Avoid context and specifics; generalize and keep repeating the generalization. – Jack Schwartz
In yesterday’s column I examined the original source for the spurious and exaggerated claims about the number of involuntary teenage prostitutes and the average age at which prostitutes enter the trade, namely the 2001 Estes and Weiner study. Today I’d like to cite the original sources for a few other spurious claims made by prohibitionists, thereby revealing their inapplicability as generally used. I myself was made aware of these sources via a very long March 13th post from a commenter called “Eva”, responding to the claims of the trafficking robot called “M. Smith” in the reply thread for the Belle de Jour guest blog I mentioned in my column of March 25th; I know that I appreciated the information, and assumed my readers might be equally interested. Thank you, Eva!
As we’ve discussed before, studies of streetwalkers, especially imprisoned and/or drug-addicted streetwalkers, are a rich source of anti-prostitution propaganda because the life of the average streetwalker is so much more chaotic, dangerous and unsatisfactory than the life of the independent escorts who make up the majority of the profession. It’s a bit like studying street peddlers and then using that to make pronouncements about every other sector of the retail economy from dollar stores to Ferrari dealerships, with predictably inaccurate results. A 2005 study (“New Directions in Research on Prostitution” by Ronald Weitzer of George Washington University in Washington, DC) calls attention to a number of these differences; for example, 97% of California escorts surveyed reported an increase in self-esteem after they entered harlotry, compared with 50% of Nevada brothel workers and 8% of streetwalkers (Prince, 1986: 454). That study (page 497) also reported that the escorts saw their work positively, while the brothel girls were merely satisfied and streetwalkers were largely dissatisfied. Another study of low-end escorts in the U.S. found that 75% of them felt that their lives had improved since becoming escorts, 25% reported no change and 0% said their lives were worse. (Decker, 1979: 166, 174). A Dutch study (Dalder, 2004: 34) gave the same results, and all of the escorts studied by Foltz (1979: 128) took pride in their work and viewed themselves as more sensible than amateurs; “they consider women who are not ‘in the life’ to be throwing away woman’s major source of power and control [sexual capital], while they as prostitutes are using it to their own advantage as well as for the benefit of society.” And an Australian study found that half of all prostitutes surveyed ranked their work as a “major source of satisfaction” in their lives, and 70% said they would definitely choose prostitution again if they had their lives to live over (Woodward et al., 2004: 39).
Yet over and over again, neofeminists trot out their incarcerated-streetwalker studies as representative of all prostitutes (despite the fact that they’re not even representative of the majority of streetwalkers). We’re told that “75% of women in prostitution become involved when they are under the age of eighteen,” a figure taken from Benson, C. and Matthews, R. (1995), “Street Prostitution: Ten Facts in Search of a Policy” in International Journal of Sociology of the Law, Vol. 23, pp 395-415. Another claim is that “45% of prostitutes report childhood sexual abuse and 85% childhood physical abuse”; these figures derive from a paper on streetwalkers by Hester & Westmarland (2004) which was commissioned as part of a crime reduction program. Or how about “More than half of prostitutes have been raped and 75% beaten by a pimp or customer” and “the mortality rate for prostitutes is 12 times higher than that of other women”? Both were drawn from the UK government report “Solutions and Strategies: Drug Problems and Street Sex Markets.” To my knowledge, NO study of mainstream prostitution has ever been done by an officially-sanctioned entity in either the U.S. or U.K.; both countries seem to prefer the rantings of neofeminists and extrapolation from the least-fortunate third of the bottom 15% of the hooker population.
Of course, not all of the statements made by prohibitionists are drawn from streetwalker studies; a few are in fact probably true for most whores, but this is only because they’re true for nearly everyone who works in virtually any field. I’m speaking of statements like “most prostitutes are driven to it by financial need” and “9 out of 10 prostitutes would like to exit prostitution immediately.” Well, duh; nearly everyone in every job is driven to it by financial need, and at least 90% of people would like to quit working immediately if they won the lottery or something. Are these statements supposed to demonstrate that prostitution is pretty much like any other job? Because one would think that’s what the prohibitionists were trying to disprove. Perhaps the reason for ridiculous statements like these or “no little girl wants to grow up to be a prostitute” is that many academic neofeminists (who generate most of these bogus statistics) are so isolated in their ivory towers that they really don’t know that there are many jobs far more stressful than prostitution, and that very few people work for anything but purely economic reasons.
Other than outright lies and mumbo-jumbo about the female sexual gestalt, there is one other general class of prohibitionist claims: statements based on neofeminist gender-war politics. But these, too can be refuted by proper research, for example Dr. Suzanne Jenkins’ “Beyond Gender: An Examination of Exploitation in Sex Work”. Neofeminists call prostitution “humiliating” and “degrading”, but Jenkins reports that 72% of escorts feel their self-esteem is higher because of their work. Neofeminists claim that prostitution constitutes “oppression” of women, but Jenkins’ study shows that 72% of escorts like their work for the independence, 67% for meeting people and 93% for the money. Neofeminists believe that males have the power in a prostitution transaction, yet Jenkins found that 54% of escorts consider the transaction as equal, 26% said that the whore had power over the client and only 6% perceived the client as having power over them. Neofeminists also proclaim that men view prostitutes as things to be used, but 77% of Jenkins’ escorts felt their clients respected them. And what about that neofeminist buzzword, “exploitation”? Jenkins found that 56.6% of escort felt they had never been exploited by their clients, while only 3% often felt exploited.
Taken out of context, facts become lies and true statements become misrepresentations, and when combined with unrealistic ideology they all become powerful tools of deception. Make no mistake, the prohibitionists have no compunction against lying; they think of their anti-prostitution campaign as war and intend to win by any means necessary. But because outright lies are more easily exposed than bogus or misinterpreted facts, the latter are more effective in the long run. Fortunately, this allows those who care about the truth to undermine those false statements by presenting them in context. It’s a long, arduous process, but it’s the only way to fight implacable enemies who believe that the end justifies the means.