Legalizing prostitution would make Hawaii a paradise for sex traffickers
SOME STATE legislators have proposed a really bad law for the state of Hawaii. It would legalize prostitution in certain zones, while at the same time it would arrest women prostituting on the street because they could be "observed by others who would be affronted or alarmed."
What's alarming about prostitution is not that people observe it. What is harmful about prostitution is what johns and pimps do to the women in it -- whether or not they are observed by others.
HIV infection is not the only physical consequence of prostitution. No other "employment" other than war combat has comparable rates of physical assault, rape and homicide. One woman explained, "What rape is to others, is normal to us." The symptoms of profound emotional distress that result from prostitution and trafficking are off the charts: depression, suicide attempts, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, substance abuse. Research interviews with women in nine countries revealed that almost all the women wanted to get out of prostitution -- whether the profession was legal in that country or not.
Survivors have described prostitution as "volunteer slavery" and as "the choice that is not a choice," while sex industry apologists insist that prostitution is "sex work," unpleasant labor but much like factory work.
Do women consent to prostitution? Do they say to themselves, "Hmm, what job should I choose: computer technician, lawyer, restaurant manager? No, I'd rather be a prostitute"?
Women who "choose" prostitution were sexually abused as kids at much higher rates than other women. That's one way women end up choosing prostitution: getting paid for the abuse they have grown up with and believing that's all they are good for.
Other forces that choose them for prostitution include poverty or no education and no job that pays a living wage. Prostitution exploits a woman's lack of survival options. Sex discrimination, poverty, racism and abandonment are the forces that drive young women into prostitution.
SOME believe that legalizing "indoor" prostitution would magically improve it. Research has shown, however, that whether prostitution is legal or not, whether it's conducted indoors or on the street, the stigma remains, the constant danger of rape remains and the verbal abuse and physical sexual harassment is nonstop.
Legalizing prostitution would put Hawaii in the role of pimp. It's deeply hypocritical to zone prostituted women away from public places so that we can pretend prostitution doesn't exist, but johns can still have at them. Out of sight, of course.
Legal prostitution is a sex tourism magnet. Traffickers from poorer areas of the world transport women into legal prostitution zones in wealthier countries. Since the Netherlands legalized prostitution, more than 75 percent of all women in Dutch prostitution are from other countries.
Once prostitution is legally zoned into certain areas, there are constant legal battles over whose neighborhood prostitution gets zoned into. This has been going on in New Zealand since prostitution was zoned into certain neighborhoods a few years ago. The winners are those who can afford the lawyers who get prostitution zoned into someone else's neighborhood.
WHEREVER prostitution thrives, so does sex trafficking. If you were a pimp, where would you market your product? Someplace like Sweden, where there's a law against buying or selling people for sex? Or would you pimp women to countries that lay out a legal welcome mat: the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and wherever prostitution is legal? Sweden has an excellent prostitution law in which buyers and sellers of women are criminalized but prostituted people are not. Trafficking has plummeted in Sweden since the law was passed.
We need a law that protects victims while it also effectively targets predators. Pimps and sex traffickers are not the only sex predators: Johns are predators, too.
Melissa Farley is a research and clinical psychologist, and author of many articles on prostitution and trafficking. She edited the 2003 book "Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress." She is director of Prostitution Research & Education, www.prostitutionresearch.com
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