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Exposing Prostitution Myths

This page contains 10 common prostitution myths, and CATWA’s response to each one. Click on the question to expand for the answer.
Isn't prostitution just a job like any other?

Prostitution is not a job like any other. Firstly, prostitution only exists because of the attitudes, behaviours and demands of men. It is the culture of male violence whereby men regard the buying of a woman’s body for sexual purposes as a legitimate activity that has created this ‘job’. No other job is created specifically out of a culture of violence, inequality and sexual abuse. Secondly, there are no other jobs where a woman’s reproductive system is the site of the work, and she is at risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV every time she goes to work. In this ‘job’, women risk death from violent men, serious physical harm as well as psychological damage.
If we were to eradicate prostitution, wouldn't we be robbing women of a rightful income?

The reasons for women entering prostitution and so having an income from it are complex and any discussion of the eradication of prostitution must take this into account. Many women enter prostitution as a last resort to meet basic living expenses, to support a drug or gambling habit or to pay their way through university. Governments need to address, through changed economic and social policies, the social inequities that force women into prostitution. The eradication of prostitution must be coupled with programmes to retrain women and provide them with genuine alternative forms of employment. Any harmful industry, be it prostitution or logging of old growth forests must be eradicated and alternative employment provided for the workers.

Aren't men who visit prostitutes just lonely?

Men who buy women are not just socially inadequate. All kinds of men buy women and most are married. Saying that buyers are ‘lonely men’ suggests that they are seeking some kind of intimacy rather than sexual power. In fact there is a gross power imbalance between a prostituted human being and the buyer. Prostitution is inequality made sexy. This power imbalance is clear in the way that buyers decide who they will buy in prostitution whereas prostitutes can rarely if ever refuse a ‘customer’, no matter how disgusting his smell, ugly his looks or foul his temper. Prostituted human beings typically use a pseudonym and wear a costume whilst working, not because they are happy to live out men’s sexual fantasies but to protect themselves from feeling violated. For this reason too, many prostituted people refuse or thwart buyer demands to be kissed on the lips or hugged. The violation that goes on in prostitution occurs regardless of how lonely the buyer is.

Don't lots of men go to prostitutes because they want someone to talk to?

If a man wants someone to talk to he can go to a friend, a relative, a therapist or priest. When he buys a woman he has someone less powerful and unthreatening to listen to him and then he can penetrate her to make himself feel better at her expense. Prostituted women are not therapists. Therapists earn good money, are respected and they are the ones with power in the exchange.

Don't prostitutes provide an important service for disabled men?

Sex is not a basic human right. Read this excellent article explaining clearly this common myth

What about male prostitutes aren't we forgetting about them?

The buyers of prostituted men and boys are overwhelmingly male. Though the sex industry tends to say that there are women clients using brothels, this is generally because they are taken by their male partners to sexually arouse the man in a threesome. Independent female buyers of males are unusual. The men and boys bought in prostitution often suffer from very similar harms to those that women suffer, such as harm to their own sexuality, and thoughts of worthlessness and suicide. Street prostituted men and boys in particular are likely, like the women in prostitution, to have histories of abuse in childhood, to find themselves homeless, to have a drug habit and no means of support. CATW Australia’s analysis that the buying of people in prostitution constitutes a form of violence extends to the buying of girls and boys, men and women by buyers of either sex.

Isn't prostitution the oldest profession?

This statement suggests that prostitution must be OK because it has been in existence for so long. It is important to remember that prostitution is as old as slavery and some historians suggest that it emerged from slavery in ancient Babylon. Justifying a practice by reference to tradition (i.e. how long it has gone on in a culture) is one criterion for recognising what are called in United Nations documents harmful traditional/cultural practices. Such practices are ‘harmful to the health of women and girls’ and create sex role stereotypes. They arise from the subordination of women, and are for the benefit of men. Prostitution fits the definition of a harmful cultural practice very well.

Isn't prostitution safer for women if it is legalised?

It does seem that women are less likely to be murdered in legal brothels than in street and illegal prostitution. The other forms of violence that women suffer in prostitution are not necessarily reduced. Brothels frequently have panic buttons so that women can get help when they are threatened or assaulted. This does not prevent the assault. CATW Australia calls the violence that men pay to do to women in prostitution, (i.e. the ordinary penetration) commercial sexual violence. Women may ‘consent’ but they still suffer emotionally and physically. They emotionally disassociate to survive the touching and penetration and try to limit the areas of their body that men have access to. In any other workplace this would be seen as sexual harassment but in prostitution it is the part and parcel of the ‘job’. Occupational health and safety codes developed to cover legal brothels in Australia show just how harmful prostitution is to women’s health. They cover what to do when condoms are removed by men without women’s knowledge, and what to do when they break. They cover how to sterilise the whips and branding irons used in sadomasochist prostitution and how to deal with infectious organisms in the wounds from the branding. When an industry has so many harms for women the answer is to end it by penalising the buyers and pimps rather than regulating the violence.

Since many brothels are run by 'madams' aren't women just as guilty of exploiting women as men are?

Most ‘madams’ have been prostituted. It is difficult to exit the industry because women usually have few skills, other experience or recent qualifications. They do not have references. Also when prostituted women age they are forced out and need some other way to earn a living. Some may move into brothel management, but these few do so not with the intention of exploiting other women, rather to escape their own exploitation. The big money in prostitution is not usually made by madams but by the men who run the industry.

Without prostitution, won't men just go out and rape?

This argument suggests that prostitution is a safety valve for men’s sexual urges. In fact the reverse is the case. For example, in cases of gang rape by sportsmen in Australia in 2004, it has become clear that the use of prostituted women and strip clubs is integral to the womanhating and male bonding which led to the sexual violence. The argument also suggests that women who are not prostituted are safer because some other women are set aside to be commercially raped on their behalf. Women’s equality requires that all women should be free from sexual exploitation. Prostitution cannot eliminate rape when it is itself bought rape. The connection between rape and prostitution is that women are turned into objects for men’s sexual use; they can be either bought or stolen. A culture in which women can be bought for use is one in which rape flourishes.