About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

September 17, 2010

Five myths about prostitution

So says Sudhir Venkatesh in an interesting article in the Washington Post.

Here are the myths:

1. Prostitution is an alleyway business.

2. Men visit sex workers for sex.

3. Most prostitutes are addicted to drugs or were abused as children.

4. Prostitutes and police are enemies.

5. Closing Craigslist's "adult services" section will significantly affect the sex trade.

Read the whole article here.


Anonymous said...

re 1: He is correct, but to what end? The ecology of the business may have changed, but its hazards and pitfalls really haven't, as he partially acknowledges later in the article.

re 2: By his count, 60% to 80% of visits indeed result in sex. And I bet that the occassional John with a low-end pros has sex every time with his pros, while the habitual users of $250+ pros make up the vast majority of folks who abstain during some of their visits. So, is it really a "myth" that men visit pros for sex? Or have we rather learned that in addition to sex, the affluent can use the women they've bought to satisfy other needs as well? In any event, as he says, his data simply excludes street and lower-priced pros.

re 3: SV says "[1] sex workers today tend to make a conscious decision to enter the trade -- not as a reaction to suffering but to earn some quick cash. Among these women, Bernstein's research suggests, prostitution is viewed as a part-time job, one that grants autonomy and flexibility.

In what way does this preclude them from having been abused as children? Just because being a pros is not a reaction to suffering doesn't mean the girl's view that this is an accetpable option for quick income wasn't informed by abuse. Everyone needs quick cash, but there may well be an abuse history with a person who chooses to get this cash via selling sex to strangers. In my experience, lack of an abuse history is the rare exception at every level of the sex trade.

He also says "[2] These [indoor] women have little in common with the shrinking number of sex workers who still work on the streets, [who] 'were younger, involved in prostitution at an earlier age, reported more illegal drug use, and experienced significantly more violence from their clients than those working indoors.'

This says nothing at all about the incidence of abuse that any of these women may have suffered prior to entering prostitution, which is what the "myth" concerns itself with.

In sum, SV offers data to support his debunking of this myth, and his reasoning as he presents it is false on its face.

re 4: He is right. This is a myth.

re 5: I don't quite understand what he is trying to say here. Could he clarify? Who really thinks it would change a lot, apart from simply being the right thing to do? Shutting down one large, well-known sweatshop won't have much effect on the effort to secure better wages and conditions for undocumented workers in general, but does that mean we shouldn't shut the sweatshop down?

Anonymous said...

From the article:

"Among these women, Bernstein's research suggests, prostitution is viewed as a part-time job, one that grants autonomy and flexibility."

Plus it's cool, and all my friends are doing it! Going down on a few dozen businessmen a month is a great way to make some cash for the weekend and help with the rent! And I like the fancy restaurants and the nice clothes I buy! And I like it when men want me and find me attractive!

There is something so sad to all of this. The main problem with sociologists is their hesistance to simply declare some things as skeevy and wrong. The principal problem with the field is confusing explanation with justification, even when the latter is tacit. Which, in some ways, is worse than it being explicit.

Anonymous said...


Really? Working hard for her money, so hard for it honey, is morally wrong? Says who? The Pope? (Oh, that's right, he only fancies boys... specifically condom-wearing HIV+ male prostitutes.)

I'd really like to see some substantiation that prostitutes were all abused growing up. I've never seen any such figures. If the numbers are true that 1/3 of all females have been sexually assaulted before the age of 18 (anything from touching to being coerced to being raped) then the population of "abused" women far outnumbers the population of prostitutes!

Why can't we have legalized, regulated prostitution such as in Nevada outside Vegas and the Federal Republic of Germany? I can only figure some people have some unexamined misogyny going on because banning prostitution does not make it go away... it only facilitates the exploitation and harm of sex workers.

PCM said...

I would go so far to say that *most* countries have legalized or well tolerated prostitution in certain locations. Once I even accidentally stumbled across the Red Light District in Istanbul. It really was an accident! (I was not expecting one in Turkey.)

The puritan ethic we Americans have lives on. So-called morality trumps common sense.

Politically, the problem with legalizing prostitution in American states is that the anti-prostitution side is an unusual coalition of left and right wing.

In most countries the left sees regulation as good for the prostitutes (which it is). In most countries the right actually does support laissez-faire small government.

America is strange: we have a left- and right-wing moralists and hypocrites!