So, Lets Talk About Prostitution

by Diane Dimond on May 25, 2008

Following every prostitution round up I can tell you with certainty that at least some of the women involved become despondent about the course their lives have taken. They may even be on the verge of suicide.

National figures bear me out. In a major study by Melissa Farley, called “Prostitution: Fact Sheet on Human Rights Violations” it’s reported that 75 percent of women engaged in prostitution have tried to kill themselves.

Dr. Farley follows up with a lot of other numbers in a lot of other dreadful categories. Bottom line: A majority of prostitutes report they were victims of incest or child sex abuse, have been violently raped on the job, physically assaulted with weapons, struggled with hunger and homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and diseases like HIV. Most meet the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder. The average age of entry for a prostitute is 14 to 16 years old and most spend more than a decade selling their bodies.

In other words, these women don’t go into this line of work because they think it will be a good, long-term career move. They go into it because they know no other way to survive. I don’t imagine there was ever a well-adjusted little girl who declared, “I want to grow up to be a call girl!”

Most chilling is the murder rate among prostitutes. According to a Johns Hopkins study, the workplace homicide rate for a woman who sells sex is about seven times higher than that of a person in other high-risk occupations.

It doesn’t sound to me as though prostitutes can be considered happy-go-lucky ladies of the evening. It seems clear they have been and continue to be victimized on several fronts, often by their own bad judgment.

I can understand why police arrest the women. They’re breaking the law. But aren’t the male customers breaking the law, too? Why are the clients so rarely charged?

Case in point: Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the Madame of a high-priced service in Washington, D.C., catered to the powerful, including Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana. Once exposed for being a Palfrey client, the senator publicly apologized to his wife and constituents and promptly went back to work making the laws of the land.

Palfrey, on the other hand, was convicted and about to be sentenced to several years in prison when she was found dead, hanging in a shed on her mother’s property. Two suicide notes were found.

In January 2007, one of Palfrey’s “girls,” a former college professor named Brandy Britton, also hanged herself on the eve of trial. It was learned that the single-mother of two had been facing foreclosure on her home and had lived through a history of domestic abuse. She had lost her teaching job at the University of Maryland-Baltimore after filing a sex discrimination suit against the school and had turned to selling herself to pay the bills.

They say if you bite off the head of a snake it dies. But where exactly is the head of the prostitution problem? Is it the women who sell themselves? The pimps who arrange the liaisons? Or is it the men who buy the sexual services?

We arrest people who buy and sell illegal drugs. We convict people who buy and sell illegal child pornography. So why don’t we go after men who buy illegal sex? Why is there a different standard when it comes to prostitution? If laws are being broken aren’t both the women and the men equally guilty?

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