Is Prostitution a Victimless Crime?

The Oldest Profession Is Hardly Without Victims

Motorist talking to prostitute in street at night
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Prostitution is listed among the crimes some refer to as victimless or consensual crimes because no one present at the crime is unwilling, but research shows that may not be the true picture of prostitution.

In most countries, prostitution — exchanging money for sex among adults — is legal. It is illegal in only a few countries — in the United States (except for ten counties in the state of Nevada), India, Argentina, some Muslim and Communist countries. The reason it is legal is the general attitude that prostitution does no harm, has no victims, and is sex among consenting adults.

Not a Victimless Crime

Melissa Farley, PhD of Prostitution Research & Education, argues that prostitution is hardly a victimless crime. In her "Prostitution: Fact sheet on Human Rights Violations" Farley says that prostitution is sexual harassment, rape, battering, verbal abuse, domestic violence, a racist practice, a violation of human rights, childhood sexual abuse, a consequence of male domination of women and a means of maintaining male domination of women.

"All prostitution causes harm to women," Farley writes. "Whether it is being sold by one's family to a brothel, or whether it is being sexually abused in one's family, running away from home, and then being pimped by one's boyfriend, or whether one is in college and needs to pay for next semester's tuition and one works at a strip club behind glass where men never actually touch you – all these forms of prostitution hurt the women in it."

Prostitutes Are Biggest Victims

To believe prostitution has no victims, one must ignore these statistics published in Farley's Fact Sheet:

  • 78 percent of 55 women who sought help from the Council for Prostitution Alternatives in 1991 reported being raped an average of 16 times a year by pimps and were raped 33 times a year by johns.
  • 62 percent reported having been raped in prostitution.
  • 73 percent reported having experienced physical assault in prostitution.
  • 72 percent were currently or formerly homeless.
  • 92 percent stated that they wanted to escape prostitution immediately.
  • 83 percent of prostitutes are victims of assault with a weapon.
  • 75 percent of women in escort prostitution had attempted suicide.
  • 67 percent meet diagnostic criteria for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Prevalence of Incest

In short, the victims of prostitution are mostly the prostitutes themselves. It just may be that they no longer have the ability left to "consent" to be a willing participant in their so-called victimless crime.

Estimates of the prevalence of incest among prostitutes range from 65 percent to 90 percent. The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon Annual Report in 1991 found that: 85 percent of their prostitute clients reported history of sexual abuse in childhood while 70 percent reported incest.

Self Determination?

As feminist Andrea Dworkin has written: "Incest is boot camp. Incest is where you send the girl to learn how to do it. So you don't, obviously, have to send her anywhere, she's already there and she's has nowhere else to go. She's trained."

But not all feminist back prostitution laws. Some believe prostitution is an act of self-determination. They demand decriminalization and destigmatization because laws against prostitution discriminate against women's ability to make their own choices.

More About Prostitution

  • Prostitution: Factsheet on Human Rights Violations
    The commercial sex industry includes street prostitution, massage brothels, escort services, outcall services, strip clubs, lap dancing, phone sex, adult and child pornography, video and internet pornography, and prostitution tourism.
  • How Prostitution Works
    How prostitution is exempted from other kinds of violence and human rights violations, how prostitution is legitimized by distinctions between "forced" and "consenting" prostitution.
  • Prostitution and Male Supremacy
    If you have been in prostitution, you do not have tomorrow in your mind, because tomorrow Although plea bargaining allows the criminal justice system to conserve resources, it is controversial. Some commentators believe that it is inappropriate in that it allows defendants to get off too easily. Others argue that it is too coercive and undermines important constitutional rights. Plea bargaining does require defendants to waive three rights protected by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments: the right to a jury trial, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to confront hostile witnesses. The Supreme Court, however, has repeatedly rejected arguments that plea bargaining is a very long time away. You cannot assume that you will live from minute to minute.