The Internet and the Legalization of Prostitution Will Not Help Sex Trafficked Women and Girls
Vednita Carter, Founder and Executive Director
As the founder and executive director of Breaking Free, every day I see firsthand the damage that prostitution causes women. While being trafficked for sex, 83% of our clients were assaulted with a deadly weapon and 57% were kidnapped. 85% were victims of sexual abuse and 75% victims of physical abuse as children before they were even recruited or forced in prostitution by pimps and traffickers. 90% of our clients are chemically dependent and 60-90% are homeless.
But won't the legalization of prostitution make life safer so that women can earn a living selling sex? This is what the Economist's editorial argues. The answer is emphatically no. Research has found that legalization of prostitution does not help women and can cause them more harm. Brothels have been officially legal in Amsterdam since 2000 but in 2010, Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen stated that legalization had failed to prevent trafficking: "We've realized this is no longer about small-scale entrepreneurs, but that big crime organizations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings and other criminal activities." Prostitution is legal in Nevada, but Bob Herbert, a New York Times journalist, found: "Despite the fiction that they are 'independent contractors,' most so-called legal prostitutes have pimps - the state-sanctioned pimps who run the brothels and, in many cases, a second pimp who controls all other aspects of their lives (and takes the bulk of their legal earnings)."
The legalization of prostitution can increase the trafficking of minors. The National Council of Women of New Zealand, which originally supported decriminalization, expressed their concern after prostitution was legalized: "We are still seeing girls as young as 13 and 14 on the streets selling their bodies." Melissa Farley, a sex trafficking researcher reported: "Since decriminalization, street prostitution has spiraled out of control... A 200-400% increase in street prostitution has been reported."
Opposing the legalization of prostitution is not an issue of morality and prudishness, as the Economist editorial implies. Breaking Free's opposition is a matter of ensuring that our girls and women are not harmed by prostitution. Prostitution is not the world's oldest profession - it is the world's oldest oppression and is modern day slavery. Unlike the Economist's writers, we work every single day with women whose lives have been shattered by prostitution. I have had to attend the funerals of countless women who have been murdered or died out on the streets. Prostitution largely moving from the street to the Internet has not made women safer. Instead, it has driven prostitution further underground, making victims harder to reach. Traffickers are still enslaving women and girls, whether they're working on the streets or posting ads on Backpage.
The key to making women and girls safer is not to legalize prostitution but to end the demand for prostitution. Until we end the demand, women and girls are vulnerable to being trafficked into prostitution. Minnesota needs a comprehensive education and prevention campaign that ensures men and boys understand the lasting harm prostitution causes women and girls. We know this approach works. For the last decade, Breaking Free has provided the Offenders Prostitution Program for over 100 men each year who have been convicted on solicitation of prostitution charges. Our all-day program, which includes the powerful testimony of prostitution survivors, shows the offenders the harm they are causing to victims, to themselves, to their families, and to the community. After attending the Offenders Prostitution Program, only 2-3% of the men re-offend.
I believe that we can end prostitution but it will take concerted social change and efforts from everyone in our community. It's up to all of us to ensure that prostitution ends and that every girl and woman in our hometowns is safe from sex trafficking.