Many radical feminists see all prostitution, despite freewill, to be oppressive and violence against women. Through the buying and selling of women, men, or children, the individual is commodified. She ceases to be a person, and simply becomes a grouping of body parts: genitals, breasts, and a mouth. A sex worker from Norway described the experience:
They see you as a whore, never as someone they’d want to know… I’m nothing and no one they feel connected to. I’m only the genitals that they use. They could just as well have bought themselves one of those blown-up dolls. I’m nothing. I’m just a piece of shit…I’m no one there’s any reason to know.” (Farley, 2003, p. xiv)
This description is reminiscent of the toilet analogy that I refer to here.
Farley screened prostitutes in nine countries (Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, USA, and Zambia) for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and found on average 68% fit DSM IV criteria. Mexican prostitutes seemed to be the least affected by PTSD (54%), while Colombians appeared to be the most (86%). Overall, 89% of the women studied in Farley and company’s (2003) study expressed a desire to leave prostitution; only 34% wanted to see prostitution legalized.
The physical, mental, or emotional duress endured by prostitutes may eventually leave them disabled. Data has shown that one third of prostitutes are disabled due to either emotional or physical injuries. Additional complications may arise from high instances of alcohol or substance abuse. Some prostitutes may use substances to self medicate against the terror their lives or onset of PTSD symptoms. It is also common for pimps to use drugs to make the girls more malleable. One particular research studied found that a staggering 95% of prostitutes abused drugs; however it was not clear what percentage of these women were drug users before entering prostitution and which started as a result. Many conjecture that drug use is the side effect of prostitution and not vis-a-versa in many cases.
To further the argument against prostitution, it is essential to look to countries that have legalized it. In Germany, where prostitution is legal, 59% of prostitutes did not think that legalization made them any safer from rape or physical assault. Furthermore, 63% of German sex workers were raped on the job and 61% have been physically assaulted. This type of violence is not unique to German sex workers, a study conducted in Midwest America showed that 50% of prostitutes reporting to hospitals were beaten by a john. Of these, 22% of the attacks were so vicious that the women had a broken bone; in two cases the women were in coma. This American study has been corroborated, showing that 82% of prostitutes had been physically assaulted on the job, 83% had been threatened with a weapon, and 68% had been sexually abused. Sixty percent of German sex workers met criteria for PTSD. When asked what they needed, 85% of German sex workers stated that they needed to leave prostitution. This may be influenced by the fact that according to Davidson, a mere one percent of women enter prostitution of their own volition. Even in countries where prostitution is legal and regulated, many prostitutes enter the work through coercion or the simple lack of alternatives.
Additional citations and statistics from:
Leidholdt, D.A. (2003). Prostitution and trafficking of women and children from Mexico to the United States. In M. Farley (Ed.), Prostitution, trafficking, and traumatic stress (pp.147-166). Binghamton, NY: Haworth Maltreatment & Trauma Press.