Hard Truths about Prostitution

By Patterson, Margot | National Catholic Reporter, February 23, 2007 | Go to article overview

Hard Truths about Prostitution


Patterson, Margot, National Catholic Reporter


The sex trade is a multibillion dollar business in this country. In telling their life stories, the four former prostitutes who spoke at the fall retreat sponsored by the Sophia Circle brought to light some of the salient features of the prostitution industry and the challenges women face in quitting it. Their remarks and those of Edwina Gateley painted a fuller picture of a business built on the exploitation of women that elicits little attention from society.

* "A place to stay is the biggest need for women wanting to leave prostitution. A woman wants to feel safe," said Olivia Howard, an addictions counselor who does outreach to prostitutes and whose own experiences in the sex trade are described in a book called Listening to Olivia: Violence, Poverty and Prostitution by Jody Raphael. "She needs to have a safe haven where she doesn't have to worry about paying the bills. The comfortability has to come first before you can start addressing issues."

* Violence against prostituted women is endemic. "The first night I was put on the street, I was gang-raped by three men," Howard noted. She added that the violence that goes on in indoor venues (VIP clubs, escort services, strip clubs, massage parlors, dance clubs) is less visible but often as bad as or worse than that happening on the street. A Chicago survey of women in escort services found that 21 percent stated they had been raped more than 10 times, the same rate as women working on the streets, and 11 percent stated they had been raped five to 10 times.

* The average age of a woman entering prostitution is 15; the average age of the customer is 32, according to a documentary film called "Turning the Corner," made by Salome Chasnoff in 2005 and funded by PART, the Prostitutes Alternative Round Table, and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which found that 90 percent of the women exiting county jail for prostitution were homeless.

* Alcohol and drug addiction among prostitutes is widespread, with various studies of prostituted women in U.S. cities reporting addiction rates of 92 percent to 94 percent to 100 percent. In some instances, women seem to turn to prostitution to support their habit; in other instances, drug and alcohol addiction may follow the onset of prostitution, with women turning to drugs and alcohol to numb themselves in their encounters with clients.

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