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Women as Victims in "Victimless Crimes:" The Case of Prostitution

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 12 Issue: 2 Dated: (May 1996) Pages: 173-186
S A Lentz; B G Stitt
Date Published
14 pages
This analysis critically examines the issue of whom are the victims, if any, in prostitution; the discussion focuses on both the concerns of criminology and liberal and radical feminists.
Many scholars have argued that women involved in prostitution are victims (Barry, 1979; Flowers, 1987; James, 1978; Baldwin, 1993). Feminists argue that women involved in prostitution are victimized in numerous ways, but most directly by the demeaning acts they perform, and as "victims of coercion in a society that services men by objectifying and subordinating women" (Freeman, 1989). According to James, the prostitute is "seen as a victim because of her lifestyle, her immorality or degradation or the presumption that she is exploited by pimps or others." Radical feminists say that prostitution furthers the victimization of all women as a diminished and exploited underclass; however, within feminist scholarship, there is division over how to end such victimization, particularly whether decriminalization or legalization will diminish victimization. There is, in addition, an issue that is rarely explicitly addressed in these discussion: what exactly constitutes victimization? More recently, feminist scholars have reinvigorated and refocused the debate. They have confronted the definition of both consent and harm and challenged existing views. Under Stitt's definition of harm, it is evident that prostitution involves broadly based primary and secondary harms to the prostitute and her family. Some of these harms are exacerbated by the criminalization of prostitution. Moreover, the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution does not necessarily eliminate such harms. Although the radical feminist would focus on the harms of oppression, subjection, and objectification that impact all women, all feminists would perhaps agree that underlying the harms in prostitution is a value or belief system that must be changed. 31 references