A fissure is splitting the modern feminist movement. The old guard thought that it was settled, that “sex work” (prostitution) hurts women. The new guard, however, wants to decriminalize it. The high percent of childhood sexual abuse, suicide, abusive pimps and increased likelihood for disease and death is of no consequence to them when pitted against choice at any cost. Neither is the fact that many desperate, betrayed and kidnapped victims end up trafficked into prostitution. (Although the debate centers on women, young men and boys also get caught up in homosexual prostitution.)

At a February city council hearing in Washington, D.C., the Daily Beast reported that the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) announced that they would not support a bill to decriminalize sex work, which is a degrading and violent oppression of women. But the local president of NOW said they were actually working on testimony to support it and that it was “very patronizing, in a very patriarchal way,” to tell young women what is best for them.

The debate is ongoing in a number of cities. Opinions range from keeping it illegal to complete decriminalization for both buyers and sellers to just the sellers. Sex workers insist that any criminal restrictions hampers their business.

Opponents argue that the measure would allow pimps and johns to exploit women without consequence and being alone behind a locked door, with a stranger buying sex, opens them up to danger. Sex workers refer to themselves as “consensual sex workers” as opposed to trafficked victims and tell those who want to protect them to mind their own business.

 

A Closer Look

Jess Echeverry, my co-author on an upcoming book on healing and forgiveness after abuse and dysfunction (text 'DAZZLED' to 555888 to be alerted of the release date) was homeless on and off for almost five years. During that time, her best friends were street kids, prostitutes and strippers. What she witnessed was “hell on earth.” In her case, previous abuse had steeled her against selling her body, so she acted in the role of support person for her friends.

“There were pep talks hours before the night on the Strip or in ‘da club’ which included drinking and drug use to help convince everyone that it was all good,” she said. “These kids, these friends of mine, were truly looking for love. So they convinced themselves that the men paying for every sort of perversion were actually taking care of them and ‘loving’ them.” Jess lost one friend to AIDS and another by suicide.

“They walked onto the street or into the strip club and they performed,” she said. “They did the unthinkable and entertained the most sinful. And when the night was over, they came back and fell into my arms, shattered into a million pieces. Or they were higher than a kite and happier than ever with a fist full of cash. I ask, is this the empowerment you speak of? If so, then I have to say to you… get behind me Satan!”

In an interview with former sex trade worker, Windie Lazenko, a leading advocate against human trafficking and founder of 4her ND which serves victims of sex trafficking and exploitation in the North Dakota oil fields, she explained that past child sexual abuse is extremely common among women in the sex trades. She was trafficked at age 13 after she ran away from home.

“As an adult, I told myself that I was in control and I was using my own body,” she said. “But really, it was just a continuation of the abuse that stems from the message that you do not deserve to be treated with dignity — that your body is available for the pleasure of others.” Lazenko said that most women get forced or backed into prostitution and want to get out. It was how she survived after fleeing a stepfather who sexually abused her and a mother who failed to protect her.

 

Betrayal of Victims

Last spring, Teen Vogue magazine, which is targeted to girls ages 12 to 17, published, “Why Sex Work is Real Work” by Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng. She runs a women’s health practice in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is heavy promoter of “sexual and reproductive justice.” She claimed that “interactions that may have started off as sexual could evolve into emotional and psychological bonding.” Sick. It is well-known that prostitutes often bond with their pimps in abusive, slave/master relationships.

Such thinking is a slap in the face to all those trafficked at skyrocketing rates. Prostitution is not a victimless crime considering the abuse from clients, pimps, high drug use, HIV and other STDs, high rates of suicides and homicides, and psychological and physical trauma. One study in the American Journal of Epidemiology looked at 1,663 women prostitutes in Colorado Springs over 30 years. “Few of the women died of natural causes, as would be expected for persons whose average age at death was 34 years,” the study reported. It showed, that the leading causes of death were homicide (19%), drug ingestion (18%), accidents (12%), and alcohol-related causes (9%). “For nine women (8%), the underlying cause of death was HIV infection or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome… Of 21 murders, nine occurred within three years of the first observed prostitution.”

Mofokeng also claimed that sex workers support between five and eight other people with their earnings. It is, again, twisted thinking. Of our 10 children, two joined our family as teens from Kenya, having been orphaned years earlier. In their small village, many men left home to work on construction crews to support families. Girls and young women, also wanting to support their families, made money as prostitutes.

Our boys’ parents died from AIDS, which their father contracted from a prostitute and passed to their mother. Prostitution may be a reality in poor areas, but defending it instead of seeking legitimate ways to fight poverty actually devalues the poor. It says that desperate measures that degrade and even kills them is okay, because after all, they are poor.