Jaronna Jackson & Nathalie O’Brien
Prostitution is one of the oldest professions. Societies have bartered sex in exchange for money and goods for millennia. So it would seem in today’s developed nations, this practice would be legalized because of its long standing antiquity.
However, Sexual health advocates and groups founded on the principle of female empowerment are the loudest opponents arguing against the legalization of sex work. These voices have spoken up against the legalization of prostitution, stating that sex work both endangers and disempowers women disproportionately along with debilitating their physical health.
Prostitution has been linked to an increase in problems involving workers mental health and physical safety. Studies analyzing drug use among prostitutes have correlated with data examining workers risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and STDs/STIs. Women involved in sex work are often those who have come from abuse and mistreatment. Therefore these prostitutes turn to drug use to cope. In turn, unsafe drug practices such as the sharing of needles marks prostitutes as one of the number one targets for sexually transmitted infections, along with HIV/AIDS. Unsafe sex with multiple partners also contributes to this high statistic.
Anti legislation groups have used real life stories of past workers forced into the sex trade to inspire actions against measures, and appeals have been backed by the ideology surrounding a select group of feminists who declare women simply do not have the right to be prostitutes.
EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating) is a foundation created by Trisha Baptie in 2009. Baptie, along with other members of this organization are former sex workers who are dedicated to eradicating the sex trade via political action, advocacy, and awareness.
EVE believes prostitution is derived from a distinct form of sexism, classism, racism, poverty,and other forms of systematic oppression and the categorization of paid sex as work denotes violence against women. This group affirms to end the buying and selling of women’s bodies, prostitution should not be legalized and aggressors of this trade should be criminalized.
To start these actions, EVE hosts various educational seminars speaking on the real truths of prostitution. Trisha Baptie gave a TED talk at SFU sharing her emotional experiences in the sex industry starting at the age of 13. Baptie’s aim is to change the world by sharing her experiences. She urgently wants to end the glorification of this “profession” and educate others that legalizing prostitution offers no real change to those affected. She wants to use her platform as a voice to those who can not speak out themselves.
Her take home message is one of idealistic urgence, which declares prostitution is distinct form of systematic oppression against women, which is carried out by those who want to contribute to the social inequality gap that exists between men and women. Bapties work has been wide recieved as she is an active member of several women’s equality coalitions, and has presented across the country at local, national and international functions with women from around the globe.
The Dreamcatcher foundation is an organization created in 2008 by former sex worker Brenda Myers-Powell. The foundation wants to prevent the sexual exploitation of at-risk youth while helping them find confidence and stability through education, empowerment, and active prevention. Her foundation is regarded as a safe haven for prostitutes looking for a way out of the industry.
Their goal is to create an environment in which victims of human trafficking can be empowered, educated, and self-confident.
Powell herself was a prostitute for 25 years, starting in the early 70’s when she was just a child. To date She has helped 13 young girls who came to her from ages 11 plus, obtain high school diplomas and scholarships for colleges. Powell has also extended her work by attending conferences and running after school clubs for victimized girls.
Her thoughts on the legalization and classification of prostitution as a legitimate job are this:
It may be OK for this girl, who is paying her way through law school, but not for this girl, who was molested as a child, who never knew she had another choice, who was just trying to get money to eat……However the situation starts off for a girl, that’s not how the situation will end up. It might look OK now…..but the first time that someone hurts her, that’s when she really sees her situation for what it is…the reality of prostitution.
The Dreamcatcher foundation, along with EVE are working to put an end to sex trafficking. Both of these two groups argue that legalizing prostitution legalizes certain aspects of sex trafficking.
Giving prostitution legal bounds seemingly only protects pimps and brothel owners, without giving much protection to the actual women involved. These women are harassed, beaten, and coerced into sexual acts daily, sometimes without a condom to receive higher pay which in turn adds to high rates of HIV/AIDs transmission along with STIs/STDs. Those wanting to legalize prostitution are feminists who argue the right of self determination, as use this self determination to justify sex work.
These feminists advocates only make up a small group of modern day prostitutes. This small group wants to legalize sexual services simply because it was the route they CHOSE to take. Because these women chose to involve themselves in sex work they fail to see that the vast majority of prostitutes are not in this industry by choice.
There are many horror stories associated with sex work. These include stories of women who have suffered physical abuse, rape, and damage to their mental health. An example of this brutality is the story of Brenda Myers-Powell, the co-founder of the Dreamcatcher Foundation, and former prostitute.
She began to sell her body at the age of 14 as a way to support her grandmother and two daughters. One night, she was kidnapped by two men, who raped her and locked in a motel until she agreed to work for them.
She had suffered abuse by the hands of her pimps and clients for 25 years. She had been shot 5 times, and stabbed 13 times by deranged clients.
According to Change, 70% of prostituted women and girls began under the age of 14. Between 1996 and 2001, the number of prostituted children increased by 300% . And in countries where prostitution is legalized, the rates of crime against women and children have not lowered.
Despite the many movements for pro legalization of sex work, legalization is still not seen as an avid choice for all. Many victims are lost in the inter crossings of the sex trade without a voice and are being overshadowed by less than ideal urges for legality.