Abolitionist Approach to Prostitution


The abolitionist platform is clear: Prostitution is exploitation. To abolitionists, the women involved are thought of as “prostituted women” who are abused under a patriarchal society of male domination and sexual exploitation.

The results of several U.S. studies on prostitution support the view that prostitution is associated with drug abuse, HIV/AIDS risks, violence, and poor physical, emotional, and mental health outcomes for the women involved.

A strong connection has been made between drug abuse and street prostitution. Research findings suggest that some women use drugs to cope with the shame, violence, and trauma they face as prostitutes, while other women enter prostitution drug addicted and use prostitution to finance their drug habit.

Prostituted women continue to be placed at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. Researchers cite addiction to drugs, client resistance to condom use, rape, forced prostitution by pimps/traffickers, and lack of condom use with risky intimate lovers as conditions that increase risk.

The violence experienced by prostituted women is heinous and pervasive, with researchers reporting that upwards of 70% of these women have experienced frequent and varied acts of violence. Women most commonly experience physical violence from customers, intimate lovers, pimps, and police.

Studies of psychosocial well-being and prostitution find that prostituted women typically have low self-esteem and high levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Policies and Programs Supported by Abolitionists

Most abolitionists support policies that decriminalize prostitution for victims. They would encourage stiff penalties and/or effective interventions for pimps, who are often known as “traffickers,” and customers, who are known as “johns.” Community-focused programs founded by survivors or that employ survivors to intervene show promise in helping to build relationships with women on the streets. Social service programs may also help victims to address their issues and meet their needs by offering substance abuse treatment, shelter and transitional housing, case management, trauma treatment, group work, interpersonal counseling, and education and job training programs.

After the U.S. presidential signing of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2000, federal, state, and local law enforcement joined to form task forces in various cities to address the issue of human trafficking, of which sex trafficking is a part. Professional helpers are looking to translate federal sentiments into best practices to move a woman from victim to survivor. While immediate efforts focus on rescuing and restoring victims, long-term goals include primary prevention and early intervention.

Reducing Violence Against Women

According to abolitionists, reducing violence against women requires that one see prostitution in and of itself as violence toward women. In their view, prostitution is not a choice; prostitution is often chosen for women because of their impoverished circumstances, abuses in their pasts, or blocked opportunities at conventional economic success.

Present-Day Advocates

There are several trend-setting leaders in the antipros-titution movement. These include Janice Raymond, Melissa Farley, Norma Hotaling, Vednita Carter, and Donna Hughes, among others.

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