Harms of Prostitution, Some Facts.
Sexual violence and physical assault are the norm for women in all types of prostitution. One Canadian observer noted that ninety-nine percent of women in prostitution were victims of violence, with more frequent injuries “than workers in [those] occupations considered . . . most dangerous, like mining, forestry, and firefighting.”
Violence is commonplace in prostitution whether it is legal or illegal. 85% of prostituted women interviewed in Minneapolis-St. Paul had been raped in prostitution. Another study found that 80% of women who had been domestically or transnationally trafficked suffered violence-related injuries. Of 854 people in prostitution in nine countries, 89% wanted to leave prostitution but did not have other options for survival.
Prostitution can be lethal. A Canadian commission found that the death rate of women in prostitution was forty times higher than that of the general population. A study of Vancouver prostitution reported a 36% incidence of attempted murder.
The verbal abuse that is commonplace in prostitution is often minimized as a source of serious and longlasting harm. Despite its social invisibility, 88% of women in one study described verbal abuse as an intrinsic part of prostitution.
In prostitution, a woman does not stay whole; she loses her name, her identity, and her feelings.
Trauma and torture survivors commonly experience this profound disconnectedness.
Reviewing four studies of dissociation among women in prostitution, researchers concluded that dissociation is a common psychological defense in response to the trauma of prostitution. The dissociation necessary to survive rape, battering, and prostitution in adulthood is the same as that used to survive familial sexual assault. Dissociation has been observed as a consequence of torture and a means of surviving it.
Most women report that they cannot prostitute unless they dissociate.
When they do not dissociate, they are at risk for being overwhelmed with pain, shame, and rage.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) commonly occurs among prostituted women, and is indicative of their extreme emotional distress. PTSD is characterized by anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, flashbacks, emotional numbing, and hyperalertness. In nine countries, we found that 68% of those in prostitution met criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD, a prevalence that was comparable to battered women seeking shelter, rape survivors seeking treatment, and survivors of state-sponsored torture.
Across widely varying cultures on five continents, the traumatic consequences of prostitution were similar. Van Wesenbeeck noted comparable symptoms among women in legal Dutch prostitution.Results from two studies of prostituted Korean women reflect the women’s intense psychological distress with PTSD prevalence rates of 78% and 80%.
It is an error to assume that the privilege of so-called high-class call-girls protects them from the exploitation and violence that exists in all prostitution. In Chicago, for example, the same frequency of rape is reported by women in both escort and street prostitution. Although some studies report greater violence in outdoor prostitution, the difference is trivial when contrasted with most peoples’ assumptions of what constitutes reasonable physical and emotional risk.
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