Prostitution: The Choice when there is NO Choice By Amanda Brohier

One argument proffered by those who advocate for decriminalisation of prostitution is that women enter prostitution by choice and therefore the role of government is to make it safe for them to do so. We are sometimes asked how to answer the argument that women enjoy prostituting themselves and therefore legislation should not prevent them doing so. When we have heard of the level of abuse and the mental health consequences that many have suffered, it’s hard to comprehend how that question can even be asked but we need to be ready to give a reasoned argument to answer it.

 

The best answer is to refer to the real life experience of survivors of prostitution and also to studies which have examined the reasons why women enter prostitution. In Raymond’s article on reasons for not legalising prostitution (Raymond, 2003 p8) she says, “Most women in prostitution did not make a rational choice to enter prostitution from among a range of other options. They did not sit down one day and decide that they wanted to be prostitutes. They did not have other real options such as medicine, law, nursing or politics. Instead, their “options” were more in the realm of how to feed themselves and their children. Such choices are better termed survival strategies”.

Raymond further states that, “There is no doubt that a small number of women say they choose to be in prostitution……In the same way, some people choose to take dangerous drugs such as amphetamines. However, even when some people consent to use dangerous drugs, we still recognise that is harmful to them and most people do not seek to legalise amphetamines. In this situation, it is harm to the person not the consent of the person that is the governing standard.” (2003, p8)

Raymond’s observations are verified by a more recent study by Foster et al (2020, p1). They found that in a study group of 250 prostituted women aged under 18, 73% became prostituted to get drugs, 36% to pay for necessities such as food or housing and 17% entered to support their children or family. 21% reported being coerced, threatened, pressured, misled, tricked or physically forced into trading sex.

The Coalition for Abolition of Prostitution International (CAP) in their publication, “Last Girl First” provide further evidence for Raymond’s observations. Their publication considers prostitution at an international level and provides both statistics and personal accounts from prostitution survivors.

They document the following reasons for women to enter prostitution:

Poverty

In one study of 200 prostituted women 89% stated that their reason for entering prostitution was “money” (p 60). Rose Hicher, a survivor, states that, “I was supposed to stay in prostitution for three weeks, a month. After 22 years I was still there. And always with the same financial problems. One thing is for sure, we end up ruined….you get into it, you don’t realise” (p 60).  CAP observe that in Darwin, “the majority of Indigenous women….are sold into prostitution due to poverty and social exclusion” (p62).

Homelessness

CAP identify that, “the difficulty for women in an insecure situation to find decent and affordable housing is one of the causes of entry into and subsistence in prostitution but also an obstacle to the possibility of escaping” (p 68)

Sexual Abuse

CAP quote from a study of 1142 individuals which observed that childhood abuse has a, “lifelong effect on entry into prostitution, almost doubling likelihood of entering it” (p 69). The strongest arguments here are the voices of prostitution survivors like Ally-Marie Diamond from Wahine Toa Rising. She says, “I was raped and sexually abused from the ages of 4 to 16…..Suffering at the hands of men and boys was my reality, my normality. And for me, that is all I thought I was worth…..In the end, I thought, well I might as well get paid for it” (p 72).

Drug and Alcohol Addiction

This association with prostitution is complex with some women entering prostitution to pay for their drug or alcohol habit and others becoming drug or alcohol dependent as a means of coping with prostitution. CAP quote from an article on the Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota from 2011 which found that 61% of women “who used drugs or alcohol described the need to chemically dissociate or numb themselves from the physical and emotional pain during prostitution. One woman explained that she used drugs, “so it can numb me, so I can do what they want me to do” (p 81).

To conclude this short article I will leave the last word to Ally-Marie Diamond as she is quoted in “Last Girl First” (p82):

“When the alcohol did not work, I started to do drugs….If prostitution is something that women enjoy then why do we need to get high to do it? If it’s something we enjoy why do we need to drink to do it? If it’s something we enjoy, why do we dissociate or freeze to do it? It really frustrates me when I hear people say, “but it’s a choice’, “its her right”, well if she’s getting into it to feed her family, her children, to put a roof over her head, clothes on her children’s backs and food in their mouth, its not a choice. It’s never a choice: of course, she’s always going to choose her kids and survival over being raped every day. You are always going to choose your family first”.

We hear Ally’s frustration which is why we will continue to advocate for the Equality Model of Prostitution Law Reform which recognises that legislation must target demand, and by so doing reduce the incidence of abuse of women through prostitution.

References

Raymond, J.G.,Ten Reasons for Not Legalising Prostitution and a Legal Response to the Demand for Prostitution. Journal of Trauma Practice, 2, 315-332

Footer, K.H.A., White, R.H., Park, J.N. et al. (2020) Entry to Sex Trade nd Long-Term Vulnerabilities of Female Sex Workers who Enter the Sex Trade Before the Age of Eighteen. Journal of Urban Health 97, 406-417

Sibi, H. Last Girl First. www.cap-international.org