, women in indoor prostitution report high levels of coercion and control from pimps and brothel owners, including being pressurised or forced not to use condoms, having to see more customers than women on the street, paying inflated charges and fines, and having to have sex with pimps or brothel owners, and/or their friends. The parents of Marnie Frey, a young woman murdered in prostitution, give their view: