Prostitution in the United States
Prostitution is commonly referred to as the “world’s oldest profession”. While one might think of scantily-clad women traipsing up and down a sidewalk in a seedy area, as in the movie “Pretty Woman”, this is only one way in which women’s bodies are sold. Other sex businesses include brothels, massage parlors, escort services and phone sex, all of which are prominent in the United States. Even though Nevada is the only state that allows legal prostitution, vice squads throughout the nation are needed to identify and halt the practice in the other forty-nine states. Some women choose to sell their bodies, but many of them are forced into the profession by circumstance or even force. Their customers are referred to as “johns”; they include men from every walk of life, every race and culture.
Unlike non-commercial sex, prostitution “dehumanizes and commodifies women” (Farley, et. al., 2003), due to a power balance where only the john has the means with which to decide when, where and with whom to have sex. A person’s job often requires them to do engage in activities that they would normally avoid (cleaning up after other people, fixing their appliances, delivering the mail), and doesn’t allow them the freedom to choose their customers. The same is true for prostitution; women who need to earn a living cannot discriminate based on appearance or the location of the sex act, and many of them are under the control of a pimp. A pimp is a man (most often) who takes control of street prostitutes, forcing them into sex acts and taking the profits. A female equivalent is a “madam” who runs a brothel where women often live and service customers.
Childhood trauma, particularly sexual abuse, often results in the life of prostitution. A study in San Francisco resulted in fifty to ninety percent of prostitutes reporting that they were the victims of childhood sexual abuse and that the abuse had influenced their entry into prostitution (Farley, et. al., 2003). Girls tend to be thirteen to fourteen years of age when they begin life as a prostitute in the United States and have a history of physical abuse, poverty or parental abandonment. An overwhelming number of prostitutes are Caucasian or African-American, the least common being Asians.
The johns, or customers of prostitutes, are more difficult to categorize. They include all races, occupations and social class; a wealthy man is just as likely as a poor one to summon a street prostitute and have sex in a seedy motel or in a car. Celebrities such as Hugh Grant and Eddie Murphy have been caught patronizing Hollywood street prostitutes. Other men prefer the relative privacy of using an escort service, as the women are presentable and discreet. Johns are often violent and cruel; only five percent of women in the San Francisco study had never been raped, gang-raped or beaten. While johns who patronize escort services may appear to be a safer bet, prostitutes report that they often prefer street prostitution; they can choose their customers and deter violence by having a colleague write down the customer’s license plate number.
While women who work as strippers aren’t legally engaging in prostitution, the line between “exotic dancing” and sex is growing smaller and smaller. Many women are paid to give lap dances in which they sit, nearly naked, on the customer’s lap and grind their genitals together until the point of arousal or even ejaculation. Often, these “dancers” are required to give lap dances in order to keep their jobs. In conclusion, not only is prostitution in the United States becoming more common, the ways in which a woman’s body can be sold are increasing. Children who are sexually abused need intensive psychotherapy in order to put a stop to one of the most common inducers of sex for sale.
Farley, M. et. al. (2003). Prostitution and trafficking in nine countries. Retrieved November 26, 2008 from Prostitution Research.com Web site: http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/pdf/Prostitutionin9Countries.pdf