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Discrimination and Harassment Against Prostitutes in Society

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Prostitution is the performance of a sexual act done in exchange for payment, usually money. Females make up the majority of sex workers, but males are also a significant portion. The sex industry contributes approximately $14 billion annually. While prostitutes usually enter by their own will, some of them are victims of human trafficking or sex trafficking. Immigrants may be forced to engage in sex work to pay off debts associated with their migration and may face threats of deportation or violence against their family members. However, most usually stay in because they feel that they cannot leave due to feeling unsafe or threatened. Prostitutes are illegal in most countries, making their job that much harder. These people face discrimination and harassment daily from people they do not even know, including and predominantly their clients. In this paper I argue that every day they risk the dangers of physical violence, criminalization, and emotional trauma just for being a sex worker because people see them as less than.

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Physical dangers of being in sex work include both violence and sexually transmitted diseases. Among the STDs that can be caught is HIV. HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight against infections and eventually leads to inevitable death because there is still no known cure to this illness. According to “Prostitution.” clients often offer more money for unprotected sex because men feel there is more “pleasure” for them when not using a condom, which only elevates the risk of catching an STD. Another sexually transmitted disease that sex workers can catch is bacterial vaginosis. It is the cause of unprotected sex and recent intravaginal cleaning. About 70% of females affected by this disease, also known as BV, are sex workers. BV can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, HIV, and unfavorable pregnancy outcomes. Violence is something that sex workers experience often, usually at the hands of males. Prostitutes face high rates of violent assault in their personal and professional lives (Boynton). This includes kidnapping, robbery, murder, and beatings. Sex workers often work under a procurer, more commonly known as pimp. He recruits, provides basic needs, gets them clients, schedules work times, and takes a portion of their earnings. They may use violence, threats, and drugs to exert control over the sex workers, which he is “in charge” of. Another very serious physical danger that some, if not all sex workers deal with often is rape or some type of sexual violence. There are very few reliable statistics regarding rape among prostitutes due to a huge number of survivors don’t report them. There is about a 45 to 75 percent chance that sex workers will experience sexual violence at some point in their careers, according to “Sex Workers Don’t Deserve to be Raped.” Serial rapists are found to target sex workers first, mainly due to the fact that they know police will do little to nothing to arrest him. For example, high-end escort Veronica Monet was a victim of rape at the hands of a client. Monet tried to warn other sex workers about the man, but three weeks later that same man raped another sex worker. However, because she fought back, he stabbed her in the face. This is only a small portion of the sexual violence they experience and it goes unnoticed due to the criminalization and discrimination of sex workers. The last physical danger I am discussing in this paper is human trafficking. Human trafficking and sex trafficking is when someone is abducted into being purchased and transported for illegal labor or to other people. Because most sex workers find clients on streets, they are an easier target and many are the victims of human trafficking.

Dangers to sex work are not restricted to physical. Criminalization of prostitutes causes a negative view of sex workers, who are often referred to as sluts, whores, and that they lack self- respect. The criminal justice system and police have failed sex workers on so many occasions regarding rape and sexual assault. Both of these powers treat sex workers as though rape were only an “occupational hazard” of their work. “When sex workers are afraid of the police, it makes the world a more dangerous place for every single woman.” Their fears are based in the realities and personal experiences of a justice system that criminalizes their way of living. Sex workers who report sexual assault to police can be laughed at, ignored, accused of lying, arrested, or worse. Judges might use their jobs against them in court, causing them to go without justice. The 1975 New York state rape shield law protects rape victims from having their sexual histories used against them in criminal proceedings. However, this law does not apply to women with a prostitute conviction in the three years prior to that case. This just goes to show how even when these women are searching for help, their cries for help are gone unheard. Another example of injustice would be that in 2007, a judge in Philadelphia dismissed rape charges against a man who organized gang rape of a prostitute at gunpoint. The judge’s reasoning was that the crime was merely a “theft of services.” “Criminalization allows people to imagine that we don’t have boundaries, voices, or labor rights. It allows them to forget we can say ‘no’, too.” There is strong evidence which suggests decriminalization can protect both sex workers and all women from violent crime. For example, Rhode Island crimes regarding sex work dropped by 31 percent after decriminalizing indoor prostitution for 6 years. Similar statistics were found when Germany and New Zealand decriminalized sex work as well. Those in power in the criminal justice system have also been known for preventing sex workers from moving forward in their personal lives, making it that much harder for them to get out of that industry even if they really want to. As mentioned in “Sex Workers Don’t Deserve to be Raped,” in most parts of the United States former prostitutes can be fined for previously working in the sex industry. Even when sex workers want to change to a “normal” job, criminalization makes it difficult. The way the criminal justice system and most of society treats sex workers only makes the situation worse and allows rapists to go about free while the victims are oppressed and, in most occasions, blamed for their rape.

Mental and emotional trauma is a very serious issue that most sex workers deal with because of how draining their job is. They are not provided with proper care and some don’t always make enough money to live a good life. Sex workers have no health benefits such as medicare, which is very serious considering how many sex workers have been known to experience physical assaults. The constant fear of being trafficked, sexually assaulted, or even killed can be exhausting and over time affect your mental health. Exposure to so much sexual violence and discrimination over time can likely cause depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Their PTSD might be a cause of a rape or violent act against them. Because their job is based on sex, it could very easily be triggered especially because the majority of their clients are not very gentle during sex. They may experience nightmares or flashbacks of their rape due to this condition. Alcohol abuse can be associated with any of these mental illnesses as well as low self-esteem. Family members often disown their daughters for joining the sex industry, which can make their depression worse and make them feel more isolated from society. Sex workers are used to seeing other women they know raped or beat as well as experiencing violence themselves. Although some women enter willingly, many have referred to prostitution as slavery at the hands of men who feel it is their “right” to be able to buy sex and do what they’d like with women. In most cases, this statement is true. Women usually work under a pimp, who operates their money, gets them clients, and often use violence against them, which are all attributes of slavery. After working like this for a long period of time, anyone’s mental health would begin to deteriorate.

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In conclusion, sex workers face many dangers daily that affect them negatively in the form of physical, emotional, and social discrimination as well as abuse. Criminalization contributes to most of these dangers and restricts sex workers from moving forward with their lives. Society should do more to help these women because they are humans the same as us and they do not deserve to be treated so poorly and inhumanely. In this paper I showed several examples of how men have taken advantage of the fact that these people, predominantly female sex workers, are afraid of police to sexually assault them or make violent advances toward them. Sex workers have to be looked out for, not pushed farther underground where they may face even more dangers than they already do.

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Discrimination and Harassment Against Prostitutes in Society. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from
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