Home » FAQ’s

Common prostitution myths

This page brings together a collection of common questions about prostitution with a short explanation of the myth. There are suggested readings at the end of each and some useful videos can be found here.

A more in-depth analysis of common myths can be found in the 2020 booklet Busting 16 myths about the sex trade, a collaboration between CATWA and the Aotearoa/New Zealand-based sex trade survivor organisation Wahine Toa Rising

Isn’t prostitution just a job like any other?

Prostitution is not a job like any other. Prostitution only exists because of the attitudes, behaviours and demands of men. It arises from a culture of male violence whereby men feel entitled to buy women’s bodies for sexual purposes. No other workplace demands that sexual services be exchanged for money and no other workplace exposes its employees to the threat of rape and physical violence. The overwhelming majority of women in prostitution are poor. The pro prostitution lobby argues that prostitution offers economic independence to poor women, but independence should not come at the cost of harm and abuse.

Useful resources

The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth. Julie Bindel Spinifex Press 2017.

Making Sex Work: A Failed Experiment With Legalised Prostitution
Mary Lucille Sullivan Spinifex Press 2007.

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

CATWA considers that the sex trade, whether legalised or not, to be a form of violence against women through the buying and selling of women’s bodies.
Although women are less likely to be murdered in legal brothels than in street and illegal prostitution legalisation has not prevented the spread of organised crime that jeopardises women’s safety. Legalisation fuels demand and increase in demand encourages the exploitation of women by pimps and customers. Research into areas where prostitution has been made legal demonstrates that this has not led to a decrease in child exploitation and trafficking.

Useful resources

This is what really happens when prostitution is legalised Julie Bindel 2017

Doesn’t the Nordic Model just force prostitution underground?

There is no evidence to show that the Nordic Model, which penalises the buyers of sex and decriminalises prostituted persons has driven prostitution underground. Evidence shows that the number of men purchasing sex decreases significantly with the Nordic Model. In places where prostitution is legalised, the illegal sector has increased enormously. For example in the state of Victoria which legalised prostitution in 1994, there are an estimated 500 illegal brothels (many operating under the guise of ‘massage parlours’)compared to about 91 legal ones. There is in fact, no such thing as ‘underground’ prostitution, since in order for the prostituted persons to find clients, they need to advertise.

Useful resources

The Swedish Sex Purchase law: evidence of it’s impact 2016
How prostitution laws work in Sweden and Germany (audio) 2016

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

Sex is not a basic human right in the way that food, water and shelter are. There are several reasons why prostitution cannot be justified on the grounds that it is an important service for disabled men. Firstly, it implies that disabled men are incapable of intimacy except through buying access to a woman’s body. Secondly, carers or family members of a disabled man may think this is a good thing, but the disabled man may not be in a position to give his consent. Carers are often placed in the position of having to assist with the sexual service and could lose their job if they don’t agree to help. Finally, the perceived sexual needs of the man should never outweigh the rights of women to dignity and safety.

Useful resources

Myth: Disabled men have the right to prostitutes

The notion that its OK for disabled men to pay for prostitutes is rooted in misogyny and ableism

Only women in prostitution are qualified to talk about the sex industry

All women have a right to speak out against prostitution, because all women are harmed by living in a culture that promotes a trade that is abusive to women. We would not say that women who are not victims of sexual violence have no right to go on Reclaim the Night marches.The voices of women in prostitution are seldom heard amidst the powerful clamour from the pimps who profit from the sex trade. Much of the Information on the harms of prostitution comes from the accounts of survivors of prostitution themselves, many of whom now campaign for the abolition of prostitution. Research on prostitution obtained by those opposed to the sex trade is not fabricated but based on interviews with women in prostitution who can testify to the abuses they face on a daily basis.

Useful resources

Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade. Caroline Norma, Melinda Tankard Reist (eds.) Spinifex Press 2016.

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

A culture in which women’s bodies can be bought is one in which rape flourishes. The argument that without prostitution, men will rape is not supported by any evidence, in fact the contrary is true. For example, in the state of Victoria where prostitution was legalized in 1994, police crime statistics  show a steady increase in the number of rapes each year as well as the rate of these per 100000 of population. A state such as South Australia, where prostitution is illegal, does not show the same increase in rapes. The buying of women’s bodies creates a sense of entitlement in men which inevitably plays out in their day to day interactions with women. The equality of women requires that all women are free of sexual exploitaion, which can never happen in a society where prostitution is  accepted.

Useful resources

The Prostitution Stops Rape Fallacy Rachel Moran

There’s nothing wrong with prostitution, it’s trafficking that is the problem.

It is very common for pro sex industry lobby to make this claim. In fact, trafficking and prostitution are very closely linked. Trafficking into the sex industry occurs because of the demand by men to buy women’s bodies. Without the demand, there would be little or no trafficking. The most widely accepted definition of trafficking is contained in the Palermo Protocol, which clearly states that trafficking does not have to involve either force or the crossing of an international boundary, and that the consent of the person is irrelevant. The most common way in which women enter prostitution is through the exploitation of their vulnerability, be it drugs, homelessness or poverty. This places their recruitment firmly under the definition of trafficking and is a strong repudiation of the forced/free distinction that the pro sex industry lobby makes. CATWA firmly believes that the way to stop sex trafficking is to address the demand – something that the Nordic Model of prostitution legislation does.

A more in-depth analysis of common myths can be found in the 2020 booklet Busting 16 myths about the sex trade, a collaboration between CATWA and the Aotearoa/New Zealand-based sex trade survivor organisation Wahine Toa Rising