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Bad for the Body, Bad for the Heart: Prostitution Harms Women Even If Legalized or Decriminalized

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 10 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2004 Pages: 1087-1125
Melissa Farley
Date Published
October 2004
39 pages
This article considers whether the physical, social, and emotional harms caused by prostitution can be decreased through decriminalization or legalization.
Proponents of laws that legalize or decriminalize prostitution claim that prostitution is inevitable, and as such, should at least be regulated for the health and safety of the participants. Legal strategies to promote prostitution as legitimate work often frame the issue as a human rights issue. The claim that women’s health and emotional outcomes can be improved through the legalization of prostitution is examined in this article using examples from a 2003 New Zealand law decriminalizing prostitution. In New Zealand, decriminalization was promoted as an opportunity for prostitutes to seek legal redress against violent customers, although the author points out that this right already existed. The author argues that violence is pervasive throughout legal and illegal prostitution and as such, the harms caused to women by prostitution are not remedied by legalization or decriminalization. Moreover, the deleterious health effects of prostitution have been well documented and include a 40 times higher death rate for women in prostitution and a much higher risk of cervical cancer. The author also considers the amount of rape, verbal abuse, and psychological harm involved in prostitution and claims that legalization will not decrease these harms. Similarities are drawn between illegal human trafficking and legalized prostitution. The failure of condom distributing programs to protect prostitutes from sexually transmitted diseases and HIV is discussed. Prostitution is an institution that, through its very existence, discriminates against women and cannot be made safer or better through legalization; it is a “vicious institution of inequality of the sexes.” Notes, references