Voluntary and Forced Prostitution Essay Example
Voluntary and Forced Prostitution Essay Example

Voluntary and Forced Prostitution Essay Example

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A huge debate has existed for many years about the issue of prostitution. On one side there are those feminist groups who believe that prostitution is sexual slavery and should be abolished. On the other side, there are other feminists who strongly object to the metaphor that prostitution is sexual slavery and believe that women have a choice to choose to engage prostitution. The abolitionists believe that when people say that prostitution is a free choice for women; it is just free in principle. The problem comes when trying to distinguish between voluntary slavery and forced slavery. For instance, if the women choose to engage in prostitution instead of doing other jobs; what is the economic reason behind it? Maybe it is because they can earn more money in prostitution than the other jobs. In th


is circumstance, it is hard to say if it is free or forced prostitution. Of course, there are other women who freely chose to engage in prostitution. As such, if prostitution is considered as forced, is it fair to these women who freely chose to engage in prostitution? The debate had led to the emergence of two sides.

On one side, prostitution, in all kinds of ways, is forced and should be illegal as it is violence against women. On the other side, prostitution can be a free choice and women have a choice to do whatever they want with their bodies. But then, there are economic and social circumstances that force women to choose prostitution. For example, migrants and women from very low-income background cannot fit the bracket of “total freedom”. Therefore, it is not possible to draw a clea

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line between free and forced choice prostitution.

Prostitution has been defined as the granting of sexual access for money. A prostitute is a woman puts her body for hire for indiscriminate sexual intercourse. According to Pheterson (1993), to prostitute oneself is to “sell one’s honour for base gain or to put one’s abilities to infamous use”. Other definition of prostitution includes men but then prostitution is primarily used to refer to women. The definition of prostitution itself illustrates that prostitution is not a good thing. This is where the abolitionist feminists draw their criticism for prostitution. They believe that prostitution promotes violence against women. This approach states that extensive research all over the world indicates that women in prostitution are exposed to very high risk of psychological and physical violence (Farley, 2004). It is argued that prostitution will still harm the woman body even if it is legalised or decriminalised. Farley (2004) carried out a research in nine nations in the year 2003. Her findings were that most of the prostitutes had at least experienced severe violence which included rape and sexual assault. In most of these cases, the victims had experienced repeated forms of violence. 68 percent of the victims had suffered from PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) as well as psychological dissociation. Additionally, drug and violence have been identified as the main cause of death amongst women prostitutes. The cases of murder among prostitute women are also significant (Potterat et al, 2004). In addition to the violence, 43-69 percent of prostitutes were found to have suffered sexual abuse during their childhood. This is the reason to why some feminist regard prostitution as sexual slavery.

This high

level of violence experienced by prostitutes has significantly influenced the current debate on prostitution. Sexual violence against women has been criminalised European Union member states. But the interpretation on dealing with sexual violence against women from their clients differs. Some feminists argue that making prostitution legal will help improve the working conditions of the prostitutes as it will enable them to sue their violent clients. But then, a research by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth revealed that the situation for prostitution has not changed in the countries that have fully liberalised prostitution (Schulze et al, 2014). According to Farley (2004), men who buy sex are far more likely to be involved in sexual coercive acts and other acts of violence against the prostitutes. Men have shown to enjoy the feeling of having power over prostitutes. They always present misogynist attitudes and believe that once they have paid for the prostitutes, they have a right to do whatever they want with them. According to feminists against prostitution, these kinds of behaviour make prostitutes sexual slaves (Barry, 1995).

The increased violence in prostitutions leads to the conclusion that “prostitution constitutes a particular form of violence against women and should be eliminated” (Schulze et al, 2014). It is also impossible for women to choose violence against them meaning that there is nothing like free prostitution. In relation to these high levels of violence, the dividing line between sexual exploitation and prostitution is very thin (Barry, 1995). Human trafficking involves taking advantage of women vulnerability, abduction for sexual exploitation, violence to keep prostitutes under their control, enticement of children for prostitution, or abusing

the poverty or economic insecurity of an individual who are hoping to better their own or family’s wellbeing. These cases of human trafficking only indicate the degree and not the difference in the nature of human trafficking and prostitution.

Therefore, prostitution can be classified as human trafficking which is against the human right.
The distinction between human trafficking and prostitution is amplified by the fact that many women are trafficked for sexual purposes. The estimates of the women trafficked for sexual exploitation varies and has been put into question. It is estimated that 58 percent of human trafficking is done for sexual reasons (Schulze et al, 2014). But according to Noble (2010), 70 to 90 percent of prostitutes have been forced into the business by criminal groups. So if 58% of human trafficking and 90% of prostitutes have been forced into prostitution by criminal groups, then there is nothing like free prostitution and it should be abolished as it is sexual slavery. Even if states legalised prostitution, there is no way they will be able to control human trafficking. They will instead be perpetrating human trafficking. This is because there is a very thin line between human trafficking and prostitution and therefore, prostitution is the same as human trafficking. Legalising prostitution is the same as legalising human trafficking. No women can “totally or freely” agree to be trafficked (Jeffreys, 2009).

As a result of the similarities between prostitution and human trafficking, there is a big need for the regulators to not only fight against human trafficking but also prostitution (Alexander, 1997). This is because it is impossible to effectively control human trafficking without controlling prostitution. This is because

prostitution is the major cause of human trafficking. Fighting human trafficking will require the abolition of prostitution. This is because abolition of prostitution will remove the market for human trafficking (Jeffreys, 2009). Additionally, for those states who have tried to regulate prostitution, it has proved to be ineffective. It is difficult to control the sex industry. There is always lack of resources for implementation or even flawed legislation. According to Cho et al (2013) and Jakobsson and Kotsadam (2013), in places where prostitution is legal, there is a high inflow of human trafficking into the sex industry. The best way to deal with the situation is through abolishment and not regulation of prostitution.

Besides human trafficking and being forced to enter prostitution by criminal gangs, poverty also plays a significant role in influencing women to become prostitutes (Cho et al, 2013). Women who decide to sell sex often belong to vulnerable groups in the society. This includes immigrants. The lack of other opportunities to make a living is a very strong driver for women entering prostitution. Due to the lack of education and employment opportunities, and also women discrimination in the labour market means that the decision to sell sex has economic drivers. Economic urgent need, homelessness and lack of sufficient resources are the primary reasons to why women enter into prostitution. According to Farley et al (2004) research, among the 854 prostitutes interviewed, 75% of them had at one point in their lives been homeless. Furthermore, 89% of them wanted so bad escape prostitution but then had no other means or options for survival.
The abolitionist feminists base their arguments on the fact that the lack

of an alternative experience by the women who are struggling to make a living is among the aspects that are captured under the notion of vulnerability. Vulnerability has been included in the legal texts that campaign for the end of human trafficking for sexual purposes (O’Connell, 1998). Additionally, the notion of vulnerability that is based on poverty had resulted in a look at women who are in prostitution as victims. The abolitionists argue that the majority, if not all, of the prostitutes, are often forced into prostitution “violently” due the lack of income and other opportunities and are in need of protection (Schulze et al, 2014). They did not choose to be prostitutes; they were forced by economic conditions.

Abolitionists of prostitution also base their argument on the health of the prostitutes. Attempts to regulate prostitution so as to protect the health of the clients as well as the prostitutes have been ineffective. Many prostitutes have shown to have health problems. A research carried out in Germany in 2007, revealed a range of mental health problems among prostitutes. Around 50% of those interviewed showed symptoms of depression, 25% had occasional or frequent thoughts of suicide, around 1 in 7 had had a thought of inflicting self-injuries in the past twelve months and about 1 in 3 had panic attacks and anxiety (Schulze et al, 2014). This kind of health problems is related to the poor working condition as well as high levels of violence inflicted on them. With this statistics, no woman would voluntarily want to be a prostitute.
The women in prostitution also experience physical health problems. They are at a greater danger of being infected

by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). According to the UNAIDS (2012), for women in prostitution, the risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS in 13.5 times higher than for the other women in the general population. In addition, AIDS is not the only physical health risk; other risks include cervical cancer, genital and reproduction problems, unwanted pregnancies, eating disorders, insomnia, and other STDs. The regulatory feminist groups argue that regulation will provide prostitutes with access to insurance services which will include the health insurance policies. It will also enable women to sue the clients who refuse to use condoms. But then implementing these policies will not be easy. This is why the abolitionists argue that abolishing prostitution is the only solution to protect the health of these women (Steinfeld, 2001).

The vulnerability reasoning leads the feminist abolitionists to question the question of why the prostitution business is women dominated and that men are rarely found in such businesses despite the fact that they may find themselves in the similar situations of vulnerability (Steinfeld, 2001). Poor men have also been found among those who buy sex from women. Some researchers have related this phenomenon to the fact that the debate on prostitution also takes place in the society that has unbalanced power relationships between women and men especially in the cases regarding economic and financial resources. These differences in the economic resources have an effect on the women and men sexuality and bring out the image of men using their economic power to buy sex from women (Doezema, 1998). According to the feminists against prostitution, prostitution reinforces the gender stereotypes. It also brings out the idea that men have

unlimited access to the women’s sexuality and bodies due to their financial power. It brings out the idea that sexual needs is everyman’s right and can have it in whatever way he deems fit (O’Connell, 1998).

Feminists against prostitution argue that prostitution can be regarded to be contrary to the women dignity, gender equality or human rights and as such prostitution should be abolished. This is because prostitution has been regarded as a space where men can come and buy sexual abuse from women. Some abolitionists have even classified prostitution as paid rape. A positive correlation has been found between legalised prostitution and rape cases. According to 2004 statistics on rape by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States, the cases of rape in the state of Nevada where prostitution was legalised was significantly higher than that of the average in the entire United States (Schulze et al, 2014). As such, according to feminists against legalising prostitution will not improve the situation.

Contrary to the feminists against prostitution, there are those who believe that the metaphor that prostitution is sexual slavery is wrong. This is because women have a choice to engage in prostitution. This group of feminists does not want to end prostitution. They want prostitution to be recognised as an economic activity and regulated by law. Such approach is termed as liberalising or legalising prostitution. According to Kelly & Davenport (2009), the idea of selling sex could be a legitimate form of employment. These feminists point out that the abolitionist feminists’ analysis of prostitution is too simplistic. They state that human trafficking isn’t a unitary phenomenon as the term itself encompasses a

diverse range of activities that are performed under a range of different terms and conditions. They feel that a distinction should be made between voluntary forms of prostitution by the adults and all the other forms of un-free or forced child prostitution (Davidson, 1995). These kinds of feminists regard ‘free choice’ type of prostitution as a form of work just as any other work. It involves mutually voluntary agreement to exchange sexual services for money; just like any other form of business. Some even argue that women have control over their own bodies and have a right in whatever way they deem fit; including selling sexual services (Kelly, 2008).

The feminist groups against the abolition of prostitution argue that there are millions of women who have freely made the decision to sell sex not always due to economic reasons. According to Butcher (2003), many people have confused prostitution and human trafficking. Human trafficking is bad. Prostitution, on the other hand, is okay as long as an adult makes her own decision to engage in it. Sex selling is a normal response to a limited range of job opportunities. If someone is able to earn more money by selling sex, then there is no reason for her not to sell it instead of doing a job where she will earn far less than that (Doezema, 1998). These groups have called for a distinction between selling sex from sex exploitation. This is what has fuelled a huge debate as to do that it will also require a distinction between forced and voluntary prostitution. According to the feminists groups against abolishment of prostitution, legalising of prostitution will help to

put forward the distinction between voluntary and forced prostitution (Butcher, 2003)

Germany and Netherland are two European Union member states who have legalised prostitution. This regulation was intended to protect the prostitutes from exploitation. In Netherlands, the legislation provided the prostitutes with a status of an independent worker. In Germany, the legislation enabled prostitution to have an employment contract. As a result, the trade unions had to open their membership to prostitutes. The aim of the legislation in German and Netherlands was to empower the women who engage in prostitution. It was also to recognise and appreciate their way of earning money just like the other professionals. The legislators hoped that this will end stigmatisation of prostitutes and as a result help improve their working conditions (Schulze et al, 2014). Research shows that the working conditions for prostitution have not improved. The feminists groups that advocate for prostitution do not deny that the working conditions in these two countries have not improved but still reject the idea that all prostitutes will be exploited if it is made legal.

The advocates for prostitutions argue that the government has no right to declare what adults have mutually assented to as illegal. If an adult woman has assented to prostitution then the state should allow her to. What the government needs to do is to distinguish between selling sex and sexual exploitation. Sex exploitation should then be made illegal while selling sex be made legal. Sex exploitation has already been made illegal in most states worldwide and it is not really part of the main debate. The main debate concerns voluntary selling of sex by women in the prostitution business

(Kelly, 2008).

There are a number of national organisations in Europe that are set up to represent the interests of sex workers. These groups offer support services to the sex workers on a national level. Such services include counselling, information on health issues, deciding to take up the sex worker profession or on exploring other job opportunities available to an individual. The groups also represent brothels and the pornography film industry. There are also a number of international organisations for sex workers. They include The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (GNSWP) and the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) (Schulze et al, 2014). These international organisations have links with the other national organisations. Some of these organisations even receive support from the government. For instance, German offers support to some worker organisations. The objectives of these organisations are not just to make prostitution recognised as a choice made by an individual to earn a living. They insist that a woman has a right to use her body in a way she deems fit to earn a living free from any form of prosecution or violence.

The sex workers’ organisations insist that putting human trafficking and prostitution in the same bracket is unjustified as such they strongly refuse strong regulation of prostitution business. They argue that the statistics obtained by most researchers are manipulated so as to discredit the prostitution business (Kelly, 2008). Abolishing of prostitution would deprive women of a means of earning a livelihood. Of course, these groups do not support human trafficking. Their main argument is that there should be separated from prostitution. They believe that the common belief that many women are forced

into prostitution is just a myth since there are millions who have engaged in prostitution, not because of duress but just to earn a living (Kempadoo, 1999).

The feminist groups in support of prostitution believe that the sex industry is a multi-billion industry. This industry is not just limited to prostitution. It also includes a range of other activities such as pornography, strip clubs, phone sex, internet sex and other wide range of sex-related activities. Prostitution and pornography are considered to be the most profitable of the sex industry. There is a strong link between prostitution and pornography (Farley et al, 2004). The internet has enabled pornography to expand significantly. Schulze et al (2014), states that statics by TechMedia Network, a technology media company, reveal that 12% of all the websites are pornographic sites and around 72 million users in the world visit the pornographic sites in a single month. Unfortunately, the internet has not had such a significant impact on the prostitution business. The best way to help this business would be to legalise it, according to the feminists advocating for prostitution.
There is no clarity on the scale of prostitution business among which the numbers of men buying sex and women selling sex can be determined. There is also limited information about the dynamics of the market. It is not clear whether it depends on the offer or it is demand driven. The abolitionists claim that it is demand driven and as a result there is a positive correlation between prostitution and human trafficking. Since there is no clear information about the prostitution market, the feminists campaigning for the legalisation of prostitution claim that the

abolitionists’ claims are flawed. Since there is no clear data, there is no way they can determine with certainty that prostitution increases human trafficking and that to end human trafficking prostitution needs to be abolished (McIntosh, 1996).

By legalising prostitution, it will give the police and the jury the mandate to ensure that legal provisions regarding sex working are implemented. It will mandate the police to carry out controls and issue different penalties for those who breach the legislation on various provisions such as the registration, safety regulation, drug use and work permits among other provisions. Currently, the relationship between the police and the prostitutes is of mistrust and hostility. Some police have been known to violently assault prostitutes (Kempadoo, 1999). By legalising prostitution, it will result in an increased trust and reduced hostility between the prostitutes and the police as this will give them a base on which to work from. This will reduce the violence against prostitutes by the police.

The authorities will be tasked with detecting cases of human trafficking and prosecuting the perpetrators. They will also have to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of sex violence. Both parties agree that it is very difficult to prove sexual exploitation offences. This is because it heavily relies on the statements of the victims. If the victim withdraws the statements, then it more likely impedes any investigation efforts and consequently the prosecution of the sexual exploitation offenders. The burden of proving the sexual exploitation lies on the victim's shoulders. The advocates for prostitution have called for the application of victim/woman centred approach in the prosecution of sexual violence. This approach takes the prostitutes’ needs as the

starting point for the prosecution of sexual exploitation offenders. This will make the women more cooperative during police investigations (Goodey, 2004).

Another reform advocated for by the feminists advocating for legalisation of prostitution is that more female police should be employed to deal with the cases of prostitution. This is because most of the law enforcement agents are men while prostitution is women dominated. Assignment of female police to deal with prostitution investigations is believed that it will increase corporation from the prostitutes. In many countries, prostitutes have reports cases of violence from the police, disrespectful treatment and degrading investigation methods. These cases are much higher in the countries that prostitution is illegal. The advocates for prostitution believe that legalising prostitution will consequently lead to fewer police controls which will lead to reduced mistreatment from the police (Outshoorn, 2005). From their argument, they believe that a distinction should be made between free and forced prostitution.

It is not possible to draw a clear line between free and forced prostitution. Although such a distinction has been recognised by some countries, the international agreements have been rarely as vocal in promoting prostitute rights as they are in the condemning forced prostitution (Doezema, 1998). This leads to two conclusions. The international community has agreed on the condemnation of the forced prostitution as it violates the human rights. This does not imply an agreement of how to deal with free choice prostitution; how to define it, if the regulation should be done by the government or left to the sex workers , or even if something like free choice prostitution exists at all. This is because there is no agreement about

free choice or voluntary prostitution in the first place that has made the consensus of forced prosecution come into being. This can be seen as a compromise between the two conflicting groups. The feminists who are against prostitution will be at least satisfied because the worst abuses will be dealt with. On the other hand, those who are advocating for legalisation of sex will be at least satisfied that their right of choice is not denied (Kempadoo, 1999).

The other reason to why there is no a clear distinction between free and forced prostitution is the fact that those who advocate for the prostitutes rights place much emphasis on the stopping of forced prostitution than on the rights of the sex prostitutions to choose. This is because it easier to get support from the victims of human trafficking than to gain support for challenging the human rights of sex workers. This is largely due to the fact that it is not easy for them to clearly distinguish between free and forced prostitution. Some scholars point out that distinguishing between free and forced prostitution create a false division between the sex workers. This implies that a free prostitute is a western prostitute who is seen as capable of making her own independent decisions about whether to engage in prostitution or not. On the other hand, a forced prostitute is a prostitute from a developing country who is unable to make this decision like her western counterpart. She is seen to be naive, passive and ready for the human traffickers to prey on (Outshoorn, 2005).

Such a distinction is not correct at all.
Free prostitution may also be taken to

imply “guilty” while forced prostitution imply “innocent” (Doezema, 1998). This distinction reinforces the myth that women who transgress the society’s sexual norms deserve to be punished. Such a distinction is a threat to the whole concept of the human rights for the entire women population. In trying to distinguish between free and forced prostitution, the innocence of the prostitution will determine where she fits between the two categories. The consequences of thinking about the business of sex workers as a matter of choice and force mean that it becomes a necessity to show that instances of abuse are forced prostitution. It the cases of talking about human trafficking, it is usually stressed that the woman in question did not “choose” to become a prostitute. Words commonly used include tricked, lured, and duped. This indicates that the prostitute did not know exactly what she was getting into. In this case, it is hard to conclude that the women actually chose to become prostitutes as they did not know what they were involving themselves into.

The Human Rights Watch conducted a research on Burmese sex workers and came up with a conclusion that “a combination of debt-bondage and illegal confinement renders the employment of the Burmese women and girls tantamount to forced labour” (Doezema, 1998). Of the twenty-nine prostitutes interviewed, only four of them knew they were going to engage in prostitution. This indicates that debt bondage amounts to slavery regardless of whether there is a mutual agreement to work as a prostitute or not. Since the innocence of the prostitute is of the most importance as advocated by the feminists who are in support of prostitution, given

this situation makes it had to determine if the prostitution is free or forced.

Feminists against prostitution argue that poverty leads to forced prostitution. Some women are stuck into the prostitution business since it is the best economic option that is available to them. This phenomenon is common in the third world’s women. The poverty as the ‘force’ for prostitution has been criticised by some feminists arguing that it racist as it means that it's only the western prostitutes who have a choice in prostitution. This on one hand shows a rejection that prostitution is a profession and no normal woman would choose to be a prostitute unless ‘forced’ to do so by poverty. On the other hand, to equate poverty with force is a way of establishing the trafficked prostitutes and consequently, their eligibility to be given human rights protection. Due to these differences in opinions, it is hard to determine if poverty leads to forced or free prostitution.

Another way of establishing innocence in prostitution is by looking at the age of the victim. Children are considered sexless and beyond any guilt (Miriam, 2005). This approach has its own flaws. First, it implies that a child cannot choose and will always be innocent. The problem occurs in trying to find out what or who forced the child into prostitution if she did not choose to become one. Also, the distinction between adults and children is blurred so as to include more women in the innocent bracket. There are also those women who become prostitutes as children but continue with the business even after becoming adults. In this case, it becomes difficult to decide if the

prostitution is forced or free choice. These reasons clearly show that there is no clear line between free choice and forced prostitution.

The issue of consent is what has been fuelling all this debate. The answer on whether women will be free choose to engage in prostitution depends on whether the person believes that women can consent to sell sex without being coerced. Those who advocate for prostitution strongly believe that women have the ability to freely choose what they want to do with their bodies and sexuality. Those against prostitution strongly believe that generally prostitution equals sexual exploitation. In many states, consent is always regulated and limited. There are always boundaries to which someone can consent to depend on the severalty of the act being considered for a legally valid consent. The abolitionists believe that prostitution is dangerous activity per se as in most cases results in high levels of harm. As such the principles of protecting people from severe harm should be applied in the case of prostitution as well and consent should not be considered (Schultze-Florey, 2011).

This debate does not try to put into question that human trafficking for prostitution should be abolished. Both the two conflicting feminist groups present their ideas on how prostitution should be treated. Both have made efforts to make research and evaluations so as to put forward their arguments. There is a lot of research that painted a picture of wanting conditions regarding violence, which prostitutes work in. There is limited data about women trafficked into prostitution and the cases of sexual violence on prostitutes and the estimations by the two groups are always different (Miriam, 2005). The

estimates are always biassed towards either group. Only a few researchers aim to try to be independent in conducting their research on these categories. Kelly & Davenport (2009) states “the knowledge base for evidence based on prostitution is weak”. Since the evidence base is limited, the advocates for legalising prostitution have pointed out that abolitionists approach of blurring the distinction between free choice and forced labour does not help. This has resulted in a problem of separating sexual exploitation from clients and from other third parties. It is difficult to determine if this is due to the limited evidence base or due to the fact that the abolitionists’ approach leads to the lack of evidence.

There is a fierce debate on whether there is something like free choice prostitution. On one side there are those who believe that prostitution is sexual slavery and it should be made illegal. They deny that there is anything like voluntary or free choice prostitution. According to this group, all forms of prostitution are forced and the distinction between voluntary and forced prostitution should never be made. On the other side, there are those feminists who believe that women have a right to freely decide on what to do with their bodies and sexuality. They also go further to argue that a line must be drawn between prostitution and human trafficking. Prostitution should then be regulated while human trafficking made a criminal offence. They accuse the abolitionists of creating a myth that women are being trafficked for prostitution. They claim that there is no enough data about this claim and the little information available is biassed so as to portray prostitution

as being a bad thing. They deny the need by the society and state to dictate how women are supposed to live. They state that the picture painted by the abolitionists that men buy sex from women to exploit them is exaggerated. The problem with this debate comes when trying to distinguish between forced and free choice prostitution. It has been observed that it is not possible to draw a clear line between free choice and forced prostitution. This is because it is hard to place some prostitutes in either of the two categories. As a result, the debate is more likely to go on and on no matter the decision that the governments take.


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