Domestic policies for prostitution perpetuate violence against women. Unless we are willing to address the root cause of society’s acceptance of violence against women, efforts to decrease it will continue to be done in vain.
According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), prostitution is an epidemic. Reports from the DOJ indicate that the average age of entry for prostitution is 12 years. Again, let me repeat that due to absolute absurdity, the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 12 years young. Young girls, much like the women who enter prostitution come from broken families, live in poverty and are vulnerable to exploitation for many of the same reasons. They tend to be runaways from both families and the juvenile justice system or are ‘throwaways’ where parents have kicked their children out of their homes and into the streets. More than 90% of prostitutes have been beaten, sexually assaulted by a family member and/or emotionally abused before entrance. Aside from abusive situations, entrance into prostitution puts young girls and women at a higher risk of violence. A Kaiser Family Foundation supported study reported that 78% of prostitutes were threatened with a weapon in the past 6 months, 82% were physically assaulted and 82% reported being raped. Seventy-three percent of women reported being raped more than five times in the past 6 months. This is violence against women.
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Intertwined with the dangers of abusive pimps, coercion into prostitution, rape, beatings, stabbings, untreated STIs and drug use, on top of environmental hazards, prostitution is inherently dangerous. A Canadian report found that mortality amongst prostitutes was 40 times higher than that of the national average. If any other cohort of our population showed such an increased risk of mortality, our nation’s leaders would be dedicated towards decreasing this number, and fast. Unfortunately, this population of young and abused women is not only vulnerable, but they are also more or less invisible from policy and laws that would help protect them. Policies protecting prostitutes can help lead towards an end to the root of violence against women in our society.
Policies protecting women and young girls from being subjected to crimes against their bodies are undeniably absent. Our nation has done little to standardize procedures within police departments in order to make prostitutes feel safe in reporting beatings, rapes, being pimped and other bad experiences due to their jobs. Unfortunately, the legal and judicial forces that are in place to keep prostitutes from harm often stigmatize them. Prostitutes are further victimized when they report abuse to police and have reportedly been mocked. Abuse against them seems to have been justified due to their ‘occupation.’ Another barrier to reporting abuses is the fear of reporting an illegal activity such as prostitution. When reporting, women and young girls can be prosecuted for admitting their involvement in illegal activity even if they are only reporting crimes against themselves. Due to the absence of policies protecting all citizens equally, crimes against prostitutes go severely underreported. This not only leaves women and young girls vulnerable to repeated trauma, but more alarmingly, allows men to get away with their acts of violence against women.
For men who are caught soliciting prostitutes, which need I remind you are often young girls under the age of lawful consent, they get off fairly easily by merely following policies and ‘programs’ to help men rehabilitate. A program started in California in 1995 and has since spread to major cities throughout the nation, allows an offending man to take a class that has been compared to Stop Class. As long as it is a first offense, men are able to participate in a daylong training class and leave with a six-month probationary period. If they are not caught soliciting within those 6 months the offense does not go on their record. Ironically prostitutes, even the youngest who get caught do not get such an easy route. Larger cities have begun allowing girls to receive counseling and rehabilitative help through local nonprofits, but girls and women still go on trial and have criminal records opened against them. This hypocrisy allows society to continue treating men as victims of passion and lust and permits the real victims to be violated in another form instead of confronting the true crime, society’s silent consent to the continuation of violence against women.
Even more shocking and appalling is the fact that rehabilitative programs allow and assist men who were involved with underage girls, which in itself against the law. In any other situation, these men would be tried as sex offenders and be forced to register with the national registry. However, only because their actions were against a prostitute this crime will not follow and haunt them (as long as they are not caught soliciting again within the six-month probationary period). With this program, men who prowl streets soliciting young girls for sexual acts are simply allowed a ‘free pass’ if caught. This allows men the ability to continue their acts without a criminal record and without the stigma that is imposed and warranted. Sex with any minor girl is a violation of her innocence, regardless of her personal situation. Violence against women is not being curbed through current policies that further victimize the victims while justifying innocence for the perpetrators.
Further victimizing prostitutes are the new policies targeted to curb prostitution. These policies actually cause increase arrests of prostitutes if they are in possession of sexual paraphernalia such as condoms. The primary mode of protecting against long-term effects of sexual contact is now a crime for those who are most at risk. These policies support society’s view that it is okay to demean and treat this population differently. Such policies provide proof that society does not believe that this particular population has the right to protect themselves. This is simply criminal, inhumane and unjust.
Breaking the cycle of violence against women requires society to help those forced into prostitution. It begs policy makers to start addressing the root problem. Prostitution is not a voluntarily chosen ‘occupation’ for many who are found on the streets. With the increased risks of violence and dangers to health, it is a shame we have not worked more diligently to reduce the harm and stigma faced by the victims. Embarrassingly, our nation does more to help those who perpetrate against young girls and women in the name of prostitution then it does to protect them. Allowing this injustice in any part our society allows for a silent acceptance of the system. With no current policies that draw boundaries or set parameters on what is acceptable and what is not, the silent acceptance of violence towards prostitutes grows deeper. Developing clear policies to protect prostitutes is an important first step in the real fight to stop violence against women.