Should prostitution be legalized? In the United States, prostitution is illegal everywhere except ten Nevada counties, but sex is for sale coast to coast. Street prostitutes have a mortality rate forty times higher than the national average. Many people who engage in sex work do not survive on the streets.
The death rate among street walkers has led some to call for the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution in the United States. One of the main reasons is the safety of the sex worker. If the industry follows that path as it has in other countries, can street prostitutes really take better care of themselves and would they have the help they need if something goes wrong? In other words, would industry regulation offer the necessary protection to prostitutes or is it simply a matter of legalizing violence against the vagrant?
In Australia, states legalized prostitution in an attempt to curb the violence. In the European countries of Norway, Finland and Sweden it seems that the sale of sex is not illegal, but it is the purchase of sex that is criminalized. The logic behind these laws is that these European governments want to end sex tourism, street prostitution and human trafficking in an attempt to protect the most vulnerable.
Third world sex workers are often sold into prostitution as children. In countries like the US, many are driven by sexual abuse. Authorities have estimated that up to 75 percent of street prostitutes are abused or victims of incest. Once on the street it is very difficult or impossible to escape. A street pimp asks customers for a ‘hoochie’ in exchange for a portion of their earnings, but it is often street pimps who inflict the most violence. Those who sell sex are younger, more likely to be victimized or coerced into the trade into having street pimps, being addicted to drugs, and leading miserable lives.
Sometimes drugs are the only way that street prostitutes can cope with street work. Authorities have also estimated that eighty percent of street walkers are addicted to crack, heroin, prescription drugs, or alcohol. It’s probably the only way they can cope with the fear and anxiety that comes with this line of work. What goes through your mind? Will the next trick turn violent if things don’t go well? What are the chances of being raped, beaten, broken, cut, mutilated, or even killed? While high-level sex workers or ‘escorts’ work in relative safety, low-level prostitutes pick up clients mainly on the streets, sex takes place in a car or in an alley and an attack can occur at any time and who knows what disease they can get.
In the United States, supporters of legalization are a minority. They face the Puritan religious groups and it is these people who wield the big stick. Rather, the trend has been toward greater criminalization with greater penalties against clients and workers. This means that prostitutes are being targeted by pimps, clients and the law. Undoubtedly, there are those on the street who believe that their fate is sealed and set in stone. They probably have few friends or allies, face discrimination due to the stigma associated with prostitution, and the lure of the street is always there … despite the danger. However, there is an organization that offers hope or even a way out.
Cyndee Clay is the executive director of ‘HIPS’ – ‘Helping prostitutes survive’. HIPS mission is to help female, male and transgender sex workers in Washington DC lead healthy lives. The program is based on a model of harm reduction, harm prevention and support. Those who participate in the program strive to address the impact that HIV / AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, discrimination, poverty, violence and drug use have on the lives of people who engage in sex work. By helping sex workers recognize the options they have and the skills they need, the organization’s goal is to support and help these individuals overcome barriers to finding suitable employment and leaving the streets altogether.
This is an almighty challenge. Street prostitutes around the world face similar problems. Many are driven to sell sex against their will and are rejected by society as a result. Organizations like this should be supported and those who participate applauded.