For example, Weimar Germany, devastated by the worldwide financial collapse of the 1930's and saddled with an insurmountable war debt, quickly became a moral wasteland. As fortunes crumbled and the future seemed hopeless, the basic rules governing social interaction evaporated and Berlin became a destination for sex tourists, not unlike today's Bankok.
Businessmen from around the world used their vastly inflated home currencies to buy the affections of "demi-castors," or upstanding middle-class women who turned to prostitution as a means of making ends meet. From matrons to schoolgirls, women from every walk of life and level of society demonstrated that, in the end, there is one commodity that never loses its value.
While Weimar Berlin is an outrageous example of the impact that a brutalized economy can have on society, recent events have demonstrated that the evaporation of social mores is not as unlikely as one might hope.
From young New York women seeking to sell themselves to wealthy businessmen, to people offering cheap rentals in return for "benefits," to rural Kentuckians trading sex for gas, the news over the last few months has been full of sordid tales of women deciding to turn to prostitution as a means of dealing with inflation. The definitive event in this trend was probably New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's dalliance with Ashlee Dupree. While the news was running in circles attempting to explain Spitzer's downfall, precious little attention was devoted to the woman who was willing to exchange her body for cash and an embarrassing moment in the spotlight. It's interesting to speculate on the reason for this lack of coverage: was the media uninterested in the forces that motivated Spitzer's Lolita, or was it simply convinced that it already knew them?
All countries have sizable domestic populations of women engaged in prostitution, ranging from .25 to 1.5 percent of the population in Asia and the United States.1 Much larger percentages of men, however, are paying for sex. Ninety five percent of Thai men and seventy percent of men living in London have at some point in their life have purchased sex.2 And large numbers of the men abuse the women they interact with, indeed violence is endemic to the life of a prostitute.3 In Canada, "women and girls in prostitution had a mortality rate 40 times higher than the national average."4 In the United States, it is estimated that seventy percent of prostitutes annually experience multiple rapes,some women are raped once a week.5
Large numbers of women engaged in prostitution began as minors having been tricked or coerced into such by parents, traffickers, partners and pimps. In the United States the average age for entering prostitution lies around fourteen, while in Asia it is well below eighteen.6 Similarly, it is estimated that over a quarter of prostitutes in urban areas in the United States, Cambodia, Jamaica and India are minors.7
Along with being manipulated as children, poverty is the primary economic incentive that drives women to participate in prostitution, whether directly, or through following the false promises of employment offered by sex traffickers. It is reported, for example, that eighty five percent of Russian women are unemployed, and many of those who have jobs are expected to sleep with their employers.8 But, hopes of economic independence at best quickly turn into highly exploitative situations, and at worse turn into indentured servitude.
It is estimated that ninety percent of prostitution is controlled by pimps, who receive between fifty and one hundred percent of the revenue generated.9 One pimp/bar owner in Japan, for example, makes US$85,000 monthly from prostituting trafficked women, who receive zero profit.10
In countries that serve as depots for sex-tourist, the relative incomes for prostitution can be very high, resulting in families selling their daughters to pimps and traffickers, the sex sector generates from two to fourteen percent of GDP in South Asian countries.11 The girls involved receive little of this money as it is siphoned back to male family heads in rural areas.12 The International Labor Organization reports that in Thailand "close to US$300 million is transferred annually to rural families by women working in the sex sector, a sum that exceeds the budgets of government-funded development programmes."13 In the United States, girls involved in prostitution can generate over five hundred dollars an evening, but usually receive less than five percent of such, from their pimps.14
Responses to date in the European Union and the United States
Despite the fact that solicitation and other related activities are illegal in the United States and Europe, both regions have traditionally focused on arresting the women involved, as opposed to arresting customers, traffickers, or pimps. In the United States this policy costs two thousand dollars per arrest, with major cities spending on average seven and a half million dollars annually.15 Because prostitution is demand driven such arrests do nothing to reduce the sex trade, in short the money is wasted. Arresting prostitutes as a means of combating prostitution usually results in an increase in the indebtedness of women to pimps, as well as in the amount of sex they must have to make up for lost income. Through focusing on the prosecution of women, the police, who are predominantly male, are also placed in a position where they can easily abuse their power. Police officers often do abuse their powers, one survey suggests that 20% of the abuse against prostitutes is conducted by police officers.16
Residency laws are another example of misdirected policy. A woman participating in the prosecution of a trafficker will, at best, as in Belgium, the Netherlands or Italy, be allowed to remain in the country until the trial is over, at which point she will probably be deported. Other member states of the European Union as well as the United States are often not as lenient. In Germany, two young girls freed from sex slavery were deported immediately and banned from traveling to Germany for a number of years, a ban that extended to all Member States of the Schengen Treaty.17 This policy provides no incentive for women to attempt to prosecute their kidnappers and abusers, as these individuals may seek retribution when the women return to their country of origin.
To combat the problems associated with prostitution: trafficking, violence, and the objectification of women, two approaches are generally promoted. While advocates of prostitution as a form of employment suggest that legalization will ameliorate these problems, policy makers tend to recommend penalties as a means to deter prostitution.
The immediate problem with legalization is that it provides state sanction to the assertion that women are sex objects, while concurrently failing to eradicate illegal prostitution. Women working in legal brothels in the U.S., Europe and Asia are forced to turn over forty to fifty percent of their profits and may be required to remain in the brothel for up to ninety percent of their time, in a given seven-day work week.
In addition, women may have to justify the refusal of a customer, and in some cases may not be able to refuse at all.18 Concurrently, women are often documented as prostitutes, an act that can result in future job loss and "blacklisting", forced medical tests from hostile clinical staff, and harassment by police officers.19
The costs of legalized prostitution such as rent to the brothel owner, medical examinations, and any registration fees are paid by the women involved in prostitution, thereby increasing the number of sexual encounters they must have in order to make a profit. Due in part to these costs, illegal prostitution has flourished in legalized areas as clients seek cheaper sex, and women determined to increase their income, or avoid psychological/drug tests, circumvent the legal system. In Germany, for example, there are three times as many non-registered women involved in prostitution as registered women. In Greece the ratio is more than 10 to 1.20
Prostitution that did not place women in danger would require private medical coverage, unions to demand fair profit sharing, and some form of prostitute controlled security system to ensure complete discretion over customer selection. The cost of all three would have to be passed on to the taxpayer to remove the incentives for illegal prostitution. Even then, the demand for illegal prostitutes in the form of minors or kidnapped foreigners would continue to be strong, as male 'buyers' often have a desire for the 'exotic'.
In short, the best imagined version of legalized prostitution has all of the current problems of international trafficking in addition to increased taxes, which most citizens would refuse to pay. Perhaps most damaging is the fact that doing so would provide state legal sanction and financial support to the objectification of women.
Governments instead should focus on a two-step strategy: increased penalties for the men involved in prostitution and increased economic development for women. To date, through not enforcing existing laws, or creating legislation, which target the consumers of sex services, governments allow this demand driven trade to grow. As in Sweden, there should be penalties, including imprisonment, for men who solicit prostitution. Concurrently, there must be much higher penalties for those who traffic in, and pimp, women and girls both internationally and domestically. In the United States, traffickers can face no more than a five thousand dollar fine or five-year prison term, while traffickers face one to two year sentences in Europe for trafficking, as opposed to the ten to fifteen given for smuggling narcotics.21
Perhaps most importantly, effective policies must go to the root of the problem, creating economic alternatives for women. High levels of unemployment and poverty force many women to gamble with job and marriage offers in big cities, different regions, and foreign countries. Economically powerful countries must make a concerted effort to ensure that development and 'expansion' fund programs and funds are not designed, received, and implemented solely by men.22 Concurrently, all governments must focus on instituting training and micro-credit programs for women and girls, and developing social support services for girls and women involved in prostitution.
Legalization would cut down STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), criminal actions both for the women and for the "usual Johns," as well as for the "NEW Johns" who would go to them because they fear going near the proverbial "girl next door."