Legalizing Prostitution

This is a great idea in theory, but until the studies back it up it just doesn’t work. Making prostitution easier and more accessible (helping with entry programs) does NOT lower human trafficking. I don’t know why–your arguments are reasonable, and should work, but in the real world they just don’t.

You’re clearly an educated woman who enjoys her job and chose it freely–human trafficking victims, as you’ve noted, tend to be poorer women with a history of sexual vulnerability, and while in your situation, as your logic shows, making entry easier would theoretically provide a good option to keep you out of the hands of a trafficker, that simply isn’t what happens to actual vulnerable women in the real world when prostitution is made easier, or even legal. In the real world, making prostitution easier makes life easier only for the customers–including the abusive ones.

Here are some references and facts–tons of sources listed below.

“In the one year since lifting the ban on brothels in the Netherlands, NGOs report that there has been an increase of victims of trafficking or, at best, that the number of victims from other countries has remained the same (Bureau NRM, 2002 : 75).” Netherlands

In Australia,

Noted of the State of Victoria which legalized prostitution in the 1980s, “Trafficking in East Asian women for the sex trade is a growing problem” in Australia…lax laws – including legalized prostitution in parts of the country – make [anti-trafficking] enforcement difficult at the working level.” (U.S. State Department’s 1999 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor)

Back to the Netherlands, child prostitution increased dramatically as soon as prostitution was legalized. “The Amsterdam-based ChildRight organization estimates that the number has gone from 4,000 children in 1996 to 15,000 in 2001. The group estimates that at least 5,000 of the children in prostitution are from other countries, with a large segment being Nigerian girls (Tiggeloven : 2001).”

In Victoria, when prostitution was legal there and not in other Australian states, child prostitution rose dramatically. Highest number of reported incidences of child prostitution always came from Victoria, after legalization. (Based on increased evidence of exploitation from a 1998 study undertaken by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) who conducted research for the Australian National Inquiry on Child Prostitution)

In Germany,

“In January, 2002, prostitution in Germany was fully established as a legitimate job after years of being legalized in so-called eros or tolerance zones…As early as 1993, after the first steps towards legalization had been taken, it was recognized (even by pro-prostitution advocates) that 75 per cent of the women in Germany’s prostitution industry were foreigners from Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and other countries in South America (Altink, 1993 : 33). After the fall of the Berlin wall, brothel owners reported that 9 out of every 10 women in the German sex industry were from eastern Europe (Altink, 1993 : 43) and other former Soviet countries. The sheer volume of foreign women who are in the prostitution industry in Germany – by some NGO estimates now up to 85 per cent – casts further doubt on the fact that these numbers of women could have entered Germany without facilitation. As in the Netherlands, NGOs report that most of the foreign women have been trafficked into the country since it is almost impossible for poor women to facilitate their own migration, underwrite the costs of travel and travel documents, and set themselves up in “business” without outside help.”

In Switzerland,

“Brothels in Switzerland have doubled several years after partial legalization of prostitution. Most of these brothels go untaxed, and many are illegal. In 1999, the Zurich newspaper, Blick, claimed that Switzerland had the highest brothel density of any country in Europe, with residents feeling overrun with prostitution venues, as well as experiencing constant encroachment into areas not zoned for prostitution activities (South China Morning Post : 1999).”

“The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International (CATW) has conducted 2 major studies on sex trafficking and prostitution, interviewing almost 200 victims of commercial sexual exploitation. In these studies, women in prostitution indicated that prostitution establishments did little to protect them, REGARDLESS of whether they were in legal or illegal establishments. “The only time they protect anyone is to protect the customers.” In a CATW 5-country study that interviewed 146 victims of international trafficking and local prostitution, 80% of all women interviewed suffered physical violence from pimps and buyers) and endured similar and multiple health effects from the violence and sexual exploitation (Raymond et al : 2002).” The study found that EVEN surveillance cameras in prostitution establishments had a negligible (statistically insignificant) result on safety during sex work.

On the other hand, laws against prostitution DO help drive down trafficking. *The NationalRapporteur on Trafficking at the National Swedish Police has stated that in the 6 months following the implementation of the Swedish law in January 1999, the number of trafficked women to Sweden has declined. She also stated that according to police colleagues in the European Union that traffickers are choosing other destination countries where they are not constrained by similar laws. Thus the law serves as a deterrent to traffickers. Quoted in Karl Vicktor Olsson, “Sexkopslagen minkar handeln med kvinnor,” Metro, January 27, 2001:2

I don’t know why it works that way. I don’t know why educated women like you are in the minority, and I know your experience feels different than what the worldwide studies and statistics demonstrate. But world-wide, you ARE in the minority, and the majority of women in prostitution did NOT choose sex work as their First Choice job. Given equal pay with men, equal treatment in a society that doesn’t see us only as sex objects, and given the true opportunity to pursue our dreams, most sex workers do not even want to be IN the sex industry, and making sex work easier via legalization or entry programs only makes it easier for the men behind the industry to exploit these women who via poverty find themselves with “the next best” option. Those not-you women–the women I work with (in another country, though). Basically, if you’re going to be a happy prostitute, you need to have control over your own business, period, end of sentence–(although ironically I’m not ending the sentence here)–and any entry program is only going to put women in the hands of existing businesses and inept government officials, creating additional vulnerability and dependence on the MEN who benefit from the industry. That’s simply the reality that we see in any nation where prostitution is made easier.

Simply put, if making prostitution easier really did end human trafficking slavery (and I’m using the UN definition so we’re all on the same page), the Netherlands, Australia, and the majority of Europe wouldn’t be such a hotbed of child prostitution and international immigrant exploitation–those numbers should have gone DOWN ten years ago. They didn’t. Legalizing or facilitating prostitution doesn’t legitimize you as humans, and fighting against easy-access prostitution doesn’t make your decisions less valid–it’s only there to protect women who never really had a decision in the first place.


Petre Pan

P.S. Because I’m a medical student, I tend to focus a lot on the health issue, as well. While safe sex workers like yourself can always do a lot to prevent STD transmission by INSISTING on condom use and dental dams, the bottom line fact is that making prostitution easier and more accessible for anyone puts a greater number of people at risk for STDs from a public health standpoint. An additional women’s safety note from Jeffrey Barrows, DO, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist:

“Even if a prostitute is being tested every week for HIV, she will test negative for at least the first 4-6 weeks and possibly the first 12 weeks after being infected. If we assume that he or she takes only 4 weeks to become positive, because there is an additional lag time of 1-2 weeks to get the results back, there will be at best a window period of 6 weeks for a prostitute. The average prostitute services between 10-15 clients per day. This means that while the test is becoming positive and the results are becoming known, that prostitute may expose up to 630 clients to HIV. This is under the best of circumstances with testing every week and a four-week window period. It also assumes that the prostitute will quit working as soon as he or she finds out the test is HIV positive, which is highly unlikely. This is not the best approach for actually reducing harm. Instead, in order to slow the global spread of HIV/AIDS we should focus our efforts on abolishing prostitution.”

Some additional sources:

In Korea, from KWAU News, The Korea Times, and CATW:

Practices to reduce the demand side of sex trafficking:

. Altink, Sietske. (1995). Stolen Lives : Trading Women into Sex and Slavery (London : Scarlet Press).
. Budapest Group. (1999, June). The Relationship Between Organized Crime and Trafficking in Aliens. Austria : International Centre for Migration Policy Development.
. Bureau NRM. (2002, November). Trafficking in Human Beings : First Report of the Dutch National Rapporteur. The Hague. 155 pp.
. Daley, Suzanne. (2001, August 12). “New Rights for Dutch Prostitutes, but No Gain.” New York Times, pp. A1 and 4.
. Dutting, Giseling. (2000, November). “Legalized Prostitution in the Netherlands – Recent Debates”. Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, 3 : 15-16.
. IOM (International Organization for Migration). (1995, May). “Trafficking and Prostitution : the Growing Exploitation of Migrant Women from Central and Eastern Europe”. Budapest : IOM Migration Information Program.
. Lim, Lin Lean (1998). The Sex Sector. International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland.
. Raymond, Janice G., Donna M. Hughes, Donna M. and Carol A. Gomez (2001). Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States : Links Between International and Domestic Sex Industries, Funded by the U.S. National Institute of Justice. N. Amherst, MA : Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Available at CATW
. Raymond, Janice G., Jean d’Cunha, Siti Ruhaini Dzuhayatin, H. Patricia Hynes, Zoraida Ramirez Rodriguez and Aida Santos (2002). A Comparative Study of Women Trafficked in the Migration Process : Patterns, Profiles and Health Consequences of Sexual Exploitation in Five Countries (Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Venezuela and the United States). (2002). Funded by the Ford Foundation. N. Amherst, MA : Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW). Available at catw
. South China Morning Post (1999, September 10).”Brothel Business Booming at a Legal Red-Light District Near You.”
. Sullivan, Mary and Jeffreys, Sheila. (2001). Legalising Prostitution is Not the Answer : the Example of Victoria, Australia. Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Australia and USA. Available at CATW
. Tiggeloven, Carin. (2001, December 18). “Child Prostitution in the Netherlands.”

. Lim, Lin Lean (1998). The Sex Sector. International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland.