Should prostitution be legalized? In the USA, prostitution is illegal everywhere except for ten counties in Nevada yet sex is on sale from coast to coast. Street prostitutes have a mortality rate forty times higher than the national average. Many individuals who engage in sex work do not survive the streets.
The mortality rate among street walkers has led some to call for legalization or decriminalization of prostitution in the USA. One of the main reasons is for the safety of the sex worker. If the industry goes down that path as it has in other countries, can the street prostitutes really take better care of themselves and would they have the help they need if something went wrong? In other words, would the regulation of the industry offer the necessary protection to the prostitutes or is it to simply legalize violence against the street-walker?
In Australia the states legalized prostitution in an attempt to curb the violence. In the European countries of Norway, Finland and Sweden it appears that the selling of sex is not illegal but it is the purchase of sex that is criminalized. The logic behind these laws is that these European governments want to stamp out sex tourism, street prostitution and human trafficking in an attempt to protect the most vulnerable.
Sex workers in the third world are often sold into prostitution as children. In countries like the USA, many are driven to it by sexual abuse. Authorities have estimated that up to seventy-five percent of street prostitutes are molested or victims of incest. Once on the street it is very difficult or impossible to escape. A street pimp solicits customers for a ‘hoochie’ in return for a share of their earnings but it is often the street pimps who inflict the most violence. Those selling sex are younger, more than likely victimized or coerced into the trade to have street pimps, be drug addicted and to have miserable lives.
Drugs are sometimes the only way that street prostitutes came cope with work on the streets. Authorities have also estimated that a whopping eighty percent of street walkers are addicted to crack cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs or alcohol. It is probably the only way that they can cope the fear and anxiety that comes with this line of work. What goes through their mind? Will the next trick turn violent if things do not do go right? What are the chances of being raped, beaten up, having bones broken, cut up, maimed or even murdered? While the high-end sex workers or ‘escorts’ work in relative safety, low-end prostitutes mainly pick up clients off the streets, sex takes place in a car or a back alley and an attack can come at any time and who knows what disease they may contract.
In the United States supporters of legalization are in the minority. They are up against the puritanical religious groups and it is these people who wield the big stick. Rather, the trend has been for greater criminalization with greater penalties against clients and workers. This means that prostitutes are under attack from the street pimps, clients and the law. No doubt there are those on the street who believe that their fate is sealed and written in stone. They probably have few friends or allies, they face discrimination because of the stigma attached to prostitution and the lure of the street is always there… despite the danger. However there is one organization that offers hope or even a way out.
Cyndee Clay is the Executive Director of ‘HIPS’ – ‘Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive’. HIPS mission is to assist female, male, and trans-gender individuals engaging in sex work in Washington DC to lead healthy lives. The program is based on a harm reduction model, Harm Prevention and Support. Those involved with the program strive to address the impact that HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, discrimination, poverty, violence and drug use have on the lives of individuals engaging in sex work. By helping sex industry workers recognize the options that they have and the skills that they need, the organization’s goal is to support and assist these people in overcoming the barriers to finding adequate employment and leaving the streets altogether.
This is an almighty challenge. Street prostitutes around the world face similar problems. Many are driven to sell sex against their will and they are rejected by society as a result. Organizations such as this one must be supported and those who participate, applauded.